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Of Chiefs And Champions

THE TIME PROJECTOR!

The Time Projector has been activated transporting Bass Foster's fellow castaways in time to the American wilderness where native Indians battle Spanish invaders.

And even as the unlikely band of travelers struggles to save the Indians from their foe, Bass and his troops are caught in the intrigues of Ireland's warring kingdoms.

Divided and stranded in their different times and lands, the castaways face the challenges of foes far more deadly than any they have ever known.

Book 4 of the Castaways in Time series

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Robert Adams

Robert Adams (1932-1990) was a career soldier whose Horseclans series drew on his military background to lend verisimilitude to the exploits of 26th Century of immortal mutant warriors in a balkanized North America. The Coming of the Horseclans (1975) was the first of 18 novels in the sequence, which ended, with The Clan of the Cats (1988), only on account of the author’s death.

His non-Horseclans work included two other series. Castaways in Time (1980) and its five sequels were a mix of alternate history and time travel. The Stairway to Forever and Monsters and Magicians (both 1988) were the only volumes to appear of a projected fantasy series.

He also co-edited several anthologies, among them Barbarians (1985, with Martin H. Greenberg and Charles H. Waugh), four Magic in Ithkar volumes (1985-87, with Andre Norton), Robert Adams' Book of Alternate Worlds (1987, with Pamela Crippen Adams and Martin H. Greenberg) and Robert Adams' Book of Soldiers (1988, same co-editors).

Coming Soon...
Excerpt

Prologue

Arsen Ademian was not in the least superstitious. Old tombs and dead bodies held no terrors for him; he had lived and fought in proximity to too many corpses to consider them anything more than what they were—dead meat, sometimes stinky, but in no way harmful to the living. Therefore, he felt none of the atavistic terror that Simon Delahaye had experienced on his own descent down the stone steps of the ancient crypt.

The smoky fire sputtering on one of the steps gave precious little light to the interior below, but errant beams of sunlight which filtered through the trees above and about the glade also entered the doorway. Although he could see no other people down below, Arsen still stalked down the steps with light, cautious tread, the big knife he had taken from off the shaggy, smelly man held close by his right hip, as they had taught him in the Corps, pointed forward, its sharpened edge up, ready to either stab or lunge or slash at any surprise attacker.

Edging around the opened, coffin-sized silvery chest at the foot of the steps, Arsen meticulously reconnoitered the whole of the crypt before returning to examine the unusual find more thoroughly.

Only a brief look inside it told him it was probably not a coffin at all, but neither did it look like anything else he ever before had seen.

It was a bit over six feet long, inside, and closer to seven in outer dimensions. The metal was not silver, it looked and felt to the touch very much like a good grade of aircraft aluminum, but his tentative experiments with the point of the knife left no slightest trace of a scratch upon it, yet it was far too light, he thought, to be stainless steel.

“Alloy of some kind,” he muttered to himself. “But the big question isn’t what it’s made out of, but what the hell it is and what it’s doing down here in a goddam old tomb.”

A sheathed broadsword caught his eye, so he laid the knife within easy reach, took the sword from its case, and hefted it. “Hmm, looks like a real da-mascus blade and all, but it’s no better balanced than any of the one or two others I’ve gotten my hands on recently. A good foil or épée fencer with a modern sword would skewer anybody armed with a thing like this, and that damned quick, too.”

The next item he took from the silvery casket was a foot-and-a-half-long wheellock pistol. Holding it up in a beam of sunlight, he could see that the thing was spanned, the spring wound down tight, so it probably was loaded, though he could find no powder flask or bullet box or even the spanner for it among the jumble of things in one end of the casket. Nonetheless, he laid the pistol beside the big knife; one shot was better than none, and if that one missed, well, the ball-butt would make a damned good skull-cracking club.

He found a suede bag of silver coins of two sizes, a smaller bag of assorted-sized gold coins, and a third bag of what looked to him like large, square wafers of glass with tiny wires poking out of them.

