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Time's Chariot

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To Kerstin, who shapes my future

Also available by Ben Jeapes:

THE XENOCIDE MISSION
THE NEW WORLD ORDER

BEN JEAPES

TIME'S CHARIOT

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

ISBN 9781407042374

Version 1.0

www.randomhouse.co.uk

TIME'S CHARIOT
A DAVID FICKLING BOOK 978 0 385 61450 4

Published in Great Britain by David Fickling Books,
a division of Random House Children's Books
A Random House Group Company

First published in the UK as
Wingèd Chariot
by Scholastic Ltd, 1999
This edition published 2008

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Copyright © Ben Jeapes, 2000

The right of Ben Jeapes to be identified as the author of this work
has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and
Patents Act 1988.

This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

ISBN: 9781407042374

Version 1.0

Set in New Baskerville

DAVID FICKLING BOOKS
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THE RANDOM HOUSE GROUP Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British
Library.

'But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near,
And yonder all before us lie
Vast deserts of eternity.'

Andrew Marvell,
To His Coy Mistress

One

They had drugged him and now his body twisted
lazily as it tumbled through the air.

Body
. Somewhere in one corner of his drugged
mind was a feeling of annoyance, because he wasn't
a
body
yet, but that was how they had referred to
him. And, looking at the ground creeping closer,
he felt the description would soon be accurate,
which annoyed him even more. He hadn't
even been given the choice of whether or not to
die.

The wind was a booming, rushing noise in his
ears. He had fallen for a long time. He had fallen
off a mountain, he recalled, though he wasn't sure
what a
mountain
was. Perhaps it was that shining
blur. They may have drugged him into compliance
and a fatalistic acceptance of death, he thought, but
he wasn't stupid.

Another corner of his mind wondered about the
emergency agravs – necessary equipment when you
lived over a mile above ground, designed for just
such eventualities as this. Even now they should be
picking him up and reducing his rate of descent so
that he would land as smoothly as a feather.
Somehow he had got past their reach.

He frowned because something wasn't making
sense. This was the Home Time and murder was
meant to be a thing of the past, and yet he
was reasonably certain that murder was what had
just happened to him.

And then the ground, once so far away and
approaching slowly, was suddenly coming quickly
up towards him, and there was no time for terror
before all his worries abruptly ceased.

Two

Isfahan, 1029

Help! Help me!'

The Correspondent paused and cocked his
head, still fingering the halter of the camel tied up
beside the road. He had stopped to inspect the
animal because a camel saddled for a rider, but riderless,
aroused his curiosity. He was in the middle of
what was still called Persia and it was shortly after
his arrival at 08:00, local time on 13 May in the year
the faithful called 407, the Christians called 1029
and his masters called 1564 pre-Home Time. He
was on the road between Qom and Isfahan and so
far, apart from the camel, he had seen no sign of
anyone else around him.

'Help!' The voice was more desperate and, turning
up his hearing, the Correspondent could hear
the sounds of conflict, heavy breathing, metal on
metal. The noise came from the other side of a
small hill beside the road through the desert, and
he set off over it at a slow jog.

There was a fight going on round the other side
of the hill, three against one, and the one was
tiring. The Correspondent had no idea of the rights
and wrongs of the situation and no especial desire
to intervene, so instead he began to record the
scene, sucking the information in through his eyes
and storing it in the special areas at the back of his
brain.

In his final despair, the one man below raised his
eyes and saw the Correspondent at the top of the
rise. 'In the name of the Prophet, help me!' he
cried. Still the Correspondent might have stayed
put if one of the three others hadn't turned round
and spotted him. Immediately he charged with an
angry bellow, scimitar raised.

The Correspondent stood where he was and
watched the man approach. Something inside him
assessed a threat to personal safety and he shifted to
defence mode, without showing any external
change. The attacker's yell peaked as he drew close
and brought the blade down.

With one hand the Correspondent swatted the
blade aside. The other he jabbed deep into
the man's throat. The man staggered backwards
and fell, eyes bulging, choking on his crushed
larynx.

The two remaining attackers stood over their
now motionless victim. They ran at him as one, and
again the Correspondent let them get close. Then
his foot came up at the end of a straight leg, catching
the first under the ribs and crushing his heart.
The second man got the Correspondent's rigid
fingers in his solar plexus and his spinal cord was
severed by a chop to the back of his neck.

The Correspondent looked down at the three
bodies, stored the scene in his memory and then
went down to see if the one they had been attacking
was still alive.

He was – a young man only just out of adolescence,
with a scraggly beard. He had propped
himself up on one arm and he gazed at the
Correspondent with awe.

