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Authors: Steve White

Tags: #Fiction, #science fiction, #General, #Action & Adventure, #Time Travel

Ghosts of Time

BOOK: Ghosts of Time
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Table of Contents

Special operations officer Jason Thanou of the Temporal Regulatory Authority must once again plunge into Earth’s blood-drenched past to combat the plots of the Transhumanist underground to subvert that past and create a secret history leading up to the fulfillment of their mad dream of transforming humanity into a race of gods and monsters.

The transhumanists are attempting to use the chaos of the American Civil War to escape the Observer Effect: the immutable law that recorded history cannot be changed. If any should attempt it, time has a way of dealing with those transgressors in a very brutal, very final fashion. Now it is the last days of the Confederacy, and the Fall of Richmond looms. In the Shenandoah Valley, in the region later known as Mosby’s Confederacy, insurgency brews, and the time travelers must join the raiders to prevent a transhumanist trap from dooming the mission from the start.

Yet human freedom is ultimately on the line in both the past and the future, and the leader of a secret slave underground fighting for liberty possesses an incredible secret that may change Jason’s fate—and that of the future itself—forever.

Baen Books by Steve White

The Jason Thanou Series

Blood of the Heroes

Sunset of the Gods

Pirates of the Timestream

Ghosts of Time

The Prometheus Project

Demon’s Gate

Forge of the Titans

Eagle Against the Stars

Wolf Among the Stars

Prince of Sunset

The Disinherited

Legacy

Debt of Ages

St. Antony’s Fire

The Starfire Series

by David Weber & Steve White

Crusade

In Death Ground

The Stars at War

Insurrection

The Shiva Option

The Stars at War II

by Steve White & Shirley Meier

Exodus

by Steve White & Charles E. Gannon

Extremis

GHOSTS OF TIME

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2014 by Steve White

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Book

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3657-0

Cover art by Don Maitz

First Baen printing, July 2014

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

White, Steve, 1946-

Ghosts of time / Steve White.

pages cm -- (Jason Thanou Time Travel series ; 4)

Summary: "Special Operations office Jason Thanou of the Temporal Regulatory Authority must once again plunge into Earth's blood-drenched past to combat the plots of the transhumanist underground to subvert the past. This time they are attempting to use the chaos of the American Civil War to escape the Observer Effect: the immutable law that recorded history cannot be changed. The Fall of Richmond looms and in the Shenandoah Valley insurgency brews. The time travelers must join the raiders to prevent a transhumanist trap from dooming the mission from the start. Meanwhile, the leader of a secret slave underground possesses an incredible secret that may change Jason's fate--and that of the future itself--forever"-- Provided by publisher.

ISBN 978-1-4767-3657-0 (paperback)

1. Time travel--Fiction. 2. Gods, Greek--Fiction. 3. Bronze age--Greek--Fiction. 4. Fantasy fiction. I. Title.

PS3573.H474777G46 2014

813'.54--dc23

2014009912

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

CHAPTER ONE

It might almost have been the Caribbean.

Not really, of course. The Caribbean was far away indeed, across the unthinkable gulf of forty-eight and a half light years, no mean journey even in these days of the negative mass drive. And the afternoon sunlight that sparkled eye-wateringly on these tropical waters was that of Psi 5 Aurigae, a G0v star slightly more massive than Sol and perhaps half a billion years younger. And the vegetation that clothed these islands was not the wild, rank jungle that Jason Thanou remembered. This world of Hesperia, colonized only three generations ago, was still incompletely terraformed. Even in areas like this where biotech and nanotech had transformed the original naked rock and sand into soil, the scientifically selected, carefully nurtured terrestrial flora still stood in regimented rows. Only later, with the passage of time and the introduction of additional species, would it rebel, diversifying and efflorescing into something like what Jason had struggled through on Hispaniola.

And yet in spite of everything, as Jason flew his aircar westward over the Verdant Sea and gazed to his right at the mountainous islands that marked the boundary of the Cerulean Ocean to the north, he could almost imagine that those islands were the Greater Antilles, and that those peaks rearing above the orderly forest were the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, in whose shadow Port Royal had flourished in all its gaudy and unabashed sinfulness.

Port Royal had vanished almost seven centuries before, in 1692. But Jason had seen it with his own eyes, for he was head of the Special Operations Section of the Temporal Service, enforcement arm of the Temporal Regulatory Authority which held exclusive jurisdiction over all time travel. Only a couple of months before, in terms of his own consciousness, he had sailed those seas beside that preposterously engaging scoundrel Henry Morgan . . . and a certain she-pirate who was very difficult to forget.

He shook his head. Hesperia, his homeworld to which he had returned on a much-overdue leave, would never be mistaken for Earth, even though the two planets were near-twins in all physical parameters, and not just because of the newness of this world’s imported ecology. Earth’s aura of age went deeper than biology, into psychic realms that could not be measured or detected but which all but the most insensitive outworlders could feel in their souls as they walked through history-littered landscapes suffused with the memory of thousands of years of human experience in all its fervor and urgency.