There was a dirk that was better balanced to his hand than the big knife, so he replaced the one with the other. There were a pair of matching daggers, shorter than either dirk or knife, double-edged, thin-bladed, deadly-looking things. There were also a half-dozen other knives of varying sizes and shapes.

When everything loose he could see was out of the case, Arsen began to feel about in the interior to find anything he might have overlooked in the uncertain light. Probing up near the opposite end from where the artifacts had been stacked when he came down, his fingertip struck something which went click, and then a whirring sound commenced. When it had ended, there was a soft, greenish-white glow emanating from both outside and inside the long casket, and he noted that the interior lining had somehow rearranged itself so that it now looked like the mold for the body of a slender man of average height, no bigger or smaller, seemingly, than he.

While he watched, staring in silent wonder, the casket arose from its place on the stone floor, rose lightly until its highest edge was a bit below his waist height, then stopped. Then the voice began speaking.

It took him a moment of confusion to realize that the voice was not really an audible sound, that whatever it was was not speaking words to him but was projecting—somehow—thoughts into his head. He stood shaking, terrified, yet piqued, intrigued, at the same time.

Then, putting himself in order, taking a few deep breaths, exerting the self-control he had worked for so long and hard to acquire, he began to really “listen,” to comprehend just what the whatever-it-was was “saying.”

It required his every ounce of available self-discipline and courage, but he did it. After tucking one of the thin daggers into his belt for insurance, he climbed into the casket and laid his body down, fitting perfectly into the hollows of the padding. He gulped when the lid descended and clicked on closing, but his frantic shriek did not come until he felt a cold, hard thing suddenly come from somewhere to encase the top of his head down to eyebrow level. And then, for all he could ever recall of it, he must have lost consciousness of pure terror.

In the glade, out of sight of the gaping maw of the ancient tomb, John the Greek had trussed up the shaggy, smelly stranger with his own and said stranger’s belts. Arsen had demonstrated an ability to protect himself and John from the stranger’s attempted assault, but John knew damned well that he could not do anything remotely similar, for while Arsen had been learning such practices in Marine boot camp and in the living hell of the war in Vietnam, John had been learning more peaceful, money-making pursuits in dental school.

No sooner had he gotten the still-unconscious, raggedy man fully tied than others of the party began to wander from out the brushy woodland.

Al and Haigh were the first. The eyes of both were wide with fear and their faces were white as fresh yogurt but with a bit of a greenish tinge, too. John knew exactly how the two younger men must feel, he figured.

“John,” said Haigh Panoshian, in a hushed but very intense tone, “where the fuck are we, man? How’d we get here... wherever ‘here’ is? Goddam you, you Greek prick, tell me!” He almost screamed the last two demanding words.

A voice from somewhere nearby and unseen in the deciduous woods shouted something in what sounded to John like Arabic and French mixed, those words he could pick out being incredibly obscene. Shortly, the speaker, still spouting foul utterances in both tongues, stumbled from out the woods, tripping over the mossy root of an oak and making his arrival in the clearing chin and hands first, which occurrence brought forth a fresh spate of foreign obscenities, crudities, and blasphemies.

When he had at last gotten all of the dirt, dead-leaf bits, and chips of bark spat out of his mouth, Mike Sikeena savagely kicked the root that had tripped him with one heel, snarling, “Cochon! Ibn al-Kalb! Motherfucking asshole-sucker!”

The short, solid young man looked so comical sitting there on the damp loam on one thigh and buttock that John could not, despite everything, repress a grin and the comment, “A long name and, I must say, very unusual, buddy; I’m John the Greek.”

“Very fucking funny, you pogue-hunting bastard,” Sikeena snapped. “How the fuck did we get out of that castle and out here in the damn boonies, anyhow, huh?”

“Yeah, John,” said Al Ademian, “and where the hell’re the rest of us? Uncle Rupen and Arsen and the girls?”

John shook his head. “Rupen I haven’t seen here. The girls, well, Arsen and I heard them shrieking somewhere in the woods a few minutes ago. Arsen went over to see what’s in that stone hut there.” He waved over his shoulder at the tomb squatting in the random patches of sunlight and shade. “That was just after this fucker here on the ground tried to brain us with thishere shillelagh or whatever it is. But Arsen put him down for the count. Christ, I never thought I’d ever see him and his beer gut move that fast.”

