Book: Sunset of the Gods

Sunset of the Gods





Advanced Reader Copy


Baen Books

by Steve White

The Prometheus Project

Demon's Gate

Forge of the Titans

Eagle Against the Stars

Wolf Among the Stars

Prince of Sunset

The Disinherited


Debt of Ages

St. Antony's Fire

The Starfire Series:

by David Weber & Steve White


In Death Ground

The Stars at War


The Shiva Option

The Stars at War II

by Steve White & Shirley Meier


by Steve White & Charles E. Gannon


The Jason Thanou Series:

Blood of the Heroes

Sunset of the Gods

Pirates of the Timestream (forthcoming)


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 © 2013 by Steve White

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

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

ISBN: 978-1-4516-3846-2

Cover art by Kurt Miller

Map by Randy Asplund

First Baen printing, January 2013

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: TK

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Sunset of the Gods

Sunset of the Gods


Even on Old Earth, nothing was forever unchanging, as Jason Thanou had better reason than most to know—not even on the island of Corfu, however much it might seem to drift down the centuries in a bubble of suspended time, lost in its own placid beauty.

For example, the Paliokastritsa Monastery had long ago ceased to be a monastery, and the golden and silver vessels were no longer brought there every August from the village Strinillas for the festival of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ, by a road which had led laboriously up the monastery’s hill between tall oak trees and through the smell of sage and rosemary. Now aircars swooped up to the summit, and the monastery had been converted into a resort, bringing visitors from all around Earth and far beyond it, who stared at the ancient chambers, a few of those visitors at least trying to comprehend what must have been felt by the cenobites who had lived out their lives of total commitment under the mosaic gaze of Christ Pantocrator.

They came, of course, for the incomparable location. From the monastery balcony, one could look out on the endlessness of Homer’s wine-dark sea. Northward and southward stretched the coast, its beaches broken into a succession of coves by ridges clothed in olive and cypress trees and culminating in gigantic steep rocks like the one that the local people would still tell you was the petrified ship the Phaecians, once rulers of this island, had sent to bear Odysseus home to Ithaca and his faithful Penelope.

Now Jason stood on that balcony and wondered, not for the first time, what he was doing here.

He could have taken his richly deserved R&R in Australia, where the Temporal Regulatory Authority’s great displacer stage was located . . . or, for that matter, anywhere on Earth. Or he could have gone directly back to his homeworld of Hesperia—his fondest desire, as he had been telling everyone who would listen. Instead he had come back to Greece . . . but only to this northwesternmost fringe of it, as though hesitating at the threshold of sights he had seen mere weeks ago. Weeks, that is, in terms of his own stream of consciousness, but four thousand years ago as the rest of the universe measured the passage of time.

There were places in Greece to which he was not yet prepared to go, and things on which he was not yet prepared to look. Not Crete, for example, and the ruins of Knossos, whose original grandeur he had seen before the frescoes had been painted. Not Athens, with its archaeological museum which held the golden death-mask Heinrich Schliemann had called the Mask of Agamemnon, although Jason knew whose face it really was, for he had known that face when it was young and beardless. Certainly not Santorini, whose cataclysmic volcanic death he had witnessed in 1628 b.c. And most assuredly not Mycenae with its grave circles, for he knew to whom some of those bones belonged—and one female skeleton in particular. . . .

Unconsciously, his hand strayed as it so often did to his pocket and withdrew a small plastic case. As always, his guts clenched with apprehension as he opened it. Yes, the tiny metallic sphere, no larger than a small pea, was still there. He closed the case with an annoyed snap. He had seen the curious glances the compulsive habit had drawn from his fellow resort guests. The general curiosity had intensified when word had spread that he was a time traveler, around whose latest expedition into the past clustered some very odd rumors.

“Is it still there?” asked a familiar voice from behind him, speaking with the precise, consciously archaic diction Earth’s intelligentsia liked to affect.

A sigh escaped Jason. “Yes, as you already know,” he said before turning around to confront a gaunt, elderly man, darkly clad in a style of expensive fustiness—the uniform of Earth’s academic establishment. “And what brings the Grand High Muckety-Muck of the Temporal Regulatory Authority here?”

Kyle Rutherford smiled and stroked his gray Vandyke. “What kind of attitude is that? I’d hoped to catch you before your departure for. . . . Oh, you know: that home planet of yours.”

“Hesperia,” Jason said through clenched teeth. “Psi 5 Aurigae III. As you are perfectly well aware,” he added, although he knew better than to expect anyone of Rutherford’s ilk to admit to being able to tell one colonial system from another. Knowledge of that sort was just so inexpressibly, crashingly vulgar in their rarefied world of arcane erudition. “And now that you’ve gotten all the irritating affectations out of your system, answer the question. Why were you so eager to catch me?”

“Well,” said Rutherford, all innocence, “I naturally wanted to know if your convalescence is complete. I gather it is.”

Jason gave a grudgingly civil nod. In earlier eras, what he had been through—breaking a foot, then being forced to walk on it for miles over Crete’s mountainous terrain, and then having it traumatized anew—would have left him with a permanent limp at least. Nowadays, it was a matter of removing the affected portions and regenerating them. It had taken a certain amount of practice to break in the new segments, but no one seeing Jason now would have guessed he had ever been injured, much less that he had received that injury struggling ashore on the ruined shores of Crete after riding a tsunami.

The scars to his soul were something else.

“So,” he heard Rutherford saying, “I imagine you plan to be returning to, ah, Hesperia without too much more ado, and resume your commission with the Colonial Rangers there.”

“That’s right. Those ‘special circumstances’ you invoked don’t exactly apply any longer, do they?” Rutherford’s expression told Jason that he was correct. He was free of the reactivation clause that had brought him unwillingly out of his early retirement from the Temporal Service, the Authority’s enforcement arm. He excelled himself (so he thought) by not rubbing it in. Feeling indulgent, he even made an effort to be conciliatory. “Anyway, you’re not going to need me—or anybody else—again for any expeditions into the remote past in this part of the world, are you?”

“Well . . . that’s not altogether true.”

“What?” Jason took a deep breath. “Look, Kyle, I’m only too well aware that the governing council of the Authority consists of snobbish, pompous, fatheaded old pedants.” (Like you, he sternly commanded himself not to add.) “But surely not even they can be so stupid! Our expedition revealed that the Teloi aliens were active—dominant, in fact—on Earth in proto-historical times, when they had established themselves as ‘gods’ with the help of their advanced technology. The sights and sounds on my recorder implant corroborate my testimony beyond any possibility of a doubt. And even without that. . . .” Jason’s hand strayed involuntarily toward his pocket before he could halt it.

“Rest assured that no one questions your findings, and that there are no plans to send any expeditions back to periods earlier than the Santorini explosion.” Rutherford pursed his mouth. “The expense of such remote temporal displacements is ruinous anyway, given the energy expenditure required. You have no idea—”

“Actually, I do,” Jason cut in rudely.

“Ahem! Yes, of course I realize you are not entirely unacquainted with these matters. Well, at any rate the council, despite your lack of respect for its members—which you’ve never made any attempt to conceal—is quite capable of seeing the potential hazards of any extratemporal intervention that might come in conflict with the Teloi. The consequences are incalculable, in fact.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

“We are intensely interested in the role played in subsequent history by those Teloi who were not trapped in their artificial pocket universe when its dimensional interface device was destroyed—or ‘imprisoned in Tartarus’ as the later Greeks had it. The ‘New Gods,’ as I believe they were called.”

“Also known as the Olympians,” Jason nodded, remembering the face of Zeus.

“And by various other names elsewhere, all across the Indo-European zone,” added Rutherford with a nod of his own. “They were worshiped, under their various names, for a very long time, well into recorded history, although naturally their actual manifestations grew less frequent. And as you learned, the Teloi had very long lifespans, although they could of course die from violence.”

“So you want to look in on times when those ‘manifestations’ were believed to have taken place? Like the gods fighting for the two sides in the Trojan War?”

“The Trojan War. . . .” For a moment, Rutherford’s face glowed with a fervor little less ecstatic than that which had once raised the stones of the monastery. Then the glow died and he shook his head sadly. “No. We cannot send an expedition back to observe an historic event unless we can pinpoint exactly when it took place. Dendrochronology and the distribution of wind-blown volcanic ash enabled us to narrow the Santorini explosion to autumn of 1628 b.c. But after all these centuries there is still no consensus as to the date of the Trojan War. It is pretty generally agreed that Eratosthenes’ dating of 1184 b.c. is worthless, based as it was on an arbitrary length assigned to the generations in the genealogies of the Dorian royal families of Sparta. On the other hand—”

“Kyle. . . .”

“—the Parian Marble gave a precise date of June 5, 1209 b.c. for the sack, but it was based on astronomical computations which were even more questionable. Other calculations—”


“—were as early as 1334 B.C. in Doulis of Samos, or as late as 1135 b.c. in Ephorus, whereas—”


“Oh . . . yes, where was I? Well, suffice it to say that even the Classical Greeks couldn’t agree on the date, and modern scholarship has done no better. Estimates range from 1250 to 1180 b.c., and are therefore effectively useless for our purposes. The same problem applies to the voyage of the Argonauts, the war of the Seven against Thebes and other events remembered in the Greek myths. And, to repeat, the gods tended not to put in appearances in the full light of history. There is one exception, however.” Rutherford paused portentously. “The Battle of Marathon.”

“Huh?” All at once, Jason’s interest awoke. It momentarily took his mind off the irritation he felt, as usual, around Rutherford. “You mean the one where the Athenians defeated the Persians? But that was much later—490 b.c., wasn’t it?”

“August or September of 490 b.c., most probably the former,” Rutherford nodded approvingly. The faint note of surprise underlying the approval made it less than altogether flattering. “By that period, it is difficult to know just how widespread literal belief in the Olympian gods was. And yet contemporary Greeks seem to have been firmly convinced that Pan—a minor god whose name is the root of the English ‘panic’—intervened actively on behalf of the Athenians.”

“I never encountered, or heard of, a Teloi who went by that name,” said Jason dubiously.

“I know. Another difficulty is that Pan—unlike most Greek gods, who were visualized as idealized humans—was a hybrid figure with the legs and horns of a goat and exceptionally large . . . er,

male sexual equipment.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Teloi,” said Jason, recalling seven-to-eight-foot-tall humanoids with hair like a shimmering alloy of gold and silver, their pale-skinned faces long, narrow and sharp-featured, with huge oblique eyes under brows which, like their high cheekbones, tilted upward. Those eyes’ strangely opaque blue irises seemed to leak their color into the pale-blue “whites.” The overall impression hovered uneasily between exotic beauty and disturbing alienness.

“Nevertheless,” said Rutherford, “the matter is unquestionably worth looking into. And, aside from the definite timeframe involved, there are numerous other benefits. For one thing, the more recent date will result in a lesser energy requirement for the displacement.”

“Well, yes. 490 B.C. is only—” (Jason did the mental arithmetic without the help of his computer implant) “—twenty-eight hundred and seventy years ago. Still, that’s one hell of an ‘only!’ Compared to any expedition you’d ever sent out before ours—”

“Too true. But the importance of investigating Teloi involvement in historical times is such that we have been able to obtain authorization. It also helped that the Battle of Marathon is so inherently interesting. It was, after all, crucial to the survival of Western civilization. And there are a number of unanswered questions about it, quite aside from the Teloi. So we can kill two birds with one stone, as people say.”

“Still, I don’t imagine you’ll be able to send a very large party.” The titanic energy expenditure required for displacement was tied to two factors: the mass to be displaced, and the temporal “distance” it was to be sent into the past. This was why Jason had taken only two companions with him to the Bronze Age, by far the longest displacement ever attempted. Since the trade-off was inescapable, the Authority was constantly looking into ways to reduce the total energy requirement, and the researchers were ceaselessly holding out hope of eventual success, but to date the problem remained intractable. This, aside from sheer caution, was why no large items of equipment were ever sent back in time. Sending human bodies—with their clothing, and any items they could wear or carry on their persons, for reasons related to the esoteric physics of time travel—was expensive enough.

“True, the party will have to be a small one. But the appropriation is comparable to that for your last expedition. So we can send four people.” Rutherford took on the aspect of one bestowing a great gift. “We want you—”

“—To be the mission leader,” Jason finished for him. “Even though this time you have to ask me to do it,” he couldn’t resist adding, for all his growing interest.

Rutherford spoke with what was clearly a great, if not supreme, effort. “I am aware that we have had our differences. And I own that I may have been a trifle high-handed on the last occasion. But surely you of all people, as discoverer of the Teloi element in the human past, can see the importance of investigating it further.”

“Maybe. But why do you need me, specifically, to investigate it?”

“I should think it would be obvious. You are the nearest thing we have to a surviving Teloi expert.” Jason was silent, as this was undeniable. Rutherford pressed his advantage. “Also, there is the perennial problem of inconspicuousness.” Rutherford gazed at Jason, who knew he was gazing at wavy brown black hair, dark brown eyes, light-olive skin and straight features.

Jason, despite his name, was no more “ethnically pure” than any other inhabitant of Hesperia or any other colony world. But by some fluke, the Hellenic contribution to his genes had reemerged to such an extent that he could pass as a Greek in any era of history. It also helped that he stood less than six feet, and therefore was not freakishly tall by most historical standards. It had always made him valuable to the Temporal Regulatory Authority, which was legally interdicted from using genetic nanoviruses to tailor its agents’ appearance to fit various milieus in Earth’s less-cosmopolitan past. The nightmare rule of the Transhuman movement had placed that sort of thing as far beyond the pale of acceptability as the Nazis had once placed anti-Semitism.

“If we were sending an expedition to northern Europe,” Rutherford persisted, “I’d use Lundberg. Or to pre-Columbian America, Cardones. But for this part of Earth, you are the only suitable choice currently available, or at least the only one with your—” (another risibly obvious effort at being ingratiating) “—undeniable talents.”

Jason turned around, leaned on the parapet, and looked out over the breathtaking panorama once again. “Are you sure you really want me? After my latest display of those ‘talents.’”

Rutherford’s face took on a compassionate expression he would never have permitted himself if Jason had been looking. “I understand. Up till now, you have taken understandable pride in never having lost a single member of any expedition you have led. And this time you returned from the past alone. But that was due to extraordinary and utterly unforeseeable circumstances. No one dreamed you would encounter what you did in the remote past. And no one blames you.”

“But aside from that, aren’t you afraid I might be just a little too . . . close to this?” Once again, Jason clenched his fist to prevent his hand from straying to his pocket.

Rutherford smiled, noticing the gesture. “If anything, I should think that what you know of Dr. Sadaka-Ramirez’s fate would make you even more interested.”

Deirdre, thought Jason, recalling his last glimpse of those green eyes as she had faded into the

past. Deirdre, from whom it is practically a statistical certainty that I myself am descended.

He turned back to face Rutherford. “Well, I don’t suppose it can do any harm to meet the other people you have lined up.”


Seven decades earlier, Aaron Weintraub had held the key.