Presently Jason flew over the continental shelf, and the shallow water below took on the greenness that gave the sea its name, courtesy of masses of the seaweed-like aquatic vegetation that was one of the highest expressions of Hesperia’s mostly microbial indigenous life. Ahead lay the continent of Darcy’s Land. A long beach backed by sandy bluffs extended as far as the eye could see to the south, but a few miles to the north the bluffs rose into a range of low hills extending down to cliff-faces at the sea. Lines of white surf rolled up and down the sand as the tide came in. (Hesperia’s moon, believed to be a captured asteroid, was smaller than Earth’s but orbited more closely, hurtling around the planet so swiftly that its motion was clearly visible at night. So the tides were at least equal in strength to the mother planet’s, and more irregular. Sand erosion was a problem.) Low-built, light-tinted villas lined the crest of the bluffs, and it was toward one of these that Jason steered his aircar. It settled to the ground with a hum of grav repulsion and a swirl of dust from its ground-pressure effect.

The canopy clamshelled open and Jason stepped out into the hot sunlight. As always on visits home from Earth, he couldn’t avoid the feeling that Hesperia’s 0.97 G gravitation somehow seemed lighter than that, as though Earth’s burden of history somehow added to the planet’s mass. He yawned, having still not completely readjusted to his homeworld’s rotation period of 27.3 standard hours. Then he smiled and waved as a handsome woman wearing a loose flowing gown emerged from the villa and walked along a palm-shaded walkway toward the landing stage, smiling in return at her son.

Helena Jankovic-Thanou was eighty-one standard years old (a little over seventy-nine in Hesperia’s slightly longer years), but that was a less advanced age in this era than it had once been. She still walked with a sprightly step, and her hair was a dark iron-gray. Her straight features, light-olive skin and dark-brown eyes were those of her son, but when she gave Jason a quick kiss on the cheek she didn’t have to reach up to do it. At five feet eleven, he was below average height for human males from Earth and other approximately one-gee planets in this day and age. It was a useful attribute for one whose work required him to pass inconspicuously in earlier, less well-nourished epochs. He inherited his relative shortness and solid muscularity from his father, who had been noticeably shorter than the willowy Helena, and positively stocky. When Paul Thanou had died in a storm at sea, his widow had bought this small villa in the tropics.

“How is Daphne doing, dear?” she inquired.

“Fine. She sends her love.” Jason had been visiting his older sister in one of the archipelagoes in the eastern reaches of the Verdant Sea, where she followed in their father’s footsteps by working on one of the terraforming projects. Their mother had always been more comfortable with that than with her son’s somewhat unorthodox career choices. It hadn’t been so bad when he had joined the Hesperian Colonial Rangers, a paramilitary constabulary whose functions included suppression of the lawless elements that had sprung up on the frontiers of the terraformed regions as a kind of toxic sociological byproduct. But when he had accepted an (admittedly extremely well-paying) offer from the Temporal Regulatory Authority . . . !

“Good. Oh, by the way,” Helena added as an afterthought, “there’s a gentleman here to see you.”

“Oh?” Jason was puzzled, having already touched bases with all his old friends and acquaintances.

“Yes. He just came down here from the Port Marshak spaceport. He’s waiting in the study.”

All at once, Jason’s danger-tendrils tingled. Despite many attempts over the centuries to exploit quantum entanglement, there was still no such thing as instantaneous “interstellar radio.” Messages had to be carried by shipborne courier. It was one of the reasons for the effective political independence the colonies all enjoyed, however vociferous their protestations of loyalty to Mother Earth. At the same time, when Earth found it necessary to go to the expense of sending such a courier. . . .

“Tell me, Mother: does this gentleman by any chance have the kind of features—plump cheeks, receding chin, slightly buck teeth—that vaguely suggest a rabbit?”

“Well, er, I wouldn’t exactly have put it that way, dear. But now that you mention it . . .”

“Uh
huh!
” nodded Jason with the dourness of confirmed pessimism. He stalked to the villa and proceeded down an airy gallery where the afternoon sunlight was filtered through hanging ferns, to a vaulted room. The visitor rose to his feet from a recliner.

Irving Nesbit didn’t really resemble a rabbit nearly as much as he once had. He had accompanied Jason’s party to the seventeenth-century Caribbean, and to Jason’s amazement had come out of that crucible of horrors and hardships with some of the physical and mental softness melted away. “Commander Thanou!” he beamed. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”

“And it’s something of a
surprise
to see you, Irving,” said Jason, accepting Nesbit’s extended hand. “After . . . what happened following your retrieval, I was worried that the Authority wouldn’t be requiring your services for jobs like this. Or for anything else.”

Nesbit looked rueful. His presence on the Caribbean expedition—to the despair of Jason, who had always regarded him as enough to give spineless bureaucrats a bad name—had been the work of Alastair Kung, a powerful member of the Authority’s governing council who regarded the often unorthodox Special Operations Section as a necessary evil of whose necessity he was not totally convinced. In effect, Kung had sought to use his lap dog as a watchdog, keeping Jason on the straight and narrow path of the Authority’s sacrosanct operational guidelines. Instead, on their return Nesbit had excelled himself and floored everyone by vehemently defending Jason’s flagrant irregularities—surely at the price of his career, Jason had been certain.

