The Islanders

The Islanders  :  Chapter One

     The Outsiders

 

The twenty-four hour diner held two customers. The young Chinese woman sat in a corner booth sipping a cappuccino. Four tables away sat another young woman nursing a cup of brown tea. Although the diner was warm the woman still wore her overcoat and sat with her shoulders hunched in an attempt to retain heat. A smear of cheap mascara did little to hide the hunger lurking in her eyes. Skeletal fingers clutched the handle of the mug.

Just another junkie thought Mei Ling as she spooned the cream off her cappuccino. What more had she expected? Yet she could not help feeling a little disappointed. She noticed the frilled cuffs that concealed the woman’s wrists. A good way to hide scars, at least some scars.

From a radio in the back of the room a voice screamed above a thumping of electric guitars. The rumbling of a passing bus drifted into the restaurant. In an hour the street would be filled with people going to work but not her. She would stagger back to a cheap hotel room to a needle and welcome oblivion.

Mei Ling placed a five-dollar note on the table. She then picked up her purse and opened it. She took out a fifty-dollar note and wadded it between fine tapering fingers. She then rose, careful to brush out any wrinkles in her two piece black suit.

As she passed the woman seated at the table she dropped the fifty-dollar note next to the cup of tea.

“Come with me.”

The woman looked up. For the first time she saw a shorthaired Chinese woman in an expensive suit.

A lez she thought. “You got another fifty?”

One more Robert Borden dropped onto the table.

The woman stubbed out her cigarette and pocketed the money. Whoever the lez was she had money. With any luck she could rip her off for more. “So where are we going?”

“My place.”

“Yeah, where’s that?”

“Does it matter?”

“I might have to catch a bus back.”

“No you won’t.”

The yellow MG reassured her. There would only be the two of them. No unpleasant surprises. It also meant money. As she settled into the bucket seat she fantasised herself being at the wheel. If she could rip off the car Lester could keep her supplied with smack for a month. No more asking for money from her stupid brother.

“Would you like some music,” the woman asked her.

She shrugged. “Whatever.”

Mei Ling punched in a cassette. Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desire filled the car.

“I’ve always liked that,” said Mei Ling.

“Yeah?” The woman settled her head against the seat. Mathew liked that, She had a vague sense of having liked it once before the dope. “We going or not?”

“Of course.”

Mei Ling turned the ignition.

The woman looked out the window at the grey emptiness of the parking lot. The pavement moved, shivering in the frigid night air. Have to get more sleep she thought. A faint humming filled her ears. Her stomach twisted. Then the pavement vanished.

The car sat in a small clearing surrounded by pine trees. She blinked. The trees remained. Across the open field a groundhog waddled. Beside her she heard a car door open. As it opened her ears caught the sound of waves beating against rocks.

Mei Ling stood outside the car speaking into a tiny cell phone. She nodded and smiled as she noticed the woman looking at her. Pocketing the phone she then stepped away from the car into nothingness.

“Shit.”

The woman gawked at the empty space. Her numbed fingers fumbled with the latch as she tried to open the door. The sight of a woman disappearing into air, of a world vanishing was too large to grasp but what truly terrified her to was the silence. Her life had been marked by sound, television, radio, Walkman, traffic, people, and all the incessant, comforting racket of modern life. Here, wherever here was, she could hear the waves, birds and herself.

She pressed her hand against her ears to shut out the silence. Whimpering she slid down deeper into the bucket seat of the car curling against its soft leather.

“Susan?”

Ignoring the voice she reached for her purse for the needle that would bring oblivion.

“You won’t find it there.”

She looked up to see him. Seated beside her was her brother. “Mathew?”

The stranger/brother smiled. “Yes, Susan. Your brother, Susan, please come with me.”

“Bastard!”  She flung herself against him. to find herself striking air. Screams alternated with whimpering and weeping.

Mathew knew the sounds. He had heard them so many times before. Mei Ling touched his left his arm. “Come away, father.”

***

The sanitation workers found the body when they emptied the bin. Wrapped in a black plastic bag it dropped into the truck as they tilted the bin. The autopsy revealed three stab wounds, one to the left breast, another to the right lung and another to the heart. Fingerprints confirmed the corpse to be Susan Foley, prostitute, petty thief, heroin addict. Her one known relation was informed. Doctor Foley travelled to Toronto, identified the body and took it home to Kingston for burial.  The murderer was never found. Within a year the case had been buried in the files of the police department.

***

  Mei LIng held him back. “It’s not safe, father.”

“She’s my sister.” Mathew looked at the woman her voice  his voice   muffled by the window

“No. She’s not.  The only relation she has is with that damned drug. She will never be your sister until we clean it out of her.  The only thing she feels for you and for anyone else is hate. You know that.”

The sleeping gas began to seep up from the floor of the car. Soon it would envelop Susan ending the cries.

Mathew pressed his hand against the window and then he turned away.

***

She floated in a womb filled with Luke-warm water. Umbilical cords carried nutrients, air and blood into her.  Other tubes carried away her waste products.  Smaller cables were attached to her shaven scalp. For Susan Foster time had stopped.  She dreamed dreams as warm as the water that sustained her. Her mind lived, dreaming dreams of gentle people loving her, keeping away the pain.

“Is this wise?”asked Mathew.

“Wise? Maybe not.”said Louise.  “Necessary, yes.”

“I wanted my sister.”

The man had waited so long.  During all the decades that had passed since meeting him in Kingston, through all their travels and work the one thing Mathew had wanted most was to regain his sister, the one thing he could never have.

“Mathew you know that what you want doesn’t matter.   What matters is what she needs.”

“Yes. I know.”

Her earliest memory would be of two great farm horses.  They plodded down the road in front of her house pulling a hay wagon that towered above her.

“Why the horses?” Mathew asked Louise.

“They represent gentleness, strength, trust.  Those are things that she needs.”

“Sounds rather naive.”

“This is what a four-year-old is. Naïve. Depth is the problem.” Louise continued. “Memories have to be laid on in layers much like a fine oil painting.”

“And the old memories?”

“Buried like an ancient nightmare.”

“But still there.  Will the new memories hold?”

“What is the past but memory? The old memories will seem like a nightmare, intimations of a past life but nothing more.”

“Are you certain?”

Louise touched his hand. “Even if I were proven wrong, how could her new life be any worse than her old?”

More layers of memory were added. Parents and brother, at home in a valley, life in a small city. Girlhood faded into womanhood. A love of poetry and music, an interest in astronomy and in philosophy, the things Susan had been stripped of by the nightmares of her life.  As the days passed Susan continued to float in her watery womb.

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Islands in Time : Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen : Beginnings

 Gehlen leaned back against the back of the couch. He closed his eyes for a moment and then resumed.

“The three of us, Joanna, Sean and I went to see him leave.  We stood at the quayside watching them load the boat.  It was large by Sumerian standards ten metres long by three amidships. Made of cedar it would be broken up in Ur and sold, the cedar planking being more valuable then the boat. There was a great central sail but no oars. If the wind failed the river current would still carry it south.”

“Richard stood at the bow He led a large party. Marduk’s daughter Sarai was accompanied by one maidservant and six bodyguards, Marduk’s finest men. Any thief would be reluctant to attack such a party.  Richard carried  Marna.  She was well enough to walk but neither wished to be separated. ”

“In our Sumerian gear I assumed that Richard would not recognize us but he did. As the ship slipped into the current he turned towards us and raised a hand.  We watched until the ship disappeared. He never did return to Kish. After the festival of Inanna, Richard married Sarai and settled in Ur. There he found work as a healer and as a teacher.  To the people he knew he talked of a god of justice, of mercy and of compassion. Even more, he lived a life based upon that belief, a life that proved to those who knew him that such a god could live among them. They remembered him, his life and his teachings.  In the millennia that passed his name was lost but out of the memories of those who had known him grew the God of Abraham, of Moses, of Jesus, of Mohammed and ultimately our modern concepts of justice and humanity. Not a bad legacy. That’s all there is to say.”

He put the empty bottle down on the table and placed his left hand on his right wrist.

“Not quite,” said Mary.  “There was an assassination of Sargon of Akkad. It’s been recorded.”

“Yes there was, but not in this timeline”

“So who killed Sargon?” she asked.

“Richard, but not ours. Another timeline, another Richard.”

“But how did they cross over into another timeline?”

“Sam was the controller.  He fixed the setting.”

“But the excavation of the child’s grave?”

“They just followed Sam’s settings.”

“Then the child Joanna brought out?”

“Was from our timeline.”

“So there were two?”

“Yes.  Probably more.”

“More?”  Mary rose and turned towards the window. She clasped her hands behind her back.  “How many more?”

“God knows. I don’t.”

“So how did Habib know?”

Gehlen sipped the last of the whiskey. “The agency is finished.  It is fighting a war it lost five thousand years ago. When it understands that it will die.”

Mary turned.

“Not today” he said.  “Not tomorrow.  Bureaucracies tend to perpetuate themselves long after they have lost any reason to exist. But it will die. When it does I’ll be waiting for you.”

The air around Gehlen began to shimmer.

Mary started towards him.  “Heinrich . . . Don’t”

“I’m sorry . . .”

She reached out to him to grasp empty air.

***

Richard felt the breeze from the north.  The sail above him filled out. The ship scudded south passing farms and villages.  He watched the life passing by on the river, the ploughing of fields, washing of clothes and the playing of children.  Some things would never change.  He remembered his three friends waving him goodbye. Friendship was another thing that would never change.

Marna sat on the deck watching a gray-bearded sailor carve a flute. As Richard watched them Sarai placed a hand on his back and asked him what he was thinking. He would miss being able to express himself in English but how could he tell her that.  He smiled “Sometimes, the gods are kind.”

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Islands : Chapter Thirteen

    Chapter Thirteen  :   Marna

The servant considered what it was that the barbarian wanted to steal. “You think that the lord Marduk sees any beggar?”

The stranger held up a silver ring in front of the overseer’s round face.  “I am not a beggar. Your lord knows me.”

The fat bald-headed servant grunted.  “Does he? What name shall I give?”

“Tiamet of the Annukim.”

Marduk sat on a bench in his garden beneath the shade of a date tree.  He sipped wine from a cup of beaten gold and listened as his daughter Sarai strummed a harp and sang a song that she had composed to Inanna.  She was fourteen.  Time to find a husband for her thought Marduk.  Perhaps he could even find one from a noble family. He would mention it to Sharrumkin.

She stopped in mid-verse.

“Something wrong?” he asked.

“I can’t think of the next word, father.”

“Sing it again, child.  It may come to you.”

He could see old Shubad, the doorkeeper hurrying towards him.

“Well?”

“Pardon my lord, but there is a visitor at the door.  He says that you know him.”

“Does this visitor have a name?”

“Tiamat of the Annukim.”

Marduk had taught himself to never act surprised.  He placed his cup on the bench. After a moment he spoke. “Let him enter.”

Yes, it was the wanderer. He did not care for the way that the man looked down at him. Only Sharrumkin would dare to look at him in such a way.

He raised his cup and sipped. “Where are my slaves?”

“They are not mine to return Lord Marduk.  They belong to the gods.”

“I do not care for liars or blasphemers.”

“Neither do I.”

Marduk stopped in mid-sip. Any man who dared to call him a liar would die, but was that what the young man had said?

“You say that you are of the Annukim?”

“Yes.”

“Then you are a liar as well as a thief.  The Annukim have been dead since time beyond knowing,”

“No, my lord, not dead.  They just went away. They taught man the way of living in cities, the way of writing.  When they were no longer needed they left traveling beyond the sea to the land of Dilmun.”

“So you have come from Dilmun. You said that you were in the land of the great river? You are not even a very good liar.” He turned back to his wine to find his daughter staring at the young man. “Sarai, bring some wine and barley cakes.  He may be a liar and a thief but he is still our guest.”

Tiamet waited for the girl to leave. “Do you let your guests stand?”

“Some.”  If the young man rose to the bait, displaying anger at the attack upon his honour Sharrumkin would have the right to strike him, but no anger came.  The man continued to look at him, waiting.

“ What do you want?” Marduk asked.

“To show you something.”

He reached inside his robe.  As he did so, Marduk slipped his right hand closer to the hilt of his dagger.  He stopped as Tiamet drew out a small leather pouch.  From out of it he drew the same pendant that he placed around his mother’s neck. He dropped it onto the bench next to Marduk.

“Perhaps, he said, softly, “you do not remember.  Too many villages, too many dead?”

Marduk felt the heavy weight of the stone and remembered. “I know the pendent. The child lived?”

“Yes.”

Marduk nodded.  “Good. You still have not explained why you took my slaves.”

“The woman was the boy’s mother, the girl his sister.  I promised him that I would help them if I could.”

Marduk shrugged. ”The slaves are nothing, but a promise, that is everything.  Perhaps I may choose to forgive you. Perhaps not. Sit.”

He pointed at the bench upon which Sarai had sat.  “So what do you want of me, Tiamet of the Annukim? Is this also part of your promise to the child?”

“No.  I have come for a different reason.  The villages that you burned, have you told your children of them?”

“Of course.”

“You feel no shame?”

Marduk frowned. “Shame? What is shame? If we do not bleed those savages, they will grow stronger.  Some year, when they are strong enough they will come south and do to us what we do to them. When these people that you feel pity for, burn our cities, will you then feel pity for us?”

“You fear them because they are different from you.”

Marduk shook his head. “No. I fear them because they are not different from us. Every man kills.  Every man prays to the gods.  That is me.  You have never killed?”

“No.”

“Someday you will.”

“That is not the way of my people,”

“No? Then they are truly wise, or foolish. Perhaps both.”

“Perhaps.”

****

 Gehlen glanced out of the window at the waters of Kingston harbour. A small sailing dinghy bobbed through the waves. “Richard was too young.  He couldn’t understand that sometimes showing mercy is the worst thing that you can do.  Just because someone is a victim or loses does not always make them a good person.  Before people are brought Home, preparations are made. We try to ensure that they be settled into surroundings similar to those from which they came, to make the transition easier.  But it’s more than just a matter of physical surroundings. We have to understand how their cultures work.  In taking people out of the Irish famine or Black Death we were dealing with recorded times, cultures studied in depth. Of Richard’s people, we knew nothing.  There had been some archaeological records of the buildings but nothing of the culture. We believe that  they were Semite, possibly proto-Amoritic, somewhat like the Ugaritic that was Sargon’s own tongue. There was some consideration of going back and examining it but other priorities came first. Except for Richard the village was not that important to us.”

“He was supposed to examine Sumeria at the beginnings of Sargon’s rule.  He persuaded Benjamin to allow him to follow the slave column in the hope of finding castoffs.  Instead he walked into it and snatched his mother and sister.  So he comes through the portal with a woman and a little girl. To understand them we had was to crack their language.  Some we had gathered from Richard’s own memories and his recording of the slaves in the column.  Our knowledge was enough to give us greetings but littler more than that. Understanding the language well enough to grasp their psychology was beyond us.”

“The first act of the elders was to put them into quarantine, sedating them.  They then searched for any historical ramifications. As far as we could tell there were none.  Even so, Benjamin should have sent them back but his entire nature was opposed to that as it was opposed to punishing Richard. So once they were released from the hospital they were transported to the home that Richard and Joanna had made for them, based upon a village longhouse, comparable in technology to the society from which they had come.”

“The young think that love will conquer all. Rubbish. It can’t even conquer itself. Richard was so convinced that having saved what had survived of his family he could then begin to understand them.  What he could not know in his first fumbling attempts to communicate with his mother was that between them lay six thousand years of social evolution.”

“To begin with Marna assumed that Richard was her husband, not her son. She could understand being taken by the Gods, but a boy was a boy. A man was a man. To her only three days had passed since the sacking of the village. Now she was to believe that her small son was a grown man? She found it much simpler to grasp the concept of her husband having been taken by the gods.  Richard had a devil of a time trying to convince her that her husband, Baram, was dead.  Having convinced her of that Richard was not prepared for what came next. Marna went into mourning.”

“We think of mourning as a very civilized affair.  To Marna’s people mourning meant pain. The greater the emotional pain, the greater the physical pain.  Here was a woman lost in a world she could not hope to understand, stripped of her home, husband and two sons. For all intents and purposes she could not see Richard as her son.  She gave vent to her grief in the only way she knew.”

“Richard found her in the field behind her house.  With the edge of a flint knife she had sliced her face and had cut her wrists. She had also cut off her right digit finger. Amidst the blood she had sat wailing a song of mourning.  Despite our best efforts she died four hours later.She had willed herself to die.  Only then did we learn from his sister Napthali that in their village there were no widows.  She also told us that the souls of Baram and her son, Enkil would not rest until their killers were dead.  Every time Richard attempted to speak to her she would ask for the head of Marduk, the man who had led the raid on the village. Eventually she refused to see him, denouncing him as a coward and as a traitor.”

“Richard admitted to me that bringing them home had been a mistake but he could not undo it The worst part he told me, was that Napthali was right.  Simple justice did demand punishment.  I tried to point out that such punishment was far too late. ”

“Anyway you didn’t even know them,” I pointed out.

“They knew me and they loved me. That must be worth something.”

“Two days later he crossed into Sumeria to research Sargon of Akkad.  I saw him the evening before he left. He requested me to look in upon Napthali.  The Pequod had agreed to take her in until he returned.  She liked the Pequod.  Their village reminded her of home.”

“There was something about Richard’s appearance that made me uncomfortable. He had grown a beard which in itself was neither unusual nor suspicious.  Almost all adult males of the Sumerian period except priests wore beards. What bothered me was that his appearance reminded me of someone.  You know how it is when you try to think of someone and you cannot identify him.  For the rest of the evening deep into the night I worried about it. Eventually I gave it up and went to bed.  I’ve found that if you want to find something, sometimes you shouldn’t look for it.  Then it will come of its own accord.”

“I woke up in the early morning the memory of where I had seen that face before fixed in my mind.  But I had to confirm it, to be certain.  Decades before a recording had been made of the Habib expedition to Kish.  On it had been filmed the festival of Inanna.  Inadvertently the members had recorded the assassination of Sargon the Great.””

“Mary frowned. “But Sargon wasn’t assassinated?”

“Not on our time- line.”

“But there are no alternate time-lines” said John.

“So where did the recording come from?”

“A fake,” Mary shrugged.