Sikeena shrugged. “Shit, he useta be a Marine, man. What you expect? The Corps teaches you how to take care of yourself, you know.”

“What’s taking Arsen so long, John?” queried Al. “When did he go over to that hootch, anyway? Maybe we should oughta go help him, you know.”

“Christ on a crutch!” snapped John, after a brief glance at his expensive gold wristwatch. “He hasn’t been gone five minutes. He can look out for himself if any of us can, and besides, he had a great big knife he took off this fucker here, too.” He pointed a shoetoe at the sizable now-empty sheath still fastened to the belt securing the man’s ankles.

Haigh was beginning to come out of his funk, hearing the familiar, crude exchanges of his fellow band members, most of whom had always taken great, childish delight in picking at and needling each other, sometimes to the point of actual fisticuffs.

“Hey,” he put in, “where’re Greg Sinclair and Mikey? Reckon somebody oughta go back in the woods and look for them? The girls, too?”

“Thank you, Haigh, but that won’t be necessary.” John recognized the voice emanating from out of the nearer woods as that of Rose Yacubian, but it sounded tight, strained, almost on the point of hysteria. “And why the hell not?” he thought. “This kinda fucking shit’s enough to put anyfucking-body over the edge. Damn, I’ve been hanging around with these Armenian jarheads too long. I’m even beginning to think in dirty words, just like they talk all the fucking—there I go again, dammit—time.”

Arsen just lay in the casket for long minutes after the metal cap had left his head and been drawn back into its recess. He now knew exactly what the casket was, how to use it, and how to use most of the items it had contained. He knew, now, that he could be back in his own time and world at any time he wished. “How ‘bout right now?” he thought gleefully, then stopped with a finger poised at the control mounted in the lid above him. “But what about the rest of them? This carrier will only work for one person, the instructor said; for more than the operator, you need a Class Seven projector, and I don’t recall having seen one around here, though I will look again, in a minute.

4Sweet Christ, I’m lying here thinking to myself pure science fiction crap. But it’s real, I know it is, it’s got to be, ‘cause there’s just no other fucking explanation that fits as good as this does. Unless... unless I’ve flipped my fucking gourd and imagined everything. Well, there’s one surefire way to prove whether it’s true or I’m nuts.”

Kogh Ademian, St., President and Chairman of the Board of the far-flung conglomerate that Ademian Enterprises had become since the immigrant blacksmith Vasil Ademian had founded it in the depths of the Great Depression, had taken to working late—very late, sometimes all night—at his office since the mysterious and still-unexplained disappearance of his eldest son, his elder brother, and assorted other relatives some seven months before. Working himself into a stupor, keeping going on copious quantities of ouzo and one Havana puro after another, was just better than trying to have any peace and quiet at home anymore, where his wife could suddenly go into a screaming tizzy at the drop of a hat and start throwing things, clawing at his face and demanding that he find out what had happened to their son or else she would kill him and/or herself.

He had had to regretfully cold-cock the woman he still loved after all these years more than once in pure self-protection, and that pained him; his brother-in-law, Dr. Boghos Panoshian, was of the opinion that she should be placed in a private psychiatric facility and had recommended a few, and such thoughts pained Kogh even more, though as her fits became more frequent and more violent, he was beginning to seriously consider the well-meant suggestions.

He, too, wanted to know what had happened to Arsen and the rest, particularly Brother Rupen Ademian, but he had pulled every string, he could—and that was quite a number, some of them reaching up into the very highest echelons of the United States Government and not a few other governments, worldwide, as well as governments in exile, intelligence groups, terrorist organizations, underground political parties, and even organized crime—and, seemingly, no one had any knowledge of how or why or where the missing men and women had been snatched or by whom. Not a one of their bodies or any of their effects had ever shown up anywhere; moreover, there had been not one demand for money or any other kind of ransom.