“It’s true that I was in bad odor with Councilor Kung for a while,” Nesbit acknowledged. “But in the end even he was forced to admit that you had no choice but to take the actions you did, and indeed that your boldness may well have averted disaster.”

Jason nodded. He knew what Nesbit meant, and that “disaster” might well be too weak a word.

On an earlier expedition to Bronze Age Greece, Jason had discovered the Teloi aliens who had once been worshipped as gods by the human race that they themselves had created by genetic manipulation of
homo erectus
. He and his companions had seriously weakened them, and by the time he had gone back to 490 B.C. to investigate their possible survival they had been a shadow of their former selves. But on that expedition he had uncovered something in its own way even more appalling. He had discovered that the Authority’s carefully regulated time travelers were not the only interlopers in the human past.

A little over a century before, Earth (with the help of its returning extrasolar colonists) had freed itself from the Transhuman Dispensation and its twisted dream of distorting the natural human genotype into a grotesque hierarchy of gods and monsters. It had taken a torrent of blood to wash the motherworld clean of the Transhumanist abominations, but at least the job had been done . . . or so it had been generally believed. But, as Jason had discovered, surviving Transhumanist remnants had gone deep underground, licking their wounds and recovering their strength . . . and stealing Weintraub’s work that had led to the invention of the Fujiwara-Weintraub Temporal Displacer. But they had avoided some flaw in Fujiwara’s mathematics, as a result of which
their
temporal displacer was far more efficient and compact than the Authority’s town-sized installation, and could be concealed. And they were using it to subvert the past. They could not change recorded history—the poorly understood “Observer Effect” saw to that. But they were filling the past’s “blank spaces” with a secret history of conspiracies, genetically-engineered plagues, sociologically-engineered cults and delayed-action nanotechnological viruses that would all culminate in a Transhumanist triumph on
The Day
—a date somewhen in Jason’s future which the Authority devoutly wished to learn.

It was to combat the Transhuman underground that the Special Operations Section had been formed, and granted a degree of latitude which gave Kung and his conservative ilk attacks of the vapors. And it was for this purpose that Jason had led an expedition—with Nesbit in tow—back to the seventeenth century, when the Teloi on Earth were all long dead and consigned to the realms of myth. But the Transhumanists were only too active—and the Teloi had returned, in a new and virulent form. An interstellar war had left their race extinct save for a hard core of military fanatics, the
Tuova’Zhonglu
, who for thousands of years had skulked about the galaxy, stewing in their own megalomania and grimly determined to reassert their dominance when the time was right. And the Transhumanists had tricked them into an alliance which had nearly culminated in the acquisition by the Transhumanists of Teloi military technology. To forestall that nightmare possibility, Jason had gone into space with his companions—including Captain Morgan, who had no business being there three centuries before Yuri Gagarin. That, in turn, had forced Jason to go back to the same time period as his own slightly younger self and restore the rightness of history by wiping the impermissible parts of Morgan’s memory. For Kung, that had been the final straw. It was only Nesbit’s unexpected support that had made it possible, and Jason had been properly grateful.

Now, however. . . .

“Well, Irving, I’m glad you’re back in favor. Although come to think of it, sending you here may have been intended as a form of punishment, given the way Kung feels about the outworlds.”
And their inhabitants
, Jason mentally added.
Especially me.

Nesbit looked slightly ill at ease. “Actually, it was Director Rutherford who sent me.”

“I had a feeling it might be coming to that,” Jason sighed. Kyle Rutherford was the Authority’s operations director, possessed of wide powers but subject to the council’s oversight. Over the years, he and Jason had had their ups and downs. Some of the downs had resulted from Rutherford’s occasionally cavalier attitude toward leaves of absence. “So, Irving,” Jason continued in what Nesbit by now recognized as a deceptively mild tone of voice, “do I gather that you’re back in your old job as Rutherford’s bearer of ill tidings?”

“Well . . . er. . . .”

“What deliberately inconspicuous ‘special circumstances’ or ‘emergency contingency’ clause is it this time, Irving?” Jason’s voice grew even milder. “I know from experience that you can quote me Part, Article, Paragraph and Subparagraph.”

“Director Rutherford thought that, in this instance, perhaps you would want to voluntarily cut your leave short.”

“Did he indeed?”

“Yes. You see, the matter at hand concerns your next-to-last mission.”

“What?” Jason blinked with surprise. “You mean the one to April, 1865?” Jason had only just brought a Special Ops team back from the final cataclysm of the Confederate States of America, where he had foiled a Transhumanist plot while Richmond burned, and departed for Hesperia on leave when Nesbit had been sent to summon him back to Earth for the seventeenth-century Caribbean expedition.

“The same. I’m not privy to the details—‘need to know’ and all that sort of thing—but it seems that evidence had come to light suggesting that at some point in our own near future the Transhumanists will launch an expedition back to a point in time earlier in 1865 than their previous expedition, in an effort to undo your work.”

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