“That’s what I thought until I spoke to Sean Mulcahey and Joanna Dzingira and saw Richard firing a dart at Sargon’s neck.  I suppose they could have staged it to discredit the agency, but what if they hadn’t?”

Mary thought for a moment.  “But if there are alternate time-lines, each with their own history then what happens in their history cannot affect ours, so why would it matter?”

Gehlen closed his eyes. “It matters because Richard matters. In the end that’s the only thing that matters, the people we care for.”

I phoned Benjamin Dzingira and told him what I knew, including visual comparison of Richard and the young man in the recording. He told me he would contact the portal and have Richard stopped.  We arranged a meeting in his office with Louise, Joanna, Sean, Richard, and myself. Usually such a meeting would be held by holographic projection but not this one.

I received the first bad news while in the underground shuttle. Richard had already gone through the portal before Benjamin could give out the order to stop him.  Louise gave us the second piece of bad news.  She had a small piece of data left to her by Foster, which had once belonged to Jane Christian. She in turn had gotten it from Sam Habib. Somehow Sam had worked out that between Jane and Foley there had existed a means of communication, probably by way of Louise in Kingston.  One of the bits of data passed on by Sam was a DNA analysis taken when the agency was investigating whom the assassin might have been. Incredible as it may sound they took blood samples of almost the entire population of Kish.  They were looking for a match from those in our modern files.  They found one.

He projected the two samples.  They were indeed identical. There was only one problem.  “The sample had been taken from someone who had been dead for over five thousand years.”

“Then it wasn’t an anomaly?” asked John

“Yes it was. The sample had been taken from a person who was dead before the assassination.”

Mary and John looked at one another.

“Furthermore,” Gehlen continued,  “it had been taken from a child, a boy killed by lions.”

***

Gehlen slept.  Mary crossed the room and picked up the phone.  She ordered breakfast for three.

“Do you believe him, “ asked John.

“What reason does he have to lie?”

“To protect himself.  I don’t know.”

“If he is telling the truth the agency will confirm it.”

“If not?”

“The agency will confirm that as well.”

.                                                                               ***

Just before eleven Gehlen awoke.  Ignoring the breakfast Mary had ordered for him,  he poured himself a glass of Scotch from a miniature Glenlivet bottle in the room fridge.

“Do you think that’s wise,” she asked.

Gehlen ignored her. Then he began again. “They sent three of us to bring him back, Joanna, Sean and myself. We should have, upon reflection, arranged to be there when he arrived but we had to prove that he was up to any unwarranted interference. Better we thought, to follow and to accumulate evidence.  We knew for an historical certainty that he was in the crowd in front of the Ziggurat.  We knew that he was in Marduk’s house.  What we did not know was what happened after that. ”

If we were on another timeline, to interfere with his assassination of Sharrumkin would be equivalent to interfering with John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of President Lincoln. If we were not? All that we could do would be to observe until after the blood sampling.  Then we could move in. And then? After that it would be Richard who would decide. If he would return peacefully, fine. That was Joanna’s hope.  Mine too I suppose but if not, well I have been trained by the agency to enforce the time-line, haven’t I?

Kish was not what you would call an attractive city, even by Sumerian standards.  Compared to the cities of the south it was a raw frontier settlement  Sanitation was non-existent. There were no public gardens. The streets were narrow and filthy. Everything was compressed within the city walls.  Only around the ziggurut and within the walled palaces of the rich could you find any feeling of space.

Joanna, who had been to Kish before and who had learned Sumerian and a smattering of Akkadian served as my guide.  I acted the typical rural bumpkin awed by the big city, which was not too far from the truth. I had not been in a settlement that large in years.  We shouldered our way through people and animals towards the city centre.  City manners have not changed much over the years. The smells have improved a bit but not much else. The houses of the rich could be found towards the southern edge of the city closer to the river

***

Marduk wiped the wine from his beard. “So Tiamet of the Annukim, what exactly do you want of me?”

“I had thought of killing you.”

Marduk snorted “The dung heaps hold the heads of those who tried.  I do not think you would be that stupid. Do you hate me that much?”

“Yes.  I do.”

“Well, you have courage. Leave now and I’ll let you live. A mistake I know.”

“I have not finished. More than you I hate Sharrumkin.”

“You do nothing by halves.  Why don’t I just take your head to him?”

“Because as much as I hate him, I know that he is right.”

“Right? About what.”

“The cities have to be united. He is the only man who can do it.”

“You speak of the ensi’s cupbearer.  A cupbearer is not a king.”

“Not yet, but he will be.  He will unite the cities and the land of the two rivers will once more become great.  That is his destiny and yours. I can help give it to him and to you.”

“You are a sorcerer?”

“Let us say I know things.  Take my head and you will never know what is inside.”

“If you’re lying?”

“My head will still be here waiting for you.”

Marduk nodded. “The city is filled with young ambitious men. Why should I need you?”

The young man bent down. He traced a line in the dust. He then drew another line.

“This is the land of the two rivers.  Here. By the sea is Ur.  Up here is Akkad.”

Despite himself Marduk grew interested.  “So?”

“To the north is the great sea.” He drew another line.

“I have heard of it. Many have.”

The line swung west.

“Here is the land of Egypt. This is their river.”

The line ran south.

Marduk nodded. “I know this from the caravans.”

“Do you know the mountains of the south from where the river runs? Do you also know how you and the Egyptians are both similar? You are both people of great rivers.  By uniting the lands along their river they have become a great kingdom. Sharrumkin wishes to do the same with the people of the two rivers. But you have one advantage the Egyptians don’t.”

“That is?”

Sarai returned with the food and drink.  Both men ignored her.

“The Egyptians are trapped by their river.  It is a line that runs through a desert and it leads to the sea. You are not.”  Tiamet pointed at the north.” Whoever controls the north opens a door to both Egypt and to the land of the two rivers.”

“There is nothing up there except savages.”

“For now yes, but think, Marduk, a few villages made Sharrumkin and you rich.  Imagine what settling cities there would do? ”

Marduk stared at the map.  Yes he could see how the north would give control of the trade routes to Sumer.  Caravans of gold, ivory and slaves would flow into the cities of the south. Then he looked up at his daughter. “Serve our guest. We have much to discuss.“

***

Gehlen sipped his whiskey. “I am not certain how he persuaded Marduk to take him into his household. Marduk was no fool.  He was illiterate and by our standards woefully ignorant, but ignorance is not the same as stupidity.  However he did it, Richard became part of Marduk’s household.”

“Why didn’t you just take him,” asked Mary.

“Because one does not just take.  First of all, Marduk’s home like most of upper class Sumeria is very difficult to enter.  We could land a copter on his roof but that would have been somewhat obvious.  Materializing inside his home was considered, but where?  From the records of the Habib expeditions we had some understanding of where he might be but we would have to take him alone, and Sumerians are almost never alone.  The concept of privacy was never part of Sumerian life.  That was something that Joanna Dzingira and Sean Mulcahy made clear to me.  We would have to watch the house waiting for the moment when we could get to Richard with some guarantee of not being disturbed. Another thing, Sumerian homes did not have windows that we could see through.”

Marduk’s compound was four solid walls of glazed tile entered only by one wooden gate.  If we knocked on the door, who were we supposed to ask for?  We didn’t even know what name Richard would be using.  The only thing we could do was to take turns loitering by the gate and wait for him to appear.

The days passed before we saw him.  He came out accompanied by Marduk himself, followed by a train of servants and bully boys. There was a young woman with them, Marduk’s daughter. Training or no training Sean and I were not going to rush that mob. We just followed at a discrete distance hoping that our beards and cloaks would keep us from being recognized.

They were on their way to see Sharrumkin who lived a few houses away.  If Marduk’s home was difficult to penetrate Sharrumkin’s was even harder.  The guards of his home were the elite of his followers, young, well-fed and completely devoted to him. We could only watch Marduk’s people enter and the gate close behind them.

***

The slave pen lay not far from the city gate squeezed between the cattle and sheep markets on one side and fruit and vegetable stalls on another. Thirty naked slaves sat on the bare ground, roped to stakes. There were no shelters. Their excrement littered the ground.  Every morning they would wake and begin the long wait

Richard followed Marduk as he wandered through the stalls.  Politics not marketing was  Marduk’s concern.  He chatted with the merchants, most of whom he knew by name. He spent a few minutes with each discussing the quality of their merchandise, the chance of future profits and conditions within the city.

As Marduk chatted Richard allowed his eyes to drift over the market. His thoughts were with the previous day’s meeting with Sharrumkin.  As much as he hated the cup-bearer, Richard had to admit that the man was impressive.

Sharrumkin had been sitting speaking with his son Ramsui,and with  an old man, Aqqi the fisherman. The first thing that struck Tiamet about the cup-bearer was his size. At just under two metres he towered above everyone else in the room. Size by itself however did not explain how completely he dominated everyone in the room.  To him ruling came as natural as drinking beer or eating bread. With a look he took in Marduk and his party. Rising from his stool he embraced Marduk and bade his guests welcome.  Marduk whispered to him  and Sharrumkin looked at the young  stranger.

“So you are Tiamet.” His voice was quiet, stating a fact accepted by all but nothing more.  Without changing his tone he then added,  “Marduk says that you hate me. Is that so?”

Richard looked at the man’s burnt bearded face. He thought of the burnt village and of his mother. “Yes.”

Sharrumkin nodded.  “ You are honest. Many hate me but they will not say it.  Why do you?”

“I don’t like slave dealers.  I don’t like dead villages.”

The cup-bearer placed his right hand on the golden hilt of his bronze hilt.  “Very few do. Your name is Tiamet.  That is a word from my mother’s tongue, he that comes from the sea.  Perhaps we share the same blood?”

“Perhaps.”

Sharrumkin turned to Marduk.  “Come into the garden old friend and we will talk.” He placed a hand on Aqqi’s right shoulder. “Father, come with us. Ramsui, have food and drink brought for our guests.”

The three strolled through the date palms. Marduk glanced towards a trunk from which were suspended three heads, thieves who had attempted to raid Sharrumkin’s column.

“Why should I not put his head there Marduk?”

“Because he could be useful, lord.”

“Could he?  Explain.”

“He knows much of foreign lands and peoples and I sense that he knows far more.”

“This is a man who hates me.”

“Hate can change, especially honest hate.”

Sharrumkin grunted. “Sometimes.  What do you think, father?”

Aqqi spoke slowly as was his custom.  “I think that in the days to come you may need bright young men, even those who hate you.  After that, you may reconsider his usefulness.”

Sharrumkin nodded. “What does he want Marduk?”

“He knows of your dream to unite the cities. He believes it to be wise.”

“How does he know that? It is known only among us.”

“I don’t know. I did not tell him. He must have guessed it.”

“Hmm. I don’t like that.  If he guessed it, how many others could.”

Sharrumkin thought for a moment. The two other men waited.

“If he is willing to serve me and to keep his silence I will accept him, for now.”

***

She sat amidst the stench of her own filth oblivious to the smell and to the blows of the slave dealer’s staff. She had not eaten that morning. Her breakfast of barley porridge had been snatched away by another slave. She had seen only her mother sold two days before to a silver merchant from Ur. The staff continued to beat against her back, the blows as distant as the forgotten breakfast.

“Look up girl,” Lugul commanded.  He wrenched the girl’s face up and smiled at the customer. “Not too bad looking, eh sir?” The one- eyed slave dealer leered.

Richard feeling ill, turned away.  He had recognized the girl sitting in a far corner of the slave pen.  She had been one of the captives in the column.  The sight of her caused him to stop.   The slave dealer sensing a possible customer dragged the child towards him.

Marduk had looked back to see him eyeing the slaves.  He was about to tell him that there was no need to purchase any.  He had more then enough. If Tiamet wanted a bedmate he would offer one of his girls for free. Why spend good silver?

“I know her,” Richard murmured. Marduk took a closer look at the child squatting in the pen. He recognized her as one he had brought out of the village.

“She will die that one. Why waste your silver?”

Richard looked at him. “Do you always insist upon finishing what you started?”

Habit brought Marduk’s hand to his sword hilt. Then the hand fell away. “I’ll talk to the dealer,” he said. “Perhaps I can get a good price for her.”

Lugul writhed in mock pain. “Ten pieces of copper, lord?  Have pity.”

“In another day or two she will be dead.  How much will you get for her then?”

Tiamet wrapped the child in his woolen cloak and carried her back to Marduk’s house.

Gehlen shook his head. “Sean and I watched from across the square. It was such a blatant violation from both the viewpoint of the agency and of Home that neither of us could believe it at first.  That one impulsive act could have catastrophic consequences unless . . .”

“Unless what,” Mary asked.

“As I watched I wondered for the first time whether or not this was all meant to happen.”
Mary sniffed. “Nonsense.”

“Is it?  Perhaps I had been away from the agency too long.”

***

Marduk looked up at the full moon.  From their homes the gods looked down upon men.  He wondered what they were thinking of their creation or if they ever thought of them at all.

Sarai’s harp trickled through his mind. Across the garden on the other side of the pond, Tiamet sat with his little slave girl.  He had called the creature Marna.  The healer was drawing pictures in the dust, telling the child their names.  She remained as unseeing as when he purchased her. A waste of good copper thought Marduk.  Even so, he did not begrudge the man his new toy. As quietly as he could he walked over to them.

“Do you think she hears you?”

Tiamet put aside his annoyance at being interrupted.  “Yes. It is trust she needs to learn, not hearing.”

“Perhaps.”  Marduk squatted beside Tiamet.  “It is not good to interfere with the ways of the gods.”

“What is the way of the gods?”

“Many years ago I was a young fool like you.  I was so certain that I knew.  That boy I released from the village, he had a mark on his face.  Do you remember it?”

“I remember.”

“My first born had such a mark. A little girl, I buried her under the gate as a gift to the gods.”

“You have given them many children, Marduk.  Do you wish to give them this one?”

“No. What I mean to say is that in doing so we can pay them no greater honour then to give them what we love the most. We are just men. The gods are greater than us as strong cities are greater than smaller cities. If the weak pay us tribute we will protect them. In return for honouring the gods, they protect us and give us wealth.  As it is with men, so it is with the gods. That is me.”

“Do your gods love you, Marduk?  Do they show you mercy and compassion?”

Marduk shook his head. “We do not ask for it.”

“Perhaps you should. A god who cannot love is not a god, not for me.”

“Well, different people have different gods. Ours have made us a great people.”

Tiamet looked at the little girl. “Why don’t you ask her how great you are?  Gods do not create men. We create Gods. That is why they act like us.”

Marduk frowned. “Surely you must believe in the gods. “

“I believe in gods that are gods, not in gods that just reflect ourselves.”

“You are angry with me?”

“Yes. I am. I know I am supposed to respect your ways but I cannot respect a god that demands a child’s blood.”

“But I have to.”

“Why?”

Marduk looked down at the ground. “Otherwise I will die.” He then stared at the trees for a moment  “I had a talk with the slave dealer.  The girl’s mother he sold to a silver merchant from Ur. The merchant left by boat for Ur yesterday.  I have a message to send to an old friend there. If you wish you could deliver the message and if you happen to come across the merchant, perhaps you could negotiate a fair price for the woman.  The dealer sold her for four pieces of silver.  I will give you eight.”

Tiamet thought of Shannukin.  The best chance to kill Sharrumkin would be at the festival of Inanna,  “I cannot go to Ur.”

“Why not?”

“I . . . I do not know the city.”

“So there are things you do not know.  I will send servants who know the city.  Also, Sarai.”

“Sarai?”

“Yes. She has been to Ur before and she will enjoy the voyage. You will be back in time for the festival of Inanna.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because it is my wish.  I will not force you to go if you do not wish to.”

“Of course I will go, but you have not told me why you wish to do this?”

Marduk rose. “I do not have to tell you everything, Tiamet. Sleep well.”

***

The tiny windowless cubicle suffocated him.  As he lay on his reed mat he wished he could sleep on the roof as did many of the people during the summer heat but he knew he could not take the risk. They were looking for him. He turned his thoughts to the little girl, Marna.  He had named her that after his mother. What her actual name was he did not know.  Deep within his pouch he had stored some medicines, nothing more elaborate then aspirin, a few antibiotics and salt and sugar tablets. Yet here they seemed wondrous.  He had given antibiotics and sugar and salt tablets to treat the dehydration, but it was her spirit that was most in need of help. Old Marduk had hit upon the best chance for a cure.  He considered the man.

He hated him. Every time he saw him he saw the dead village, the bodies left to the animals.  He remembered his mother, her keening of her death song as her life flowed out of her. Justice demanded the man’s death, but he had also seen him with his daughter and sons, talking with the old gardener, listening in respectful silence as the old servant discussed which plants were doing well.  Above everything he felt an overwhelming desire to leave this time, to go back to the time that he had made his own.

Take the girl to Ur.  Marduk had struck upon the best way to cure her.  Give her back her mother. Richard could remove the fever and cope with the dehydration but he could not give her back her will to live. Only her mother could do that. Take her to Ur, yes. But somewhere along the way she would die.  To make her strong enough for the trip would require more then what he could give her, more than what every healer in Kish could give her. He would have to take her Home.  Perhaps they might even allow her to stay.  And Sharrumkin?  He would leave Sharrumkin to the judgement of the gods.

***

“Sometimes,” Gehlen mused,  “there is no understanding of anything.  Richard knew that once back we would never let him out again.  We would not have imprisoned him. The elders have not had prisons for millenia.  Some of the settlements have a few but for us, no. However he knew that once back we would never let him near the portal again.  By turning his back on his chance to kill Sharrumkin he would betray his mother’s memory.  Even so, he brought her across.  So now he stood guilty of another violation.”

“They rushed the little girl to the infirmary. Richard they told to go home to wait for the council’s decision.  He asked to wait beside the girl.  His wish was granted. We were then called back.”

***

“That is she?”

Louise Miller’s voice spoke out of the dark of his thoughts.  Richard sat up in the chair beside Marna’s hospital bed. “Yes.”

Louise looked at him for a moment and then back down at the child.

“We can not allow her to remain here.”

“I know that I should have followed procedure.”

“That would have been a refreshing change, but we would still not have allowed her to remain.”

“But she has no one.”

“She has you.”

“So I can take care of her?”

“Yes but not here.”

The air beside Marna’s bed began to shimmer.

Louise scooped Marna up in her arms and carried her into the light.

