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Authors: John Schettler,Mark Prost

Touchstone (Meridian Series)

BOOK: Touchstone (Meridian Series)
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Touchstone

 

A Novel In Time

 

 

 

Being Volume III in the Meridian Series

 

By

 

John Schettler

with

Mark A. Prost

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright Notice

All material in this
file is protected under U.S. Copyright Law.

 

Touchstone,
Copyright©2008, John Schettler

Being Book III in the
Meridian Series Novels by John Schettler

All Rights Reserved

No part of this file
may be duplicated, distributed, stored in any medium, or sold without
expressed, written permission by the author.

 

ISBN: 0-9713170-6-2

 

John Schettler – [email protected]

 

A publication of:

The
Writing Shop Press

www.writingshop.ws

 

 

 

Rev: 05/09

 

 

 

 

 

About Touchstone

 

When Nordhausen follows a hunch and launches
a secret time jump mission on his own, he discovers something is terribly wrong
with the Rosetta Stone.
The
fate of all Western History as we know it is
somehow linked to this ancient Egyptian artifact, once famous the world over,
and now a forgotten slab of stone. The result is a harrowing mission to Egypt
during the time of Napoleon’s 1799 invasion, to find out how the artifact was
changed…and why.

Novels
By John Schettler:

 

Meridian

A Novel In Time

ForeWord
Magazine’s Silver Medal Winner

For
Science Fiction Book Of The Year – 2002

 

Nexus
Point –
Book II in the Meridian Series

Science
Fiction- 2004

 

Touchstone
-
Book III in the Meridian Series

Science
Fiction- 2008

 

Wild
Zone –
Book I in the Dharman Series

Science
Fiction – With Richard Gylgayton -  2002

 

Mother
Heart –
Book II in the Dharman Series

 

Taklamakan

The Land Of No Return

A
Novel of the Silk Road

Historical
Fiction – 2001

 

Steamboat
Slough

A
Novel – 2004

 

 

 

For
availability and orders please visit:

www.writingshop.ws –
or
- www.dharma6.com

 

 

 

Part I

 

Arrival

 

 

 

“The Chief malady of man is a
restless curiosity about things which he cannot understand; and it is not so
bad for him to be in error as to be curious to no purpose.”

 

— Pascal: Pensées

 

1

 

It was scarcely less cold
on the street than passing through the Arch. Nordhausen shivered
in his heavy overcoat. It occurred to him that his clothes seemed to be
completely frozen, much colder than the air, perhaps an effect of the time
travel. He rubbed himself vigorously, trying to put some body heat back into
the linen, wool and fur that a prosperous gentleman wore against the damp
chill. The air was sour, acid, with heavy drops of floating moisture. He had
never thought about how a pea soup fog would smell. Welcome to the industrial
revolution, he thought.

There was no doubt, this was not
the Cretaceous. Kelly couldn’t have botched the numbers this time, because he
didn’t even know about this trip! Yes, Nordhausen had promised never to do
anything of this sort again, but really...  What harm could come of a little
visit to Old London—just a sightseeing tour; a brief weekend? He would hardly be
gone from
Berkeley
half an hour and they wouldn’t
even miss him. That was the plan and, without any nonsense from Kelly and
Maeve, everything would be just fine. This time he was spot on target,
obviously in
London
, on a sidewalk, along a short
street surrounded by generous four story buildings faced with stone, marble and
plaster. Gas streetlamps shone feebly through the fog in the late afternoon,
hazing over the view ahead. Dusk came early in this northern latitude, he
reminded himself.

The city was noisy! A racket of
wheeled traffic jostled on some nearby invisible block, and he was conscious of
the susurrus of human activity that the vast city generated. There were no
cars, but he realized what a lot of noise people made underneath the roar of
city traffic.

In spite of his excitement, Maeve
sat on his shoulder like a bothersome crow. He knew exactly what she would say
if she ever found out about this mission. “What on earth were you thinking?… You
did
what?…”

Nonetheless, the die was cast,
he was here for forty-eight hours, so he had better do what he could to avoid
causing any problems, like forestalling the First World War or some other
calamitous event. He didn’t see how he could change the
Meridian
if he simply laid low and went
about his business as quietly as possible. He knew Maeve wouldn’t buy any of
these rationalizations, and that was making him very careful.