'You just stood there!' he said. 'I have never seen
someone dispatch three bandits so quickly. You
have my eternal gratitude.'

The bandits had actually posed little threat. The
Correspondent still didn't know much, but he knew
that. Provided he avoided immediate trauma and
kept himself in more or less one piece, his body
could overcome virtually any threat to it from war
or disease, and regenerate itself indefinitely. He was
packed full of added organic components and he
possessed skills and senses that evolution had never
given
Homo sapiens
and never would. He could even
remould his features if desired, given a day or so to
himself. At the moment, he appeared like any other
man of the region in his mid thirties.

The young man in the sand would not have
understood, so the Correspondent just asked: 'Who
were they?'

'Infidel worthless bandits,' the young man said
casually. He looked up at his helper. 'And who are
you, friend?'

Who was he? A good question.
Your memory will be
affected by the transference
. They had told him that,
though he couldn't remember who they were and
he still had no specific memory of the Home Time.
He did know that he had a function: to observe, to
comment, to survive. He was Correspondent
RC/1029 – any further identity that he took would
be up to him.

'My name is of no importance and I am going to
Isfahan,' the Correspondent said – slightly to his
surprise, because until that moment he had had no
idea which direction on the road he was taking.
Meanwhile, he guessed what might be worrying his
new friend. 'I am no bandit. If I were, you would be
dead by now.'

'A worthy point. I am Ali Salim Said and I have
the misfortune to be scouting for my father's
caravan, which will pass this way shortly.'

'Scouting?'

'For bandits,' Ali said with feeling. He began,
very gingerly, to climb to his feet.

'Then I would say you are good at your job,' said
the Correspondent, holding out his hand. Ali burst
out laughing as he took it and pulled himself
up.

'I am good at finding them but not at detecting.
One of them lay by the road, as if already waylaid,
and two waited behind a rock.'

'Is that your camel, then, back by the road?'

'It is.' Ali had finally found his feet, only to fall
over and clutch at the Correspondent.

'Then I had better help you back there,' the
Correspondent said.

An hour later the caravan finally passed by and
the Correspondent was taken in, helped by a glowing
introduction from Ali and the mute testimony
of the three graves which the Correspondent had
been digging. And that was how the Correspondent
came to enter Isfahan.

Isfahan hustled and bustled with the activity and
purpose of a major metropolis. The city was a place
where trade routes converged and it thrived in its
business of producing cotton, silk and wool, with
hundreds of individual shops turning out carpets
and metal goods. The wind shifted and the
Correspondent quickly deduced the location of
the animal market.

'Is this place not magnificent?' said Ali. He and
the Correspondent strolled side by side through the
bazaar, as best as two men could stroll in a place
packed with such a number of people and animals.

The Correspondent made a non-committal
noise. To his surprise an item of knowledge about
Isfahan dropped into place in his mind. Isfahan was
already doomed, but it would soon recover from
the fate that awaited it. In 1051 it would be
conquered by the Seljuk Turks and as compensation
it would become the capital of their empire.
But by 1051, the Correspondent would be long
gone. After 1037 he would have no further reason
for staying here.

1037: another rationed scrap of memory. As a
Correspondent he knew he was a free agent, but
apparently not that free. He hadn't been dropped
in eleventh century Persia on a whim. Thirty
seconds ago he had been a casual wanderer but
now he knew he was here to meet someone, and
that this particular someone would die in 1037. The
man was known to have spent the last fourteen
years of his life as scientific adviser and physician to
the ruler of Isfahan, so that gave the
Correspondent somewhere to start his search.

'Are you well?' Ali was looking at him with
anxiety. The Correspondent realized his expression
must have been blank, his thoughts miles away.

'Yes, I'm well,' he said. 'And yes, Ali, this is a
marvellous city indeed. Do you know where the
palace might be?'

Ali gave him a strange look but, yes, he did know
where the palace was and he was happy to act as a
guide. It was an impressive structure and the two
men stood a safe distance off to observe it.

'Do you have business in there?' Ali asked.

'I've come to meet a man.'

'Then ask to be announced to him.'

'He's never heard of me,' said the
Correspondent, 'but I know how to get his
attention. I need parchment, and charcoal, and ink
– black, red and blue.'

Later he lay on his bed in his room, hired with
money he had taken from the dead bandits when
Ali wasn't looking, and composed his report. His
eyes stared blankly towards the ceiling, and though
it was dark he could easily see the plaster above
him. He had turned all his senses to maximum
while he prepared his report; should anyone come
by, they would find him apparently in a coma, and
he had no intention of letting that happen.