He was finally convinced, however, that the group of Iranians for whom the amateur Middle Eastern band and dancers had been performing at the time they had disappeared really were innocent. He was now convinced because certain men in his employ had spirited off some of those foreign professionals and subjected them to some highly illegal methods of interrogation, giving them the impression during their confinements and travails that their captors and interrogators were members of the dreaded Iranian secret police, SAVAK, and convincing them that they and their families would be killed in most unpleasant ways did they report their kidnappings, imprisonments, interrogations, or tortures.

Most recently, he had hired a guy from down in Richmond that had done some odd jobs for the Ademians in the past to try his hand at finding them. When Kogh first had met the man, years back, he had called himself Seraphino “the snake” Mineo; later, when the man had worked for Boghos as a chauffeur-cum-mechanic-cum-bodyguard-cum whoknowswhatelse, he’d had a long Guinea name, Anonimo Betcha-somethingorother, that Brother Rupen had said once meant Nameless Sniper. Now he ran a private investigations and security company and called himself Sam Vanga. Knowing full well that Kogh had the bread, he had demanded and gotten a hefty retainer, but it and double or triple it would be worth it if he could turn up anything relating to Arsen and Rupen and the rest.

When Kogh had relit his puro, he picked up the lead-crystal old-fashioned glass and sipped at the pale-bluish liquid. Making a face, he leaned over and spat the watery stuff into his trashcan, shoved back his chair, and crossed to the bar for more ice and ouzo, thinking as he built another ouzo on the rocks.

“Christ, I’m getting as bad as Papa with my cigars and ouzo. He smoked those godawful-stinking Egyptian cigarettes, yeah, but it’s just the same thing, really. That damn Boghos kept riding Papa’s ass too, swore the old man was going to die of alcoholism or lung cancer or something godawful long before his time if he didn’t stop smoking at all and switch from ouzo to water or milk, for chrissakes. Papa, he’d thank him for his concern, sound just as sincere as hell, and go right back to what he did all along, remarking if any of us said anything to back Boghos up that what he said might well apply to English people—which was what he always called white Americans—or Negros or maybe even Greeks, but that Armenians were of a far tougher stock than that.

“Well,” Kogh chuckled to himself, “Papa sure as hell showed that damned Boghos a thing or two. That seventy-fifth-birthday blast we had for him at the old farm ran for four days and he ate and drank and danced and smoked for close to twenty hours a day every damn one of those days, too. It wasn’t until a week later, when he was helping a traveling farrier shoe the Cormemarä pony, that he remarked that he thought he’d pulled something in his left arm and walked back up to the house and when I paid the farrier and walked up there myself, Papa was sitting in his easy chair, dead, with a glass of ouzo beside him. Hell, it’s just like I told Rupen and Bagrat at the funeral: If you can’t check out in the saddle, that’s the way to go, just like Papa went.

“Now, Boghos is picking on me, just like he did on Papa. He keeps saying I gotta stop drinking ouzo or anything else, throw away the cigars and the roast lamb, and steaks, and pilaf and kibbe and any damned thing that tastes good, gotta live on nothing but plain salads and broiled fish and dry chicken meat and skim milk—ecchh!—the way he and Mariya do. Fucking fuckheaded fucker!”

He turned from the bar, and the just-filled glass slipped from his hand unnoticed, to land on the thick carpet and splash its contents all over the leg of his trousers and his shiny shoes. All that he could look at was the shiny box with rounded corners and emitting a pale-greenish glow that had, within the few seconds he had been busy at the bar, appeared between him and his desk.

Greg Sinclair came out of the forest slowly, half leading, half carrying chubby Mike Vranian, the side of whose head was crusted over with dried blood, the freckles all showing up prominently on his wan face.

“What the hell...?” began John.

Greg explained as best he could. “All I know is, we was both asleep in two different rooms up in that castle we were in and then, bang, some bastard dropped me down on the hard ground in a whole pile of wet, smelly, half-rotted leaves and acorns and all. But I guess I come off better than poor Mike here—he landed right at the foot of a goddam big tree and busted the side of his head on a fucking root thicker than my thigh. What the hell you reckon that old white-headed fucker of a archbishop did us like this for, huh?”