       Yes, he knew he had joined his hand with those of the other
three team members to give his solemn oath. He could hear Maeve’s words, still
whispering in his mind even now:
“…I’ll say this: if we don’t shut this
thing down, and I don’t see how we can with this war business, then we weigh in
on the side of Mother Time…We know how things are now. It’s the world we
believe to be our own—at least I do. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I
need something to hold onto each day; something I can use to make sense of the
world. There’s enough uncertainty out there as it is. If we get involved, it
must be to preserve the past as we know it now—to put a stop to this time war
by foiling their efforts, if we can…only we do it with more sense and
direction. We keep watch, and we plan, and we get it all right. Understand?”

       Maeve’s point was well taken, but there was a thrill to
time travel that she didn’t seem to embrace. Perhaps the brief experience she
had while running Kelly’s first “Spook Job” to find Paul had not been enough to
get her hooked. She hadn’t really time traveled—at least not to a place where
she could open her eyes and breath in the air of a new world. She hadn’t camped
under Jurassic skies or shared a meal with men who had died before she was
born. And he was willing to bet she hadn’t opened her eyes during that first
brief jump either.

       Still, there was something to be said for her logic about
the situation now. Time war! The thought still sent shivers along Nordhausen’s
spine, and the
London
fog was quick to reinforce
them. He drew his overcoat about him tighter, still thinking about something
Maeve had said.

      
We know how things are now…
 Was that so? The
thought that unseen adversaries from the future were creeping along the deep
Meridians of time was more than unnerving—it was terrifying. What might they be
about? If Paul’s experience after his haphazard stumble into that cavern in the
Jordanian
Desert
was any guide, they were up to a great deal. That nest of
Assassins had been festering away in the year 1187 and planning to meddle with
the history of the Crusades! Might there be other nests; other key Nexus Points
on the
Meridian
where the Assassins were
setting up new operations?

       Time war…

       Maeve was quite correct. In order to fight that kind of
battle one had to have some clear hold on the world before they set to meddling
and changing things. Kelly’s RAM bank, and the nifty Golem program he devised
to constantly monitor the Web, was a step in the right direction. To tamper
with history you needed something, anything, as a sure reference point to
measure your success or failure. The first mission, when they struggled to
reverse the
Palma
disaster, they had to rely on
their own living memory of
Lawrence
’s narrative in
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
. Now, with
Kelly’s RAM bank functioning as a kind of constant memory, they had some hold
on the moment, some tether on the way things were supposed to be. Surely the
Assassins would have faced this problem as well. What were they using? What was
their reference point?

       That thought brought Robert back to the intent of his
mission. Yes, he had always wanted to see old
London
, but there was more to his weekend plans than a simple jaunt
through the foggy streets of Dickens’ era. No, Paul said something that got him
thinking, and he was following up his hunch before he brought all this to the
others.
“…we’ve got our Arch, and Kelly’s Golems, and the RAM bank idea
gives us a good touchstone on the history. Now we stand the watch.”
Robert
remembered how they all nodded agreement, but he was soon thinking about Paul’s
last statement.

        A touchstone, he mused. While he waited out those anxious
hours in the Jordanian desert he had encountered a man named Rasil, the
Messenger, as he called himself. Apparently, this fellow had intended to take a
little jump through the cavern they had stumbled upon in Wadi Rumm. What an
ingenious idea! The technology of the Arch required enormous energy and
computing power to work its magic but, somehow, the Assassins had figured a low
tech way to achieve the same result. They used the quirky nature of a strange
bacterium with an appetite for Uranium ions. Paul called it an Oklo reaction.

       It took a month or more, but the subterranean pools of
radioactive water were enough to generate the power required for a jump—a
precisely calculated jump—from one particular point to another. How they
figured it all out and secreted the equipment in the desert was still a
mystery, but the cavern in Wadi Rumm was a one way jump to the time of the
Crusades—right smack into the midst of Castle Massiaf, the key base for Sinan’s
Assassins in that region. Unwittingly, Paul had taken the ride in Rasil’s
place, and it was only the incredible ingenuity of Kelly and Maeve that brought
him home.