“Richard leapt up.  “Wait.”  He dashed towards the light. It vanished leaving behind it an empty room.

***

As Louise settled the sleeping girl on her mat, Richard asked, “why can’t you let her stay?”

Louise smiled. “You never have understood, have you?”

“I thought Home was a haven.”

“It is but not for everyone.  Not for her and now not for you. You are to stay here.”

“I will never leave this time?”

“Never is a very long time, Richard.”

He nodded. “That is my punishment.  I understand, but why punish her?”

Louise smiled. “You don’t understand, Richard. No one is punishing anyone.  Staying here is your reward.  It is where you should be.”

“Why me?”

“Why? Because inside you lives something that told you that saving this child is the most important thing that you can do, more important than some primitive concept of revenge.  I come from a time more remote from you than this.  Do you not think that in the years between you and I generations have not continued to evolve, to think, to question?  We possess the power to save the lives of millions of our fellow human beings.  Do you truly believe that because of a theory we would refuse?  So we help.  We help in two ways.  We reach into the past and save those lives that we can.  But there is another way. Some, as did missionaries of old give of themselves, going back to live the lives of the past, helping those that they can by simply living with them. My Tom was one.”

“Tom?”

“Major Thomas Bascombe. Yes, he was about your age when he enlisted in the Canadian army at the outbreak of the Second World War.  Forty years later they detected a brain tumour.  A simple enough operation in my time but not in his. Rather than reveal who we were, he chose to die.  He could have left of course, have returned to the future, but he had been part of that time for so long. It had become his home. There are so many others. You will be one. You will be here at the beginning, guiding and teaching as many others have done.  You will tell Marna and Sarai of a god of justice and mercy.  They will tell their children. Their children will tell theirs through generation after generation.  The tales will become distorted and twisted, as tales often do, but will never be forgotten.  For that, you will be remembered and honoured.” She smiled. “At least for a while.”

“Will I meet any others like me.”

“No. There are no others here. That is why you are so important.”

“Jane Christian. Was she one of us?”

“In a way, although she never knew it.  Sam Habib  knew it.”

“Habib? But he . . .”

Do you truly think we would ever allow the portal to be controlled by barbarians. Just as with Tom, Sam could not be saved without creating an anomaly. So he chose to die with a woman who would not leave him. .Remember them. Honour them.  So you will teach that child  and others, not by imparting strange technology but by simply living. Do you understand now?”

“We are the Annukim.”

“Yes.”

Richard looked down at the little girl. “But why her? Why is she so important?”

“Someday she will marry and have a child.  That child will have a child who in turn will have a child. So it will go on for generations. Out of her line will come a man who will leave the city of Ur and go into the wilderness in search of a god, a god of justice, taught to him by his forefathers. ”

“Abraham?”

“That was why Sam wanted you. We have mended her body.  You will mend her soul. Goodbye Richard, Tiamet of the Annukim. Salaam Aleicham.”

She kissed his forehead. The light vanished leaving Richard in the dark with Marna.

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Filed under Fiction, Science Fiction

Islands in Time: Chapter Twelve

Chapter : Dreams

Listen not with the ear but with the heart. Listen not with the heart but with the breath
The Tao

Too many mistakes. Always too many mistakes.  Tiamet tried not to think of them as he followed Enkil past the glazed tiled buildings of the city center.  The mistakes having been committed only a few months before would stretch over thousands of years. Perhaps we simply call mistakes history.

***

Seven years had passed since Gehlen and Richard had crossed over. If Gehlen had hoped that he would work his way into the trust of the other Islanders he found lying between them and him an insuperable barrier, the memory of Jane Christian’s death. The guardians shared no such reluctance to make use of Gehlen’s talents. From their perspective differences between Gehlen and the Islanders were so miniscule as to be irrelevant. Foley suggested that having been a policeman Gehlen could continue in that role. Gehlen would be responsible for the maintenance of order at home and in the settlements.

Over the years that followed Gehlen made some interesting discoveries concerning the creation of the settlements and the relationship between the islanders and the guardians. He had assumed that settlements would be scattered across the globe. So they were to a limited extent. Nineteenth and twentieth century survivors made up eighteen settlements scattered across the globe, settlements accessible to Gehlen through the loan of a flyer from Louise or through one of the portals built at Home.

Access to the other settlements lay through portals controlled by the guardians and by the islanders directly assigned the management of the settlements. From the first day of Gehlen’s appointment they had been emphatic in denying him access to their settlements. Rescue and Exploratory missions were also denied to him as being outside the bounds of his job description.

It all sounded very familiar. “Once a policeman, always a policeman,” said Gehlen when Foley offered him the job. Even so, Gehlen accepted. The job came with comfortable furnished quarters, but not an apartment as on Pitcairn or Bouvet. He was granted fifty acres of land and a large rambling farmhouse that he could furnish to his own taste. As Louise showed him about his new house Gehlen reflected that it would suit him very well.

“We’ve made the furnishings to represent your period. If you don’t like them we can always have them changed.”

Gehlen shook his head. He had never been one to be too preoccupied with his apartment’s furnishings in Pitcairn. What intrigued him more then the house, its contents or even the flier parked in front of it was the horizon stretching off as far as he could see.  He had seen horizons before but none he had ever been left free to explore. He spent the second day walking towards it. He walked until his legs ached. He walked through knee-high grass, smelling the dust and the scent of the vegetation. The perspiration trickled down his face as he trudged up a ridge. Looking behind he could see the tiny rectangle that marked his new home. Beyond others houses were scattered. The space he thought. The space. He stretched his arms as far as he could reach. Then he sat and looked out over the valley. He sat there until the sun began to sink. Someday he knew he would have to leave this place, but not today. Not today.

Richard was settled with Joanna in her home. A sensible thing to do thought Gehlen at the time. He had used the boy to get through the portal. He never had any intention of keeping him. He was therefore somewhat flustered when he found that Richard did not share his opinion. When he turned on his computer just before going to bed on his second night he found two messages. One was from Richard.

I’m staying at Joanna’s. She’s okay I guess but she wants me to think of her as my mother. That would be lying wouldn’t it? Hope you like your new place. You’re not really going to arrest her are you?

The best way to deal with unwanted messages would be to ignore them. After all what did he know about relations between mothers and sons? He sat in front of the monitor for a moment his finger hovering above the delete button. Then he began to type.

My place is fine. There are meadows and trees. As for arresting people, I only do that if they’re bad people. I do not believe Joanna is a bad person. She may be somewhat misguided but being wrong is not a crime As for her claim to be your mother, that for you two to settle.

Your friend

He then pressed send. Only after he had sent it did he decide that he should not have typed the last two words.

***

It did not look very impressive thought Natasha not compared to the holos of spacecraft that she had seen on Pitcairn. It was just a cylinder of galvanized steel , eight centimetres wide and two metres long. Three vanes stuck out of its tail allowing it to stand erect upon its pad of earth and wood. Upon its gleaming metallic surface it bore the two-headed eagle of Novy Rossiya. Beneath that surface its interior had been filled with liquid fuel squeezed out of potatoes. Vodka would fuel the Saint Sergius.

The dignitaries stood at a safe distance. Her Excellency, the administrator of Novy Rossiya., Natasha Feodorova Rankin, the thirteen members of the duma and representing the central administration, Inspector Gehlen. Natasha had made certain that all thirteen members of the duma separated her and the inspector. Behind them were gathered the muzniks looking on with good-natured skepticism. Their little mother had given them a holiday. Who cared why?

An intense, spectacled young man, his face half-hidden by the wool-lined flaps of his hat made a last-minute check of the rocket.

Natasha could not suppress a smile. She had developed a fondness for young Arkady Ivanovich Menshikov. Young Foley must have been a lot like him she thought.

Arkady trotted up to her.

“She is as ready as she ever will be, Natasha Feodorovna. Please if you will honour us?”

Natasha shook her head. “You will have the honor, Arkady Ivanovich.”

Arkady blushed, bobbed his thanks and pushed the black button in front of the reviewing stand.

Flames shot out from beneath the Saint Sergius. Slowly, almost imperceptibly she began to rise. Then her speed accelerated. The cylinder rose straight and true into the blue sky over Moskva. The musniks fortified with vodka and brandy, cheered. Natasha lowered her head and crossed herself. Then she spoke to her people.

She thanked Arkady and the men who had worked on the rocket. Then she added, “Once we touched the stars. We shall do so again.”

***

Gehlen sat at the dining table in Natasha’s izba. Her house was the same as any other in the community. The samovar, the jar of wildflowers in the kitchen window, the ikons, nothing seemed to mark it as the home of the village founder except for Natasha herself.

“Rocketry, Natasha?” Gehlen tried not to look at the picture of Jane Christian perched above Natashas’s desk.

Natasha frowned. Gehlen had no right to use her first name. For six years she had kept him away. Then Louise had insisted upon sending him to ascertain what she had meant in encouraging young Menshikov.  She sipped her tea. “It is within the technological parameters of the nineteen-thirties.  Velikovsky in Russia. Goddard in America. Oberth in Germany. We may not be as sophisticated but it does not violate our society’s development.”

“With a population of barely two thousand, doesn’t the colony have other, more pressing needs?”

“The people are well-fed. We have a school, a hospital, representative government. The Duma made no objection.”

Why would they, thought Gehlen. She has them so buffaloed. “There is a prohibition on weapons.”

“It is not a weapon.”

“Isn’t it?” Gehlen put down his teacup. He preferred his tea cold. “Then what is it for?”

“Scientific research. The nearest neighboring colony is over six hundred kilometres away. How is it a threat to anyone?”

“How is it a necessity?”

“It is not, but Arkady is….” She hesitated. How would a clod like Gehlen understand?  “His … passion, his life is rocketry. My people have a great talent for producing geniuses and then destroying them. Arkady’s family was sent to the gulag because they bore the name of a Russian noble. We found him among the survivors half-frozen in an abandoned boxcar on a railway siding somewhere in Siberia. In his coat pocket we found a copy of Velikovsky’s writings. We gave him life. He gave us his dream. The experiments will continue.”

***

Gehlen stepped back through the portal to his bedroom to find several messages waiting for him. The one that took precedent was from Foley himself. “Drop by and see Louise and I when you can spare a moment.  We want to hear about Natasha. There’s something else to be discussed. Say nine o’clock tomorrow morning?”

He turned to programs and pressed Family. Somewhere in another room of the house a child’s voice began to sing. Julia, the eleven-year-old. Smells from the kitchen drifted in where Jenny was preparing pot roast. Outside he could hear the boys playing with the dog.  All the things the little details that made a family, clothes, toys, furnishings filled the house.   He could help Jenny in the kitchen or play with the boys. He could talk with them, eat with them, do anything that he could with a normal person, except touch them.  Just shadows.  Nothing more. He hesitated for a moment and then pressed delete.

Foley and Louise waited for him at the table in their garden. Not once in all the time that he had known him, had Gehlen ever seen Foley alone, a reminder perhaps that their relationship was business only and nothing else.

He outlined what he had seen at Novy Russiya.

Louise clad simply in pants and white shirt seemed content to sit back and let the two men talk. They debated whether a rocket was a weapon.

“If I pick up an axe,” said Gehlen, it can be either a weapon or a tool. It all depends upon intent.”

“You don’t believe that the intent is there?” Foley asked.

“No sir. I don’t. I think it’s just a question of pride with her. Nothing more.”

Foley shrugged. “It does seem innocent enough. This…. Menshikov. What kind of man is he?”

Gehlen frowned. He had barely spoken a half dozen words to the man. Arkady had been too absorbed with his rocket.   “A dreamer. Natasha claims he’s another Einstein. Maybe.”

“I see. So you don’t see any violations being committed?”

“No sir. Not at the moment.”

“Well, we need dreamers too.” Foley pushed a holoviewer towards Gehlen. “There is one other thing, if you don’t mind. Richard Dzingira.”

“Richard?”

“He seemed to believe that you are his friend, Mister Gehlen. Are you?”

“Yes sir. I think so.  Is he in trouble?””

“Trouble? No.  It’s just that he wants you to stand for him.”

“Stand for him?”

“He wants to retrieve his lost memories.”

“Ah.” Gehlen nodded.

“You’ve known about this, inspector?” Louise asked.

“I’ve discussed the matter with him,” said Gehlen.

“Yet you did not feel inclined to inform us of this?”

Gehlen resented the question. “It was a private discussion. There was no reason to inform you or anyone else.”

“Of course.”

Three weeks earlier, on one, cool evening, Richard had bicycled over to his house. He had arrived without notice. Gehlen had not seen him in over two months. He noted a small tuft of hair now covered Richard’s chin. Joanna, Richard, told him, had gone off on a holiday with Sean.

“Why didn’t you go with them?”

Richard shrugged. “Didn’t feel like being a spare wheel.”

Strange thing, Gelen’s house, he thought. Almost everyone tried to make theirs as comfortable as possible, filled with the latest gadgets and playthings. Gehlen had furnished only two rooms, his bedroom and his kitchen where they now sat.  The other rooms in the house remained bare. What furniture he had was simple and functional.  The land that surrounded the house remained untouched, no attempt having been made to work it.  For the seven years that Gehlen had lived there he had never thought of it as being his home. This was a place that he existed in until such time as he could return. Yet that very air of neglect made Richard feel more comfortable in it.

“Aren’t you being a bit too hard on her?” the inspector asked.

“I thought you didn’t like her?” said Richard as Gehlen served coffee.

“I don’t agree with her. That’s different. You should have gone with her. She is your mother.”

“No she’s not. You know that.”

“At least she tries.”

“Why are you always trying to defend her anyway? She hates you.”

“She has reason to.”

“Jane Christian you mean?”

“Yes.”

“You didn’t kill her.”

“I might has well have done.”

“You’re not a killer.”

“No good policeman is. Let’s talk about something else.”

Although he knew that it smacked of masochism, Gehlen enjoyed speaking with Richard. He was the only one he knew, at least since Jane Christian, not afraid to say what he meant. It did however get a bit trying at times.

“Don’t you ever get lonely here?” Richard asked.

“Everyone gets lonely.  It’s quiet here.”

Richard waited until Gehlen had refilled his cup before telling him. “I’m going to ask them,” said Richard.

“Ask who what?”

“To give me back my memories. They can do that, can’t they?”

“So they say.  I was made that offer.”

“You didn’t take it.”

“Some things are worth investigating. Some things are not.’

“But it’s part of you. You have a right to know.”

“I also have a right not to know.”

“Why wouldn’t you want to know?”

That question still haunted Gehlen.

***

 On his eighteenth birthday Richard Dzingira had received an unwanted holomessage from Doctor Foley inviting him to come over and speak with him. He saw the old man sitting in his chair speaking about how he would like the pleasure of his company. Richard flicked off the image before the old man had stopped speaking. What an old bore.

For the past two years he had been pestering Joanna about his lost memories. He had always called her Joanna. He could not think of anything more appropriate. When she asked him if he wanted to call her mother he said no. Every morning he would don the amulet Gehlen had given him. That amulet had decided Richard’s choice. Some one had made it and had given it to him, someone who had once cared for him. To know who that someone was would be worth any discomfort. But then he had only been eighteen.

The old man sat in his courtyard, sipping homemade wine and reading Twain’s Innocents Abroad when Louise told him that Joanna and Richard Dzingira had arrived. Richard had known of Foley long before coming home.  He had read about him and had seen the historical holos.  The actual man he found to be very disappointing.  He was so old. He even smelled old. It made Richard feel most uncomfortable. Besides, everyone knew that Foley had not really invented anything.  So what made him different from any other adult?

“So what’s the problem Richard? ”

“I want my memory back, what they took.  She says you can do that. ”

“Well, I can’t but there are those who can.  Is it that important to you? ”

“What do you think?”

Joanna began to protest “Richard, please.”

Richard ignored her, as he usually did.

Foley looked down at his book.  He had tried to tell her all those years back.  If emotional contact was not established with a child in the earliest years it probably never would be. Joanna regarded herself as Richard’s mother. Richard had continued to hold his own thoughts. “I want my memory back,” he muttered.

The old man smiled.  “You’ve always had it.  They couldn’t take it away.  They simply blocked your ability to retrieve it.”

“Then get it back for me. Please.”

“Why?”

Richard reached under his shirt collar and removed the amulet, the amulet that I had given back to him “That‘s the one thing I brought with me out of the past.  Someone made it for me, someone who cared. I want to know who that person was.”

Foley thought for a moment. “As you like but, remember Richard, this is a choice you may later wish that you had never made.”

“It will still be my choice.  What do I have to do?”

“Learn. First learn everything you can about where you came from.  We can help you do that.  Then learn everything you can about yourself.  Most of that  you will have to do yourself.”

“I understand.”

“Perhaps.”

“When do the memories come back?”

“Depends upon the desire to have them back and the age when the foundling was taken. You were one of the oldest ones. The only one older then you that I’m aware of was Mister Mulcahey.  I’ll ask him to serve as your advisor.  Any objection?”

“Yes.”

Foley smiled. “Who would you suggest?”

“Mister Gehlen.”

Gehlen had a rough understanding of why Richard had chosen him. To Joanna Richard would always be the lost little boy standing by the waterhole. To Sean he would be the little boy killed by the lions. Gehlen knew only the eleven-year-old from Bouvet Island, the same child that Richard had known. That tie held the two together. Perhaps that was why he did not want Richard to find the child that Joanna and Sean had known. Given a request from Foley to assist he could not see any alternative.

Richard had been his key to open the way. After the fifty had vanished from Pitcairn the agency was desperate to find them.  Fifty renegades loose on the pathways of time. The agency really did believe its own propaganda.   The only clues Gehlen  had were the records of  Joanna Dzingira’s mission in following up Mulcahy’s disappearance that and something Jane Christian told me.   If he wanted to find her he would have to bring her the boy.  After ten months of fruitless searching he had become convinced that was the only way.  Convincing the agency had taken took another three years.

For years agents had been defecting.  So what was one more defection, especially if he could bring Dzingira her son.  The plan had been simplicity itself.  Join the futurists, spend his life with them and then when he could learn no more make his way back to the agency. The agency would know everything, where they were and how to destroy them.

***

The two of them sat upon a grassy ridge overlooking Gehlen’s house. The previous afternoon Foley had given Gehlen his new assignment..

“Why do you want to do this,” Gehlen asked Richard.