Before that, time travel had been merely a fictional device. That it could never be anything more than that had been as certain as any negative can ever be. Over and above its seemingly preposterous physics, the concept self-evidently violated the very logic of causality. The classic statement was the “Grandfather Paradox”: what was to prevent a time traveler from killing his own young, childless grandfather? In which case, how could the time traveler have been born? And who, therefore, had killed the grandfather? No; this was one case in which the dread word impossible was pronounced without hesitation or doubt. Physicists and philosophers were at one about that. Reality protected itself.

Then Weintraub had embarked on a series of experiments to verify the existence of the temporal energy potential which he had postulated (to the near-unanimous hoots of his colleagues) as a necessary anchor to hold matter in time. If it existed, theory predicted that it could be manipulated. And Weintraub had proceeded to do precisely that. Subatomic particles had appeared in his device a few microseconds before the power was turned on and remained for a certain number of nanoseconds, and then vanished for the same number of nanoseconds after the switch was thrown. And nothing would ever be the same again.

But temporal energy potential had proven to be very resistant to manipulation. Subatomic particles sent back microseconds in time were the limit—and they only tolerated such unnatural treatment for nanoseconds before indignantly snapping back to their proper time. The physicists had heaved a qualified sigh of relief, the philosophers an unqualified one; Weintraub’s discovery, however revolutionary in theory, was clearly devoid of practical applications, including the murder of grandfathers-to-be. Reality still protected itself.

Or so it had seemed for twenty years. Then Mariko Fujiwara had persuaded the by-then aged Weintraub that he had been traveling a dead-end road. Their joint experiments had confirmed her intuition: no energy expenditure could manipulate temporal energy potential to any significant degree; but a tremendous yet finite one, properly applied, could cancel it altogether, breaking the anchor chain, as it were, and setting an object adrift in time. That terrific energy surge sent the object three hundred years into the past before it became controllable. But beyond that it was controllable, and the object, living or otherwise, could be sent to a predetermined temporal point in the past. (Not the future, for temporal energy potential was in an absolute sense nonexistent beyond the constantly advancing wave-front known as “the present.”) There the object would remain until its temporal energy potential was restored—very easy to do, for reasons relating to its already-known stubbornness. A temporal retrieval device that could be so miniaturized as to be easily surgically implantable, and that drew an insignificant amount of energy, sufficed to bring the object back to the location (relative to the planetary gravity field in question) from which it had been displaced, after a total elapsed time identical to that which it had spent in the past.

Neither Weintraub nor Fujiwara had been the kind of sociopath common in the fiction of the twentieth century, when science had first become scary: the “mad scientist” who would pursue his reckless experiments to the bitter end with fanatical if not suicidal perseverance, heedless of the consequences to himself or the world. They had recognized, and been duly terrified by, the mind-numbing potentialities of what they were doing. Moreover, they had been products of a society which had recoiled from the Transhumanist madness just as Europe had once recoiled from the seventeenth century’s savage religious wars into the eighteenth century’s mannered ancien regime. True to the twenty-fourth century’s almost Confucian-like ethos, they had concluded that if reality no longer protected itself, someone else had to—preferably the bureaucratized intellectual elite committed to safeguarding the integrity of the human heritage that had almost been lost.

Thus the Temporal Regulatory Authority had been born. The safest course would have been not to use the Fujiwara-Weintraub Temporal Displacer at all, but the temptation to settle history’s controversies and resolve its mysteries by direct observation had been irresistible. So the Authority had been given exclusive jurisdiction of all extratemporal activity. Its legal monopoly had been confirmed by its possession of the only displacer in existence—an exclusiveness that hardly needed to be legislated, given the installation’s colossal expense and power requirements, which placed it beyond the reach of any private individual or group. And even if some other organization had been able to build and operate such a thing, it could never have done so unnoticed, barring some as-yet-elusive breakthrough.

Then, as experience in time travel had accumulated, two realizations had dawned—the first one staggering in its implications, and the second one seeming to contradict the first.

The first was that the past could be changed.

The second was that reality still protected itself.

“There are no paradoxes,” Jason stated firmly to his new team members. “There are no alternate words or branches of time either.”

They sat in a briefing room deep in the Authority’s town-sized installation in Western Australia’s Great Sandy Desert, northwest of Lake Mackay—as far from population centers as it had been possible to put the displacer and its dedicated power plant, lest the latter’s multiply redundant failsafe systems should ever prove inadequate. (As some wag had put it centuries earlier, “Mister Antimatter is not your friend.”) Rutherford was also there, although he had thus far been uncharacteristically laconic, letting Jason conduct the orientation.

“But I don’t understand,” said Dr. Bryan Landry with the thoughtfully perplexed look that came naturally to his mild, rather broad face. That face was gray-eyed and fairly light complexioned, and his straight hair was a prematurely graying brown. In short, he was not going to blend as well as the Authority—and Jason—preferred. But there was no help for it; all the available Mediterranean-looking experts in Classical Greek studies were disqualified by reason of age or health. The Authority sent no one back in time who was not up to the rigors of an extended stay under primitive conditions. Would-be time travelers had to be reasonably young and physically fit, and to pass a course in low-technology survival . . . and, for certain particularly blood-drenched milieus, a course in self-defense. It was a winnowing process that continued to elicit howls of “Discrimination!” from the groves of academe, but the Authority was adamant. When necessary, a cover story would be crafted around a team member’s incongruous appearance. In the present case, their group would supposedly be from Macedon, where coloring and features like Landry’s were less uncommon.

“You’re not the only one who doesn’t understand,” Jason assured him. “Over the last half century, physicists and philosophers have joined the ranks of occupational groups—lawyers, for example—noted for drinking to excess.”

Landry refused to be put off—Jason had already learned he could be stubborn in his mild-mannered professorial fashion. “Let me put it this way,” he said, while reloading his briar pipe with his favorite brand of gengineered non-carcinogenic tobacco. (It was an indulgence he was going to have to do without in Classical Greece.) “I’ve done some background reading on the Authority’s operations, and I know about your ‘message drops.’”

“Yes,” Jason nodded. “Putting a message on some very durable medium and concealing it in a prearranged place is the only way time travelers can communicate with the present.”

“But if what I’ve read is true, such a message isn’t there in its prearranged place before a period of time has passed in the present equal to the elapsed time the time travelers have spent in the past before placing it there.”

“The ‘linear present,’ we call it,” Jason interjected helpfully.

Landry looked even more perplexed. He puffed the pipe to life as though fueling his thought processes with tobacco. “Well then, suppose a time traveller, a day after his arrival in the early twentieth century, shot Hitler? By analogy, it would seem that those of us in the present day would continue for a day, until that point in the, uh, linear present, to live in a world whose history included Hitler and World War II and everything that flowed from them, and then suddenly, after that point....” He trailed to a bewildered halt.

Jason smiled. “Here’s why your example doesn’t apply. Those locations we use for our message drops are obscure ones where nothing is ever known to have happened. Hitler and World War II did happen. You can’t go back and shoot Hitler—a favorite bit of time travel wish fulfillment, by the way—for the simple reason that we know he didn’t get shot. The past can be changed, but observed history can’t.”

“But why can’t it?”

“No one knows. In fact, the question appears to be meaningless. All we do know is that something will prevent you from doing anything that creates any paradoxes.”

Alexandre Mondrago spoke up. “This makes it seem like you have an awful lot of freedom when you’re in the past, Commander.” (He used Jason’s rank in the Hesperian Colonial Rangers. The Temporal Service had no structured system of rank titles, and seniority was on an ad hoc basis; Jason was simply designated mission leader.) “Do anything you damned well want to do, because as long as you can do it, you know it won’t do any harm.” A white-toothed grin split his swarthy face. “Sounds like it could be a lot of fun.”

Rutherford gave a pre-expostulation splutter. Jason waved him to silence while studying the Service man he wished he’d had more time to get to know.

Mondrago was shorter than Jason, lean but wide-shouldered and long-armed, with a nose that belonged on a larger face. People often wondered whether he was French or Italian. In fact, as Jason knew from his file, he was of Corsican descent—heir to a long and violent tradition. He had served as a professional soldier in a variety of capacities, but there was less and less use for his talents on today’s Earth. So he had made himself a master of various styles of low-tech combat, eventually becoming so good that the Temporal Service had accepted his application despite certain reservations. This was to be his first extratemporal expedition. He was on it because what they were going into—while not quite bad enough to require the entire team to be combat trained—might involve a little more than Jason alone could handle, especially given the possibility of Teloi involvement. So, to assure the safety of the academics, Jason had been assigned a second Service man.

As a theoretical question of detached, intellectual interest, Jason wondered if he could take him.

“That’s an attitude we don’t encourage,” Jason said. “And I’ll tell you why. Before my last expedition, one of the team members asked me the same kind of question about shooting the young Hitler that Dr. Landry just did.” Deirdre, flashed through his mind, and he stopped himself before he could reach for the little plastic case in his pocket. “I told her that if you tried it, the gun might jam. Or you might find out later that you’d shot the wrong little tramp. But here’s a third possibility: maybe one of the hydrocarbon-burning ground cars they were starting to use in the early twentieth century would run you over while you were drawing a bead on him. You’ve heard that old saw about reality protecting itself? Well, reality doesn’t give a damn how it protects itself. You might not want to be standing nearby when it’s doing so. Clear?”

“Perfectly, sir.” Mondrago’s tone was more serious, but his eyes met Jason’s unflinchingly.

“Furthermore,” said Rutherford, no longer to be restrained, “there is the matter of elementary caution. Half a century’s experience of time travel leads us to believe that what Commander Thanou has been telling you is true. But in the absence of absolute proof, we prefer to behave as though it is our responsibility to make it true. One example is the course of treatments you will soon be undergoing to cleanse your bodies of evolved disease microorganisms to which the people of the fifth century b.c. would have no more resistance than the Polynesians did to smallpox. We believe that reality helps those who help themselves. Or, at least, we dare not assume otherwise.”

Chantal Frey spoke in the diffident, almost timid way Jason had learned was usual for her. “Is that why you’ve ruled out any expeditions to study the Teloi before 1628 b.c.?”

Jason studied her. The xenologist was a fellow colonial, from Arcadia, Zeta Draconis A II. He recalled that a tidelocked world of that binary system’s red-dwarf secondary component held the enigmatic ruins of a long-dead race, which might help explain her interest in aliens. She was a youngish woman, certainly not a spectacular looker like Deirdre Sadaka-Ramirez (again he stopped his hand short of his pocket) but not altogether unattractive in a slender, intellectual-appearing way, with narrow, regular features and smooth, dark brown hair. Jason viewed her presence with a certain skepticism, doubting her ability to stand up under the various stresses of time travel. Granted, the Authority had certified her as up to it, but there was something about her—something besides her seeming physical fragility, a kind of weakness that went beyond that—that bothered him. He also wished she had some secondary skill to contribute, for if they did not encounter the Teloi, and the “Pan” legend proved to be just that, then an expert in alien life forms was going to be fairly useless.

At least, he thought (although he had no intention of sharing the thought with her), her quiet personality should make her inconspicuous in the profoundly sexist society of Classical Athens, where the only assertive, articulate women were the hetairai—high-end whores/geishas whose unconventionality must have been a tinglingly irresistible turn-on for men accustomed to, and doubtless bored to distraction by, the “respectable” female products of the prevailing purdah.

“That certainly has something to do with it,” Rutherford acknowledged. “That, and the ruinous expense of sending an expedition of useful size into the really distant past.”

Landry looked troubled. “We’ve all heard something of these Teloi, and the rumors have been rather sensational, but it’s all been awfully vague.”

“We have been releasing the information with great caution, because of its revolutionary if not explosive nature. However, the three of you have a legitimate need to know more than the general public. As you recall, the Articles of Agreement you signed contain a clause requiring you to abide by all confidentiality restrictions applicable to information imparted to you. I trust you are clear on this—and on the legal penalties for violation.” Rutherford paused. Jason reflected that Mondrago would be no problem—he understood security classifications. He sensed a hesitancy in the other two, and he understood why: they were academics, committed to the free flow of knowledge, and the whole concept of official secrecy was repugnant to them. But all three heads nodded.

“Very well. On that understanding, I’ll ask Commander Thanou to give a brief summation of what he learned on his expedition to study the Santorini explosion.”

“The Teloi,” Jason began without preamble, “were an alien race of unknown origin. I say ‘were’ because we’ve found no trace of them in our present-day interstellar explorations. They were a very ancient race which had sought to genetically engineer itself into gods. They succeeded in making themselves effectively immortal, although not literally so, of course, and they could certainly die by violence. A side effect was a mentality incomprehensible to us—insane by our standards. Their chief drive became a need to find something to fill the eons of their empty, meaningless lives. About a hundred thousand years ago, one group arranged to maroon themselves on Earth, where they had discovered a species—Homo erectus—which by sheer coincidence was of a general physical form that could be molded by genetic engineering into a kind of sub-Teloi, useful as worshipers and as slaves.”

Jason saw in their eyes that they knew where he was headed.

“Yes,” he said, as gently as possible. “The Teloi created us. Homo erectus evolved by the natural course into Homo neanderthalensis in northern Eurasia, but the Teloi gengineered it into Homo sapiens in an area to the south, where northeastern Africa and southwestern Asia were then joined, in societies that were vast slave-pens.”

“Now you understand why we have been reluctant to make this general knowledge,” said Rutherford into the silence.

“We can be proud of our ancestors,” Jason said firmly. “The Teloi didn’t know what they’d created. The humans soon began to break free of their control, spreading across the planet, wiping out the Neanderthals and differentiating into the various racial stocks we know.”

“How did you learn all this?” demanded Landry, puffing furiously.

“We learned it from Oannes, a member of another alien race. The Nagommo were hermaphroditic amphibians, extremely long-lived by our standards, who had been at war with the Teloi for a long time. One of their warships crash-landed in the Persian Gulf in the early fourth millennium b.c. The survivors, with a perseverance foreign to human psychology, continued to follow their basic mission statement, which was to fight the Teloi wherever possible, in any way possible. Stranded on Earth, this meant helping the humans in the area rebel, and teaching them the rudiments of civilization.”

Landry almost choked on his pipe-smoke. “Oannes! Wasn’t that the name, in Sumerian mythology, of a—“

“—Supernatural being, half fish and half man,” Jason finished for him. “As rebellions spread, the Teloi tried to create a kind of super-stock of humans, using women as surrogate mothers of artificial embryos, to serve as proxy rulers. This was the origin of our legends of semi-divine Heroes.” One of whom I got to know, he thought, remembering Perseus. “Once again, the Teloi blundered; their tame demigods were even less amenable to control than the general run of humans, and led still more rebellions.

“Eventually, the Teloi withdrew in disgust from the original civilized areas. By 1628 b.c., their area of activity stretched from western Europe to northern India, with a special focus in the Aegean.”

“The Indo-European pantheon!” Landry blurted, scattering hot ashes on his shirt-front, which looked as though this had happened to it once or twice before.

Jason nodded. “Yes. We know them by many names from many places. In Greek mythology the older ones were the Titans, the first generation of gods—Cronus, Hyperion and the rest. The younger ones were the Olympians.”

“But,” Landry persisted, brushing off his shirt, “what happened to them? As I said, one hears some rather remarkable rumors about your expedition.”