       Robert remembered how he wrangled with his captor, Rasil,
and that brief moment when he had managed a glimpse into the other man’s
haversack. In addition to the satellite phone he had used to alert Kelly and
Maeve to their dilemma, he had found an odd scroll, inscribed with strange
writing that he immediately
recognized. He
was still ruminating over the hieroglyphics
he had seen there, and an
idea began to bubble up. The scroll was obviously a message of sorts. Maeve’s
voice was back, her words echoing in his mind as he replayed the conversation
from their last meeting.

       “What did you find?” she asked.

       “It’s what I didn’t find,” Nordhausen replied. “They’ve got
every last line of discovered hieroglyphic text on file now, and I know enough
about the script to replicate what I saw in that scroll. Using characters
dating from the
Old
Kingdom
, I was
able to draw out most of what I remembered. I scanned the images and ran
comparison queries in the database, but there were no hits on those phrases.”

       “It could mean that this Rasil fellow had something from
another
milieu.” Maeve raced on in her thinking, and it had jogged something loose in
Nordhausen’s mind.

       “Then you suppose they might be using the hieroglyphics as
a kind of code?” he remembered saying. “That would explain why the passages
don’t exist in any discovered writings. But I had the distinct impression that
the characters I saw were a rubbing—as if they had been pressed onto the scroll
from an original stone carving. It was very odd.”

       It certainly was, and Robert intended to follow up on his
hunch and get to the bottom of this business, here and now. He went through his
reasoning again, like a man shuffling through his pockets to be sure he had
everything he needed for a trip. There were lots of discoveries from antiquity
that failed to survive to his present day. Many artifacts had become lost,
damaged or destroyed. Libraries had been looted in ancient times, as at
Alexandria
, and even in recent years, when
the collection of the
Baghdad
Museum
had been plundered at the
outset of the war in Iraq. Unless they were utterly destroyed, these things
still had to be in the world somewhere. Perhaps he could use the Arch to have a
look around in a few promising places. In the process he hoped to find out more
about Rasil’s mysterious scroll. If it was indeed a rubbing, as he suspected,
it seemed to him that some of the history
was
written in stone. The more
he thought about it the better it sounded in his head, though he did not want
to bring his idea up in committee just yet. He had an inkling of where he might
find a good cache of old stone carvings from
Egypt
that had been lost to his day. They were here, right here in
London
, in the
British
Museum
.

       The world had been blissfully ignorant of
Egypt
and its fabulous history until
Napoleon followed his ambitions and invaded that ancient country in 1799. A
thousand scholars had accompanied him there, bent on bringing the benefits of
Western enlightenment to backward people, yet the inverse had been true.
Instead, the troops of savants had uncovered the majesty of the pyramids, of
Karnak
and
Luxor
and
Thebes
. They had sketched it all out
in notebooks and carted off hundreds of artifacts and stone carvings to
Europe
when Napoleon finally fled.
Some of the very first finds of the old hieroglyphics had been uncovered during
that three year expedition—and many of them were here, in the
British
Museum
. They were all nested away in the showrooms and cellars, long
before the greed and neglect of the world saw them scattered or lost.  He had
them all on hand for his inspection, and he was going to have a very close look
before the weekend was through. This was going to be great fun, he thought.
Great fun indeed!

He looked about, trying to get
oriented. He hadn’t gone far in time. He imagined he should be pretty close to
the target date, and pulled out a map of the City while walking to the nearest
gas light. The trees were dripping, and his eyes were starting to burn. How on
earth could people live like this, he wondered? It was worse than
Los Angeles
in the summers of his youth.
More evidence of human progress, he thought, with a sense of pity. These people
suffered from asthma, tuberculosis, chronic alcoholism, tobacco related
illnesses…what did they not suffer from? There were hideous chemical toxins in
the air, especially heavy metal compounds of lead, arsenic, mercury—not to
mention parasites and pathogens. And this was the greatest city in the world at
this moment in time. He would be lucky not to come back with cholera! He made a
note to drink only brewed, distilled or fermented beverages. Beer, wine or gin
were likely to be his tipples this weekend.

He peered at the map while
standing below a street sign posted on the side of a wall at the intersection.
Paddington Street
. Tracing his finger, he found
it. Yes, he was smack in the middle of
London
,
close to
Covent
Garden
and the
British
Museum
, just off
Baker Street

Baker
Street
!

BOOK: Touchstone (Meridian Series)
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