The Time Traders [Time Traders Series Book 1]
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by Andre Norton
Category: Science Fiction
Description: If it is possible to conquer space, then perhaps it is also possible to conquer time. At least that was the theory American scientists were exploring in an effort to explain the new sources of knowledge the Russians possessed. Perhaps Russian scientists had discovered how to transport themselves back in time in order to learn long-forgotten secrets of the past. That was why young Ross Murdock, above average in intelligence but a belligerently independent nonconformist, found himself on a "hush-hush" government project at a secret base in the Arctic. The very qualities that made him a menace in civilized society were valuable traits in a man who must successfully act the part of a merchant trader of the Beaker people during the Bronze Age. For once they were transferred by time machine to the remote Baltic region where the Russian post was located, Ross and his partner Ashe were swept into a fantastic action-filled adventure involving Russians, superstitious prehistoric men, and the aliens of a lost galactic civilization that demanded every ounce of courage the Americans possessed!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1958 USA
eBookwise Release Date: September 2006
60 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [258 KB]
Reading time: 181-254 min.
To anyone who glanced casually inside the detention room the young man sitting there did not seem very formidable. In height he might have been a little above average, but not enough to make him noticeable. His brown hair was cropped conservatively; his unlined boy's face was not one to be remembered--unless one was observant enough to note those light-gray eyes and catch a chilling, measuring expression showing now and then for an instant in their depths.
Neatly and inconspicuously dressed, in this last quarter of the twentieth century his like was to be found on any street of the city ten floors below--to all outward appearances. But that other person under the protective coloring so assiduously cultivated could touch heights of encased and controlled fury which Murdock himself did not understand and was only just learning to use as a weapon against a world he had always found hostile.
He was aware, though he gave no sign of it, that a guard was watching him. The cop on duty was an old hand--he probably expected some reaction other than passive acceptance from the prisoner. But he was not going to get it. The law had Ross sewed up tight this time. Why didn't they get about the business of shipping him off? Why had he had that afternoon session with the skull thumper? Ross had been on the defensive then, and he had not liked it. He had given to the other's questions all the attention his shrewd mind could muster, but a faint, very faint, apprehension still clung to the memory of that meeting.
The door of the detention room opened. Ross did not turn his head, but the guard cleared his throat as if their hour of mutual silence had dried his vocal cords. "On your feet, Murdock! The judge wants to see you."
Ross rose smoothly, with every muscle under fluid control. It never paid to talk back, to allow any sign of defiance to show. He would go through the motions as if he were a bad little boy who had realized his errors. It was a meek-and-mild act that had paid off more than once in Ross's checkered past. So he faced the man seated behind the desk in the other room with an uncertain, diffident smile, standing with boyish awkwardness, respectfully waiting for the other to speak first.
Judge Ord Rawle. It was his rotten luck to pull old Eagle Beak on his case. Well, he would simply have to take it when the old boy dished it out. Not that he had to remain stuck with it later....
"You have a bad record, young man."
Ross allowed his smile to fade; his shoulders slumped. But under concealing lids his eyes showed an instant of cold defiance.
"Yes, sir," he agreed in a voice carefully cultivated to shake convincingly about the edges. Then suddenly all Ross's pleasure in the skill of his act was wiped away. Judge Rawle was not alone; that blasted skull thumper was sitting there, watching the prisoner with the same keenness he had shown the other day.
"A very bad record for the few years you have had to make it." Eagle Beak was staring at him, too, but without the same look of penetration, luckily for Ross. "By rights, you should be turned over to the new Rehabilitation Service...."
Ross froze inside. That was the "treatment," icy rumors of which had spread throughout his particular world. For the second time since he had entered the room his self-confidence was jarred. Then he clung with a degree of hope to the phrasing of that last sentence.
"Instead, I have been authorized to offer you a choice, Murdock. One which I shall state--and on record--I do not in the least approve."
Ross's twinge of fear faded. If the judge didn't like it, there must be something in it to the advantage of Ross Murdock. He'd grab it for sure!
"There is a government project in need of volunteers. It seems that you have tested out as possible material for this assignment. If you sign for it, the law will consider the time spent on it as part of your sentence. Thus you may aid the country which you have heretofore disgraced--"
"And if I refuse, I go to this rehabilitation. Is that right, sir?"
"I certainly consider you a fit candidate for rehabilitation. Your record--" He shuffled through the papers on his desk.
"I choose to volunteer for the project, sir."
The judge snorted and pushed all the papers into a folder. He spoke to a man waiting in the shadows. "Here then is your volunteer, Major."
Ross bottled in his relief. He was over the first hump. And since his luck had held so far, he might be about to win all the way....
The man Judge Rawle called "Major" moved into the light. At the first glance Ross, to his hidden annoyance, found himself uneasy. To face up to Eagle Beak was all part of the game. But somehow he sensed one did not play such games with this man.
"Thank you, your honor. We will be on our way at once. This weather is not very promising."
Before he realized what was happening, Ross found himself walking meekly to the door. He considered trying to give the major the slip when they left the building, losing himself in a storm-darkened city. But they did not take the elevator downstairs. Instead, they climbed two or three flights up the emergency stairs. And to his humiliation Ross found himself panting and slowing, while the other man, who must have been a good dozen years his senior, showed no signs of discomfort.
They came out into the snow on the roof, and the major flashed a torch skyward, guiding in a dark shadow which touched down before them. A helicopter! For the first time Ross began to doubt the wisdom of his choice.
"On your way, Murdock!" The voice was impersonal enough, but that very impersonality got under one's skin.
Bundled into the machine between the silent major and an equally quiet pilot in uniform, Ross was lifted over the city, whose ways he knew as well as he knew the lines on his own palm, into the unknown he was already beginning to regard dubiously. The lighted streets and buildings, their outlines softened by the soft wet snow, fell out of sight. Now they could mark the outer highways. Ross refused to ask any questions. He could take this silent treatment; he had taken a lot of tougher things in the past.
The patches of light disappeared, and the country opened out. The plane banked. Ross, with all the familiar landmarks of his world gone, could not have said if they were headed north or south. But moments later not even the thick curtain of snowflakes could blot out the pattern of red lights on the ground, and the helicopter settled down.