“Some rather remarkable things happened,” said Jason mildly. “You see, the Teloi had an absolutely invulnerable refuge: an artificially generated ‘pocket universe’ with only one access interface, which was portable. We arranged for that interface to be obliterated in the Santorini explosion. The ‘Titans’ were permanently trapped in the pocket universe with most of their high-technology paraphernalia.”

“Imprisoned in Tartarus by Zeus,” Landry breathed.

“So the later Greeks thought. But it wasn’t Zeus who did it. Oannes gave his life to make it possible.” The last of his race, Jason recalled. Not just on Earth but in the universe. Their war with the Teloi had proceeded to mutual annihilation. The Nagommo evidently won, but to do so they gengineered themselves into overspecialized subspecies . . . unsuccessfully, in the long run.

I knew that, having seen the horror show that is the Nagommo home planet in our era, an endless vista of ruins inhabited by none but degenerate, deformed, sub-sentient travesties of what was once a great race—the race that unknowingly died to give us a future free of the Teloi. But I never told him I knew it. I thought I was being merciful. Was I?

“One of my team members also gave his life,” Jason continued. “A Dr. Sidney Nagel.” A conceited, opinionated, socially inept little twit . . . who taught me what courage is.

“Wasn’t there a third member of your expedition?” Mondrago asked.

Jason’s features went immobile. “Dr. Deirdre Sadaka-Ramirez,” he said expressionlessly. “She remained in the seventeenth century b.c.”

They waited attentively for an explanation. None was forthcoming.

“Thank you, Commander Thanou,” said Rutherford briskly. “Now you all know the background in general terms. During the next few days, you will be given more in-depth presentations, including video and auditory recordings of both the Teloi and the Nagommo.”

Chantal Frey’s eyes lit up with enthusiasm, which was immediately banked down by puzzlement. “But. . . . If you don’t mind my asking, how were such recordings obtained? The Articles of Agreement were very explicit: we aren’t allowed to carry any out-of-period equipment into the past.”

“Good question,” Mondrago nodded. “I’m new to the Service, but even I know about that restriction.”

Jason and Rutherford exchanged a look. No words were needed to express their joint conclusion: these people had had about all they could handle for now.

“The answer will become clear in due course,” said Rutherford smoothly. “In the meantime, I suggest you all get some rest. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow, including the implantation of your temporal retrieval devices.”

Their faces reflected their distaste, which performed the distraction function Rutherford had intended.


The following day, they underwent the biological cleansing process of which Rutherford had spoken—painless, but involving a certain degree of discomfort and indignity. In accordance with his usual policy, Rutherford also hastened them through something he had no desire to let them stew about.

“The temporal retrieval device, or TRD, is very tiny.” He held up a metallic object no larger than a small pea. “It can be implanted anywhere; we generally prefer to use the inside of the upper left arm. It is a very simple in-out surgery.”

Landry rubbed his itchy face (Rutherford had ordered all three of the men to start growing beards), scowled, and asked the question they always asked. “Do we have to have it implanted?”

“The Articles of Agreement you signed state that you consent to it.”

“Yes, yes, I know. But is it really necessary?” Landry’s uneasiness was reflected in Chantal Frey’s face and, to a lesser extent, in Mondrago’s. They had all grown up in post-Transhumanist society, and to them anything that blurred the line between man and machine was both illegal and flesh-crawlingly obscene.

“The Authority,” Jason explained, “is responsible for getting you back to your proper time. Yes, we could build the TRD into some in-period object that you could carry. But then you might lose it, by inadvertence or theft. And with no TRD to restore your temporal energy potential, you’d be marooned in the fifth century b.c. permanently.” He saw that he’d gotten through to them. “You can’t lose something that’s inside your flesh.”

As was often the case, Chantal’s voice was so quiet and hesitant as to be almost ignorable. “But . . . didn’t you say that the third member of your expedition remained in the Bronze Age. How could that be, if—?”

“That was due to unforeseen circumstances, Dr. Frey.” Jason’s features and tone were carefully neutral. “The Teloi detected Dr. Sadaka-Ramirez’s TRD and had it cut out of her.”

Chantal’s color didn’t look particularly good.

“That sort of thing doesn’t normally happen,” Rutherford put in quickly. “In point of fact, that was the only time it has ever happened. At any rate, you now understand the importance of this procedure. And please be assured that the implant is a totally passive one, not involving any kind of direct neural interfacing.” Their expressions combined relief with revulsion at the very concept. “The TRD activates at a predetermined moment, timed by atomic decay, at which moment you will find yourselves back on the displacer stage.”

“And until that moment,” said Jason, forestalling another question that always got asked, “there is no way to return to the present. You’re going to be in the past for a fixed duration, come hell or high water. This accounts for the stringent health and fitness qualifications you had to meet, and the low-tech survival course you had to pass . . . and also for the non-liability clause the Authority has written into the Articles of Agreement.”

“But,” Landry persisted somewhat peevishly, “why can’t you take along a . . . er, switch, or whatever, so you can activate the TRDs and bring us back if we find ourselves in difficulties?”

“Retrievals must be according to a rigid, entirely predictable schedule. That way, the Authority can assure that at the time you are due to return the displacer stage is clear of all other objects—objects with which you might otherwise find yourself sharing a volume of space.” Jason smiled at his listeners’ expressions. “Admittedly, the likelihood of this happening is small. But its consequences don’t bear thinking about.”

“One problem, Commander,” said Mondrago. “We don’t have inner atomic clocks. Isn’t it going to be kind of startling when, to our eyes, the universe suddenly disappears without warning and is replaced by what we can see from the displacer stage?” From their expressions, it was clear that Landry and Chantal found the prospect unsettling to say the least.

Jason’s eyes met Rutherford’s. This could no longer be put off.

“It won’t be without warning,” said Jason. “I’ll give you advance notice—not only to preserve your mental equilibrium, but also to make sure we vanish in private, so as not to alarm the locals.”

“But how can you predict when the moment is going to be?” Mondrago persisted, in the tones of a man who was more than half sure he already knew the answer, at least in its broad essentials.

“My ability to do so relates to what I said before about recordings of the aliens we encountered in the Bronze Age Aegean. The fact of the matter is that I have an actual, neurally interfaced computer implant. Among other things—and this is almost the least of its functions—it provides me with a countdown to the time all our TRDs activate. It also has a recorder feature, spliced directly onto my optic and auditory nerves: whenever I activate that feature by mental command, it records everything I see or hear on media that can be accessed after I return to the present.”

He studied their faces. Mondrago was taking it with equanimity—he had doubtless heard Service rumors about this sort of thing. The other two bore the excruciatingly embarrassed look of people who were too polite to reveal the prejudice they felt.

One of the human race’s keys to survival is that human beings almost never carry any idea to its ultimate logical conclusion. There are, of course, exceptions: the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge come to mind. So it had been with the Transhuman movement which, in the two or three generations it had ruled Earth before being swept away in fire and blood, had sought to exploit to the fullest the possibilities inherent in late-twenty-first-century cybertech and genetic engineering, splintering humanity into specialized castes serving an elite of supermen. The human psyche had never recovered from that abuse. The result had been the Human Integrity Act, which by now enjoyed the kind of quasi-sacred status the people of the old United States of America had accorded their Constitution. Any tampering with the human genome was forbidden. So was anything that blended human brains and nervous systems with computers. So was any application of nanotechnology that made nonlife difficult to distinguish from life. All of this had been seared into the human soul by the Transhumanists nd their experiments upon themselves; legislation was almost superfluous.

“It has other useful—in fact, indispensable—features,” Jason continued before the abhorrence could crystallize. “It gives me access to a great deal of information. For one thing, it can project directly onto my optic nerve a map of our surrounding area. We’ll never be lost. And the recorder function is especially necessary in an era like the one we’re going to, when paper and other such conveniences don’t exist. Remember, what you bring back to the present, like what you take into the past, is limited to what you can carry—which, like the clothes you’re wearing, is effectively part of the same ‘object’ as your body, as far as temporal energy potential is concerned.” He saw that he had scored a point with the academics.

“So,” Rutherford said briskly, “you can see why the Authority was able to make a case for the kind of limited exemption from the Human Integrity Act enjoyed by certain law enforcement agencies. And now, let us proceed to have the TRDs implanted—a very brief, practically painless procedure.” He ushered Landry and Chantal out of the room. Jason was about to follow when Mondrago caught his eye.

“Question, Commander,” he asked when the others were well out of earshot. “This computer implant of yours: as a fellow Temporal Service member, do I also get one?”

“No,” Jason stated flatly. “That limited exemption Rutherford mentioned is very limited, and subject to constant scrutiny. We have to demonstrate a genuine need. As a practical matter, this means only the mission leader has one. You’ll get one at such time as your seniority and experience qualify you for the mission leader function.”

Mondrago looked thoughtful. “If you should buy it, sir, then as next senior Service member I’ll be acting mission leader, and if so—”

“—You’ll just have to get by without it. Sorry. We couldn’t justify extending the exemption to cover potential acting mission leaders.”

“Understood, sir.” Mondrago’s expression was unreadable.

“However,” Jason continued, “as you’ve pointed out, you’re a Service member, unlike Drs. Landry and Frey. So there’s something you need to know and they don’t. I’ll take this opportunity to reveal it to you. Their TRDs—and yours—incorporate a passive, microminiaturized tracking device. Remember what I said about the map I can summon up? Well, the current locations of the three of you are going to appear on that map as little red dots.”

“I can see how that might come in handy.” Mondrago showed no sign of resentment.

“Extremely handy. Especially when a member of the expedition is lost or a prisoner.” And most especially when the TRD in question has been chopped out of its owner and we’re trying to recover it. Jason’s hand strayed toward his pocket, but he was getting better about halting it. “Drs. Landry and Frey are having enough trouble accepting the necessity for any kind of implant. The fact that it has an additional function would only upset them unnecessarily. So you won’t reveal it to them except with my permission. Clear?”

“Clear, sir.”

“Good. Now let’s get to the lab.”

There followed the standard three-week orientation period . . . only in this case it lasted a little more than three weeks. The reason became apparent when Rutherford discussed the matter of language.

“The obvious pointlessness of sending people into the past unable to communicate in the target milieu,” he declaimed, “enabled us to obtain yet another variance of the Human Integrity Act—a minor one. In the interest of practicality, the Ionic dialect of Classical Greek—the speech of Athens—will be imposed on the speech centers of your brains by direct neural induction. The process is harmless and non-invasive, although it can be disorienting, which is why our standard procedures call for rest and, if necessary, antidepressant drugs afterwards.”

Landry was clearly unconcerned. In his excitement, he reflexively fumbled for the pipe that was no longer there. “Yes! Of course, this process won’t enable us to speak the language like natives. But that works out perfectly, since we’re supposedly from Macedon. Fifth century b.c. Greek was divided into four distinct dialects: Ionic, Doric to the south, Arcado-Cypriote (a survival of the old Mycenaean idiom) and North-West Greek. The last one—of which we’ll supposedly be native speakers—was the most divergent. In fact, Athenian snobs affected to be unable to understand it at all.”

Rutherford’s intellectual forebears, Jason thought with a mental snigger.

“Our very thoughts,” that worthy acknowledged with a gracious nod to Landry. “In this case, however, we will also be providing you with a second language, which you will find more difficult to assimilate: that of the Teloi.”

Chantal—who clearly hadn’t shared Landry’s Classical Greek enthusiasms—now showed definite signs of interest at the prospect of learning a nonhuman tongue. “But how is this possible?”

“I was, for a time, a prisoner of the Teloi, Dr. Frey,” Jason explained. He didn’t elaborate. “In order to expedite interrogation, they rammed their language into my brain by a brute-force version of what you are going to be undergoing, with no chemical cushioning. The language’s utterly alien structure didn’t help either. Nevertheless, I came through the experience with about the level of comprehension that would be expected of a reasonably bright secondary school graduate in a foreign language. By a reversal of the process, this was downloaded from me, and can now be provided to you—with great gentleness, of course. If we do encounter any surviving Teloi, you ought to be able to haltingly communicate with them . . . if the opportunity to do so should arise, and if you should want to.”

Chantal, in her excitement, ignored the cautionary tone of Jason’s last few words. With her and Landry both properly motivated, the team proceeded to the labs.

The rest of their linguistic preparation was relatively free of emotional hurdles, involving as it did conventional learning techniques supplemented by the kind of neuro-electronic “sleep teaching” technology that was an accepted part of their social background. They acquired a basic ability to read the Classical version of the Greek alphabet—unnecessary for Landry, who would be available to see them past any difficulties—for literacy was widespread among Greeks of their assumed social status. It was an accomplishment that Athenians would find impressive in natives of an ill-regarded place like Macedon, and would help offset the social stigma of such an origin.

Also, Rutherford drilled them in the Ionic Greek speech that had been impressed on their brains, assuring himself that they could actually converse in the language. This was more difficult for Chantal and Mondrago than for Landry, who already knew it as a written language, and Jason, for whom it fell somewhere between his own ancestral Demotic Greek and the harsh ancestor of Mycenaean Greek he had acquired for his last expedition.

For the Teloi tongue, Jason was of course the only one who could perform this training function. He took them through exercises, playing the role of a Teloi.

“Is something bothering you?” Landry asked him solicitously during one of these sessions. “A few times I’ve noticed—”

“No,” replied Jason, more curtly than he had intended, for in fact he did find this more disturbing than play-acting should have been, awakening memories that he’d thought he had suppressed, and other memories he’d forgotten—or never known in the first place—that he had. His annoyance with himself for feeling this way, and for taking it out on Landry, helped clear his mind of his distaste. “All right,” he said briskly, “you next, Chantal.”

She stepped forward eagerly, showing no signs of having shared Landry’s observations. It was during this part of the training that she seemed to truly come alive, and this, too, disturbed Jason, for reasons he could not put his finger on.


Orientation often involved an actual jaunt to the target area, for purposes of familiarization. In this case, Rutherford deemed it unnecessary and possibly counterproductive, given almost twenty-nine hundred years’ worth of changes. And in Landry’s case—and, to a lesser extent, in Jason’s—modern Greece was old hat anyway. Instead, he took them on virtual tours, enhanced by modern scholarship’s best guesses as to what the landscape in question had looked like. Jason knew from experience that those guesses were sometimes surprisingly good . . . and sometimes not. He dared hope that the former was the case for the city of Athens, which had been the subject of centuries of dedicated and painstaking archaeological work.

They were also drilled in the historical background of the period—or at least Jason, Chantal and Mondrago were. Given his academic credentials, Landry was an integral part of the instructional staff, and quickly came to dominate it. For this, Jason eventually came to be grateful. Landry, a product of the same sort of social background as Rutherford, could be something of an irritating know-it-all at times. But he was a true teacher, not to be confused with an educational bureaucrat who held that title. In his introduction, he managed to clarify the labyrinthine complexities of fifth century b.c. geopolitics.

“To put it in the simplest possible terms—”

(“Please do,” Mondrago was heard to mutter.)

“—the Greek, and specifically Ionian, colonies on the Asiatic shore of the Aegean were loosely dominated by the kingdom of Lydia in the mid-sixth century b.c.” Landry manipulated a remote, and a cursor ran over the area in question—the western fringe of what would much later become Turkey—on the map-display that covered the rear wall of the briefing room. “Then the Persians, under their first Great King Cyrus, conquered Lydia, including the Ionians. In order to keep the Ionian city-states under control, the Persians established tyrannies in them.”