John headed for the pair, but Lisa Peters got there first. “Lay him down... carefully, you idiot!” she ordered Greg in a no-nonsense tone that he could not recall having ever before heard from the tall, blond, lovely belly dancer. Heedless of the new and older blood, she examined the side of his head with light fingertips, nodded, then peeled back his eyelids and looked as fully as she could into his nostrils and ear canals.

Her examination completed, she rocked back onto her heels and said, “His skull isn’t fractured, anyway, thank God. I don’t doubt he’s got a concussion, but how bad, how it will affect him, only time can tell... here. I don’t know what we can do for him except to try to keep him still and warm and reasonably comfortable. We don’t even have any analgesics, or water, for that matter.”

Suddenly, Al and Haigh shouted as one, “Hey, there comes Arsen!”

Kogh Ademian, Sr., sat in his padded leather swivel chair behind his big custom-made zebrawood desk, clasping and unclasping his big hands in helpless frustration, staring across the desk at his long-missing son, Arsen David Ademian. At length, he spoke.

“Arsen, I... I don’t understand what you’ve told me... any of it. And if I don’t understand, how am I going to try to explain it all to your mother... and the others? Goddammit, son, tell me what the fuck to tell your mother! She’s damned near fucking insane, worrying about you non-fucking-stop for seven fucking months, no exaggeration. Arsen, Boghos thinks I ought to have your mother committed, for Christ’s sake, before she fucking kills herself or me.”

“Don’t worry, Papa,” the younger man assured him. “Mama’s all right now. See, I looked for you first at home and I talked to her. I put this metal cap back on my head and it told me how to repair her brain and...”

Kogh gulped. “You did surgery on... on your mother! How the fuck...?”

Arsen shook his head. “No, Papa, nothing so primitive as what you’re thinking about, that wasn’t necessary. She didn’t feel a thing. I did it all with sound waves, using a little device that’s inside the carrier there. It’s the same thing I’m going to do for you, before I leave, because I can tell that you’re skating very close to a breakdown, too.”

When he had done the necessary work on his father, Arsen and Kogh repaired to another building of the Ademian complex, where, with tools and parts available, Arsen rapidly assembled a very simple and very low-powered projector—what the informer assured him was an adequate Class Two projector, capable of projecting payloads of any size or description so long as their weight did not exceed 27.3030 kilos on any single projection. Thus equipped, Kogh led the way to certain other buildings and helped his son fill his “order,” then told him what specific buildings in other locations of Ademian Enterprises held the certain items he still lacked.

Back in his office at last, alone now, Kogh filled another glass with ouzo, put the rim to his lips, then carefully set the drink back on the bar untouched. Striding over to the desk, he depressed a switch and said to the voice that answered, “Yes, this is Kogh Ademian. Please notify my driver that I’m ready to leave, now. Yes, I’ll be going to my home.”

John the Greek was the last of the sound band members that Arsen led into the now-crowded tomb, its interior brightly lit, despite the westering sun, by several camp lanterns.

“Where the hell did all this stuff come from?” demanded John, waving at the clutter piled in the middle of the floor of the old crypt.

Arsen smiled, holding and fingering the buttons of a peculiar silvery box some eight inches long and an inch and a half square. “Most of it from various Ademian Enterprises warehouses, John, but some from other places, too. You understand, I dislike having to steal, but if that’s what it takes to survive, I’ll do it, and you can lay money on it I will, buddy.”

John’s “explaining” done, Arsen had Mike Vranian borne in, placed on an air mattress, and covered with a blanket while he put the shiny metal cap on his head. At length, he took the cap off and stowed it away, then spoke to Lisa Peters.

“Your diagnosis was accurate, as far as it went, honey. He’s got a very mild concussion. He’ll have a knot as big as a fucking egg and a humongous headache when he wakes up, but nothing aspirin can’t handle.