“I told you. I want to know who I am. You may not want to but I do.”

“They’ve told me I am supposed to, take you back and show you where you came from.  You know about the village?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“No.”

That damned amulet thought Gehlen. That made all the difference. Richard had a fixation with it.

For seven years Gehlen had lived here. In a sense, like the others he had come home.  Of course that was all nonsense. He knew that eventually he would return. What they were doing, playing with the laws of history, was wrong.  We are not gods.  We are not meant to be gods, not even the elders.  One mistake, just one, could be catastrophic.  They were not evil he admitted.  Just blind.  There lies a danger in being too merciful, in being too obsessed with ending the pain.  Yet he could not deny there was a feeling to the place, something missing on Bouvet and Pitcairn.  Missionaries would understand it, he supposed.  These people were dedicated to what they believed was a noble cause. It was easy to fight evil, but good?

They walked the ruins of the village that Richard had come from. After Mulcahey and Dzingira left was when they came. They counted eighty bodies, mostly male, babes, boys, men and old women. Through nights to come Gehlen would wake still counting them. A third of them were grouped. They must have been encircled and then decapitated.

Gehlen had seen death before but nothing like that.  The whole place stank of burnt wood, blood and excrement. God.  He surmised that bad as it was for him, Richard it must have been infinitely worse. This had been his home and he was young. The young had so little experience with death. At least they should he thought

They followed the bodies back to a smoldering field.  Gehlen could guess then at what might have happened. The slave traders had torched the field.  In their haste to save their crop the villagers had run out into a trap.  Beside the field lay two bodies, the farthest from the village.  He conjectured that was where the killing began.  A man and a boy lay close to one another, both dead from arrows.  The man had been decapitated  but not the boy. The man had been hit in the front.  He might have been the first.  The boy had been hit in the back.  He must have turned when the man had been hit. As he looked at the boy’s face and then at Richard he saw the resemblance.  So did Richard.

Richard stood beside the man for a moment and then he told Gehlen, “We have to bury them.”

Gehlen knew that would be a violation.  “We are only observers.” He said. Richard ignored him. Gehlen did argue any further. They found some hoes and buried the two.

“And the others,” Richard asked.

Gehlen shook his head.

“They are not animals,” said Richard.

He began to build a pyre.  Gehlen told him it was a violation.  He looked at the inspector with a stare that Gehlen would see deep at night.

“So you are going to arrest me?”

Through the afternoon and into the evening they gathered wood from the broken buildings and from the palisade.  On to it they piled the bodies. Then stinking of blood, they burnt them.

As the fire burned Richard and Gehlen shared a bottle of whiskey. Richard told the inspector that to save his life, Joanna  had  to convince him that she was a goddess.

“Gods and goddesses” he murmured.. “Truth is we’re not even very good at being human beings.”

For days after that he brooded. Then he began to research everything he could find on the Sumerians, Sargon and the earliest cultures of the Middle East.

Four months after the journey back he had regained the memories that he had lost. Yet he still did not know who he was.  He had thought of a possible solution. He brought it to Gehlen.

“The women were not killed, at least not the childbearing ones.  My mother must have survived.”

Gehlen agreed that could well be true. Knowing what Richard would say next he added, “And you want to find her?”

“Yes.”

“They’ll never allow it. They can’t.  You know that.”

Foley would bend the rules as much as possible but he would not break them. Bring over those doomed to immediate death was one thing.  They had no evidence of what happened to the slaves.  Most of them probably lived long enough to reproduce. If that were the case with his mother, removing her from the timeline could keep thousands, ultimately tens of thousands from being born. Richard’s feelings were commendable but his logic was not. After Gehlen pointed out why it could not be allowed, Richard never referred to it again.

Four years later Foley died of a stroke.

It had not been unexpected.  He was a hundred and twenty-seven.  Even so Home could not comprehend how it could manage without the old man.  The elders asked Richard Dzingira senior to take over, a decision shared by most of the colonists.  At first it seemed a good choice.  Both capable and popular, Dzingira fitted in well as director, but one small flaw had been overlooked. Dzingira loved his daughter Joanna. That love made him reluctant to oppose her.  Joanna in turn loved her son, at least her image of him. That chain gave the younger Richard direct access to the portal.

At twenty-three he had already established himself as a leading scholar on Sumerian culture and times.  Why he asked Joanna should he not be allowed to study at first hand a culture he had become an expert on? Why should he not be allowed to learn more about himself?  If he could not bring his mother back at least he could meet her, learn from her.  At last Joanna agreed to talk to Dzingira. Dzingira countered with a possible research project, a study of the village by remote satellite.

The time involved in learning the language of the tribe, the difficulty of moving satellites through the portals and setting them into orbit and maintenance problems killed the scheme. Besides, Richard would never have accepted it. His plans were very different. .

The new proposal was phrased in such a way as to be concerned with research but Richard did add a suggestion.  If in the course of his research he should come across individuals facing imminent death, for example castoffs from a slave column, he would have the authority to send them home. Benjamin, who loathed slavers, agreed.

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Filed under Fiction, Science Fiction

Islands in Time : Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven :  Bridges

Gehlen took another sip of whiskey and began.

In the second decade of the twenty-first century if anyone wished to pick out an academic failure, one could not go much lower then an associate professor Foley in the Physics Department at Queen’s University. He knew his subject, quantum mechanics but that seemed his sum knowledge of life, that and a devouring interest in science fiction. Dismissed by fellow lecturers as a misanthrope and quack, his students termed him Doctor Who, after a video character of the period. His family consisted of a handful of relatives none of whom he maintained any contact with, and his sister, Susan, who spent her time alternating between heroin addiction and stays in a psychiatric institute. Every four or five months he would write a letter to her, always unanswered.  Every other year she would pay him a visit when unable to raise money any other way.  This busy family life of course took up only part of his time. There were his students, his lectures, his office, and when he wanted to sleep, a one-bedroom furnished apartment in a boarding house close to the university. If you’re wondering about his sexual life, don’t.  Sexually, he was a zero.  The one passion in his life was his obsession with the idea of time travel. What spare time and money that he had he spent on Pigeon Island tinkering with various prototypes of a time portal. He had no interest in sports, never traveled, never took holidays.  The only break he had in his thirty-seventh year was to go his sister’s funeral, at which he was the only mourner.

Into his life one cold gray February afternoon, walked Louise Miller.  That was what she called herself.  The agency has always assumed, based upon a birth certificate and the doctor’s own testimony, that Louise was his niece. Well documents can be forged and people have been known to lie.  His sister never had a child.  So, who is, or was, or will be, Louise Miller.  I don’t know.  She seems to assume different names for different eras, Eloise Miller in the nineteen-thirties, Mrs. Bascombe in the nineteen-eighties. Foley and I knew her as Louise.

Foley, in his usual benighted way, assumed she was one of his students. He could never remember most of them, another reason they used to call him Doctor Who. He was marking essays and thinking that she was dropping one off told her to slip it under the door.  Instead she opened the door. She did not seem like an undergraduate student. Her bearing and appearance belonged to a woman of mature years.  They also indicated wealth something Foley would gawk at with jealous disdain while stuffing himself with canapés at faculty dinners.

Louise told him that she knew of his experiments with time travel.  She wished to help him.  With his impeccable sense of diplomacy Foley assumed that this was a practical joke. After having been turned down by public and private sources a hundred and thirty-seven times, he had long since given up expecting any serious financial assistance.  She handed him a brown paper envelope and a small slip of paper upon which had been printed a telephone number.

“Call me after you’ve examined everything.”

After the woman had left Foley tossed the envelope onto his desk and went back to marking his papers. Only later just before leaving did he open it. In the brown envelope his doctoral thesis; “Reflections on The Space Time.Continuum.”  Like most theses, it had been printed, catalogued and forgotten.   He flipped through it to find that someone with very elegant handwriting had critiqued it, elaborating on his mathematical formula. On page 211, where he had summarized his theory of time continuum travel, one word had been written. “Yes.”

“The second diskette contained specifications for the construction of a time portal.  Midnight had passed when he finished reading it. The detail impressed him.  Whoever had written it seemed to have solid engineering skills. The third object was a tiny, rectangular piece of paper shielded by clear plastic, a postage stamp, an 1840 one penny black, the first postage stamp ever issued. Not being a stamp collector Foley did not know that at the time but he did know that it was very old and in very good condition.  After class the best day he took it to the MacIntyre Stamp and Coin shop on Clarence Street.  The owner slid his glasses down the bridge of his nose for a better look.

His balding forehead wrinkled as the man studied the stamp.

“”Excuse me. Won’t be a moment.”  The shopkeeper disappeared into a backroom. Foley worried about whether the man was making off with his stamp. The man did return.

““Well” Foley asked.

“The man placed the stamp on the counter.  “I’ll give you five dollars for it.”

““Five . . . But that’s very rare.”

““The original is, yes.  This is a counterfeit.””

Foley nodded. All a hoax. What else could it be?

““Best job of counterfeiting I’ve seen” the shopkeeper said. “The ink is right, the paper is right every detail, except one.”

“What?”

“It’s just too new.  The original would be almost two hundred years old. This looks like it was made yesterday.  Must have been an amateur. Any real forger would have known that.”

““Yes.”  He called Louisa that afternoon.”

They met at a restaurant at six o’clock. She was wearing a black silk dress that Foley estimated would have cost him his monthly salary.  He wore a blue suit coat he had bought second hand for thirty dollars. He tried not took too nervous as he eyed the prices on the menu.  Louise plucked the menu out of his fingers. “Order whatever you like. I’ll pay for it. This is business.”

“What business are you in, Miss Miller?”

“Saving lives, doctor.”

“Commendable, but what does that have to do with me?”

“Everything.  Did you go through the packet I left you?”

“Yes. I found it interesting.  You are a very clever woman, Miss Miller, or whoever you are.”

“But you didn’t believe it?”

“Believe what, Miss Miller, that you’re from the future?  That you’re turning over to me the greatest invention since the wheel?  I’m sorry,  I’m not in the mood for jokes.” He tossed down his napkin rose and walked to the door.”

“Is it so hard to believe that you just might be right, doctor?”

“Foley wheeled around.  “You don’t seriously expect me to believe . . .”

“What? In yourself? No. That would be asking too much, wouldn’t it? So what do you believe in, doctor? Going back to your empty little life, so that some day fifty years after your death you might be a footnote in the history of someone else’s invention? Is that what you want?”

Foley turned and walked towards the door.

“You’ll never build it, you know.  You may have the theory but you have no resources and no chance of getting any.  I can give you those resources.”

“At the door he hesitated.  “Why?  Why me?”

“Sit down. Behave like a gentleman and I’ll explain why.”

The waiter came over. Foley dismissed him. “I’m not hungry.”

“Well I am,” said Louisa.”

He waited until she ordered, grilled lamb chops.  When she told the waiter, the same for him he thought about protesting but instead asked her, “what do you need me for?””

“I have read your paper.  You did work out the first theoretically workable time machine.”

“So what? If, as you claim, you are from the future, you have the theory, the schematics, technology.  To make a car you don’t need Henry Ford.”

“Thank goodness for that.  He’s not one of my favourite historical personages. However you and Ford did have one thing in common.”

“We’re both antique relics?”

“Passion.  A passion I can only guess at. Imagine if you will, a race, a culture separated in time as much as you are separated from the earliest hominids. We have spanned the galaxies.  And now, as is the truth with all species the will to continue is slowly ebbing.  We have the technological means to maintain immortality but not the spiritual means.  We can sail through time and space as easily as you can through water, but why should we? To see something we have already seen? We have lost what made us great once, our innocence, and our passion. You can help win it back for us.  Why are you so obsessed with time travel doctor? ”

“Why? Because I hate history.”

“You want to change it?”

“I want to know if it can be done. Like climbing the tallest mountain or going to the moon.  So tell me, what is it like to travel through time?”

“Like opening a door, doctor. Once you’ve done it enough times, you don’t even think about it.”

“But why do you need me?”

“Two reasons. The first, an authority figure.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You are a great name in history doctor. Great names can be very persuasive.”

“With whom?”

“The elders. They are the rulers of my time, at least on earth. Ten thousand millenia have made them rather conservative.  The past is to be worshipped and you are part of that past.”

“I’m flattered, but I still don’t see …”

“The other reason is that we have to begin somewhere, with someone. The problem lies not in time travel.  It lies in what we wish to do with it.”

“I see.”  He rose.  “Thank you for an interesting afternoon.  You almost had me believing just for a fraction of a second.  I hope you and your friends have a good laugh.”

“Doctor?”

“Next time. Don’t use the concept of elders.  That’s one of the oldest science-fiction cliches.”

“But . . .”

“Another thing, Miss Miller, do you truly believe that any rational person would accept visitors from the future inviting them for lunch?”

“How can I prove to you . . .”

“Take me there. Now.”

“But what about lunch?”

“Goodbye, Miss Miller.”

“As you wish.”  Folding her napkin she picked up her purse.  “Come.”

“Going to blast off in your spaceship are we?”

“Miss Miller frowned.  “No. I have rented a Toyota Corolla.”

“And how would you do that?  I don’t think a rental company would recognize papers for a person that hasn’t been born yet?”

“Forgery, doctor.”

“Like the stamp?”

“No doctor, that was real.  Come.”

He followed her out to the parking lot.  She led him to a silver corolla.

“Get in.”  She unlocked the doors.

As he belted himself in she turned the key. She drove out of the lot swinging down Ontario Street. She drove to the Holiday Inn, a white slab jutting into the harbour. Louise parked the car and led him into the lobby. She pushed the button for the eighth floor.

Foley began to sort out in his mind the likeliest scenario.  She would lead him into the room where accomplices were waiting.  They would then seize his wallet. The logic seemed impeccable. The only flaw was that it seemed a rather complicated ruse to take twenty-seven dollars.  He should run he told himself. But the thought that possibly the woman might be telling the truth.  She opened the door of 823 and dropping her purse on a small table walked into the bathroom.

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked, her voice sounding somewhat distant

Foley hesitated.  One does not walk into an occupied bathroom, especially one occupied by a lady. Perhaps she was a sexual predator waiting to pounce? He had heard of such women. Best to turn and leave. “Yes.”

He stepped into the bathroom.  The air shimmered around him. He felt a sudden dizziness and queasiness of his stomach. His vision blurred.  When it cleared he found himself standing on grass looking at the lake.  Louise stood beneath an elm, its branches spreading above her. She turned and frowned. “Now can we have lunch?”

***

She took him down to a coffee shop on the first floor.  Louise ordered two steaks. As she ate Foley stared through the restaurant wall at an elm tree. “All those years, he murmured.  “I knew it could be done.”

“You were right.”

He flared “That’s not the point.  I wanted to do it, to prove it.”

Louise put down her fork.  “You did prove it. Your theory is the basis of time travel even in my time.  We stand on the shoulders of giants. You were one of the giants.”

““Giants don’t cheat.”

“Y ou should read more history doctor.  I have offended your sense of honour?”

“You’ve offended my life.”

Louise looked down. “Excuse me doctor, but if that is so, perhaps there is something wrong with your life.  Doctor I am giving you the chance to demonstrate what you will never be able to do, the practical application of your theory.”

“There’s an old American expression. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  What’s the price?”

“Very simple. Help us. We help you.”

“Help you do what?”

“Why are you so obsessed with time travel, doctor?”

“Why? Have you never wanted to go back and change what you know was wrong?”

“Yes, of course. Every one does. But you are the only one who literally spent his life trying to do it. Why you?”

““You’re from the future. You tell me.””

“We don’t know all the answers.  To be truthful, very few of them. We know so little.  Historians of ancient history largely agree that like all true genius you had glimpsed what no one else could see, the essential relationship of time and matter that made the portal possible.”

“Sounds like your historians aren’t any better than ours.  More than anything my interest in time travel stems from a very early memory, hearing my sister screaming and no one doing anything to stop it.  I wanted to go back and tell her it would never have to happen again.  But I can’t do that, can I?”

“So why continue?”

“Why?  He took out a pen from a pocket and on the back of a napkin scribbled a diagram. “If we take P to represent the past and F to represent the future, then in between lies Pr, the present To cross from the past to the future while avoiding the present we need this.”

He drew an arc spanning P and F.  Then he turned the paper so Louise would have a better view.

“A bridge?” she said.

“Exactly.”

“Why?”

“You know why.  That’s why you’re here, isn’t it.  You want me to lend my name to your building it. But the part that bothered me apart from the impossibility of building it was possible violation of historical Laws. What a lot of rubbish. What is history anyway? It began with writing, the last five thousands before my time. Before then, man had existed for a hundred thousand years.  But even taking the past five thousand years, how much is truly known? The general outline yes, but that’s all.  How many millions died lost in plague and war, forgotten, the thrown out trash of history.  We don’t stand on the shoulders of giants, Miss Miller. We stand on bodies of forgotten millions. So we avoid history.  We simply go around it, but to do that we need a place where historical laws do not apply.  That’s what you’re offering me, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Where?””

““Here.”

“Exactly where is here?”

“Earth.”

“Earth?”

“All of it.”

“But . . . aren’t there people living on earth?”

“A few, not many.  Don’t look so serious doctor. It wasn’t a world–wide plague or ecological catastrophe. The human race simply grew up and left.   The earth is our cradle but you do not spend your life in a cradle.  The few who remain are the wardens who care for the planet and the elders, of whom I am one, the youngest one.  There would be about fifty thousand inhabitants. We should have room for a few more. So, do you want to help me build the bridge, doctor?”

“But assuming we bring someone out of the past into the distant future, what do we do with them?”

“Nothing. Just let them live their lives. That’s all. In so doing we will give the human race a second chance for life.”

So it began, the greatest act of deception in history. The meeting with the elders was held under the same elm tree that Louise and Foley had stood under.  They lugged in chairs from Louise’s hotel suite.  Facing the tree were twenty other chairs grouped in a long U. Only one chair and one other body was physically present, that of Han Sui Yin.  The elders, possessing the capability of roaming thorough the universe preferred not to leave the comfort of their own homes. Parliamentary rules were simple.  Louise explained her proposition. Sui Yin thanked her and asked the elders for their comments.

Foley not knowing what to expect found the ordinariness of it most unsettling. To help put him at his ease the elders, most of who appeared to be in their fourties, wore clothing of his time period.  It reminded him of a faculty meeting.  He hated  faculty meetings.”