“They must have loved that,” Modrago grimaced.

“Actually, that word doesn’t have the blood-stained connotations it later acquired in English. A Classical Greek ‘tyrant’ was simply a man who ruled a city from outside the normal constitutional framework, with the support of one of the popular factions. The closest later-day parallel would be a North American big-city ‘boss’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although the position of Greek tyrant had more formal recognition than that.”

“So he was well advised to take good care of his constituency,” Jason opined.

“Precisely. But the tame tyrants of Ionia tended to lose sight of that because their other constituency—the one they had to keep happy—was the Great King of Persia.”

“Why?” asked Chantal. “If their own people were behind them, couldn’t they defy him?”

Landry gave her a look of rather supercilious annoyance, as though he considered the question naïve. Instead of answering it directly, he held up the remote and expanded the map to the east and south. And expanded it. And expanded it, until the peninsula of Greece and the entire Aegean basin had shrunk to kind of an afterthought at the upper left corner.

“The Persian Empire,” he explained with almost patronizing care, “was the world’s sole superpower. It had conquered the entire Near East and Egypt, as well as parts of Central Asia and the Indus Valley over here to the right of the map, in western India. It is believed to have had a population of at least sixteen million people, while Greece and the Aegean islands had, at most, two and a half million. Furthermore, it was not the result of gradual expansion over a span of centuries. Cyrus didn’t begin his career of conquest until around 550 b.c. This unprecedented empire had burst on the world in a mere sixty years.”

Mondrago studied the map intently. “How could the Persians possibly hold an empire that size together, at that technological level? I mean, infantry marching on foot. . . .”

“Yes. The Greeks were incredulous when they learned that the Persian capital of Susa was three months’ march eastward from the Aegean shore. They would have been even more incredulous if they had known that the empire extended another three months’ march beyond that.”

“Then how—?”

“The Persians were the first empire-builders in history to recognize that communication was the key to control. They used a combination of fire beacons, mounted couriers using a system of highways with posting stations, and other techniques, including aural relay in mountainous regions.”

“‘Aural relay’?” queried Mondrago.

“Yes. They had men trained in breath control who could literally shout to each other across valleys and ravines where the acoustics were good, with lots of echoes, thus transmitting messages almost instantaneously across the right kind of terrain. By using all these various means the Great King was able to get information from the frontiers and send orders back in mere days, which seemed supernatural to the Greeks.”

“I’m beginning to understand why the Ionian tyrants had to kowtow to him,” Mondrago said seriously. “The capo di tutti capi.

“Yes. But by so kowtowing they were swimming against the tide of the Greeks’ inveterate xenophobia, and thereby running the risk of alienating their own people. So their rule was always teetering on a knife-edge, and they were ready to jump either way: gain still greater favor with their master; or, failing that, go into rebellion out of sheer desperation.

“In 500 b.c. Histaeus, the tyrant of Miletus, the largest and richest of the Ionian cities, tried the first option. He himself was living at the Persian court in a kind of gilded hostage situation—they gave him the title ‘Royal Table-Companion’—but through his nephew Aristagoras, who was standing in for him at Miletus, he offered to expedite a conquest of the Aegean island of Naxos, where he had contacts among the disgruntled aristocracy. As it turned out, Aristagoras made a total botch of the expedition. Rather than sit with folded hands and await the usual fate of Persian puppets who failed, Aristagoras reversed himself: he declared himself a convert to democracy of the kind Athens had had for the past eight years. He also called on the other Ionian cities to establish democracies and join Miletus in rebellion.”

“The expression ‘big brass ones’ comes to mind,” commented Jason.

“Indeed. The rebellion spread like wildfire through Ionia and beyond, and Aristagoras persuaded the Athenians to come to the aid of the new democracies. In 498 b.c. they sent an expeditionary force which marched inland and burned Sardis, the seat of Artaphernes, the local Persian satrap, or governor.” Landry caused the cursor to flash on Sardis.

“Mission accomplished,” Mondrago remarked drily.

“Not quite. The town was burned but the citadel held out and the Greeks were forced to retreat to the coast. On the way, they were cut to pieces by the Persian cavalry.”

Mondrago looked perplexed. “I’ve studied the ancient Greek style of warfare, and I’ve always gotten the impression that the Persians had no answer to the hoplite, or heavy infantryman. That seems to be the pattern all the way up to Alexander the Great’s conquest of the Persian Empire.”

“One gets that impression because, as you’ve pointed out, the Greeks won in the end,” Landry explained with a chuckle. “It’s always the ultimate winner’s successes that are remembered. It comes as a shocking surprise to most people that George Washington was soundly trounced whenever he came up against professional British troops in the kind of open field set piece battle they were organized and trained to fight. However, your point is well taken as applied to the phalanx of hoplites. When it could be brought to bear under the right conditions—head-to-head combat on a narrow front—it was indeed unstoppable by anything except another phalanx. But it was a rigid, inflexible formation, and the hoplites who comprised it, loaded down with fifty to seventy pounds of armor and weapons, were incapable of rapid maneuvering.”

Landry manipulated his controls again. An image appeared on the screen, superimposed on the map. It showed a man who seemed to have stepped out of a Grecian vase-painting. He were greaves on his lower legs, a cuirass with curving metal shoulder-plates, and a face enclosing helmet with an impressive-looking but (to Jason’s eye) impractical-seeming horsehair crest. He carried a large round shield and a spear a couple of feet longer than he was. At his side hung a leaf-shaped sword. The image represented modern scholarship’s best reconstruction, which had turned out to be very much like those vase paintings after all.

“When hoplites armed and equipped like this couldn’t form up, as in the retreat from Sardis, the Persian cavalry could ride circles around them and shoot them to pieces with arrows. In 479 b.c., that Persian cavalry nearly won the Battle of Plataea, before the Spartan phalanx could be effectively brought to bear. But the Persian style of warfare was, at bottom, a raiding style. The Greeks finally won by forcing decisive battles. Alexander became ‘the Great’ because he could catch his enemies between a phalanx and the heavy shock cavalry his father Phillip had invented—the most effective heavy shock cavalry the world would see before the advent of the stirrup. But the point is, we’re going to be seeing the first of those decisive hoplite battles.” Landry’s eyes glowed with anticipation, then he shook himself and returned to his subject.

“At any rate, after the debacle of the retreat from Sardis, Athens withdrew into isolationism, leaving its Ionian allies to be brutally subjugated, a process that was completed by 494 b.c. with the destruction of Miletus. After which the Great King Darius decided it was time to punish those Greeks across the Aegean who had aided the rebels. In 491 b.c. his emissaries toured Greece demanding ‘earth and water’—the tokens of submission. Athens and Sparta violated the diplomatic niceties by killing the emissaries, in the case of the Spartans by throwing them down a well, at whose bottom they were told they could find what they sought.” Mondrago smothered a guffaw. Landry shot him a primly disapproving look before resuming.

“This was very bold, you see; the Persians had already established a satrapy in Thrace, to the north of the Aegean, and had an army there. But their accompanying fleet was wrecked by a storm, which made invasion from the north impractical. Instead, a new fleet was prepared—six hundred ships, including some specialized for transporting cavalry horses. It carried an army we believe numbered as many as 35,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry—the Greeks later claimed it was hundreds of thousands, but they always believed in making a good story even better. It also carried Hippias, the last tyrant of Athens, who had been working for the Persians since being deposed in 510 b.c. He was now over eighty years old, but still hoped to be restored to power. Instead of working its way north, the fleet island-hopped directly across the Aegean and took the city of Eretria on the island of Euboea, an Ionian ally, with the help of fifth columnists. They then burned it and enslaved the population . . . which was also meant to be the fate of Athens.”

“Which brings us to your mission,” said Rutherford, who had entered the room unnoticed. “You omitted one thing, Bryan: in 492 B.C King Alexander I of Macedon, who was reliable only as a weathervane, made his kingdom a Persian client-state. This is convenient for us, for your cover story is that you are Macedonians who opposed submission to Persia and are in exile as a consequence. This should assure you of a friendly reception in Athens—particularly from the man we intend for you to contact. But for now, I believe it is too late in the day to begin your detailed briefing on the Marathon campaign itself—which, at any rate, should be left to the end, so as to be as fresh as possible in your minds. Also, we have other matters to take up tomorrow.”


Their orientation involved a great many mundane things, such as their wardrobe.

The fabrics had to be authentic, of course—mostly wool, but also flax and the coarse animal-hair cloth called sakkos. But the Authority’s specialists had a lot of practice at producing such things. The basic male garment—there was no such thing as underwear—was the tunic known as the chiton, fastened at both shoulders and tied at the waist with a girdle. Over this was worn the himation, a large rectangular woolen cloak draped around the left shoulder and back around under the right arm and across the front. Anything even remotely resembling trousers was regarded as hilariously effeminate, which was one reason why the Athenians had underestimated the Persians before their disastrous expedition in support of the Ionian rebels. By 490 b.c., of course, the trouser-wearers from the East were no longer quite so funny. The chlamys, or cold-weather cloak, shouldn’t come into the picture in the time of year they were planning to spend in ancient Greece. As travelers from afar, they would be able to justify wearing sturdy boots rather than the more typical light sandals, and also the broad-brimmed felt hat or petasos.

Chantal would wear an ankle-length linen tunic, held up by pins at the shoulders and at other points to form loose sleeves. Over this she would be expected to drape the himation, preferably wrapped around her head—or, alternatively, a head-scarf. Classical Athens was not all that unlike fundamentalist Islam where the status of women was concerned. At least she should be able to get away with light sandals rather than bare feet. Her hair was long enough to be pulled back with ribbons into the orthodox ponytail or bun.

The men would naturally not be lugging around the hoplite panoply. As Landry explained, even hoplites only burdened themselves with that load of armor and weapons a few minutes before taking their places in the phalanx for battle. And at any rate, Jason didn’t expect to be doing that sort of fighting; still less did Mondrago, given his assumed social class, and least of all did Landry. There were no such things as professional soldiers in fifth century b.c. Greece, aside from the Spartans, who were considered freakish for the degree to which they specialized in war. Athenian hoplites were simply the male members of the property-owning classes of citizens, who could afford (and were expected) to equip themselves with the panoply. They were liable for military service from eighteen to sixty, and given Greece’s chronic internecine wars they were likely to spend the majority of their summers that way. In between, training was minimal. In phalanx warfare, what counted was the steadfastness that held the shield-wall unbroken even in the shattering clash of spears. Those men weren’t flashy martial artists, but theirs had been the collective courage in whose shelter Western civilization had survived infancy.

However, the team’s supposed homeland of Macedon was a backwater which had retained the simple monarchy of the Bronze Age while the other Greek states had been evolving into civic societies. In fact, Macedon probably came closer in some ways to what Jason remembered from the seventeenth century b.c. Jason would pose as a minor nobleman, Mondrago as a disaffected former member of the “King’s Companions,” a Macedonian holdover of the Bronze Age war-band. As such it would be normal for them to carry swords. Rutherford let them choose their blades off the rack.

On day Jason was in the station’s gym, putting himself through some exercises with the double-edged slightly leaf-shaped cut-and-thrust sword he had chosen—the most typical Greek pattern of the period—when Mondrago walked in from the adjacent courtyard, wiping his brow. The Corsican was holding a very simple sling: a small leather pouch with two strings attached, one of which was looped over a finger and the other gripped by the thumb. The user then swung the sling around the head and sent the stone or lead bullet on its way, propelled by centrifugal force. Jason had never used one, although he knew it was the favorite missile weapon of the Classical Greeks, who had never made any secret of their disdain for archery.

“Can you really get any accuracy with that?” Jason asked.

“You’d be amazed, sir,” Mondrago said, with a jauntiness bordering on insouciance. “It takes a lot of practice, but I’ve been getting some. I asked the shop to make me some in-period lead bullets. They swear these are very authentic.” He took one from his pouch. It was oval, an inch long, and bore on its side the Greek words for “Take that!”

“I’ll take their word for it,” Jason laughed. “By the way, did you ever pick out your sword?”

“Yes, sir.” Mondrago went to the sword rack and took down a weapon quite different from Jason’s: a single-edged Spanish sword or falcata, forward-curved for maximum efficiency at chopping, although it had an acute point for thrusting—a vicious-looking weapon somewhat resembling the kukri or Gurkha knife, but longer and with a finger-guard. Like Jason’s more conventional weapon it was iron—strictly speaking, extremely low-carbon steel—and made to authentic specifications, although very well made within those limits.

“I know it’s a slightly eccentric choice where we’re going,” said Mondrago, as though anticipating an objection. “But it’s pretty common there. I’ve seen it in Greek vase paintings. And I kind of like it.” He gave Jason an appraising look and lifted one expressive eyebrow. “Would you like to see a demonstration, sir?”

“Sure.” They went to another rack and took down the small round wooden shields carried by Classical Greek light troops, not the heavy, awkward things carried by hoplites in phalanxes. Then they went through a couple of passes. Mondrago was good, Jason had to admit, and the falcata was like an extension of his sinewy arm. Jason found himself on the defensive, barely able to interpose the shield between himself and Mondrago’s chopping strokes, until he got into the rhythm of the thing and began to use his superior size and weight to push aggressively, forcing his way in to closer quarters.

Mondrago backed off and indicated the shield. “Even these light versions kind of slow you up. Want to try it without them, sir?”

“Fine. Let’s get suited up.” Without allowing an opportunity for any reckless suggestions, Jason turned and walked toward the locker room, leaving Mondrago no option but to follow.

They put on impact armor, flexible but with microscopic passive sensors that detected incoming blows and caused the electrically active nanotech fabric to go to steel-like rigidity at the instant of contact. The stuff was standard equipment for riot police and certain others . . . and regulation safety equipment for weapons practice. Then they returned to the exercise floor and went at it in earnest.

Mondrago now altered his technique, using the falcata almost like a long knife, holding it low and emphasizing the point. Again, Jason had to adjust, parrying a dizzying series of thrusts. Then, abruptly, Mondrago shifted again, chopping down. As Jason raised his sword to parry, Mondrago brought his right foot around in a sweeping savate-like move, knocking Jason’s feet out from under him. He brought the falcata up and then down in another chop.

But Jason brought his sword around and up. At the moment the falcata hit the instantly rigid fabric at Jason’s left shoulder in a blow that otherwise might well have severed his arm, Jason thrust upward into up to Mondrago’s crotch. There was no impact armor there. Jason stopped the thrust with his sword-point less than an inch short.

For a moment their eyes met. Then, with a crooked smile, Mondrago extended a hand and helped Jason to his feet.

“Very good, sir,” he said. “But then, I’ve heard stories about some of the stuff you did in the Bronze Age, on your last expedition.”

“Probably exaggerated. You’re good, too. Very good. But I imagine a ranged weapon like that sling would be more useful than a sword if we should happen get into any trouble with the Teloi.”

“Yes . . . the Teloi.” Mondrago’s eyes took on a look Jason thought he could interpret... and that he wasn’t sure he liked, in light of what he had learned of the Corsican’s background.