“Now, let’s go out and see if I can get through to that shaggy stinkpot bastard John’s got hog-tied. I don’t want his carcass in here until he’s had a good wash and been powdered for fleas and lice and whatever other fellow travelers he has about him.”

When dinner had been eaten, the camp stoves turned off, and the empty cans and containers stowed in a garbage bag, Arsen said, “I suggest we all bed down in here for the night. Yes, it’ll be some crowded, but at least we won’t be an offering for bugs and snakes and whatever other critters roam around here at night. That screen panel will stop the bugs, and those four pieces of rod I installed around the door will effectively discourage anything bigger that tries to come in here. I showed you all how to temporarily deactivate them, but if you do have to go out there tonight, take along a light and a gun and don’t go alone, and for God’s sake, remember to reactivate the fuckers and put the screen back in place when you come back in. Anybody want another beer before they get any warmer?”

Once Arsen had “operated” on the mind of Simon Delahaye, he and the others had little trouble in persuading the man to wash in a pool just downhill from a spring Arsen had found by rising above the trees in the carrier, nor had the broken gentleman objected to a shower or five of DDT powder, commenting that he liked its “perfume.” Then they had found a pair of jump boots and a set of fatigues that fitted him—the boots and socks almost perfectly, the fatigues, T-shirt, and shorts after a fashion.

Before Arsen, with his new, arcane knowledge and abilities, had “rearranged” the seventeenth-century warrior’s mind and processes of thinking, he had been convinced that he had fallen amongst acoven of godless witches and wizards, his life and immortal soul forfeit because he had coveted and taken possession of the hellish property of the coven. He still seemed of the opinion that the group were practitioners of magical arts, but now he thought of them as holy, God-fearing witches and wizards.

After probing the man’s thoughts very deeply, Arsen went so far as to give him the sword he craved, his big knife, and some of the other cutlery from out the casket. Arsen’s reasoning was that, of them all, the sometime-Captain Simon Delahaye knew exactly how to make effective use of the long, clumsy piece of sharp steel, and with M-16s, shotguns, high-powered hunting rifles, .45 automatics, machetes, and K-Bar knives available, none of them wanted to burden himself down with an unfamiliar and unwieldy archaic weapon anyway.

They all slept soundly, exhausted by the fear and emotion of the day before, and awakened late. While three of the women were making coffee and picking through the groceries in search of something with which to break their fast, Simon Delahaye fished the last six cans of beer from out the water in the cooler and, popping the tops one at a time, poured the blood-warm liquid down his working throat with seemingly great relish. Arsen had to look away, the very thought of breakfasting on warm beer gagging him.

Mike Vranian was awake and hungry, but all he had been given so far had been a single-serving bottle of orange juice and a couple of aspirin tablets. Now he lay wincing while Lisa first checked him out again, then began to lave off the side of his head with alcohol and sponges from the big first-aid kit Arsen had managed to acquire somewhere.

Probing gently at the source of the blood with an alcohol-soaked bit of sponge, she remarked, “It’s a typical impact wound for the scalp, Mike, about an inch long and straight as if done with a scalpel. It should’ve been sutured last night, but it’s too late now. And besides, this kit lacks a suturing set.”

“Thank God for small fucking... ow... favors,” exclaimed Mike. “See over my cheekbone? I been sewed up before and I didn’t like it, not one damned bit. And when they sewed up my arm, too... goddammitall, Lisa, you trying to stick your fucking finger inside of my fucking head the hard way, or something?”

“Lie still!” she snapped. “And shut your filthy mouth. I’m trying to help you—God alone knows why I should, though. I know damned good and well that once you’re on your feet again, you’ll go back to pestering Rose. She doesn’t want just any man, especially not a foul-mouthed little slug like you, she wants her bridegroom; she misses George in a way you could never understand, since the only person you’ve ever loved is yourself. It’s been all that I and the other girls could do to keep her sane, and you haven’t helped one bit.