An elder bearing the semblance of a black youth of eighteen spoke up.  Foley had yet to fully understand that physical appearance is a very deceptive quality among the elders. The youth, Nathan Jones, had just celebrated his three-hundredth birthday.

“For millennia our families have tended this planet, treasured it.  We have healed the injuries inflicted upon it by the ignorance.  Now you wish to bring that ignorance back, here, to our homes. We will not give this planet back to the savages.”

Sui Yin nodded. “Nathan speaks the truth. We are the guardians of this planet.  We cannot just give it up.  What guarantees do we have that these strangers will respect our work.”

Louise was about to reply when Foley spoke first. He said one word, “none.”

“So why, doctor,” Nathan asked, “should we accept this.  They are your people, not ours. Explain why.”

“Because they are your people as much as they’re mine.  You know even more then I do that the only reason you treasure this planet is that it gave birth to humanity, to all of humanity.  It’s not just your world. It belongs to all of us, to every human being who lived on this planet. Most of them will be savages. Uneducated, dirty and they will make the same mistakes they made in the past but they are just as human as you are, with as much right to be here. To create a second home for the lost ones of history would be your greatest triumph, would it not?”

Sui Yin had one last question for him. “Many of us have very serious doubts concerning this. Granted that you seek only the best for mankind, the fact remains that giving you the knowledge that we possess would be intruding upon your era.”

Louise smiled.  “But he did invent the time portal Sui Yin.  All our history holos say so.  They never said how he invented it, did they? Besides if we do not begin with him, who do we begin with?”

So the decision was made, to create the time bridge rooting one span in the earth of the elders, the other, the first of many to be in the barn of Pigeon Island.

There were conditions of course. There could be no interference with the evolution of human history.  Those to be saved were those who had no future in their time. All operations were to be unseen. No weapons apart from those of the period in which they were working were to be permitted.  Within those parameters the elders granted permission to begin the transporting of refugees from the past.

Foley resigned from his teaching position at the end of the semester. He claimed to have come into an inheritance and wished to devote his full time to his experiments. This was indeed partly true. What he did not mention was that he was attempting to construct two portals, not one. The difficult part was trying to use twenty-first technology to construct the portal. They could stretch that technology to its limits but they could not break the limits.  Without the hydrogen cell and microcircuits it would have been impossible. After three years it was ready. They could project a glass back through time by one hour.

Foley told me once his feelings when Louise dropped him off at his room, that evening after the meeting with the elders.  He had not wanted to return but his sudden disappearance would have ruined the scheme.  He had to continue with the stultifying boredom of his life. He spent the night sitting on his bed thinking of his past and his possible future.

That next afternoon in his lecture to his students Foley attempted to explain without prepared notes, why time travel had become his life. He referred to the theory of historical inevitability. Most students of time travel shared the concern that a time traveler would interfere with the course of historical development.  Yet such a theory poses a basic paradox.  One of the great marvels of modern times had been the millions of men and women who had dedicated themselves to saving the lives of others, ordinary people who have accepted that serving humanity is more important then their own welfare. Such people are to be found in every nation.  Yet when it comes to the possibility of time travel we are told do not interfere. A senseless death must remain a senseless death.  Would any of us I wonder sacrifice a child’s life for a theory?

He never referred to the matter again but in a way I think he was announcing what he was up to. Apart from a few students no one paid attention.  His other lectures remained concerned with the physical properties of quantum mechanics. Doctor Foley’s public image as a rebel had lasted for less then ten minutes. His private rebellion would span the millennia.

Caution always marked the elders.   A scheme as radical as the time bridge multiplied that caution. It must have been several months after the meeting with the elders that the first mission was decided upon. Each elder had his or her own particular favourite historical period. The type of refugee was also to be considered.

Soldiers would not be permitted.  Foley pointed out that in nineteenth and twentieth centuries armies were conscription was practiced an ordinary soldier was no more aggressive than a civilian. While conceding that his argument had some merit, the elders held that introducing settlers with military training from a culture more advanced then their neighbours posed too great a hazard to future settlements. The temptation to resort to arms to solve economic or social problems might prove as irresistible as they had in the past. All firearms were therefore forbidden.

People from the older cultures are the easiest to settle here. In a pre-industrial society the supernatural was accepted as being part of life whether monotheistic or polytheistic. The ones who have most trouble adapting are from industrial societies.  They are far less willing to accept what does not appear to fit with their concept of rationality. Preliterate societies did not keep written records that might reveal the presence of unexpected strangers with highly advanced technology. However they did pose a problem.  The further back one went in time the greater the chance of affecting future historical events. So again the elders were careful to develop guidelines, some of which would find their way into the agency.

Those to be chosen must have no further hope of a life in their time. This meant either the dying or those facing certain death, and only those who be extricated without being noticed by other inhabitants of that time period. This ruled out hospitals, prisons and executions. They then considered the likeliest possibilities. Ships lost at sea were an obvious choice although there would be some difficulty in spotting them.  A greater difficulty would be finding a surface upon which to place a portal. A special maritime craft might be designed but the proposal was set aside.  The first mission would be simple with risk kept to a minimum. A committee of three, Louise, Nathan and Sui Yin were formed to decide upon the first mission.  After three months of considering various projects they reported back. The committee had chosen the village of Chengdu, in the northern edge of the lands of the Han Empire.  Nothing marked the village out.  It was merely one of dozens obliterated by the raids of the Hsiung-Nu who two centuries later, led by Attila, would become known in the west as the Hun.

During those three months Foley spent much if his time travelling between Pigeon Island and his apartment in Kingston. He also took up jogging.  One had to keep fit he told his puzzled neighbours.

Four were chosen for that first mission, Foley, Louise, Sui Yin, and a physician, James Alderton, not an elder but respected for his medical skills. The four waited until the last riders had disappeared.  The village had once contained three hundred people.  In the ruins they found seven survivors, all left to die.  Three were women raped and speared. One was an old man, both arms severed.  The other three were children, two babies found under the bodies of their mothers.  The last was a little girl. Foley spotted her, running among the ruins, screaming, her intestines trailing in the dirt. Within a half-hour nothing could have saved any of them, except possibly the infants. They might have lingered on for a while before the dogs found them.

Gehlen paused. He looked up at Mary.  “You’ve never walked through a land of the dead, have you? I have.  Only then can you begin to understand what happened to Foley. There are times in a person’s life when everything changes, when you fall in love is one. Before Changdu Foley’s concept of a time bridge had been theory.  He had never, apart from his sister, felt strong ties towards any individual. His passions were for ideas, not for people. The sight of that little girl with her guts slit open changed him. He cradled her all the way back.  Years later he told me that he could still remember the smell of her blood.  She survived.  They all survived.  Those seven became the first settlers of what we would call home.  The little girl, Mei Ling he made his daughter. You didn’t know that did you?  No one does outside of Home.”

“Home?” John asked.”

“Yes. That’s what we call it, the new world we’re building, at least the one they’re building.”

***

On his eighteenth birthday Richard Dzingira received a call from Doctor Foley asking if he could come over and speak with him concerning the restoration of his lost memories.

I had given the same choice when he had arrived. I had declined.  Too long ago I told Richard. My earliest memories since being a toddler were with the agency.   Nothing else would have had any relevance So, given the choice I declined. The amulet determined Richard’s choice. Some one had made it and had given it to him, someone who had once cared for him. To know who that someone was would be worth any discomfort. But then he had only been eighteen.

The old man sat in his courtyard, sipping homemade wine and reading Twain’s Innocents Abroad when Louise told him that Joanna and Richard Dzingira had arrived. Richard had known of Foley long before coming home.  He had read about him and had seen the historical holos.  The actual man he found to be very disappointing.  He was so old. He even smelled old. It made Richard feel most uncomfortable.

“So what’s your decision, Richard?”

“I want my memory back, what they took.  You said that you can do that.”

“Well, I can’t myself but there are those who can.  Is it that important to you?”

“What do you think?”

“Joanna began to protest “Richard, please.””

“Richard ignored her, as he usually did.”

“Foley looked down at his book.  He had tried to tell her all those years back.  If emotional contact was not established with a child in the earliest years, it never would be. Joanna regarded herself as Richard’s mother. Richard had continued to hold his own thoughts.”

“I want my memory back.”

“The old man smiled.  “You’ve always had it.  They couldn’t take it away.  They simply blocked your ability to retrieve it.””

““Then get it back for me. Please.””

“Why?”

“Because they were mine, all I had. They had no right to take them, I want them back.”

Foley thought for a moment. “As you like but, remember Richard,  that is a choice you may later wish that you had never made.”

“It will still be my choice.  What do I have to do?”

“Learn. First learn everything you can about where you came from.  We can help you do that.  Then learn everything you can about yourself.  Most of that you will have to do yourself.”

“I understand.”

“Perhaps you do. “

“When do the memories come back?”

“Depends upon the desire to have them back and the age when the foundling was taken. You were one of the oldest ones.  The only one older than you that I’m aware of was Mister Mulcahey.  I’ll ask him to serve as your advisor.  Any objection?’

“Yes, “

“Who would you suggest?”

“Mister Gehlen.”

***

Why he chose me I don’t know, but I can guess. To Joanna Richard was always the lost little boy standing by the waterhole.  To Sean Farrel he was the child killed by the lions.  I knew only the eleven- year-old from Bouvet Island, the same child that Richard knew.  Perhaps that was why he felt I understood him better than the others. Truth is, I didn’t understand him at all.

Retired from field service, Sean spent much of his time supervising the affairs of New Eirann, writing his memoirs and expanding his collection of holodramas. Although  he had considered moving in with  Joanna and Richard after their arrival at Home he soon found himself drifting back into the habits he had formed after crossing over.  Joanna and he had remained friends, even lovers but the old intimacy had dissipated with time. Even so, Joanna had greeted Foley’s advice with a great deal of relief.  It was to  Sean that Joanna still turned when faced with a problem she would not discuss with anyone else.  Richard’s choice of myself, well that was a different matter.

There were two ways of getting to New Eirann. One was by nineteenth century coach, in fitting with the time period of the colony’s inhabitants. The other was by an underground subway. Joanna had soon discovered since crossing over that the primitive life of most of the inhabitants was a façade.

“Twenty metres below the potato and cornfields, the wooden huts and rattling stagecoachs small cars sped from one settlement to another. It was here deep beneath the surface that most of the fifty brought over by Joanna worked maintaining the intricate machinery necessary for supplying power to the portals that brought more colonists home.

The lift carried her up to the surface. It opened in the backroom of the priest’s house. She found him chatting with Sean who had been waiting for her.   She explained to them her troubles with Richard.

“He’s eighteen.  How much have you told him about his past?”

“As much as I know.”

“How did he react?”

“I don’t know.  He‘s never really confided in me.”

“What does Heinrich think?”

Gehlen closed his eyes. “What did I think?  I wish I knew. Richard was my key to open the way. After the fifty of them vanished from Pitcairn the agency was desperate to find them.  Fifty renegades loose on the pathways of time The agency really does believe its own propaganda.  I was told to find them. The only clues I had were the records of your mission with Dzingira in following up Mulcahy’s disapprearance that and something Jane Christian told me just before she died.   If I want to find her I have to bring her the boy.  After ten months of fruitless searching I became convinced that was the only way. “

For years agents had been defecting.  So what was one more defection, especially if I could bring Dzingira her son.  The plan was simplicity itself.  Join the futurists, spend my life with them and then when I could learn no more make my way back here. The agency would know everything about them, where they were and how to destroy them. Richard was nothing more than a tool, a means of my getting to their world.   I couldn’t very well tell him that though.  He kept writing to me, sending me messages, telling me how he was and he was getting along.   I had to reply if only out of politeness. With every reply came an answer making it ever more difficult to break free of him.                                                                                                            ***

The two of us sat upon a grassy knoll overlooking the sea.  Foley had called me the previous afternoon explaining Richard’s decision.

“Why do you want to do this,” I asked Richard.

“I want to know who I am.  Haven’t you ever wanted to?”

“I know who I am.  They’ve told me I am supposed to, take you back and show you where you came from.  You know about the village?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“No.”

For seven years I had lived there. In a sense, like the others I had come home.  Of course that was all nonsense. I knew, every day that I was there that eventually I would return. What they were doing, playing with the laws of history, was wrong.  We are not gods.  We are not meant to be gods, not even the elders.  One mistake, just one, could be catastrophic.  They were not evil, just blind.  There lies a danger in being too merciful, in being too obsessed with ending the pain.  Yet I can not deny there was a feeling to the place, something missing on Bouvet and Pitcairn.  Missionaries would understand it, I suppose.  People were dedicated to what they believe is a noble cause. It’s easy to fight evil, but good?

“Did you ever bring anyone there, except for the boy?”  Mary asked.

“No.  My work was different.  After I crossed over, Louise asked me to take a hand at policing the settlements. I know that sounds as if I patrolled them and made arrests but it was more like a counselor.  I had hoped that by being placed with a mission I would be able to learn more about the central command but the Dzingiras never overcome their distrust of me.”

“Dzingiras?” John asked. “ I thought you said Richard trusted you.”

“Yes, the others didn’t.”

“Others?”

“Joanna and Benjamin.”

“But, Benjamin’s dead,” said Mary.

“Well, they buried someone, but it wasn’t Benjamin. Customary practice.  History is filled with bodies. Change a few minor features, fingerprints, teeth and Home has another permanent resident. Anyway Benjamin is in command of mission operations.  The other agents who had defected worked under him including his adopted daughter Joanna Dzingira. They all made it clear that my talents could be employed elsewhere.”

No regrets.  I liked the job and I did learn a great deal about the world they’re building. There are seventy thousand colonists divided between some three hundred settlements, apart from the resident population of elders.  My job was to travel to whatever settlement was in need of help. fire, or some other natural disaster, or political row.  Under me were twenty officers, Home’s police force, unarmed of course. The work became my new life until Richard changed everything.

We walked the ruins of that village, he and I, the village that he had come from. After Mulcahey and Dzingira left that was when we came. I must have counted eighty bodies, mostly male, babes, boys, men and old women. There are times when I find myself at night still counting them. A third of them were grouped. They must have been encircled and then decapitated.

I had seen death before but nothing like that.  The whole place stank of burnt wood, blood and excrement. God.  It was bad enough for me but for Richard it must have been infinitely worse. This had been his home and he was young. The young have so little experience with death. At least, they should.

We followed the bodies back to a smouldering field.  I could guess then at what might have happened. The slave traders had torched the field.  In their haste to save their crop the villagers had run out into a trap.  Beside the field lay two bodies, the farthest from the village so I conjecture that was where the killing began.  A man and a boy, lay close to one another, both dead from arrows.  The man had been decapitated, but not the boy. The man had been hit in the front.  He might have been the first.  The boy had been hit in the back.  He must have turned when the man had been hit. As I looked at the boy’s face and then at Richard, I saw the resemblance.  So did Richard. I could only assume the man was his father, the boy his brother.””

Richard stood beside the man for a moment and then he told me, “we have to bury them.”

Technically that would be a violation. We were only observers. We had no right to interfere but I had no heart to argue.  We found some hoes and buried the two.

“And the others,” he asked.

I shook my head.

“But, they are not animals.”

He began to build a pyre.  I told him it was a violation.  He looked at me with a stare that I still see deep at night.  “So you are going to arrest me?”

Through the afternoon and into the evening we gathered wood, from the broken buildings and from the palisade.  On to it we piled the bodies. Then stinking of blood, we burnt them. That night, over a bottle of whiskey her told me how to save his life, Joanna had to convince him that she was a goddess.

“Gods and goddesses” he murmured. “Truth is, we’re not even very good at being human beings.”

For days after that he brooded. Then he began to research everything he could find on the Sumerians, Sargon and the earliest cultures of the Middle East.

Four months after the journey back he had gone along way back to regaining the memories that he had lost. Yet he still did not know who he was.  He had thought of a possible solution. That was what he brought to me.

“The women were not killed, at least not the child bearing ones.  My mother must have survived.”

I agreed that could well be true. Knowing what he would say next I added, “and you want to find her?””

“Yes.”

“They’ll never allow it. They can’t.  You know that.”

Of course he knew it.  Foley would bend the rules as much as possible but he would not break them. Bring over those doomed to immediate death was one thing. We had no evidence of what happened to the slaves.  Most of them probably lived long enough to reproduce. If that were the case with his mother, removing her from the timeline could keep thousands, ultimately tens of thousands from being born. His feelings were commendable but his logic was not. At least, after I pointed out why it could not be allowed, he had the good sense not to refer to it again.  Then Foley died of a stroke.

It was not unexpected.  He was a hundred and twenty-seven.  Even so Home could not comprehend how it could manage without the old man.  The elders asked Richard Dzingira  to take over, a decision shared by most of the colonists.  At first, it seemed a good choice.  Both capable and popular Dzingira fitted in well as director, but one small flaw had been overlooked. Dzingira loved his daughter Joanna. That love made him reluctant to oppose her.  Joanna in turn loved Richard, at least her image of him. That chain gave Richard direct access to the portal.”

He was twenty-three.  He had already established himself as a leading scholar on Sumerian culture and times.  Why he asked Joanna should he not be allowed to study at first hand a culture he had become an expert on. Why should he not be allowed to learn more about himself?  If he could bring his mother back at least he could meet her, learn from her.  At last she agreed to talk to Dzingira. Dzingira countered with a possible research project, a study of the village by remote satellite. The time involved  in learning the language of the tribe, the difficulty of  moving satellites through the portals and setting them into orbit and maintenance problems killed the scheme. Besides, Richard would never have accepted it. His plans were very different. .

The proposal was quite simple phrased in such a way as to be concerned with research only but even so. Richard did add a suggestion. If in the course of his research he did come across someone facing imminent death, castoffs from the slave column that could be saved for the colony, he would have the authority to send them home.

Benjamin, who loathed slavers, agreed. Before granting Richard permission, he asked him how he could hope to identify his mother. “I’ll find her,” he said.

Logic was never Richard’s strong point.

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Islands in Time : Chapter Ten

Part II : The Annukim                                                                   

   Chapter 10 :The Wanderer

Marduk frowned.   He should have killed the stranger.  One quick arrow shot would have done it.  Instead he had been foolish enough to see the stranger, not as an enemy, but as a puzzle.  In this wilderness puzzles were best studied dead. Why, Marduk asked himself, would a stranger walk alone in these hills. When they had first spotted him, an archer had notched an arrow and raised his bow. The man had raised a hand to show that he was unarmed.  Marduk had signaled to the archer to lower his bow. Better to have let him shoot.