“In that connection,” he began, “I’ve naturally studied your record. . . .”

Mondrago went expressionless. “Yes, sir?”

“Oh . . . never mind.” Jason decided not to pursue the matter, at least for now.

And maybe not at all, he thought. There’s no point in making an issue of something that I’m hoping will never become an issue.

In addition to clothing and weapons, something else produced with careful attention to period detail was the money they would be carrying. It was a great convenience that money existed in this target milieu, unlike the Bronze Age, where Jason and his companions had had to carry a load of high-value trade goods, well-concealed (but stolen anyway, to Jason’s still unabated annoyance). The coinage of the period was chaotic, with each city-state issuing its own, but all were widely accepted. They carried Athenian silver oboloi, six of which made a drachma, which would buy a tavern meal with wine and four of which made a stater. Also, because it would be natural for people coming from Macedon, which had been under Persian influence for a couple of years, they carried Persian gold darics worth about twenty-five drachmai, showing the Great King drawing a bow.

“The street name for these coins was ‘archers,’ for obvious reasons,” Landry told them. He chuckled. “In the next century, when the Persians finally learned that the way to neutralize the Greeks was to subsidize them to fight each other, one Great King quipped, ‘It would seem that my best soldiers are my archers.’”

In addition to gear, they needed names. Jason could use his own given name. So could Mondrago; “Alexander” wasn’t uncommon enough to make his being a namesake of his former king remarkable. There was nothing in Greek even close to the other two’s names, so Rutherford let them choose from a list. Landry would go by Lydos, Chantal by Cleothera. In the relatively elementary society of Macedon, people generally had no second names, identifying themselves as “son/daughter of so-and-so” if necessary. Chantal would be a cousin of Jason’s, under his protection and that of his follower Alexander. Landry would be a part-Thracian family retainer, son of freed slaves, educated in Athens years earlier before returning to Macedon, who had been “Cleothera’s” tutor and was still in her service.

Rutherford lectured them on the timing of their expedition. “Traditionally, it was believed that the Battle of Marathon took place on September 12. But for this to make sense the Persian fleet would have had to spend an inordinate amount of time getting across the Aegean. Furthermore, it is based on the Spartan calendar, which may have been a month ahead of the Athenian. And finally, it rests on unrealistic assumptions about logistics—specifically, the ability of the Persians to keep an army of such size fed. So the weight of scholarly opinion has shifted steadily in favor of a date in August. This is one of the questions you will be able to settle.

“You will arrive in Attica on July 15, 490 b.c. This will give you time to establish yourselves in a position to observe events, and also to discover the answers to the various unsettled questions concerning the preliminaries to the battle. But this expedition does not involve the evaluation of long-term effects, so an extended stay will be unnecessary. You will only remain for sixty-five days, after which your TRDs will activate on September 18, almost a week after the battle’s latest possible date, although no one really takes the September 12 dating seriously anymore.”

Landry’s disappointment at the brevity of their stay was palpable.

“The experience of temporal displacement,” Rutherford continued, “is a profoundly unnatural one which can cause disorientation. We have learned that this effect is intensified—sometimes dangerously so—if it takes place in darkness. Therefore, despite our preference for minimizing the chances of local people witnessing the, ah, materialization, you will arrive not in the dead of night but just after daybreak. Commander Thanou, with his extensive experience, will recover first and will be able to assist the rest of you until the effect wears off.

“You will arrive on the road—the Sacred Way, it was called—from Athens to Eleusis, a little to the east of the latter. There should be no one about at dawn there.”

“Eleusis!” Landry’s eyes took on a dreamy look. “The central shrine of the Eleusinian Mysteries! The ancient Greeks believed that Hades, the God of the Dead, abducted Persephone, daughter of Demeter the harvest-goddess, and the resulting compromise was how they explained the seasons. A cave at Eleusis was believed to be the actual site where Hades emerged from the underworld and returned Persephone to her mother.” He seemed to do a quick mental calculation, and his dreaminess turned to excitement. “Kyle, couldn’t we stay for just a little longer? The ceremonies—about which we have very few hard facts, as the initiates were forbidden to speak of what they had experienced—took place just slightly after your return date, with the procession from Athens the thirteen miles to Eleusis, where—”

“—Where the initiates went through a series of purification rites for which they had been carefully and secretly prepared,” Rutherford reminded him gently. “What, exactly, would you plan to do?” Landry looked crestfallen. “No, Bryan. With only one displacer stage in existence, our schedules are, of necessity, inflexible, as Commander Thanou has long since explained. And we have to draw the line somewhere. There would always be just one more enigma you’d want to unravel.

“You will proceed directly to Athens, where you should arrive in the afternoon. Commander Thanou, using the resources provided by his computer implant, will have no difficulty guiding you. He can neurally access a map showing all the main thoroughfares. I doubt very much if a complete map of ancient Athens ever existed, and if it had it would have resembled a plate of spaghetti; most of the city was a maze of narrow pathways, lanes and alleys. But you are going to be seeking hospitality from an individual whose area of residence is known. He is a prominent public figure, so once you are in that area, minimal inquiries should suffice to locate his house. And your politics should assure you a welcome there, as he is a leading advocate of resistance to Persian aggression.” Rutherford looked annoyed. “Or rather, he was. Tenses are such a problem when discussing time travel!”

The rest of their orientation passed rapidly, and toward its end Rutherford allowed them a day of relaxation. On the last evening before displacement, Jason found himself at the bar of the station’s lounge. As he ordered the last Scotch and soda he would have for two and a half months, he heard a familiar quiet voice behind him.

“Commander Thanou? May I join you for a moment?”

“Of course, Dr. Frey. But please call me ‘Jason.’ And may I call you ‘Chantal’?”

“Certainly . . . Jason. We’re going to be working together closely for some time.”

They found a table and he ordered Chablis for her. She took a couple of sips as though to fortify herself.

“I’ve been hoping to speak to you privately,” she began, “but the opportunity never seems to have arisen. You see . . . I can’t help being fascinated by that neurally interfaced implant inside your head.”

“Fascinated? Most people are repelled by the concept.”

“I know. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say I was, just a little, at first. But at the same time there’s something exciting about it—the way it almost takes you beyond the ordinary human experience. I mean . . . what’s it like?

“There’s really nothing transcendent about it. It’s very utilitarian—just an extremely convenient way of accessing information in various forms and recording sensory impressions. That’s as far as exemptions from the Human Integrity Act ever go, even in cases like ours where there’s clearly a legitimate need.” Jason laughed grimly. “Anything more is altogether too reminiscent of the Transhuman movement for most people’s taste.”

“Yes, I know. And of course they did many terrible things. And yet . . . I sometimes wonder if we’re right to automatically reject all their goals. Surely there must have been some power in their ideals, at least at first, before the movement took power and grew corrupt. Perhaps some of the things they sought could be made to benefit the human race without resorting to their extreme methods.”

Jason gave her an appraising look and ran over in his mind what he knew of her people’s history.

They had been among those who had left Earth on slower-than-light colony ships in the early days of the Transhuman movement’s rise to power, fleeing what they could see coming. The bulk of colonizers had gone to the nearer stars. The settlers of Arcadia, however, wishing to exile themselves even more irrevocably, had dared the thirty-five light-year voyage to Zeta Draconis, most of that time spent in suspended animation. They had awakened to find that the second planet of that binary system’s Sol-like primary component was a hospitable world, fully deserving of the name they had bestowed on it. And there they had remained in the utter isolation they had sought.

Meanwhile the near-Earth colonists had returned to Earth on the wings of the negative mass drive they had invented, blowing in like a fresh wind that had begun the toppling of the Transhumanist regime. Only afterwards had the main body of the human race reestablished contact with Arcadia.

Thus, Jason reflected, this woman came of a society that had opted out of history and avoided the entire titanic, blood-drenched drama. Now, of course, in this day of faster-than-light travel, the Arcadians had reentered the mainstream of human society and subscribed to its dominant ethos. But perhaps they—and she—could not be expected to feel exactly the same thing the rest of humanity felt at the sound of the word “Transhuman.”

“You won’t find many people who’ll agree with you,“he said mildly.

“I know,” she acknowledged. “And I’m not even sure I agree with it, if you know what I mean. It certainly isn’t something I feel strongly about. I just can’t help wondering.” She fell silent, and remained so for a few moments before speaking up again.

“Com . . . Jason, I hope you won’t mind if I ask you another question.”

“Go right ahead. As you pointed out, we’re going to be working together. We shouldn’t have any secrets.”

She took another sip and laughed nervously. “One thing I almost wish you had kept a secret: what happened to Dr. Sadaka-Ramirez’s TRD.” She shivered.

“Please don’t let that prey on your mind. Rutherford was telling the truth when he said it doesn’t generally happen, and that In fact it had never happened before. People of past eras have no way to detect implanted TRDs. It was her misfortune that the Teloi did.” Jason halted his hand almost before it began to stray.

“And now we’re going in search of the Teloi. . . .”

“The surviving Teloi, if any,” he corrected. “If we do encounter them, they’ll be in a far less powerful position than they were in the Bronze Age. Furthermore, this time their existence won’t take us by surprise.”

“I keep telling myself that. But there’s something I’m puzzled about. Why couldn’t she have been rescued?”


“Yes. It seems as though it would be possible—at great expense, admittedly—to send a second expedition back to the time just after your departure, carrying a new TRD for her, timed the same as those of the expedition members.”

“Temporal energy potential doesn’t work that way. You’re linked to the time from which you come. Such a TRD would have returned to the time from which we brought it—but she wouldn’t have, because she didn’t come from that time.” Jason took a long pull on his Scotch and soda. “And besides, you misunderstand. She didn’t remain because she had to. We succeeded in retrieving her TRD. The self-sacrifice of Dr. Nagel, our third member, made that possible. She could have held it in her hand and returned. But she chose to stay.”

“Why?” Chantal’s question was barely audible.

“Very simple: she fell in love.” Jason laughed shortly. “You know the old cliché about the hero getting the girl. Well, in this case the Hero did. Remember what I was telling you about the origin of demigods? She got herself a prime specimen: Perseus. Yes,” he added as Chantal’s eyes grew round, “that Perseus. One of the female skeletons Schliemann found in the shaft graves at Mycenae must have been her.”

“I suppose he never knew what she had given up for him,” Chantal whispered.

“You know, I never thought of it from that angle. But then, I’m not a woman.”

“So,” Chantal said after a thoughtful silence, “when you came back, I suppose her TRD appeared on the displacer stage with you . . . as did Dr. Nagel’s corpse.”

“Neither. Dr. Nagel’s remains, TRD and all, were taken inside the Teloi pocket universe just before its access portal was atomized. And as for Dr. Sadaka-Ramirez’s TRD. . . . Remember I mentioned that I spent time as a prisoner in the pocket universe? We all did—and she spent more time there than Dr. Nagel and I. And the Teloi kept the time-rate there slower than in the outside universe—it helped them seem immortal to their human worshipers. And the atomic timers of the TRDs. . . .” Jason saw that she had grasped it. He grimaced. “I was the first time traveler in the history of the Temporal Regulatory Authority to return behind schedule. I don’t mind telling you I was nervous about appearing on the displacer stage at an unforeseeable moment! Fortunately, Rutherford had gone to great lengths to keep the stage clear.”

Chantal wore a look of intense concentration. “If, as you say, Dr. Sadaka-Ramirez was in the pocket universe longer than you—“

“Precisely. At some completely unpredictable time, her TRD will be found on the floor of the displacer stage.”

Chantal looked at him very thoughtfully. “I’ve noticed that whenever this subject comes up you have a habit of reaching for something in your pocket.”

“You are extremely observant. Just before my displacement back to the present she burned her last bridges by giving me her TRD.” Jason brought out the little plastic case and opened it, revealing the tiny sphere. “Still there, I see.”

“But sometime you’ll open the case and it won’t be. It will be on the displacer stage. And you’ll have a kind of closure.”

“You’re as perceptive as you are observant—uncomfortably perceptive, in fact. Not that I’m complaining. It will be a highly useful quality where we’re going.” He regarded her with new eyes. “This isn’t the most tactful thing to say, Chantal, but I think I may have underestimated you.”

“People sometimes do.”

“I’ve had my doubts about your ability to hold up under the conditions we’re going to be experiencing,” he told her bluntly. “I’ve also had doubts about your usefulness. But to some extent, that last has been wishful thinking on my part.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Then let me put it this way. I hope your specialized field of knowledge will turn out to be irrelevant to our mission. In other words, I hope we’ll find that by 490 b.c. every last Teloi on Earth is dead and only remembered in myth. You’d probably consider them fascinating. I consider them abominations.”

“You’re very forthright. Actually, the same sort of doubts about what I can contribute have been worrying me. If you get your wish about the Teloi, I’ll try to make myself as useful as possible, and not be a burden.”

“I can’t ask for more than that. And every member of an expedition is always needed. You can never foresee everything that’s going to come up, and you never know what talents and abilities are going to come in handy.”

“Thank you for the reassurance.”

“Not at all. Let’s have another round. By the way, have you ever tried any authentic Greek wine in the present day?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well, you’d better drink as much of that Chablis as you can while you’ve got the chance.”

The day came, and they entered the vast dome that held the thirty-foot-diameter displacer stage, surrounded by concentric circles of control consoles and instrument panels. Rutherford gave each of them the handshake he always bestowed before withdrawing to the glassed-in mezzanine that held the control center. As he turned to go and the others climbed onto the stage, Jason spoke. “Uh, Kyle, I’d like you to keep something for me.”

“I rather thought you might.” Rutherford took the plastic case that would have been very hard to explain in the fifth century b.c.

Jason took his place on the stage and waited.


No one had ever succeeded in putting the sensation of temporal displacement into words. Words are artifacts of human language, and this was something outside the realm of natural human experience.

There was nothing spectacular about it—except, of course, from the standpoint of the people in the dome, to whose eyes the four of them instantaneously vanished with a very faint pop as the air rushed in to fill the volume they had occupied. As far as they themselves were concerned, there were no such striking visual effects. There was only a dreamlike wavering of reality, as though the dome and the universe itself were receding from their ken in some indescribable fashion. And, as though awakening from that dream, they were left with no clear recollection of having departed from the dome and no sensation of time having passed. Instead, crowding out the dream-memories as the waking world will, was the dirt road they stood on, with the rising sun just clearing a ridge of hills and spreading its bronze illumination across the body of water that lay close to their right and the island of Salamis that could be glimpsed across that gulf. There was no one else in sight.

As predicted, Jason recovered from the disorientation first. Mondrago wasn’t too far behind him. The other two both pronounced themselves ready to travel not too long thereafter.

“All right,” said Jason, “let’s cover as much ground as possible as early as possible. It’s going to get hot later, at this time of year.” As they hitched up the sacks holding their belongings and set their faces eastward toward the sun, Landry cast a wistful look over his shoulder at the barely visible hump of the acropolis of Eleusis to the west.

“Maybe we can find time for a side trip later, Bryan,” Jason consoled him.