First he put in the straightforward sensory data
of the day. The air, unpolluted but also hot and
dusty. The terrain, tough and unyielding, only just
begrudging a living to the locals. The precise
temperature, the shade of blue of the sky, the
texture of the rock and the sand.

Other things – things that made him feel good.
The friendship of the caravan, and of Ali. The
gratitude of Ali's father. The vitality of Isfahan outside
his window; a city of only a few thousand but
still more alive, more animated than the Home
Time with all its billions ever could be. The taste of
the food, the smell of the people and animals.

(
And how did he know what the Home Time was like
when he had such a poor memory of it? He just . . . did.
)

When the report was finished, he breathed a
sigh. His first! Now it just needed filing. The moon
was up, so . . .

He
thought
, and a tone that only he could hear
sounded in his head.

'
RC/1029, stand by
,' said a voice. Then,
'
RC/1029, transmit
.' He
thought
again and in a
couple of seconds it was over.

'
Report received, RC/1029
,' said the voice.

His first report was filed. A big moment! He got
out of bed and strolled over to the window to look
at the moon. Somewhere up there was the station,
awaiting retrieval by those who had put it there,
centuries from now. It was comforting to consider.
He had no doubt that sooner or later in his career
he would feel very lonely and it would be good to
know that up there was something else from the
future. A link to the Home Time. As long as
the moon was up, he would be able to make contact
with it. That was another item in the innate
knowledge he had brought back with him.

He had a thousand years to go before he could
return to the Home Time. In a thousand years
time, in the twenty-first century, the world would be
sufficiently advanced technologically that the
Home Time could send the recall equipment back
without it appearing anachronistic. A thousand
years until Recall Day. No doubt he had had his
reasons for volunteering for this assignment, but
thinking about it now, it did seem rather a long
time.

But he was at the start of his career; he was alive
and well and surrounded by thousands upon
thousands of facts and minutiae waiting to be noted
and reported on. And tomorrow he would start by
seeking out the man in the palace whose
philosophies would help carve out the path of
western science, centuries hence, and who would
one day be known in the West as the third Aristotle
– but that of course lay in the future, and the
Correspondent had better reason than most to
know that there was a great deal of future ahead.

'Are you looking for someone, my son?'

Ali Salim Said started when his father spoke. He
had been searching around the caravan fruitlessly
and his expression had grown more and more
baffled.

'I'm looking for Salim, Father,' he said. His new
friend yesterday had eventually yielded a name, but
only after his father had asked for it three times.
'He has vanished.'

'Isfahan is a large place,' his father said with a
shrug.

'He is not in his room, which he hired,' Ali said.
That point still smarted with him. To have the
hospitality of the caravan, yet to turn it down like
that . . . And then to vanish . . .

'My son.' Ali's father put a friendly hand on his
shoulder. 'Your friend Salim was . . . strange. Did
you not notice?'

'He saved me from three bandits! I told you
that!'

'Indeed you did. You also told me he saved you
when you called to him in the name of the Prophet,
blessings be upon his name, but first he stood
by and watched. Now, do you recall how I had to try
and get his name out of him? Indeed, do you know
a single thing about the man other than what he
has grudgingly told you? For saving your life he has
my eternal thanks, but when you have my years and
my experience, you too will notice these things in
strangers. They are not always what they seem. Did
Abraham not entertain three angels without
realising it?'

'You think he was an angel?' Ali wasn't sure
whether to scoff at the idea, or be awed.

'I think he was a man whose life's path only
briefly crossed yours, my son. If he wants you to find
him again, he will let you do so. If not, accept it as
the will of Allah. I only ask that you be prepared
for the possibility that you will not see your new
friend again.'

The Correspondent sat on a cushion and sipped
his coffee in the calm of the palace while his
host paced round and round him, feasting his
eyes on the document with which the
Correspondent had gained entry. They were completely
alone.

'Fascinating. Truly fascinating.' Abu Ali al-Husayn
ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina was 49 years old but
looked older – he had never seen eye to eye with
more orthodox Muslims on the subjects of drink
and sex. The Correspondent had found the way to
his heart, and if there had been any doubt as to its
location, Abu Ali was holding a map. 'I have always
known the blood circulates within the body,
because it will flow from a wound in the head just as
easily as from a wound at the feet, but to see this . . .
where did you get it?'

'It is common knowledge where I come from,'
said the Correspondent. 'The complete circulatory
system of the human being.'

Abu Ali looked again at the maze of lines drawn
in blue and red over the black, androgynous outline
of an adult human. His eye traced the course of
the wrist artery, and holding the diagram in one
hand he felt for the beat of the blood in his own
wrist with the other. Then his hand moved to his
neck and again he felt his pulse.

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