He had spared the stranger for two reasons.  A man walking alone in these hills could be mad. Bad luck to kill a mad man.  The other reason caused Marduk to stroke his beard. Not only madmen walked alone.  Strange prophets of stranger gods lived among these hills.  This far from home, why take unnecessary chances?  Besides as he was coming from the south he might have news of  Sharrumkin. So Marduk had spared him.

He looked back at the column straggling behind him. Soldiers and slaves alike were tired. His men’s minds were on neither slaves nor on the hills but on the water and food that waited for them at the main camp.  A bad sign.  A day’s march from Sharrumkin, what could be a better place for an ambush than this pass through the mountains.  At first look the slaves hardly seemed worth the trouble.  The women and children stumbled through the dust.  Covered with dust, bare skin darkened  by the sun they seemed next to worthless.  One had to imagine them rested and fattened, oiled and cleaned.  Only then could one imagine their true value.

As the stranger approached Marduk narrowed his eyes.  He knew something was wrong.  The man seemed too . . . clean. How could a man walk the desert without being stained by it?

The man once more raised his hand in greeting.  His other hand clutched a staff of cedar wood. He spoke. His voice sounded strange but the words were clearly Sumerian.

“You are Marduk, friend of Sharrumkin?”

Marduk placed a hand on his sword hilt.  “I am.”

“He sends you his greetings and bids you to make haste.”

“You know Sharrumkin?”

“Who does not?”

Strange.  The man carried himself with the bearing of an elder.  Yet his beard was that of a young man. “What is your name, stranger?”

“To my friends I am known as Tiamet.  I have come from the land of the great river when I have learned the skill of healing.  Perhaps there are those who are in need of my skill?”

He pointed his staff at the clump of captives.

“Perhaps.” His being an asu,  a healer, could explain why he dared travel alone.  Only the stupidest of fools would  harm a healer. That did not explain the man’s cleanliness. He considered asking but hesitated. The people of the great river far to the southeast beyond the desert were known both as healers and as magicians. Such men were both useful and dangerous. Marduk the soldier smelt an enemy.  Marduk the merchant considered the condition of his merchandise.   “We have need of a healer. Soon we shall rest.  Then you may have a chance to use your skill.”

***

Marna and Napthali were close to the end of the column.   Their arms were no longer bound. Marduk had reasoned that they had no place to run to.  For most of the journey since Marna had carried her daughter resting the girl’s head against her shoulder. When the order came to halt Marna sank to her knees and settled the child onto the ground. She curled up beside her, ignoring the guard tapping her leg with the blade of his spear.

“Never make it, that one,” he said to his companion.

The other gulped down water from out of a goatskin flask. “She’ll get as far as the main camp. After that it’s not our problem.”

The soldier handed the flask to his comrade, then settled his back against a rock and closed his eyes.  The first soldier took a deep swallow and watched the stranger move along the column examining the slaves.  Smart man, Marduk, the soldier thought.  The better the condition of the slaves the more pleased Sharrumkin would be. He was placing the wooden plug back on the flask when he looked at the slave woman and her daughter.  Shrugging he dropped the flask in front of the pair.  He nudged the woman awake. She looked up at him with large brown eyes.  He pointed at the flask and then sat down beside his friend.  Marna pulled out the stopper.  She wet a hand and  wiped Napthtali’s face. The girl stirred at the dampness.  Napthali then placed the mouth of the flask next to her lips.  As her daughter drank she sang to her a tired shadow of a song.

Tomorrow or the day after, some day soon, the savages would take her daughter.  Marna would then die. Having lost a husband and two sons, death would seem kind.   She did not notice the stranger approach or kneel down beside her.  What was one more barbarian?

The man spoke in her tongue.  “How are you, mother?”

She did not look away from her daughter until she felt the cool touch of soft leather around her neck.  Something even colder and heavier weighed down upon her neck.  She looked at a pendant.  The small ochre stained firestone seemed to resemble the one her Baram had given to their son Tezah.  She looked closer. No it did not seem.  She knew the work. This had been the one.  Marna stared up the man to see Baram’s eyes shining through his bearded face. She opened her mouth to speak. He leaned forward and kissed her.  The air shimmered.

The soldier opened an eye to find the slaves gone. Thinking that they had gone off to relieve themselves he rose. He glanced towards a low copse of bushes that fringed the base of a hill.  Why would they go over there? They had never been so delicate before.  When they emerged he would give the woman a kick just to remind her to stay in sight.  Stupid savages.  He waited. No one emerged.  Cursing he strode towards the bushes.  They were not there. The man was too experienced a slave catcher to panic.  He looked own at the ground searching for footprints.  He saw none.  He then retraced his steps looking for prints, cursing at his comrade.  The other soldier stumbled to his feet.   The noise attracted more soldiers.  Even the slaves looked up from their despair.  Finally Marduk himself appeared.

His first reaction was to strike the man for his carelessness.  He then ordered a search through the surrounding hills. Two things hampered the search; the fear that robbers might be lurking in the hills and the inexplicable fact that the two escaped slaves had left no footprints. The stranger who had disappeared with the two slaves added to the uncertainty of the search.  He might have been a spy for the robbers.    Bad as that was a far worse fear ate at the courage of Marduk’s men.  One soldier remembered a strange smell about the man.  A demon they thought, that feasted on human flesh. Better to lose the slaves than to find that.

The fear of a demon did not dominate Marduk’s thoughts.  His fear stemmed from a more human source, Sharrumkin.  The loss of two slaves in itself was not a serious matter.  One had to expect a few losses on the road back to Akkad.  What Sharrumkim would not find acceptable was how they were lost.  Questions would be raised concerning Marduk’s capabilities.  Tales of a demon stealing away his property would make little impression upon his hawk-nosed face. But then why should he know? The only knowledge he would have of the number of slaves would that told to him by Marduk.  One risk still remained.  Suppose the soldiers talked? Surely Sharrumkin would believe his friend over idle tavern gossip?  When one considered how odd the story of a demon stealing away slaves would sound, surely Sharrumkin would not believe such drunken nonsense.  Perhaps not but he would begin to wonder.

Marduk called his men into a group out of hearing of the slaves. “Anyone who speaks of this, I will have flayed.”

***

The city slept.  Above the plain that surrounded it the afternoon air shimmered in the heat.                The wanderer paused to look at the city wall.  He felt disappointed.  For years he imagined this moment.  Now that he was here it all seemed so ordinary.  To his left he could hear singing.  In the heat of the afternoon a farmer and his wife, both dressed only in loincloths, bent over their crop of barley.  They sang as they cut the grain with their flint sickles. They sang in praise of the goddess of the barley beer, Ninkasa.

Borne of the flowing water

             Tenderly cared for by the Ninhursag

Tiamet sat under the shade of a tamarind tree and watched as the pair worked.  He remembered another crop that had once grown in a long dead village.. Their bodies, darkened by the sun, glistened with perspiration as the two worked.  He envied them their near-nudity. He himself was dressed in the long woolen robes of the desert wanderer.  From beneath his woolen cloak Tiamet pulled out a small leather bag.  He pulled out a small round barley loaf, bippar, Sumerian bread, flavoured with date baked twice to give it a cracker-like hardness..  As he chewed Tiamat watched the workers and thought of the road that had brought him to Kish.. Hidden beneath his robes was a small plastic dart gun, a copy of the one that Gehlen still owned.  The elders had banned possession  of weapons but they could not banish knowledge of the weapons. He had had each piece individually crafted and then he had assembled them himself. The gun carried only one dart but tipped with  belladonna,  one would be enough.

***

He had been eleven when Gehlen came for him.  He had been at class studying Algebra when he first saw the man standing at the classroom door.  Miss Edison had  not been happy at having her class interrupted.   She had stepped outside and spoken with the men.  She had then returned looking somewhat  nervous. She had called out Richard’s name.   She had taken him out to the hall and  had left him with the man.  His dark weathered face had looked down at him.  Then turning the man told him to follow.

The inspector led Richard to the staff room.  The man sat. Then after a moment he spoke. “What do you remember of your mother?”

Puzzled and confused Richard looked down at the floor.  There were some things he had learned not to speak of.  The man spoke him in a voice quiet and cold.. He dropped a badge onto the table beside him. “Inspector Gehlen of Internal Security.” Then the man relaxed. “Don’t worry, Richard.  I don’t arrest children.  I’m just looking for some information. “ Then his face hardened again.  “Now, who was Shahat?”

The child’s puzzlement deepened.

They had tried so hard to get him to forget.  Even after all the years of drugs and psychological techniques the human memory remained a locked door.  The doctors on Bouvet were certain that they had freed the child from his memories of the past but Joanna Dzingira had been correct.  The boy had been too old, his memories too strong to be entirely erased.  It remained locked within him, unknown even to him.

Richard left with Gehlen that evening.  They flew out of Bouvet the copter skimming the waves, racing north towards the fleet of blockading ships.  As he watched the waves beneath him, the Inspector  opened his laptop and switched it on.  A film began to play, one that Richard had never seen before.

“What you’re going to see is rather historical, one of the earliest events ever recorded.”

He saw a great yellow plain stretching out beneath him. Then as he looked the scene magnified.  He could see figures moving and he could hear a voice. “Jesus Christ.”

A naked child ran across the plain. Bounding after him were three lionesses.   The figures swelled as the screen magnified.  The camera was drawing closer to them.  He could hear voices, a man and a woman, but his eyes were fixed on the boy. Of course the rescuers would reach him.  Richard took that for granted.  But as the distance between the fleeing child and the lionesses decreased, the thought came to him that the rescuers might be too late.  Of course he was supposed to think that. That was how holodramas worked and that was what this was.  Wasn’t it?  A lioness raked the child’s side. He fell, his screams lost amidst the snarling of the animals.  From deep within his mind the memory of fear swept through Richard. He lurched out if his seat.. Gehlen switched off the scene.  Richard staggered towards the lavatory where he vomited.  When he returned Gehlen. placed a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry I had to show that, but you can’t understand anything unless you’ve seen that first.  Next one, not as graphic as the first.”

The second scene was of the control room portal, one he knew from pictures and films..  Only this one was different from Bouvet Island.

“Pitcairn, Four years ago.”

In the portal appeared a woman dressed as if she had come from a costume party and a naked child.  The screen froze on the face of the child.

“Recognize him?” Gehlen asked.

He screen split, another face appearing, that of the fleeing child.

“The same,” Richard whispered.

“Yes.”

“But he’s . . ”

“Dead? I know. Amazing thing, time travel.”

“But you can’t.  It’s  . . .”

“Forbidden? Yes Richard, it’s forbidden.  Now watch.”

A gurney pushed by white coated technicians raced towards the woman and the child   The woman was kneeling still shielding him with her body.  Then she stood as the technicians reached out of him.  The child tried to fight them off, screaming to the woman, a scream for help.  As they strapped him to the gurney the boy kept repeating one word, “Shahat.”

Once more the image froze upon the boy’s screaming face. As Richard watched the face began to change.  The dark birthmark upon one side faded and disappeared.  The face aged to that of an eleven-year- old.  Richard now looked at himself.  Stunned he slid out of his seat.  He walked down the aisle between rows of empty seats.  Gehlen, knowing this was not the time for words, concentrated upon closing his laptop.  Richard  sat on the front row and staring down at the floor, began to cry.

“I wish there had been a better way to have told you,” said Gehlen.  “What I’m about to say is very complicated, so complicated even I don’t understand it.  Five thousand years ago in a region where the countries of Iraq Jordan and Syria now meet, there existed a small village. We don’t know the name of the village or even of the people, an early Semitic tribe perhaps. What we do know is that it was destroyed by a group of raiders from the city of Kish.  Those who were not killed were taken south to be sold in the slave markets.  The village disappeared from history. You are its only known survivor.”

“But the boy the lions  . . ?”

“Died.  But he was not you.  You have to understand that.  You are alive and you are here.”

“But who was he?”

“What have they taught you about the theory of time travel?”

“It’s like a road, isn’t it.”

“Yes, a road that branches off in many directions, but it’s much more then that.  In some ways it’s like this craft. Sealed, cut off from other times, we travel in it thinking this is the only one. But sometimes a hole can be punched into a craft. The same is true with time. That child died, but not in your time, in his time.  You are as real as any other child.”

“But how did I , , ,”

“Joanna Dzingira.”

“Who?”

“Your mother. At least that’s what she claims to be. I’m taking you to her.”

“But I don’t remember her.  I don’t remember any of this.”

“Of course you don’t.  The first thing that they do is to take away that memory.  Otherwise it might create a conflict of interest.  That has been known to happen. What is the first thing you remember?”

“White.  A white room.”

“People in white?”

“Yes.”

“My first memory as well.”

“You?”

“At least you know something of where you came from Richsrd..”

The copter dipped, falling towards lights shining in the water.

“The blockade fleet,” said Gehlen.  “You had better strap yourself in.”

Richard slid into a seat, the farthest away from the man.  Between them lay rows of empty seats.

“There’s another copter, a larger one.  It’ll take us to Capetown.  From there an SST to Tahiti. Then another copter to Pitcairn.”

“Pitcairn?”

“Where I live?”

“But you said we were going to see Miss Dzingira?”

“We are.”

“Pitcairn’s where they built the first portal, isn’t it?”

“One of them.”

Gehlen closed his eyes.  Richard looked out the window, studying the growing lights in the water. He could not remember having been off Bouvet Island.  Now he had thrust out into the world dependent upon a man about whom he knew almost nothing; and being taken to a woman about whom he knew even less. Better to concentrate on the growing deck of the warship below him.

***

Tiamet slept.  The afternoon heat deepened over the plain.  The farmers abandoned their crop to seek the cool shade of their homes.  At this time the sun ruled the plain of Sumer. The city of  Kish waited for evening.

Tiamet brushed away a fly.  Although the sun had not yet dipped to the horizon the temperature had begun to cool. The farmers had returned, men and women once more working at the harvest.  A cart bearing soldiers lumbered down the road, its asses wheezing as they trotted towards the city gate. Behind the caravan came spearmen leading a caravan. Asses bearing leather wrapped bales slunk towards the city. More soldiers followed leading a cart in which wealthy merchants rode, their heads protected from the sun by great parasols.  Behind the cart, arms bound, walked slaves, a few men but mostly women and children.

More captives from the north thought Tiamet. No reason to upset oneself. This would be a familiar sight for another five thousand years. He fell in behind the caravan.  A guard glanced at him but said nothing. He followed the caravan through the gates of Kish.  The sentries assuming that he was a merchant did not stop him.

***

“I don’t understand.”

The two, the Inspector and the foundling sat in the carrier’s galley.  The vast room, designed to accommodate two hundred crewmen, was empty apart from them.  Gehlen preferred it that way

“It’s very simple,” said the inspector punctuating his point with a wave of his bread knife. “The boy killed by the lions is quite dead. Not even bones any more.  Just dust. You are evidently very much alive. When Miss Dizingira brought you out of the past she did not change the past.”

“Then what did she do?”

“Opened the door to another past.”

“But there’s only one.”

“That’s what they teach you, is it?”

“Yes sir.”

“Hmmph. Well you’d better finish your food.  We have a long flight.”

“I’m not really hungry.  I have to use the washroom.”

“The head. That’s what they call it on a ship.”

“Weird.”

Gehlen shrugged. “I suppose so.  He pointed to the left with his knife.  “Over there. Don’t be long.”

As the boy walked away, Gehlen tapped out a phone number on his laptop. Mary Smith’s face popped into view.

“We’ll be leaving by copter in twenty minutes Estimated ETA at Nelson Mandela at 2140.”

“First class reserved sir, all the way to Papeete.  How is the guest?”

“Confused.  Still, he seems to be taking it fairly well.  Any news from John?”

“Nothing since the last report.”

“Let me know if you hear anything. See you in Capetown.  Keep the waiting room clear. You know the routine.  Have a drink with me in Papeete?”

Mary smiled. “My room or yours?”

Her face vanished.

***

As Richard trotted behind the inspector towards the waiting copter he glanced at the ship’s bridge.  He could see people their bodies illuminated by the lights.  Only then did he reflect that he had not seen anyone since leaving the island except for the inspector.

As he belted himself into the seat he glanced across the aisle at the inspector reading his monitor. All the other seats remained empty.

“Where are the other people,” he asked.

Gehlen did not look up.  “You’re a very important person, Richard.  This flight is just for you and me. Don’t worry.  You’ll be meeting others when we get into Capetown.”

“Who?”

“Friends of mine.”

“Will I see any children?”

Gehlen punched at his keyboard. “You had better sleep.  It’s going to be a long flight.”

Richard closed his eyes.  A few moments later he opened them and asked. “What’s my mother like.”

“She’s not your mother.  She just claims to be your mother.”

“But you said. . . “

“Well I was somewhat exaggerating. Your mother’s been dead for five thousand years.  Joanna  Dzingira brought you into our time, but from the agency’s point of view, that is not a basis for claiming motherhood. However she thinks it is. That is what matters.  Now sleep.”

“Why does it matter?”

Gehlen looked up. “Because it does,” he said, anger shading his voice.

Richard turned away.  “I don’t like you.”

Gehlen grunted. “Very few people do.”

“Why?”

“Because I arrest them. People tend to dislike being arrested.”

“Am I being arrested?”

“I told you before.  You are not under arrest.”

“Then why am I here?  Why can’t I see anybody?”

“If I answer your questions, will you go to sleep?”

“Yes.”

Gehlen closed his laptop.  He then looked ahead at the back of the empty seat in front of him. “Four years ago, fifty people disappeared from Pitcairn Island.  It is thought that they escaped through a portal into another time.  I have been looking for them ever since.  Joanna Dzingira was their leader. You may be the key to my reaching her. That is why you’re here.  As for not being allowed to see anyone, well it is our belief that they may have escaped into the future.  Officially you are still on Bouvet Island. There are no records to show that you left, and we want as few witnesses as possible.”

“But if they’re in the future, won’t they know about this?”

“Depends where they are in the future? How much do we really know of the past? In four years she hasn’t tried to contact you or to reach you.  If the people are as all powerful as you think, why haven’t they tried to get to you.”