They proceeded along the Sacred Way with the aid of their four-and-a-half-foot walking sticks, skirting the Bay of Eleusis, as the sun rose higher into the Attic sky whose extraordinary brilliance and clarity had been remarked on by thousands of years of visitors, even during the Hydrocarbon Age when Greece had been afflicted by smog. Looking about him, Jason could see that the deforestation of Greece was well advanced since he had seen it in the seventeenth century b.c. Presently the road curved leftward, turning inland and leading over the scrub covered ridge of Mount Aigaleos, which they ascended in the growing heat. They reached the crest, turned a corner, and to the southeast Attica lay spread out before them, bathed in the morning sun. In the distance—a little over five miles as the crow flew, with the sun almost directly behind it—was the city itself. Like every Greek polis, it clustered around the craggy prominence of its acropolis, or high fortified city . . . except that this one would forever be known simply as the Acropolis. It wasn’t crowned by the Parthenon yet, but Jason knew what he was looking at, and what it meant.

He let Landry pause and stare for a few moments.

As those moments slid by, the sun rose just a trifle higher, and its rays moved to strike a certain cleft in the rocks. For a split second, Jason got a glimpse of—

At first his mind refused to accept it.

Mondrago must have been looking in same direction. He ripped out a non-verbal roar, grasped his walking stick in a martial-arts grip, and sprinted for the cleft.

Chantal’s eyes had been following Landry’s in the direction of Athens. Neither of them had seen it. Now they whirled around, wide-eyed.

“Stay here!” Jason commanded, and ran after Mondrago, who was already out of sight.

He scrambled up to the cleft and looked left and right. Mondrago was just vanishing from sight behind a boulder. Jason followed and caught up with him in a tiny glade where he stood, gripping his walking stick like the lethal weapon which, in his hands, it was. He was looking around intently and, it seemed, a little wildly.

“Gone?” Jason asked, approaching with a certain caution.

“Gone,” Mondrago exhaled. He relaxed, and something guttered out in his eyes.

“Did you see what I saw?”

“Depends on what you saw, sir.”

“I think I saw a short humanoid with wooly, goat-like legs and, possibly, horns.”

“On the basis of a very brief glimpse, I confirm that. Doesn’t seem likely that we’d both have the same hallucination, does it?”

“It’s even less likely that we’d actually see something corresponding to the mythological descriptions of the god Pan.”

“I don’t know, sir. You saw some actual Greek gods on your last trip into the past—or at least some actual aliens masquerading as gods.”

Jason shook his head. “Even if any of the Teloi are still around eleven and a half centuries after I encountered them, what we saw was definitely not one of them. It also bore no resemblance to any nonhuman race known to us in our era. And speaking of nonhuman races . . . I couldn’t help noticing your reaction to this particular nonhuman.”

Mondrago’s face took on the carefully neutral look of one being questioned by an officer. “I was startled, sir.”

“No doubt. But what I saw went a little beyond startlement.” Jason sighed to himself. This could no longer be put off. He should, he now realized, have brought it up that day in the exercise room. But his hopes had led him to avoid the issue. He paused and chose his words with care. “As I mentioned to you once before, I studied your record during our orientation period. Among other things, I learned that you served with Shahinian’s Irregulars in the Newhome Pacification.”

“I did, sir,” Mondrago said stiffly. His expression grew even more noncommittal.

As far back as the end of the twentieth century, the end of the Cold War had led to a proliferation of PMCs, or “private military companies” like Executive Outcomes and L-3 MPRI, offering customized military expertise to anyone who could pay. This had proven to be a harbinger of the future. The need of fledgling extrasolar colonies for emergency military aid had soon outstripped the response capabilities of the chronically underfunded armed services, leading to a revival of the “free companies” of Earth’s history, although in a strictly regulated form. The need arose in large part from the recurring failure of human colonists to recognize until too late that a new planetary home was already occupied by a sentient race, simply because that race lacked all the obvious indicia of civilization. Civilization, it had turned out, was a statistical freak. Tool-using intelligence, however, was not. Neither was the capacity to feel resentment at the environmental disruption that even the most minimal terraforming unavoidably caused.

Newhome, DM-37 10500 III, had been a case in point. The autochthones had been physically formidable to a degree that was exceptional for tool-users: steel-muscled hexapods whose three pairs of limbs could all be used as legs, propelling their quarter-ton mass faster than a cheetah. The forward pair could also be used as arms, the middle pair as relatively clumsy ones. The saberlike claws, the whiplike tail and the tusklike fangs were, on some basic level, more frightening than the proficiency that the beings had acquired with captured and copied firearms. The colony had survived, thanks to imported professional soldiers who had inculcated the natives with a certain respect for the human race. But it had been too close for comfort, and an accommodation had been worked out under which human developments were restricted to geographically and ecologically distinct enclaves. By all accounts, the natives were now avid customers for the products of human civilization, and would soon be as peaceable and corrupted as one could wish.

During the fighting, though. . . .

“I’ve read some pretty harrowing accounts of that fighting,” said Jason. “Some of them were almost unbelievably so.”

“You can believe them, sir.”

“You say that like a man who knows whereof he speaks. And I seem to recall a couple of comments in your record. . . .”

Mondrago’s features remained immobile, and his eyes stared fixedly ahead. But they burned. “They used a captured M-47 AAM launcher to shoot down one of our transport skimmers. Some of the men survived and were taken, including a couple of friends of mine. We did a search-and-rescue sweep and found them . . . or what was left of them. I won’t try to describe what had been done to them. Another time, we were a little too late responding to a distress call from a terraforming station. These weren’t soldiers like my friends. There were women and children—although you could barely tell. We made those filthy alien vermin pay the next time we hit one of their villages.”

A quaver had crept into Mondrago’s tightly controlled voice by the time it reached the word alien.

“Yes,” Jason nodded. “All this was touched on in those comments I mentioned. There were other comments in later stages of your career, whenever your duties brought you into contact with nonhumans. Never enough to actually get you in trouble, but. . . .” Jason met Mondrago’s eyes squarely. “There’s always been a possibility that we’d encounter aliens on this expedition. On the basis of what’s just happened, I’d say that possibility has to be upgraded to a strong probability. Are you going to be able to handle that in a disciplined manner?”

The fire had gone out in Mondrago’s eyes, and the stiffness had melted from his expression. He spoke with his usual insouciance, something short of insolence. “I was under the impression that protecting this party from aliens was what I was here for, sir.”

“Wrong! You’re here to protect the party from whatever I tell you to protect it from. And I have no intention of provoking any unnecessary conflicts with anybody, human or otherwise. That’s not our purpose.” Jason spoke quietly, but Mondrago unconsciously came to something resembling a position of attention. “Compared to some of the outfits you’ve served in, I’m sure the Temporal Service seems like a mildly well-supervised excursion agency. But you’ve read the Articles, including the provisions concerning the authority of a mission leader.”

“I have, sir.”

“Good, because it’s not just boilerplate. Let me explain a little history to you. On Earth about five and a half centuries before our time, a sailing ship or a military unit overseas was effectively out of communication with its home base. The commander therefore had to be granted a very high degree of authority to act on his own initiative—and to enforce discipline. Then electronic communications came in, and brought with them—”


“No argument. But now the pendulum has swung back. With no such thing as faster-than-light ‘radio,’ messages have to be sent on ships and a captain in the Deep Space Fleet is about as much on his own as a wet-navy skipper before they had the telegraph, and his legal status reflects that. With us, it’s even more extreme. The ‘message-drop’ system gives us a not very satisfactory way to send information to our own time, but there’s absolutely no way we can get information—or instructions—back. The Temporal Service may look like a loose-jointed quasimilitary organization, with no formal rank structure and everybody on a first-name basis, but in the crunch a mission leader has legal enforcement powers that Captain Bligh would have

envied. And I will have my orders obeyed, even if they cause you trouble because of the way you feel about aliens. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I thought it would be. You’re military, and you understand the necessity for this. The civilian members of extratemporal expeditions can’t be expected to, and we prefer not to rub their noses in it unless it’s absolutely necessary, which it usually isn’t.” Deciding that he had struck the right balance, Jason turned away. “Now let’s get back to Drs. Landry and Frey. They’re probably getting worried.”

The two academics did in fact look jittery, but they still waited by the roadway. Thank God, Jason breathed inwardly. They’re the kind that can follow orders. He’d had altogether too much experience with the other kind.

“What happened?” asked Landry, not unreasonably.

Jason never kept secrets from expedition members unless he had to. He forthrightly described what he and Mondrago both believed they had seen and had tried unsuccessfully to catch. His listeners’ excitement—Landry’s at the possible grain of truth in a Greek myth, Chantal’s at a possible unsuspected nonhuman race—was palpable. He firmly squelched it.

“For now we’re going to have to file this away under the heading of ‘unexplained mysteries, to be deferred until later.’ And we won’t mention this incident to any of the locals. Clear? Now let’s get going.”

They descended into the rocky lowlands of Attica and walked on along the dusty road, past clumps of marjoram and thyme, and asphodel-covered meadows. They began to encounter people, but no one took any particular notice of them, save for an occasional glance occasioned by the oddity of a woman traveling abroad. But Chantal had wrapped her himation modestly around her head and face, so no one looked scandalized.

In this era long before automobiles, there could be little “sprawl.” Besides which, there was something to be said for living within the protection of the walls. So the city was sharply defined. Landry had mentioned that historical demographers estimated its population at this time at a little over seven thousand, and that of the entire polis or city-state of Attica as maybe a hundred and fifty thousand counting slaves and resident foreigners.

“Athens was almost the only ‘city-state’ that really was one,” he explained as they approached the walls. “Most of them were almost completely rural, with a little asty, or town, of not more than two or three thousand at the center of the agros, or countryside. So ‘city state’ is a completely misleading translation of polis.”

“Then why did the term become so well established?” inquired Chantal.

“Because we historians have always fixated on Athens, which was atypical to the point of being sui generis. It became—or ‘will become,’ I suppose I should say—even more atypical after the Persian Wars in the Periclean era, as the capital of an empire of ‘allied’ states, with a previously unheard-of population of over thirty thousand for the city itself and maybe as many as half a million for the entire polis.

They entered Athens through the Dipylon Gate, whose fortifications lacked the moat and forward defenses that would be added later, after this era’s thoroughly unimpressive wall had been destroyed by the Persians in 480 b.c. and afterwards rebuilt. The man they were seeking was destined to be the driving force behind that rebuilding, and much else besides.

They passed through the labyrinthine alleys of the malodorous potters’ quarter known as the Ceramicus, although in truth it was as noted for its cheap whores as for its ceramics. A number of the former were in evidence, or at least the women they saw had to be assumed to be such, for Athens’s sixth-century b.c. lawgiver Solon (one of the most consummate misogynists ever to draw breath, according to Landry) had laid it down that any woman seen in public alone was presumed to be a prostitute. Only the direction-finding feature of Jason’s computer implant enabled them to find their way through that maze, for they knew in general that their destination was south—and, unfortunately, downwind—of the Ceramicus, away from the potteries and whorehouses but near the Hangman’s Gate outside of which was the dumping ground for the bodies of executed criminals and suicides. And the streets (by courtesy so called) still teemed with dogs, goats, pigs, and their fleas.

In addition to all the actual stenches, Jason detected a psychic one—that of fear. He had been in cities living under the threat of invasion before.

As they traversed the winding, unpaved, filth-encrusted alleyways, Jason frequently glanced at his followers. He knew from experience the difficulty twenty-fourth-century people had in adjusting to the urban aromas of antiquity, and those aromas were a particularly ripe combination in this part of Athens. Mondrago looked stoical, and the other two seemed to be holding up reasonably well.

“What made him decide to live in this area?” asked Chantal. Her tone implied that there must be more desirable neighborhoods.

“Politics,” Landry chuckled. “He’s of aristocratic birth, though not from a politically prominent family. But his pitch is to the poorer elements, so he moved here from the family estates so he could be closer to his constituency. It was also a good location for an attorney—yes, he was the first man in history to parley a legal practice into a political career. And finally, it’s within walking distance of the Agora, where all the political and legal business is conducted. As far as we know, he’s still living here now even though three years ago he was elected Eponymous Archon—the head of state for a year.”

“A year? Then what’s he doing now?” Chantal wondered.

“It is believed that at the time of Marathon he was strategos, or general, of his phyle, or tribe, called the Leontis. You must understand, this is an elective office. Every year each of the ten tribes into which the Athenian citizenry is divided elects a strategos, who can be reelected an unlimited number of times. The official commander-in-chief is the polemarch, or War Archon, who is elected by the whole citizen body.”

“More lack of military professionalism,” Mondrago commented with a sniff.

Political prominence naturally made him easy to find. Jason’s first inquiry—which incidentally confirmed that they could make themselves understood in the Ionic dialect—yielded directions to a house larger than any of those nearby. It looked like it had been extended as its owner’s political prominence had waxed. Still, it had the same basic look as all the others: built of plaster-covered mud brick, with rooms organized around three sides of a small courtyard, the fourth side facing the street with the main door in its wall. All the larger windows faced inward to overlook the courtyard; only narrow slits faced the street. From within came the sound of flute and cithara music.

Jason was wondering if it would be good form to knock on the door when a sound of voices came from around a corner of the street. A small group appeared, clustered around a man in his mid-thirties to whom they were talking animatedly. Never mind sandals and chitons; Jason knew political networking when he saw it.

But he only had eyes for the man at the center of the group. It wasn’t every day that he gazed on someone to whom Western civilization at least arguably owed its survival.

Besides the conventionally idealized sculptures of the man they sought, Jason had seen a later Roman bust which was believed to have been a copy of one done from life. Now he realized that belief was correct, as he stared at the solid, powerful, thick-chested build, the blunt features, the massive jaw covered by a beard as dense and black and close-cropped as the head hair. The overpowering impression was one of unsubtle strength. That impression, Jason knew, was completely false, at least as far as the lack of subtlety was concerned.

The hangers-on departed, and Jason took the opportunity to approach. “Rejoice,” he said, giving the conventional general-purpose greeting. He immediately found himself on the receiving end of a politician’s smile, over which eyes of a very intense brown-black studied him. He launched into the stock story of their lives. “So,” he concluded, “we departed Macedon because we could not live with our king’s willingness to grovel before trousered barbarians. We were told that, as enemies of the Great King of Persia, we could hope for hospitality from the strategos who lives in this house.”

The smile widened into something a little more genuine. “Well, Fortune has smiled on you, for you have found him. I am Themistocles.”


The courtyard was cobblestoned, as was typical of the better class of houses.

As they entered it through the door in the street-side wall, they saw the duo that was the source of the music they had heard.

“It’s not always easy getting Eupatrids to come to an address like this,” said Themistocles in the tone of one anticipating an oft-asked question. The word he used was best translated as “the well-bred”—the monumentally snobbish Athenian aristocracy’s term for itself. “So I like to invite the most popular musicians to use my house for rehearsal.” He sounded ebulliently pleased with himself for his own cleverness. Jason had a feeling that he not infrequently sounded that way.

Themistocles led the way through the courtyard, with its surrounding portico which supported a balcony of the second-story women’s quarters, to a doorway leading to the kind of reception room Jason’s orientation had led him to expect. It was a small room—almost all Classical Greek rooms were—with an elaborate black and white pebble mosaic floor. The walls were painted in a singularly handsome pattern, with a baseboard in white-lined black and the main wall above in dark red. Themistocles motioned to servants to bring in the chairs and stools which, in sparsely furnished Athenian homes, were constantly moved from room to room as needed. Like everything else the Classical Greeks made, their furniture was beautiful.

