The time has come . . . to reinvent time.
Oklahoma native Ben Culver possesses a sudden, strange power. Much like a sleepwalker, without awareness or intent, he begins to travel through timeinto the past, into the future, and into serious trouble. Maude and Lucas Hawthorn, owners of an exclusive time travel agency in Kansas, hope to find Ben fast, before someone turns the sacred space-time continuum into cosmic Swiss cheese.
For Ben has unwittingly provided the means for the evil genius Kaffer to escape from his pyramid prison and accomplish his diabolical goal: wipe out the Whispersthe Hawthorns' time-jumping friends who are searching for their origins back in the very roots of time. And it is there, deep in time, that the Hawthorns must discover the secret of Ben's uncanny abilities, stop the timemonger, and save the world from the lost realities and alternate universes that threaten to end it forever . . .
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"Oh ... yeah. Sorry. I ..."
"First meetings with future beings take some getting used to, I imagine." Toocie nodded. The reassuring smile on her little Whisper face was at once childlike and very wise.
She looked at the poster carefully, her eyes narrowing. Then she passed it around. One by one they studied the face in the picture.
Deem Eleveno in particular seemed to concentrate on the features of Ben Culver, then handed the poster to Teal Fordeen. "Look at this face, Teal," he said. "Isn't this--"
"I believe you're right." Teal nodded. "It certainly does resemble him."
"Resemble who?" Lucas prodded.
"We don't know who he is, exactly." Teal Fordeen shrugged. "But this resembles a person who came to L-383. But not through any transference of ours. He simply materialized here, momentarily. A timer, we assume, though he seemed quite startled at being here and left abruptly."
"That sounds like Ben," Nancy mused. "I swear it comes as a surprise to him every time his buttons match their holes. My brother is the most distracted person I know."
One of the Whispers fed data into a pad, and just beyond Teal Fordeen a virtual display winked out. The twice-life-sized hologram that took its place was a skinny, tousle-headed young man with startled eyes, crouching among virtual displays. He was naked to the waist, clad only in muddy, tattered pajama bottoms, and he had a dark thing like an assault rifle slung over one shoulder. For a moment he crouched there, turning one way and then another, then with a guttural hiss that sounded like "Aliens!" he plunged directly into a virtual starfield and disappeared.
"That's him!" Nancyexclaimed. "That's Ben! Where did he go? Did he have his house with him?"
"No house." Teal Fordeen shook his head. "Just that device at his back."
"It's a weapon indigenous to the early twenty-first century," Deem Eleveno elaborated. "Its basis is older--copper-encased lead projectiles propelled by a volatile carbon-nitrogen compound in a brass housing. The activating mechanism is a Sturn-Benning Model I gas-activated automatic rifle, circa 2002."
"We tried to trace him by resonance trace, after he penetrated the loop," Teal said. "But his transference was too quick. We surmise that he has the ability to catch slow-light crest somewhere below the true-light thrust. So far as we know, even Adam can't do that. If we're right, we have a new breed of timer here."
Nancy blinked at him. "Timer ... you mean Ben? Are you saying my brother is a time traveler?"
"It's only conjecture," Teal assured her. "But we can assume at this point that it's a newfound skill and he hasn't the vaguest idea what he's doing."
"Well, that part sounds like Ben. Who is this Adam you talk about?"
"He's a timer," Lucas explained. "A very unusual person. He's a sort of ... well ... like a policeman sometimes. Not everybody traveling in time can be trusted, and Adam sort of makes it his business to keep history straight. He'd want to know if there's a stray TEF running around loose somewhere."
"But where would your brother get a TEF?" Toocie wondered. "And why? If he's a natural timer, he doesn't require analogous transposition."
"We've reviewed the focalizer data, Teal," Deem said. "Every existing TEF is accounted for--forty-six of them in present use or inventory, two destroyed, and the one Adam recovered from 1KHAF4. The recovered one went to analysis at UEB Sundome, then was reissued. And, of course, there is one focalizer beyond recovery. But it is documented."
Teal Fordeen nodded. "L-270's prime drive TEF. The scout loop's cone, embedded in stone when 1KHAF4 was entombed. So that accounts for all fifty."
"1KHAF4," Lucas muttered to Nancy. "That's Kaffer--the son of a bitch who shot out our front wall. He used to be a Whisper, but he went wild or something. They got him, though. Adam sealed him up in a pyramid."