“Maybe I’m not that important.”

“No Richard.  You are very important to her.  I know.”

“What will you do to her?”

“What do you think I’ll do?”

“Arrest her?”

The inspector smiled. “I have to be arresting someone, don’t I?”

Richard turned away.

Gehlen considered turning back to his computer.  Instead he folded his arms and closed his eyes.

***

How does one ask directions in a city where streets have no names, and where only five per cent of the population can read or write?  The simple gesture of asking was in itself greeted with suspicion by many. Why would a stranger wish to know the house of Marduk? The melon seller pretended not to hear the question concentrating instead upon extolling the virtues of his product. The shaven-haired scribe sitting cross-legged on his reed mat beside the city gate looked  up at the stranger with the pity the urban sophisticate would show the rural bumpkin for the next five millenia.  Without answering he continued with marking his clay tablet

A small gold ring dropped into the scribes lap.  As he stared down at it the stranger once more, slowly voicing his words

“There will be another if you take me to the house of Marduk. “

The scribe gaped.  Such a treasure was only by the great ones.  His hand closed on it.  Jumping to his feet he bowed.  “Of course great one; my apologies.  I thought you were just a . . .”

“Now.”

The scribe shoved his writing instruments, tablets and stylus into his bag and rolled up his mat. Once more bowing he trotted down the street only stopping to make certain that the stranger followed.

As they moved along he bawled out to those in his way, “Make way, carrion.  Enkil the scribe and his master had business with the great lord Marduk.” Then he stopped and turned.   “What is your name great lord?”

“My name is for my friends.”

Enkil bowed and resumed his bawling.. They stopped at the square across from the ziggurut.  Here was a well where townspeople watered themselves and their donkeys. Here they gossiped and lingered to watch the life of the city.

Tiamet dipped a gourd into the well and drank.  He listened as Enkil bragged to the people how great a lord his new master was.   Tiamet shook his head.  The first bureaucrat he thought.

***

As the copter began its descent to Capetown Gehlen shook the boy awake.  On the runway stood two figures watching as the copter settled, John and Mary. As soon as he had touched the ground Mary handed Gehlen a folio.  John hung back eyes on the darkness surrounding the plane.

“Customs has already cleared you,” asaid Mary. “Just go straight through the tube to the waiting room.  SST lifts off in fourty-five minutes.”

Two military jeeps, one manned only by a driver, filled with a squad of green-uniformed soldiers waited between the copter and the terminal building.

“Are they really necessary,” Gehlen asked.

“South Africans won’t have it any other way. You know that, sir.”

“Just seems so out of proportion.  Get in the jeep, Richard.”

Once Richard, Gehlen and the Smiths were aboard the driver gunned the engine and sped towards the terminal.  Richard enjoyed the ride, Gehlen wished that he could. “In a hurry to get rid of us, aren’t they,” he muttered to Mary.

“Just protocol sir.”

“Idiots.”

Inwardly, Gehlen conceded he could have expected little else.  Fifty million South Africans saw the agency as a threat to their precarious stability. Too powerful to be ignored or antagonized the agency would be tolerated but separated from the population.  Something like a policy pursued a century before by an earlier South African government he mused.

The first class terminal was empty.  A green-uniformed soldier stood at the door. Gehlen, Richard and the Smiths entered. The sentry then closed and locked the door.

A meal awaited them on a table, sandwiches, cheese, fresh fruit, a chilled bottle of Cape wine and soft drinks.  The most recent issue of the Cape Star had also been left  A wall sized holoviewer promised more amusement.  Richard grabbed the remote on the table.  He punched a button to find El Cid doing battle for the city of Talavera.  Munching on a piece of cheese he sprawled on a chair his feet kicking in the air.  His interest fading as Don Rodrigo courted his beloved Chimene, Richard sat up.

“Are we the only ones?” he asked.

“In first class, yes.” said Gehlen looking up from his paper.

“Weird.”

Gehlen shrugged.

Knights parading at a tournament caused Richard to return his attention to the screen.

***

The great triangle of titanium and steel arched towards the outer fringes of the atmosphere. Capetown to Tahiti was a three-hour flight for the Euroair SST.

“Is it true that we actually go into space,” Richard asked.

“Yes.”

The boy looked down at the curve of the earth.

“It all seems so . .  .”

“Weird?”

“No, .. . wonderful.”

“Well, perhaps.”

“Perhaps?”

“When you’ve seen something too often, you lose the wonder of it. You’re lucky Richard. It hasn’t happened to you yet.”

“You mean it will?”

“Some day; it’s called growing up.”

The boy looked at him. The man was not looking at him but at the window at the earth below.  Why, he asked himself, did the man never want to look at him?

“Where are you taking me?”

“I told you.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Nonsense. I will take you to Pitcairn. Then I will take you to see your mother.”

“And then?”

“And then you’ll go home.”

“You’re doing all this just to take me to her?”

“Yes, Richard.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Well we’ll see if you’re right or not, won’t we?”

Richard slid away from him settling in the rear of seats next to the sliding door that separated first class from economy.  He began fiddling with the small computer built into the armrest of the seat.  Gehlen considered saying  something  but decided that the matter could wait. Best not to fuss.  Some emotional upset was to be expected.  Brooding on it would only worsen matters.

The stewardess brought their meals.  A great debate had taken place between Euroair and the agency over the question of aircraft personnel serving time anomaly staff. The agency won their point arguing that customers were customers and that the chances of the future being infected by an anomaly eating an airline meal were at best minimal.

Richard ignored his dinner. Behind him he could hear voices murmuring.  The inspector was viewing his monitor. His male assistant was dozing, the woman leafing through a magazine. Impelled by a curiosity that had been building since leaving Bouvet Island  he rose and slipped through the door into the economy section. .Standing, he slid the door open.

The faces were what he saw first. He had never seen so many faces at one time.  Row after row of faces extended back to the end of the plane. Some were dark, Malay, African or Polynesian.  Most were white, vacationers off to the beaches of the South Pacific. He walked the aisle studying the people.  He had never seen so many mainlanders.  On Bouvet Island where the Islanders made up the majority one tended to forget that off Island the Mainlanders ruled.

The seats were smaller here, people more crowded together and yet to Richard this section on the plane seemed more comforting.  At the back were three empty seats. He settled into one.  On the seat in front of him was a small holoscreen.. He punched the on button on his arm rest.

Gehlen closed his laptop and glanced towards Richard’s seat. The empty seat did not alarm him. He had probably gone to the washroom.  Then he noticed the door to the first class cabin had been left ajar. Finding him, Gehlen admitted, was not a great achievement in deductive reasoning. He simply followed the aisle trying not to think of the turning fasces and whispering voices.  He found Richard at the back asleep. This left Gehlen with a slight problem.  Richard belonged in the seat reserved for him by the agency, not here among these mainlanders. The airline would complain.  Questions would be asked, trivial ones to be sure, but still the boy was his responsibility.  Such questions would not help his career, but then, did that matter anymore? Leaving the boy where he was, the inspector walked back to his seat.

Sleeping. The sensible thing to do thought Gehlen. He should try to do the same.  He was telling himself that even as he switched on his laptop. Instead of sleeping he called up the file of Richard, the seventh time that day.  Richard’s file was by no means unique.  Every islander had one, detailing every known fact, from moment of finding until day of death.  The file was divided into several parts.  Gehlen was studying the I.P.S., Intelligence Profile Section.

An  IQ of 175; the boy was intelligent but then all foundlings were. Analysis of brainwaves usually indicated level of intelligence.  Some finders claimed to be within ten quotient points after an initial examination.  But Richard had not been analyzed until after being brought to Pitcairn. He had been a matter of luck, not of choice.  Then Gehlen corrected himself. Not of the agency’s choice. Joanna Dzingira’s choice, and Sam Habib’s.  From what he had gathered of  Habib’s tenure while director of operations, the  man had taken certain liberties with the agency’s authority.

The Dzingira woman, from what he could recollect of her, had believed that in retrieving young Richard she had with the backing of the agency. Habib must have convinced her that the agency had given him permission to proceed.  No such permission had ever been given. He had presented the agency with a fait accompli.  To save its own face the agency had accepted the retrieval. Habib must have known that it would have no other choice but the incident had not been forgotten. The decision had been made then to have Habib retired and sent back to Lebanon. But why, Gehlen then wondered had Habib been so determined to retrieve this particular child, even at the cost of his own career and ultimately, his life.

For four years Gehlen had considered the matter.  Attached to the boys’ reports was an archaeological study of the excavation of a grave in the Zagros Mountains.  The grave dated back five thousand years.  The grave had been dug for a child killed by lions.  Three years ago a secret team of agency scholars was sent to Iran to excavate the grave. It had not proved difficult to find, the team having the benefit of Sam Habib’s copious notes.  What proved more difficult was finding anything in the grave.  The bones had had long before crumbled into dust. Bones however, where not what the diggers were looking for.

Mention had been made of an amulet of the child’s neck.  It had been photographed and its description had been recorded.  Then in a quirk of sentimental incompetence characteristic of Habib, it had been buried with the child. That insignificant piece of meteorite had become very important to the agency.  An identical amulet had been found on the child Joanna Dzingira had rescued.  Months later a clever soul in research had pointed out that if the same amulet had been buried, then physical evidence might exist of the possibility of alternative universes.  It sounded rather dubious to Gehlen, until the moment when he held both the amulet and the stone from the grave in his hands.  They were identical in every way. The finest instruments could not detect a difference. They were the same.

For years scientists had argued about the possible effects of multiple dimensions. Some believed that two identical objects from different time periods upon touching one another would act like matter and anti-matter, destroying one another.  In a well-shielded laboratory robotic arms had one stone touch the other.  Nothing happened.  That the agency decided was the most dangerous thing that could have happened.

Brendan O’Leary, the replacement for the unfortunate Madame Dupot who had been transferred to a revenue office in Brussels, had after careful examination of the reports concerning the amulets  had pocketed one stone and requested Gehlen to take a walk with him.

They had followed the trail down to Bounty Bay.  Overlooking the tiny harbour, O’Leary had explained to him that the stones proved that the agency had been correct in its original suppositions.  “Futurists,” O’Leary had whispered.

“Sir?”

“They must have known about the Sargon expedition, about where the child was buried. Simple enough matter to duplicate the stone and plant it in the grave.”

“But the child was buried with the stone.”

“Was he?”

O’Leary looked down at the small stone in his hand.  Swinging back his arm he threw the stone far out into the bay.  It fell, splashed and was gone.

“What stone, sergeant? This agency,” O’Leary explained. “All of this wealth, power rests upon a very simple principle. There is only one past and it cannot be changed.  Do you understand, inspector?”

So Gehlen became an inspector.

***

“People live here?” Richard asked Gehlen as he looked down at the tiny island from the copter.

“For over three hundred years they’ve lived here.”

“Weird.”

“Well you won’t be here long.  We leave in three days. You’ll be staying at my place until we leave.”

“Where are we going?”

“I told you. To see Miss Dzingira.”

“You said you didn’t know where she was.”

“I don’t, but I know how to reach her.”

***

The statue still looked out over the lake. Joanna looked up at it.  Old Sir John A still stood guard over his city, his eyes staring out towards the American enemy to the south.  Joanna looked at the old man and wondered how disappointed he would be. To spend a lifetime building a nation only to have that nation abandon its own sense of identity for the sake of a few more dollars; Joanna shook her head. What a reason to kill a nation.   She found a park bench and sat.  It was a warm May morning.  She could smell the freshness of the grass and the trees.  In her handbag was the letter, the man had left at the house of the Glass Harp.  He had walked in one morning as Mrs. Bascombe was opening the store. Without saying a word he had placed an envelope on the counter and had left. The envelope had been addressed to Joanna Dzingira. It had been written and according to the description given by Mrs. Bascombe left by a man Joanna had known as Sergeant Gehlen. He had requested a meeting to discuss the return of her son.

How had he found her? Sean’s reports had referred to the Glass Harp.  Gehlen must have surmised that Mrs. Bascombe was more then just an old woman who took in lodgers and managed a second-hand bookstore.

She sat on the park bench as she was instructed.  Eight minutes later she and Gehlen’s s tall spare figure were marching down the black paved walk.  Without glancing at her he sat down on the bench.

“How did you find me?” she asked, looking out over the lake.

“Read  Sean Mulcahey’s reports.  Simple enough. Getting agency approval was the hard part.”

“Yes, I suppose it would be.  So, what do you want?”

“What I told you in the letter.”

“You expect me to believe that the agency will simply hand me my son?”

“No. Just that I would.”

“Why?”

He looked away from her at a small sailing dingy scudding over the waves. “I watched Jane Christian die.”

Joanna lowered her head. “I didn’t want to leave her.  She would not go.”

“After the islanders fled, the agency ordered her arrest.  They would have sent her off the island.  As you know, she could not accept that.  She took sleeping pills. There was no pain. I sat with her until it was over. It was either that or turn her over for questioning.”

Joanna closed her eyes. “Decent of you.”

“She told me once that the only I way I could reach you would be to give you your son, so here I am.”

“Where is he?”

“In a hotel.  He’s quite safe.”

“What do you want, Sergeant?”

“Inspector.”

“Congratulations. Answer the question.”

“I want to know who I am.”

“You’re a detective.  Find out.”

“All records are destroyed. I don’t even know where to begin.  It’s not like Pitcairn.  We are never told who found us.  But where I came from is not what I’m referring to.”

“How do I get my son?”

“I have two agents with me.  They are young, honest, of unshakable loyalty to the agency. Their orders are to guard the boy with their lives, and they will.  Separating them from Richard will not be easy.”

“Then why did you bring them?”

“The only way I could get agency approval.  They are convinced that their orders are to seize you when you come to take Richard.”

“So how do you intend to do this?”

“Short of killing them?”

“Preferably.”

“What is it like where you come from?”

“Like?” Joanna shrugged.  “Green, like this place.  Warmer.”

“No. What does it feel like to be there?”

“We call it Home.  That’s what it feels like.”

“Interesting.  Tonight at midnight.  The House of the Glass Harp. I will bring the boy.  Now the condition.”

“Ah, the condition.”

“I go with him.”

“You?”

“Why not?  I’m an Islander as well.”

***

Richard fell asleep after watching the three stooges defeating Hercules.  Gehlen carried him to his bed.  The Inspector then settled into a chair to share a bottle of wine with the Smiths. As they drank he discussed the next day’s plan.

“The boy will place her off guard.  When she sees him her eyes will be on him.  John you move in from the rear as I take her.  Mary, you watch for anyone that might interfere.”

He brought put a palm sized needle gun. One quick shot, she’ll be out for six hours.”

“You should have taken her when you had the chance,” said Mary.

“I told you.  She wouldn’t trust me if I didn’t see her alone. “

John nodded. If the Inspector thought that was the best approach then it probably was. Mary shook her head.  “We would have had her.”

“We will,” said Gehlen.   He glanced at his watch.  The hands showed a quarter after  eleven.  From the television set the news announcer’s voice droned, discussing the mounting crisis in Eastern Europe.  Nothing more boring than old news thought Gehlen. “Time to rest. I’ll take the couch.”

Mary and John retired to the bedroom.

***

The tea remained in the cup, cooling and untasted.  Joanna listened to the soft ticking of Mrs. Bascombe’s mantel clock. Mrs. Bascombe, also known as Louise Miller,

“What will I say to him?” Joanna asked.

“Who?”

“Richard.”

“Probably not very much.  We won’t have time for long chats. Later, there will be time.”

“What if he doesn’t like me?”

“What if he doesn’t.  We can’t send him back.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“Be quiet.”  Louise stepped out.  She went into the garage and unlocked the door of her Ford Pinto.

The doorbell chimed. Joanna knew that she should open the door.  She found herself unable to move. The doorbell chimed again.

“Do you want me to answer it?” Mrs. Bascombe asked.

“No.”

“Well someone had better.”

Joanna saw them standing beside the door before she opened it.  The boy standing beside him, holding a bag must be Richard.  He was taller.  Even so she could recognize the curly black hairs and the eyes.  What would she say to him? She opened the door.

Gehlen pushed the boy through the door and then stepped in.

Richard looked at her, curious with no trace of affection or great expectation.

“Richard?”

She held out her hand to him. “You’ve grown so much.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know you.” He looked over at the inspector wondering what he should say next. The woman did not seem to him to be very interesting.

She smiled a nervous smile. “Well, it’s been a long time.”

“We’ll have to chat later,” said Gehlen.  “We only have a few hours.”

“What did you do to them?”

“My friends?  I added something to their wine. They’ll sleep for six hours. After that they’ll be coming here.”

“Won’t do them any good” said Mrs. Bascombe entering the room. “So you’re Gehlen?”

The way she said it indicated that she considered the man to be of some importance. She looked down at the boy. “And you are Richard?” She placed a hand on the boy’s left cheek.  “I am very glad to meet you.”

“Thank you,” he said wishing the old woman had not touched him.

Mrs. Bascombe looked back up at Joanna and Gehlen.  We have to go.  Follow me.”

She opened the door that led down to the garage.  She opened the car doors.

“Where are we going ” Gehlen  asked.

“Nowhere, Mister Gehlen,” Mrs. Bascombe smiled.  “We’re already here.” She turned on the ignition.

Gehlen was about to say something when the air began to shimmer.

***

The twins awoke in their hotel room to find a gray-haired, bearded man sitting in a chair, a glass of whiskey in his hand. Through heavy eyes Mary stared at him wondering if she had entered the wrong hotel room.

The man lowered the glass. “Getting a bit sloppy, aren’t you Mary? Aren’t you trained to expect the unexpected?”

.John, covering  him with his pistol, glanced at her sister.  She had not even made a move for her gun. Instead she seemed intent upon staring at the man’s face.

“Heinrich?”

Gehlen nodded.  “Yes. Have a drink.  You’re going to need it.”

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Islands in Time : Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine : Flight

Jane Christian’s birthday, June twenty-eighth had begun as all holidays had begun, as a family celebration. However on Pitcairn a family tradition was always a communal event. As the number of Pitcairners shrank so did the celebration. Then the foundlings had come. To Joanna and to all those who came after her, Mother Jane’s birthday celebrated not only her life but also theirs. The Adamstown Treaty Celebration belonged to the agency. Jane’s birthday belonged to the islanders. Only one mainlander had ever been invited, Sam Habib.