The slaves also brought wine. It was the resinated wine that unkind non-Greeks all through history compared, unfavorably, to turpentine. In this case it tasted like turpentine flavored water, for as custom dictated the wine was diluted. It was easy to understand why alcoholism had not been a widespread social problem in ancient Greece.

“You are most kind, strategos,” said Jason, “to extend your hospitality to refugees.” The word he used actually implied even more, for a Greek without a polis was in a very real sense a non-person, without an identity. And not registered voters in Athens, he left unsaid.

Themistocles gave an indulgent hand-wave. “Who am I to quibble about background? My mother Abrotonon was a Thracian.” He bestowed a smile on Lydos/Landry.

“Ah,” said Landry. “So your mother was not . . . that is, we had heard stories that a Carian—“He shut up under a surreptitious glare from Jason. He’s already told us all we need to know, Bryan, his glare said.

It was the answer to yet another question. They had hoped that this version of Themistocles’s parentage would prove to be the correct one, as it would give their host a certain sense of kinship with them. A second theory had held that his mother had been a Carian woman from Halicarnassus named Euterpe. Either way, there was no doubt that his aristocratic descent on his father’s side had not saved him from being a youthful outsider in the maniacally exclusive society of Athens.

“In the old days,” Themistocles continued, confirming Jason’s unspoken assumption, “that was enough to deny me citizenship. We lived in Cynosarges, the immigrant district outside the city walls, when I was a boy. But then, eighteen years ago, came the reforms of Cleisthenes. The Pisistratid tyranny was overthrown, and the law changed.”

“As I understand it, strategos,” Landry ventured cautiously, with a nervous side-glance at Jason, “the need to fill out the numbers of the tribes into which Cleisthenes divided the Athenian people also helped extend the citizenship.”

“No doubt about it,” Themistocles nodded. “That was one of Cleisthenes’s master strokes. Faction-fighting among the Eupatrid dynasties had brought Athens to the edge of ruin and opened the way for the tyranny of Pisistratus and his sons. His solution was to simply sweep away all the old family and clan identities by dividing Attica into ten tribes, made up of demes scattered all over. He even made people take their second names from those demes.” He chuckled. “One of the demes was named after the Boutads, one of the grandest of all the aristocratic families. Instead of sharing it with every goatherd in the deme they gave themselves a new name: the Authentic Boutads!”

They all laughed. Actually, Jason had already heard the story from Landry, who’d said it reminded him of an incident in the history of his native North America, where vaporing beyond description had erupted in Boston around the turn of the twentieth century when a certain unpronounceable Eastern European immigrant had taken it into his head to shorten his name to “Cabot.” It was good to have another anecdote verified. So far, this was proving to be one of those expeditions whose findings tended to confirm orthodox expectations.

Except, of course, for a certain sighting on the Sacred Way near the crest of Mount Aigaleos. . . .

“But,” Themistocles continued, sobering, “it worked. For the first time, everyone—regardless of birth or wealth—could speak and vote in the Assembly. Athens became the first true demokratia.

Jason and Landry exchanged a look, for it hadn’t been certain that this word—meaning a state in which power, or kratos, was invested in the people, or demos—had actually been in use this early.

“You have no idea what it was like,” Themistocles continued. “Under the tyrants, we Athenians had never amounted to very much. Suddenly we behaved like heroes. Enemies from Sparta and Thebes and Chalcis descended on us like vultures, thinking we’d be easy prey—and we defeated them all!”

Actually, internal dissention—probably incited by Cleisthenes’ bribery—stopped the Spartans, Jason mentally corrected, recalling his orientation. But for a fact, the Athenians had seemed transformed overnight by their democratic revolution. Themistocles’s next words helped him understand why.

“So a whole new world of opportunities had been opened up for me and others like me—there seemed no limits any more. When I reached the required age of thirty, my ancestry through my father made me eligible to run for Archon.” Jason nodded, recalling that even though every citizen could vote only the upper classes could run for high office. “I could never have dreamed of such a thing before!”

Which, of course, gave you a very intense and personal commitment to the new order, thought Jason.

A servant entered and signaled to Themistocles, who excused himself. They were left to themselves for a few minutes, and Jason motioned them to silence, bestowing a special cautionary look on Landry. Presently their host returned, looking a little preoccupied.

“That was Euboulos, a shipbuilder,” Themistocles explained. “I needed to talk with him. He’s been offering to support me in the Assembly, in exchange for my influence in sending certain contracts his way in the future.”

“When you were running for Archon,” Landry prompted, “did you not argue for a new harbor, and expansion of the fleet?” Jason kept his features immobile, for this would be well known enough to make the question legitimate.

“Expansion of the fleet?” Themistocles snorted. “We have practically none to expand! Seventy triremes! And if we did, where would we base it—that miserable open bay at Phalerum? It’s absurd! We can’t even protect our shipping from the flea-bitten pirates who infest the island of Aegina, only fifteen miles south of Salamis and squatting across our trade routes! And that’s the least of the threats we face. That very year, the Persians wiped out the Ionian fleet at Lade, after which they sacked Miletus and ended the rebellion.”

“Wasn’t the Ionians’ defeat at Lade the result of the desertion of the ships from Samos, who wanted to doom their traditional commercial rivals in Miletus?”

“You’re very well informed, Lydos.” Jason held his breath, but Themistocles continued, for this was obviously a pet subject. “Yes, that’s the curse the gods seem to have laid on us Greeks: we can never unite. Show us a common enemy, and all that most Greeks can see is an opportunity to betray some other Greek to him, for private gain or to avenge some age-old slight.” He gave the exasperated sigh of a brilliant man forced to work with short-sighted fools while pretending to respect them. “Well, anyway, as Archon I was able to get work started on a new seaport for Athens at Piraeus, just to the east of Phalerum. That’s the place!”

“Isn’t Piraeus two miles farther from Athens than Phalerum is?” asked Jason, mentally calling up the glowing map that seemed to float a few inches in front of his eyes.

“A small price to pay! That easily defensible rocky headland offers three natural harbors. It allows space for our merchant fleet to grow, as it’s been growing along with all the rest of our economy now that people know they can work for their own betterment without fear of having all they own taken from them by a tyrant. It will also provide a base for the war-fleet we need . . . if I can ever persuade the Assembly that we do need it, and if we can ever find the money to pay for it. That’s the prospect I keep holding out to Euboulos and others like him.”

Themistocles paused, brooding for a moment. Looking at him, Jason reviewed in his mind the things he knew but could not reveal: that in seven years a rich lode of silver would be discovered at Laurium, near the southern tip of Attica; and that under Themistocles’s urging the Assembly would excel itself, spending the windfall on the fleet of triremes that, three years later in 480 b.c., would (with the help of Themistocles’s genius for adroit disinformation) win at Salamis the victory on which the future of this planet and a great many others rested.

All at once, the full realization of just who it was whose watered wine he was drinking truly hit Jason.

Landry interrupted their host’s thoughts. “We have heard that there were other issues as well . . . such as the impending trial of Miltiades the Younger.”

“Ah, yes,” said Themistocles, animated once more. “As you probably know, being from the North, the elder Miltiades was a member of a Eupatrid family called the Philaids who was forced out of Athens sixty years ago because he opposed the tyranny of Pisistratus. He founded a colony in the Thracian Chersonese.” (The Gallipoli Peninsula, Jason translated automatically.) “He died childless, and his step-nephew Miltiades the Younger ruled the colony as a tyrant. He joined the Ionian revolt and fought heroically, capturing the islands of Lemnos and Imbros in the name of Athens. When the revolt collapsed, he fled to Athens. And what did the Assembly do when the most renowned Persian fighter of them all landed at Phalerum and offered his services? Put him in prison for the crime of tyranny in the Chersonese!” Themistocles gave another sigh of utter weariness and frustration. “Fortunately, his trial was scheduled after that year’s election. As Archon, I was able to exert some small influence on the proceedings.”

I’ll just bet you were! It was, thought Jason, yet another reason why that election had been one of the most crucial ever held in all history. Aloud: “Yes, we’d heard that he was triumphantly acquitted, and has now been elected one of the ten strategoi.”

“True. We need him now, in light of the current situation. Speaking of which. . . .” With an air of getting down to business, Themistocles proceeded to ask them a rapid-fire series of very shrewd questions about the state of affairs in Macedon, now a Persian satellite. Drawing on their orientation, they were able to give very specific answers. As heirs to centuries of painstaking historical research, they knew far more about Macedon, Thrace and adjacent areas in the early fifth century b.c. than contemporary Athenians did. Themistocles was clearly impressed.

“Yes,” he finally said, leaning back. “You’ve been very informative. That obligates me to help you in any way I can—which is my inclination anyway, since you obviously hold the same views I do on appeasement of the Persians. The first need is to get you established as metoikoi.”

Resident non-citizens, Jason translated: accepted in polite society and not without certain civil rights, but unable to vote, own land, or marry citizens—and at the same time liable for military service. For Classical Greeks, polis identification was everything. As metoikoi they would at least have a recognized status in Athens.

“You’ll also need a place to stay,” Themistocles continued. “I know people who have accommodations to let. I assume. . . .” His voice trailed off. As an aristocrat—at least on his father’s side—he naturally could not bring up so crass a subject as ability to pay.

“Of course, strategos,” said Jason, earning a smile of approval from Themistocles for his ability—surprising in a hick from the north—to grasp what had been left unspoken. “We are indebted to you for your help in arranging all this.”

“And,” Mondrago spoke up, “we doubt whatever information we have been able to provide will be useful enough to repay your kindness, now that the main Persian threat is no longer from the north.”

“No, it isn’t.” Themistocles‘s brooding look was back, but now it held a new undertone of discouragement. They didn’t break into his black study with matters of common knowledge.

The natural approach for the Great King Darius to take in chastising the Athenians for their support of the Ionian rebels had been a southward advance from his satrapy of Thrace through his new client-state of Macedon. But such a strategy required the support of a fleet working its way around the northern end of the Aegean—a fleet that had been wrecked in a storm off Mount Athos. Then Mardonius, the swashbuckling Persian general in command of the northern front, had buckled one swash too many and gotten himself seriously wounded in an attack on some mountain tribe of goat-stealers.

So the Great King had adopted a new strategy—an unsettlingly original one.

“When the newly assembled Persian fleet of six hundred ships departed from Cilicia earlier this year,” said Themistocles, speaking more to himself than to them, “nobody was too alarmed at first. Surely, everyone thought, it must be headed north, to follow the coast around the Aegean. That was the way it had always been done. But then, once past the ruins of Miletus and through the strait between Mount Mycale and the island of Samos, it turned westward, straight out across the open sea from island to island! First they obliterated Naxos and enslaved the population. Then they stopped at Delos, the sacred birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and their commanders Artaphernes and Datis—he’s the real commander; Artaphernes is just a blue blooded Persian figurehead that they had to have because Datis is a Mede—put on a hypocritical display of respect for Apollo. This, after the Persians had burned Apollo’s oracle at Didyma and plundered his bronze statue! Maybe some Greeks will actually be stupid enough to be taken in by it. “

Carrot and stick, thought Jason.

“Do you know what that smooth-tongued snake Datis had the nerve to tell them on Delos?” Jason could have sworn Themistocles’ indignant tone held just a touch of professional envy. “He actually claimed with a straight face that the Ionian rebels hadn’t been worshiping the true Apollo at Didyma, but rather a kind of imposter: one of the daiva, the Persian demons or false gods or whatever. What a gigantic load of goat shit!”

Themistocles, Jason reflected, was even more right than he knew. As Landry had explained during their orientation, Datis’ propaganda line was nonsense in terms of Zoroastrian dualistic theology. Just as Ahura Mazda, the supreme god of truth and light, had his counterpart in Ahriman, god of lies and darkness, so his six emanations, the amesha spenta or “beneficent immortals,” had dark shadows in the form of the daiva. A Zoroastrian priest would have gagged on the idea of Apollo—one of the daiva himself, according to them—having such a shadow. But the Greeks of Delos hadn’t been up to speed on such subtleties, and with the Persian army occupying their island they hadn’t been disposed to dispute the point.

“I understand the Persians have Hippias with them,” said Landry.

Themistocles gave him a sharp look. “You really are very well informed, Lydos.”

Jason shot Landry a warning glance, for once again he was displaying an implausible level of knowledge. “We heard people in the streets saying so,” he explained quickly.

“Well, it’s true. The last tyrant of Athens, chased out twenty years ago, has been a faithful toady of the Great King ever since. And now the doddering old bastard has convinced himself that if he betrays Athens to them the Persians will restore him as tyrant. Ha! He’s a fool as well as a traitor. They’ll just use him as a source of information.”

“And,” Jason suggested, “maybe for any contacts he still has within the city.” The term fifth column would of course mean nothing to Themistocles.

“Yes.” Themistocles grew very grim. “And even if there aren’t really any of his fellow traitors within the walls, the suspicion that there may be some aristocratic faction ready to open the gates from the inside poisons our air.” He shook his head. “Ah, well, it’s just one more reason why we’re lucky to have Miltiades. I only hope that he was right in talking the Assembly into trying and executing the Persian ambassadors that came last year demanding earth and water.” He was clearly worried that Athens, at Miltiades’s urging, had forfeited the moral high ground.

“If possible,” Landry said diffidently, “we’d like to meet him, having heard so much about him.”

“Hmm. Yes, I think that could be arranged. I’ll see what I can do. But for now, you’re welcome to stay here tonight.”

As they got up, murmuring their thanks, Jason spoke up, hoping his interest sounded only casual. “Oh, by the way, we’ve heard certain odd rumors on our journey. Have there been any incidents of . . . well, of people claiming to have seen manifestations of the gods?”

Themistocles gave him a look which he could not interpret. It was never easy to know just how literally the people of pre-scientific societies really took their gods. One of the few things of which the Classical Greeks were intolerant was atheism . . . strictly speaking, asebia, or failure to worship the gods. It was the crime for which Socrates would be sentenced to drink hemlock eight decades from now. But what was the real gravamen of the offense: impiety, or a dereliction of civic duty? Jason knew he had to tread very warily.

“No, not that I’ve heard of,” said Themistocles after a pause. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, only curious,” said Jason hastily. They made their exit as soon as was gracefully possible.


This was not their Acropolis.

The serene perfection of the Parthenon, the inspired eccentricity of the Erechtheum, and all the rest lay half a century and more in the future, when Pericles would loot the treasury of the League of Delos—Athens’s subordinate “allies”—to build them, replacing the temples the Persians had burned in 480 b.c. Now, ten years before that, even those earlier temples were for the most part nonexistent.