"Could this fit into our current puzzle?" Teal asked Deem.
"I don't see how." The impatient Whisper shrugged. "We've found no traces of photogravitational reversal. A few blips, but no tracks. TEF activity leaves a finite wake. These are just random anachronisms ... except that suddenly there are a lot of them."
"At least now our mystery visitor has a name," Toocie pointed out. "He's Ben Culver."
"We've been calling him Sleepwalker," Teal told Lucas and Nancy. "But we don't know where or when he is. I do think, though, that Adam might be interested. We'll try to get word to him."
"You already did," a deep, calm voice said, almost at Nancy's elbow. She looked around, gasped, and raised her eyes. The man standing there was tall--even taller than Lucas by an inch or so. Dark hair, dark eyes that had seen more than most eyes ever saw, and a sun-darkened face that somehow radiated irony, concern, and wisdom, all at once. He was dressed like an early-twentieth-century aviator.
"I was testing out a Spad at Somerset Aerodrome," he told Teal. "Mandy popped into the cockpit to tell me you had a problem." He glanced aside at Lucas, nodded, then lowered his gaze to Nancy. "Hello," he said. "I'm Adam. I'll see if I can locate your brother." He glanced at the others present and turned to Deem Eleveno. "Question," he said. "The temporal effect focalizers have been counted, but have they all been verified for authenticity?"
"Most of them are installed for use." The Whisper frowned. "Verification is a part of installation testing. The rest are in secured inventory. How could any not be authentic?"
"It's just a thought," Adam said. "Another thought is, what surety do you have that there are exactly fifty in existence? Couldn't there be more?"
"Nonsense," Deem bristled. "Extrusion of a polymorphic solid-liquid transformer attuned to pure light and pure gravity is one of the most exacting processes known, even to our culture. The raw technology behind it didn't even exist until the twenty-eighth century. And even in our home time, there is only one processing complex capable of making TEFs. It is within UEB Central. We know exactly how many there are!"
"George Wilson made the first ones in the twenty-first century," Adam pointed out. "He didn't have UEB Central's technology."
"But he did have the Institute for Temporal Research!" Deem said. "Besides, his devices were the prototypes. And they are all accounted for."
"I'm sure they are." Adam grinned. "Still, what would it hurt to verify the inventory?"
Before Deem could respond, Teal Fordeen raised a hand. "We can and will run a verification, Adam," he said. "And we'll order tests of all that have been out of service."
Adam nodded. "Good. Why not start with the one I took from Kaffer's tomb. And look for modifications, while you're at it. I'll see what tracks I can pick up, while that's being done." He glanced again at Nancy, and his sardonic grin didn't hide the determination in his eyes. "Don't worry, Miss Culver," he said. "We will find your brother."
He seemed only to turn away, toward one of the holographic screens, then he was gone. As though he had never been there.
Nancy Culver's eyes were like liquid starfields as she gazed at where he had gone. "Jeepers," she said. Her hand brushed a console sensor, and above it a display screen spiraled crazily.
"Interesting," Peedy murmured to Toocie Toonine. "Females of this era evidence remarkable similarities in their reactions to Adam."
To seek the beginning of time is to seek the limits of infinity, which has no limits. It is a paradox pursued. Yet as with any paradox, such pursuit is rational and valid from certain perspectives.
The WHIS T1 conduit, in effect a time tunnel, theoretically exists as an open bridge throughout T2 time, vulnerable only to massive anachronism and limited only by the extent of time itself. Time being infinite, the conduit also should be infinite. But in practice it has limits. Its distant upstream reaches, plunging back into the remotest past, become imprecise. The phenomenon loses definition, at a rate corresponding to the achronal discordance evidenced by time itself in the zones approaching universal origin.
The tunnel does not end abruptly. Rather, it simply fades into the swirling morass of conflicting probabilities and ceases to be a viable conduit.
It is this phenomenon that WHIS set out to explore initially--the temporal chaos of the "time when time began." But it was not what they found there that turned the exploration into migration. For what they found was a mystery far more startling than they could ever have imagined. In those furthest reaches of the universe's creation, a converging infinity where primal forces of gravity and light rampaged among empty dimensions, they found paradox. And they found the riddle of the gate.