Despite what had happened to Sam and Susan, Jane insisted upon going ahead with her eighty-first birthday celebration. Their deaths had blanketed the mood of the celebration. People smiled, congratulated Jane and chatted about anything that would skirt what had happened on Pitcairn during the past few weeks. Jane remained quiet and somewhat expectant as if awaiting an important guest. Just after six o’clock that guest arrived.

Doctor Foley smiled at the guests. At least his holographic image smiled at them. As Joanna looked at the old man in the straw hat seated in a wicker chair in front of Jane’s papaya tree she could not keep from feeling that she had seen this somewhere before.

The voices stilled as the image bowed and began to speak. He congratulated Jane on her birthday. Then he spoke to the islanders.  “I had hoped that you would not have to hear this. Long ago Jane and I agreed that if the agency should change this message would be destroyed. Apparently it was not.”

People’s eyes flicked from Foley and focused on Jane. She made no response, her knobby fingers stroking her cat, her attention still with the hologram. Joanna drifted towards where Jane stood sheltered from the sun by her back porch. As she had aged, her stoutness had softened but she had still retained the heaviness of her Polynesian ancestors. She had refused to fight against the onset of old age, rejecting all regenerating treatments, even skin lotions. God gave. God took she had told Joanna with a finality that had closed the subject.

Joanna looked up at her mother in wonder. How well had she known Foley? How could she have known him? Apart from three brief encounters they had never seen or spoken to one another. Jane had never left Pitcairn. Foley had never returned since the creation of the Admanstown agreement. Yet Foley addressed her with an easy familiarity.

Foley resumed. “The Adamstown agreement is based upon an assumption that any trifling with the past endangers the present. Therefore you Islanders, as refugees from the past, threaten the present. That is why you are chained to this island. That assumption….is wrong. ”

Jane lowered her cat to the wooden floor of the porch and settled into a chair.

Foley waited for a moment and then continued. “The universe is now. It always has been. It always will be. Being eternal it is without past of future. Man however is mortal, all too aware of his approaching death.”

Foley smiled. “I’m sorry if that thought ruined your party.”

“Get on with it,”muttered Jane, rubbing her left leg.

“We therefore perceive time as being linear. Early man watched the sun crossing the heavens. Rational being that he was he concluded that the sun moves around the earth. The logic was quite correct. How could they know that it was the earth that moved? So it is with time.”

“We claim to have developed time travel and yet we fail to even understand what time is.  When man first considered the possibility of time travel he looked at it from a linear perspective. Human history advanced forwards moving from primitive barbarism to the modern age. In doing so we confused time with the time. We look at our watches and we assume that time is moving. It is the earth that is moving. It is we who are moving towards our own deaths.”

“So what does this mean to you? A fair question. We have developed the portal a machine that allows us to travel along the course of human history and yet we lack true understanding of what it does and of its potential. The administrators, agents and the general public remain bound to the linear concept of time. History they believe is as fragile as the finest porcelain. One nudge and it crashes into pieces. They view time as being based upon the patterns of their own lives. They stare into Galileo’s telescope and call the moons of Jupiter a satanic trick. Time travel is a threat, hence the butterfly principle.”

“There is a threat but it does not lie in the portal. It lies in our own fears and ignorance. That fear and ignorance created the butterfly principle. That myth keeps you chained to this rock.”

“Long ago there were other myths, based upon religion, race, economics and simple hatred. They each called for the subordination of one section of humanity to another. So this calls for your submission, your enslavement by the agency.  Every people have a right to seek its destiny. It is true that you are a people small in number.  Should the right to exist in freedom be based upon numbers?  Now you must decide. Do you remain slaves to the agency or do you go forth to seek another future for yourselves? There was once a man named Moses who led his people out of bondage. As did Moses once did, seek your destiny in a mountain.”

The image flickered and vanished. Fifty pairs of eyes stared at the open space in front of the Papaya tree. Then Jane rose to her feet. She stood tall and straight as she always stood, disdaining the use of a cane.

“Years ago, long before any of you came here, except for Joanna, Doctor Foley came to my home. We sat together on this porch and we talked. I did not want to see him at first.  He had brought them with all of their machines. For three hundred years this island was a refuge. They made it into a prison. I had no reason to think that he was different from them. But he was. He was never one of them. He used them just as they used him.”

“Used them for what,” asked Natasha.

“To build homes for people like you; the lost ones of history.  You are my children.”  She stepped down from the porch. They made way for her. She walked up to Natasha and placed a hand on her left cheek. “A good mother knows when it is time to let her children go.”

Natasha held the hand . “But Mother Jane, there are no mountains on Pitcairn.”

“There is one” said Joanna. “Mount Adams.”

“Hardly a mountain,” shrugged Saiful.

Natasha interrupted him. “Mountain or molehill. What does it matter? Mother, there is no way that we can leave this island except through the portal which is down. Even if it were working they would never let most of us near it.”

The Islanders grumbled their assent. Jane raised a hand, silencing them. “Even now, none of you understand. Foley did not invent the portal to explore the past. He hated the past. The agency did not finance the portal because of archaeological interests. The purpose of the portal is not to explore the past. It is to control the future. Fools.”

She shook her head and turned back to the porch. She settled on a porch step and looked up into the faces of her children. “No one can control time. If I raise a flag over Pitcairn does that mean that I can control the ocean? The future is yours. You just have to take it.”

Her words thudded against bewildered silent faces. Joanna spoke for them all. “Mother, we cannot get off this island.”

Jame smiled. “Of course you can. There has been a portal on this island for three hundred years. It is in Christian Cave waiting to be triggered by my signal. All that you have to do is to go to it.”

***

Sergeant Gehlen shifted in his padded seat. As much as he tried he could not make himself feel comfortable. The Bounty Inn with its dark polished teak beams, soft lighting and aromas of fresh flowers and fine wines might suit the nabobs of the agency. He preferred a roast beef sandwich at the NCO mess. At least the beer here was good. He sipped it and watched Director Dupont’s personal secretary, Gunther Halle, dab at his thin lips with a white linen napkin. Halle placed the napkin on the table and smiled. He wondered if the sergeant ever relaxed. Was perpetual suspicion an occupational hazard with security?

“There’s a rumour going around that the Islanders are planning a picnic for next Sunday, no mainlanders involved.”

“Picnicking against the law now, is it?”

“No Sergeant. It’s not against the law. “Halle noted the trace of insolence in the sergeant’s voice.  “The director feels that this picnic might be an attempt to organise a protest meeting against the administration. Director Habib’s death created a good deal of ill-feeling.”

“Really?” Gehlen took another sip of beer. “Why would she think that?”

Halle poked at his tiramisu. Gehlen’s next review was three months away. He would look forwards to adding his own comments to the sergeant’s file.

“It could be just a picnic.” said Gehlen.

“Could be isn’t good enough. Always best to know for certain.”

“Exactly what do you want me to do?”

“Ask some questions. Start with the Dzingira woman. Her dislike of the agency is well-documented.”

Gehlen recalled his last meeting with Joanna Dzingira. Once, albeit unknowingly; she had made agency history. Now she was a fading middle-aged woman. A failed agent and a mediocre copter pilot she was of little use to any one except Jane Christian. The previous afternoon he had seen her sitting in a chair outside the director’s office.

A shabby trick the way they had treated her and her so-called son but still in the greater scheme of things, what did it matter?  The woman continued to sit refusing to accept what was obvious to everyone else. Having found a new recruit in her son, the agency would never let him go.

Every so often Gehlen would look up from examining some inconsequential document on his monitor to see her staring into space. He wondered what she was seeing. When he lowered his eyes he could feel her examining him. His instructions had been to let her sit until she grew tired of the game. When she asked if the director would see her that day he replied as he had been instructed. He did not know. Perhaps she could try tomorrow. He had not enjoyed the lie but his instructions had been clear.

After three hours she finally rose. He concentrated on the monitor as she passed his desk. She leaned over.  “Have you ever wondered who you really are?” she asked.

Try as he might he could not pry that question out of his mind. He knew where he had come from, the infant’s dorm on Bouvet Island. A former Norwegian whaling base, fifty-eight square miles of rock and glacier the South Atlantic it had been chosen as the principal training base for the agency. How he had been brought there, Gehlen did not know. Neither did he care. Agents from Bouvet did not give their names to foundlings. On Bouvet Dzingeria’s example was considered to bad for discipline.

Gehlen had belonged to the G group. Every foundling brought to the island that year had been given a name beginning with G. The name Gehlen had originated with a computer charged with finding names unused by previously agency foundlings.

The toddlers in the dormitory had known none of this. Their world had consisted of bright-coloured rooms decorated by paintings of ponies, clowns and elephants. The three nurses and one doctor had served as their parents. At the age of six this little word ended. They were then flown to another base on the north side of the island.  Here they were analyzed and separated into new groups based upon scholastic ability.  Potential Guardians went into Group A. Gehlen was slotted into Group B. The tutors had concluded that he lacked the proper degree of imagination to make a guardian. Nothing to be ashamed of. Only very few became guardians, Little Richard was a good reliable worker. The agency would find a place for him.  So Richard at the age of six had been assured that he was mediocre.

The guardians, those incorruptible protectors of time had once been his heroes and heroines. He still admired them, but he had long ago lost his desire to emulate them. Perhaps he was just getting old. They were supposed to be somehow special, different from ordinary people such as he  Now they seemed younger, a bit callow, shallower, less well-trained, less interesting. Perhaps they had always been that way and he had been too young to notice.

Foundlings slotted into Group B went into the bureaucracy and internal security. Gehlen might be lacking in imagination but he did have a good eye for detail and a good memory, important assets in security work. He had not questioned the agency’s decision to place him in security. Obedience was the duty of every child on the agency, something not ingrained in the Pitcairn agents. No matter. The small clutch of foundlings on Pitcairn had served their purpose.  The time had come for them to rejoin their brothers and sisters in the main part of the agency. Perhaps it would be best to start with the Dzingira woman. Once she came over the others would follow.

Dzingira’s office was a tiny cubicle on the seventh floor. There she would receive complaints from other Islanders. There she would receive them and then pass them on to whatever office that possessed the authority to ignore them. Gehlen found the cubicle empty both or Dzingira and of her personnel possessions. The guard at the security desk informed him that she had resigned a half-hour before. “You might find her at Jane Christian’s house.”

As he rode the elevator back up to his own floor Gehlen considered how he should approach the Christian house. He could just walk there.  Good exercise and economical but somewhat wasteful of time. Besides, it might undercut the impression of authority that he wanted to convey.  A copter would be good possessing both speed and impressiveness. However Jane Christian was well known for her antipathy towards the agency. She might view the copter as a threat. Something more subtle was needed. He settled for a bicycle.

***

Amazing thing, the clothes pin Joanna thought as she took one out of her mouth and pinned a blouse onto the line.  Three centuries of technological evolution had passed since its inception and the humble wooden two-pronged pin still did its job. Behind her she could hear Jane clucking at her chickens. Tomorrow the birds would have to fend for themselves. Tomorrow. She paused in her pinning. Where would she be tomorrow? She looked towards the peak of Mount Adams.  Just after dawn they would gather in front of Jane’s house. From there equipped with knapsacks and picnic baskets the fifty islanders, Jane leading them, would march towards the mountain and towards their future.

The sharp pinging of a bicycle bell caused her to turn towards the road.

Genhlen brushed red dust off his trousers legs and straightened his collar. He considered what he would say. The agency’s jurisdiction did not extend to this part of the island. The last time the agency had challenged Jane Christian on her land, they had come off second-best.

The door opened.  Jane Christian stepped out onto her porch. Arms folded she frowned down at him.

Behind her, clothes basket tucked under one arm stood Joanna.

“Good morning, Miss Christian, Miss Dzingira.”

The two women did not reply.

Somewhat self-conscious Gehlen held up his badge.  “Sergeant . .. ”

“I know who you are,” said Jane. “What do you want?”

“I’d like to talk with you, Miss Dzingira.  Official business.”

“Here its not,” said Jane. “You have no jurisdiction here, sergeant.”

“The island is under European administration. The agency is an extension of …”

“Have you come to arrest me, sergeant” asked Joanna.

“I would just like to ask you a few questions.”

Jane smiled. “Sometimes we don’t get our wishes, do we sergeant? Now if you’ll excuse me I have more important things to do like feeding my chickens. Goodday.” She turned away.

“It’s about the picnic tomorrow.”

Jane looked back at him. Gehlen noted how Joanna started forward until Jane seemed to hush her with a touch on her arm.

“It’s a small island,” he smiled.

“Not small enough it would seem,” said Jane. “People are having a picnic tomorrow. So what?”

“There are those who think that it might be something more.”

“Would the director be one of those?”

“My job is to keep the peace. I don’t want anyone to be hurt.”

“On a picnic? We’ll bring a first aid kit in cause someone scrapes themselves. The director’s paranoia is beginning to infect you sergeant.”

“Could I speak with you alone, Miss Dzingira.?”

Joanna shook her head. “I have nothing to say to you or to anyone from the agency.”

“I know that you’re upset.”

“How very perceptive, sergeant. If you want to talk to me, bring me back my son.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Then there’s little point talking to you, is there?”

Gehlen looked away from the house towards Mount Adam. He disliked what he would have to say but felt that he had no other choice.  He turned back and looked up at Jane. “Do you know anything about real property law, Miss Christian?”

“Why?”

“We call it real from the old French for royal. Ultimate ownership of all land rests with the state. If the state wants a particular piece of land badly enough it can take it. The European Union owns this island, all of it. You hold this farm on sufferance. The agency is going to expand soon. Probably be needing more land.”

Jane frowned.  “You have an interesting job, sergeant. Bullying old women.”

“I’m just predicting what might happen. I’m sure you’ll be amply compensated. Miss Dzingira, You’ll come by my office after the picnic.”

“As you wish.”

“Enjoy your picnic.”

Gehlen pedaled away. He tried to shake off a feeling of self-disgust that had settled over him. He had only been doing his job. Every job had its bad points. No one would harm Jane Christian. He had made his point. The Dzingira woman would say what she had to say.

***

Natasha arrived at just after seven in the morning. Within a half-hour all fifty, ages running from seventeen to Joanna’s forty-three had clustered in front of Jane’s home.

Gehlen looked up from the copter’s monitor. “They look to be all there.”

Mary handed him a cup of coffee. He sipped it and looked back down at the monitor. “Damn.” The fifty had begun to troop into the house.

“She’ll have trouble fitting that crowd in” said John.

“We should have had some bugs planted inside,” said Mary.

“Too late now,” said John pouring his sister a cup of coffee.

Twenty minutes passed. The copter hovered well out to see, invisible to anyone in Jane Christian’s house.

The sergeant’s orders were to shadow while remaining inconspicuous, a bit of a trick on an island the size of Pitcairn.

The front door of the house opened. Natasha Rankin emerged, the others following her. The last to leave was Joanna. She looked back for a moment. Jane stepped out, kissed her and waved at the others. The old woman remained on the porch until the Islanders had passed beyond her gate. She then stepped back inside and closed the door.

“Odd,” said John. “She isn’t going with them.”

Mary shrugged. “She is eighty-one. Probably doesn’t feel up to it.”

Gehlen said nothing. All that he could see unfolding was an innocent outing. What a waste of resources tying up three agents and a copter to supervise a hike.  At his orders the copter followed the hikers but retaining a discreet distance.

“Looks like they’re heading for the mountain,” said John. “They’ve a nice day for it.”

“Maybe it is just a picnic,” said Mary. She sounded disappointed.

Gehlen said nothing. As far as he could see the band seemed to be on an innocent outing. The old woman had stayed home. So what? She was in her eighties.

The three looked on as the Islanders climbed the slopes of Mount Adams. Then the fifty disappeared.

“They’ve gone into the cave,” said John. “They should be out soon.”

“What are they doing in there,” asked Mary.

“Sightseeing I should think.”

“There’s nothing in there worth seeing.  I’d rather go up to the top of the mountain if I were….”

A beeping on Gehlen’s hand phone cut her off.

“Gehlen here.”

“O’Toole. Engineering. My people have picked up a strong electromagnetic burst identical to that put out by a portal.”

“Interesting. Have you tracked it?”

“Yeah. Mount Adams.”

***

The cave was empty. Gehlen knew that it would be. Footprints led to the rear of the cave. Beyond that lay rose a rock wall. He placed a hand on the cool damp surface. “Pied Piper of Hamelin,” he murmured.

“Sir?” asked John.

“Old, old tale of a man who leads a group of children to the side of a mountain. All the people chasing them were so confident that the mountain would stop them. Instead it opened. The piper led the children into the mountain.

It closed behind them. Do you know why they had followed the Piper? He was taking them to a place where they would be happy.”

“Did he?”

“Who the hell knows.”

***

The copter settled in front of Jane Christian’s house. The order had come in to take her to the agency for questioning. Telling the twins to remain in the machine, Gehlen jumped out.  He found her in her bed, asleep. On the table beside her was an empty bottle of sleeping pills and a well worn copy of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. A white envelope lay on the book addressed to him.  Inside was a brief letter.

So now you know. There’s some food and drink in the fridge. You may have it if you wish. You must be hungry and food should not be wasted. I should have offered you something to drink on your last visit. I am sorry for that. It was the custom of our people never to let a visitor go away hungry or thirsty. Do not take this death to heart, sergeant. You are a good man. You are just doing your job. I had to let my chickens go. Who else would take care of them? Joanna tried to persuade me to leave this island but someone had to stay behind to signal the portal to close. Besides, I could never leave this island.

He felt … regret.  He had not meant the old woman any harm. She had chosen her fate. What to do now? Training told him what to do. The old woman had secrets that the agency needed to know. The medical technicians should be able to revive her he thought.  If they rushed her to the hospital and pumped out her stomach, restarted her heart, she just might live long enough for them to question her. They would flood her mind with chemicals, probe it seeking for where the fifty had gone.  Then the answers secured, they would discard her as one would a dried out husk. It just might work. Gehlen clicked open his hand phone. Then he hesitated. She seemed so … content. She had lived her life and had left it without any regrets. He had seen that expression once before, on the faces of Sam Habib and Susan Dubre. He closed his phone and pocketed it. They would try to revive her but each passing second their chances of success would dwindle. Within another five minutes those chances would have become infinitesimal. He sat down beside the bed and waited.

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