“I’m serving you fair warning, Mike, you start up putting the make on Rose Yacubian again or try to do to her what you tried to do to her back in that castle, and you’ll wish you’d died at birth. I’ll geld you, Mike, I’ll cut out your testicles. And please don’t convince yourself that I don’t mean every word I say; I don’t ever threaten often, and when I do threaten, I never make false threats.”

After Vranian, Lisa went to work on Delahaye’s knot, where Arsen had kicked the man’s head the day before. Although she knew that her gentle ministrations must have hurt him at least as much as she had hurt Mike, the spare man never flinched and the smile never left his scarred lips. However, she looked up barely in time to prevent her patient from drinking of the plastic bottle of isopropyl alcohol.

After they all had breakfasted on pan-fried corned-beef hash, buttered toast and jam, juice and coffee—Arsen nearly strangling when he happened to think of the reactions of the management of that supermarket when they found the fact of missing stock from a closed and securely locked store, three ancient gold coins, and a note that read: “Sorry, but I dislike shopping during business hours. A starving Armenian”—John had started the conversational ball rolling.

“Okay, Arsen, whatever you and that... hell, I can’t think of any word that describes that... that... that thing with all the buttons in English, Latin, ancient Greek or modern Greek, either. But anyway, what you did to us with it has obviously worked; we can accept it and all the other things without going flako trying to figure it all out in our minds. So, okay, fine, they’re here, we’ve—you’ve—got them and they all worked for us. But Arsen, where the hell does this kind of stuff come from, huh?

“Look, I try to keep abreast of devices of a dental nature and of a medical nature, and in order to do that adequately, I have to keep pretty well up on science in general, and I’m here to tell you, none of these things or anything vaguely approaching them and what they do and can do is even being experimented with as far as I know anywhere today. So where does this astounding, amazing, fantastic kind of technology come from? Can you tell me, can your devices tell me that?”

Speaking for all to hear, but looking John straight in the eye, Arsen said, “Since a part of whatall the instructor put into my head was to the effect that the carrier and the various grades of projectors can travel through time, I would therefore assume these to be the fruits of some future, either in our universe—the one we came from—or in the one to which we were projected, this one.

“And now, here’s a real shocker that I didn’t tell you last night, wanting you all to eat and sleep and get over the trauma of yesterday, first. We’re not in England anymore. I learned that from the devices in the carrier. We’re in—hang on to your hats, folks—North America, somewhere around the eighty-seventh degree of latitude... I think. That would place us somewhere in what, in our world, is south-central Virigina or north-central North Carolina.

“But when I was up in the sky yesterday afternoon, looking for water to wash Simon in, all I could see was the tops of the trees in all directions—no farms, no clearings much bigger than this one is, no roads of any kind. I saw what might be a river a long ways east of here and a line of hills to the far west, and that was it—no towns, no cities, not even a house of any kind. We know, now, from Simon that this stone mausoleum was projected here from somewhere near York, back in England, and for all I’ve seen so far, it may well be the only thing like it on this whole fucking continent. We may be the only people here, too, for that matter.”

While his companions sat digesting their breakfasts and what he had just told them, Arsen excused himself, crawled inside the carrier, and took it back up into the clear blue sky. Which direction? At last he decided on east, toward that river and, eventually, the Atlantic coast. He’d read somewhere that more settlements of all kinds were on oceans or rivers than ever were elsewhere.

He set the craft to travel just far enough above the treetops to avoid them, knowing that the carrier would automatically correct its height for changes in land elevation. He activated all six of the vision screens and watched them all in turn. The measurements of distance sped past. Once, he saw movement, fingered the magnification into focus, and witnessed two huge, shaggy-haired things that looked like nothing so much as elephants, but with impossibly long, very cursive tusks. (Mammoths? In North America?) Another flash of movement later, farther on, showed him a brownish bear with a black cub, both of them hard at work tearing apart the soft, rotted bole of a tree trunk on the ground in a tiny glade. But that was all... until he saw the black smoke rising high enough for wind currents to disperse it. There seemed to be a lot of it, rising up from several points nearby one another, just beyond the river that now was close and rapidly coming closer. Forest fire?

He swept closer, lower, and on middle magnification he saw pure horror.