Seven centuries earlier, the five-hundred-foot-high crag had been the citadel of a semi barbaric Bronze Age king like those of Jason’s recent acquaintance. That age-old megaron had long since vanished, for starting three generations ago, the Eupatrid clans had cluttered the summit with private building projects, competing with each other in the efflorescence of gaudily painted statuary, culminating with the large, flamboyant “Bluebeard Temple” reared by the supremely rarefied Eupatrid family of the Alcmaeonids for its own glorification and the overshadowing of its rivals the Boutads (who hadn’t become “authentic” yet). But even such monuments to aristocratic self-importance had not robbed these precincts of their sacredness, for here was the olive tree, believed to be immortal, that Athena herself had granted to the city, besting Poseidon in the matter of gifts and winning the Athenians’ special worship. (Jason wondered if some Teloi power-struggle lay behind the legend). And the old, shabby temple of Athena Polias held an archaic olive-wood statue of the goddess believed to be a self-portrait, fallen from the sky.

Jason and his companions shouldn’t have been seeing any of this, as the crest of the Acropolis was supposedly barred to all but native-born Athenians. But it was becoming more and more apparent that a lot of exclusionary legislation was honored more in the breach than in the observance, in this state without a nit-picking bureaucracy. And besides, they were friends of Themistocles. So Landry had gotten his wish and they now walked among all the schlock that would eventually be swept away by Persian fire or Athenian urban renewal or both. Jason dutifully recorded it all through his implant simply by looking at it, knowing how interested Rutherford would be.

As far as he was concerned, the most edifying thing about the Acropolis at this stage of its history was the view from it. To the west was Mount Aigaleos, scene of the unexplained sighting that still rankled in Jason’s mind. To the south was the bay of Phalerum, Athens’s port whose inadequacy was such an insistent bee in Themistocles’s entirely metaphorical bonnet. To the northeast was the marble-quarry-scarred Mount Pentelikon, beyond which lay the beach and horse-breeding plains of Marathon. Two roads led there, one to the north and one to the south of the mountain—roads which were going to acquire a vital strategic significance in the next few weeks.

Closer than any of these things—almost directly below to the southeast, in fact, within the city itself—was what looked like an unfinished construction site. Which, in fact, was precisely what it was: the longest-unfinished construction site in history.

When Pisistratus had taken power as tyrant in 560 b.c., all the competitive building on the Acropolis had come to an end; grands projets were only to be for the glorification of the tyranny. And his sons and successors, Hippias and Hipparchus, had had a perfect opportunity, given that the Athenians had been so remiss as to neglect to raise a temple to Zeus, the king of the gods. In a precinct traditionally sacred to Zeus, they had begun work on a temple of truly Pharaonic grandiosity. It had been uncompleted in 510 b.c. when the tyranny had been overthrown and Hippias sent into exile. Afterwards, the new democracy had neither finished it nor torn it down. Instead, they had simply left it standing, half-finished, as a mute testament to the tyrants’ megalomaniacal folly. And so it would stand until the second century a.d., when the Roman Emperor Hadrian would deign to complete it.

Jason, who had known Zeus personally, tried to imagine just how that second generation Teloi would have taken all this.

He touched Landry’s shoulder. “Let’s go, Bryan. It’s time to meet Miltiades down in the Agora.” The historian reluctantly complied.

The four of them turned away, toward the gates, past the immense bronze four-horse chariot placed by the democracy in this one-time aristocratic showcase as a monument to its victories over those who had tried to strangle it in its cradle. They proceeded on down the great ramp and through the crumbling old wall that still marked the outline of the Bronze Age lower town. There they turned right and followed the Panathenaic Way, past the temple enclosure of the Eleusinium on their right, from which the procession to Eleusis for the Mysteries would depart in October. After the next intersection, on the left, was the fountain-house where the women of Athens came in the morning to collect water—one of the tyrants’ more useful projects. Then, beyond that, the Agora opened out to their left.

It had been called the Square of Pisistratus, after the tyrant who had cleared it. Like the fountain-house, and unlike the temple of Zeus, this was something the democracy could use. In fact, it had needed such a gathering-place for its public business. So the detritus of the tyranny had been cleared away and replaced by public buildings like the Bouleuterion where the boule that prepared the agenda for the popular assembly met, and the circular Tholos where its members ate at public expense. Emphasizing the political change was the bronze statue of two men, heroically nude, with drawn swords—Aristogiton and Harmodius, “the tyrannicides,” who had killed Hippias’s brother and co-tyrant Hipparchus, and died for it.

As they passed that statue, in the center of the Agora, Landry provided an amused elucidation. “They were homosexual lovers. Hipparchus took a shine to Harmodius and tried to use his political power to have his way with him. Eventually he pushed the two of them just a little too far. They decided their only way out was to murder him.”

“And for this they put up a statue of you in this city?” Mondrago wondered.

“Well, the new democracy needed all the heroes it could get,” Landry explained. Jason, who had visited the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, recalled the word spin.

They continued on, through the noisy merchants’ stalls. The shady plane trees that featured in so many artists’ impressions of the Agora still lay in the future, waiting to be planted after the Persians’ retreat in 480 b.c. Jason would have welcomed them, on this sunny late-July afternoon. He paused for an instant under a merchant’s striped awning and looked at the crowd. There was a subtle difference from what one would expect in such a marketplace—an unmistakable undercurrent of tension. This was, unmistakably, a city under threat.

One head stood above the general run. The man’s exceptional height was the first thing that attracted Jason’s attention. What held his eyes was that, unlike most of the people who made up the Agora’s sweaty, dusty, entirely ordinary bustle, this man looked the way Classical Greeks were supposed to look, complete with the straight, high-bridged nose and regular features. The longer Jason looked, though, there was something about him that wasn’t specifically Greek at all, but was ethnically unidentifiable. Unlike most mature men in this setting, he had no beard, and in fact looked like he had very little facial hair to grow.

Jason took all this in as the man passed them in the opposite direction, headed toward the Panathenaic Way. He thought the man’s eyes—large, golden-brown—met his own for a fraction of a second, but he couldn’t be sure. Then he felt a tug on the shoulder of his chiton.

“Jason,” said Chantal, in as close to a whisper as she could come and still make herself heard. “That tall man who just passed us—I saw something under his himation. I just got a quick glimpse . . . but it was something that didn’t belong in this time.”

“Huh?” Jason stared at her. “What was it?”

“I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t have been able to identify it even if I’d seen it for longer than a fraction of a second. But it was some kind of . . . device. And it had an unmistakable high-technology look.”

“Chantal, this is impossible! We’re the only time travellers in the here and now—and even if we weren’t, nobody is ever allowed to bring advanced equipment. And while that man may look a little out of the ordinary, there’s no possibility that he’s a Teloi. You must have imagined something.”

Chantal took on a look of quiet stubbornness. “You once told me that I’m very observant. You might as well take advantage of that quality.” A trace of bitterness entered her voice. “It’s the only thing about me that’s been any use so far.”

Jason chewed his lower lip and looked behind them. The man’s wavy dark-gold head could still be seen above the generality. He reached a decision and turned to Mondrago.

“Alexandre, follow that man. Don’t reveal yourself, and don’t take any action. Just find out where he’s going, then come back and report. We’ll be over there near the Tholos.”

“Right.” Mondrago set out, blending into the throng. The rest of them continued toward the Kolonus Agoraeus, the low hill bordering the Agora on the west, with a small temple of Hephaestus at its top and the civic buildings grouped at its foot. To their left was the Heliaia, or law court: simply a walled enclosure where the enormous juries of Athens—typically five hundred and one members—could gather. Just to the left of the Tholos, a street struck off to the southwest, passing another walled quadrangle: the Strategion, headquarters of the Athenian army.

Landry was staring raptly at a small building—a workshop of some kind, it seemed—tucked into an angle of a low wall across the street from the Tholos, near a stone that marked the boundary of the Agora. “What is it?” Jason asked him.

Landry seemed to come out of a trance. “Oh . . . sorry. But that building there . . . I don’t know who’s occupying it now, but a couple of generations from now it will be the house and shop of Simon the shoemaker.” Seeing that this meant nothing to Jason, he elaborated. “It’s the place Socrates will use for discussions with his pupils—like Plato and Xenophon.”

“Oh,” was all Jason said. Inwardly, he was experiencing an increasingly frequent tingle: a sense of just exactly where he was, and what it meant . . . and what would have been lost had the men of Athens not stood firm at Marathon.

Up the street from the Strategion came a group of men, as Jason had been told to expect around this time of day: the strategoi, the annually elected generals of the ten tribes, who advised the War-Archon. Jason recognized the latter from descriptions he’d heard. Callimachus was older than most of the strategoi, a dignified, strongly built gentleman, bald and with a neat gray beard, wearing a worried expression that looked to be chronic. Themistocles walked behind him.

At Callimachus’ side, and talking to him with quiet intensity, was one of the few strategoi of his own age. This was a man of middle size, lean and wiry, obviously very well preserved for his age, which Jason knew to be about sixty. He still had all his hair, and it was still mostly a very dark auburn, darker than the still visible reddish shade of his graying beard.

The group began to break up, with Callimachus shuffling off as though stooped under the burden of his responsibilities. Jason wondered if he remembered how to smile. Themistocles led the man who had been expostulating to Callimachus to meet them.

“These are the nobles from Macedon I mentioned, Miltiades.” He performed introductions, then excused himself. Jason explained that “Alexander” was currently indisposed.

“I would be, too, if I shared the name of that lickspittle king!” Miltiades gave a patently bogus glare, then laughed. He showed no sign of being scandalized at the presence of a woman in the group, which Jason had hoped would be the case given his background in the wild and wooly frontier of Thrace, where he had married Hegesipyle, the daughter of the Thracian King Olorus. He asked them a series of rapid-fire questions concerning the current state of affairs in those parts, which they were able to answer as they had answered Themistocles.

“We hope we have been of assistance to you, strategos,” Jason said afterwards. “And we are grateful to you for taking the time to talk to us. We know how much you have had to concern you, ever since . . . well, the news from Naxos and Delos.”

“Yes,” said Miltiades grimly. He swept his hand in a gesture that took in the Agora crowd. “Can’t you feel the suspense as we wait to hear where Datis and his fleet will strike next? And just think: the whole thing could have been avoided if only the Ionians had listened to me twenty-three years ago!”

“You mean,” Landry queried, “the matter of the Great King’s bridge of boats across the Danube?”

“Yes! Darius, puffed up from his conquests in India, had led his great cumbersome army into Scythia. Of course he couldn’t catch the Scythian horsemen, who harried him so mercilessly he was lucky to escape.” (Ancestors of the Cossacks, thought Jason, remembering what he knew of Darius’s invasion of the Ukraine in 513 b.c.) “He’d ordered his subject Greek tyrants—including me—to build that bridge, and await his return before the horrible winter of that land set in. I proposed to the others that we destroy the bridge and leave him stranded north of the river, to either freeze or be feathered with Scythian arrows. We would have been free! But that crawling toad Histaeus, tyrant of Miletus, persuaded the others that my plan was too bold, too risky. So the bridge remained, and the tyrants welcomed back their master.”

“Including you,” Landry ventured.

“Of course. Do you take me for a fool? Yes, I groveled with the best of them. But later I joined the rebellion Histaeus instigated through his nephew Aristagoras.” Miltiades’s scowl lightened as though at a pleasant recollection. “The only good outcome was what happened to Histaeus after the rebellion had been crushed. He had the effrontery to demand that the Persian satrap send him to Susa to appeal to his old friend the Great King! The satrap complied—by sending his head there, pickled and packed in salt.”

“There was one other good outcome,” Landry demurred. “You yourself escaped.”

“Yes—twice. First from the Persians, and then from the Athenian Assembly after arriving here! This, even though after capturing the islands of Lemnos and Imbros from the Persians I gave them to Athens! I have Themistocles to thank for my acquittal. I’ll never forget that, even though he and I don’t agree on everything.”

“Like the fact that you persuaded the Assembly to execute the Persian emissaries who came demanding submission last year,” Chantal suggested diffidently. “He mentioned that he had reservations about that.” Even Miltiades looked slightly taken aback at a woman speaking up unbidden, but after a slight pause he continued.

“A lot of people discovered that they have reservations, after the fact. They said the person of an ambassador is sacred, and that we’d brought down the disfavor of the gods on ourselves.” Miltiades’s scowl was back at full intensity. “They just don’t understand. In a city like this, so traditionally riven by the feuds of aristocratic cliques, so uncertain of its new democracy that hasn’t had time to acquire habitual loyalties. . . .” Miltiades seemed to have difficulty putting it into words. In this land with so few rivers worthy of the name, there was no metaphor of burning bridges. “We needed to make our rejection irrevocable, by taking a dramatic step that left us with no alternative but to resist. Besides which, as a practical matter, it aligned us unbreakably with Sparta, which had killed the emissaries without even the formality of a trial.”

Jason was silent, remembering the twentieth-century debate over the pros and cons of the Allies’ “unconditional surrender” policy in World War II—a debate which hadn’t entirely died down among historians even in the twenty-fourth century. Miltiades had argued the Athenians into something like a mirror image of that: unconditional defiance.

“Can Sparta truly be relied on?” asked Landry, probing again for an historical insight.

“If Cleomenes were still alive, I’d be sure of it,” said Miltiades, referring to one of the Spartan kings, of whom there were always two. “Yes, I know, he was an enemy of the democracy in its earlier days—tried to force us to take Hippias back as tyrant! But . . . well. . . .” Fifth century b.c. Ionic Greek also didn’t have anything about politics making strange bedfellows. “Lately, he was as staunch an enemy of Persia as any. And four years ago he did us all a favor by crushing Argos, which was threatening to stab us all in the back by joining the Persians at the Battle of Sepeia.” Miltiades chuckled. “He attacked them by surprise on the third night of a seven-day truce. When someone asked him about it, he said he’d sworn to the truce for seven days but hadn’t said anything about nights! And then when the Argive survivors retreated into the sacred grove of Argos, he ordered his helots to pile brush around the grove and burn it.”

“How horrible!” exclaimed Chantal.

“Exactly. Burning a sacred grove was just one more affront to the gods, added to the Spartans’ throwing the Persian emissaries down a well. And of course the gods wouldn’t be fooled by that trick of having the helots light the fire; they knew who gave the order.” Clearly, Miltiades was more concerned with the trees than with the Argives. “But that was Cleomenes for you. An unscrupulous conniver, to be sure, but our unscrupulous conniver. However, he finally outsmarted himself. He bribed the Oracle of Delphi to pronounce his co-king Demaratus illegitimate, so he could bring in that pliable little rat-fucker Leotychides in Demaratus’ place. When the story came out, Cleomenes was killed—pay no attention to that goat shit about suicide. Too bad. But his successor, who’d married his daughter Gorgo, may have promise. Young fellow named Leonidas.”

Leonidas, thought Jason, and the familiar tingle took him once again. Leonidas, who ten years from now will lead three hundred Spartans to Thermopylae, where they will leave their bones under a tomb inscribed with “Stranger, go tell the Spartans that we keep the ground they bade us hold,” and sear into the very soul of Western civilization a standard against which every subsequent generation of Western men must measure themselves.

“And now you must excuse me,” said Miltiades. “I have people to talk to, people to persuade of what we must do when—not if—the Persians come. And the debate has already begun in the Assembly.” Landry restrained himself with an effort as they said their farewells. He would, Jason suspected, have sold his soul for the opportunity to observe the Assembly, but they all knew it was out of the question for resident foreigners like themselves.

As Miltiades receded into the Agora crowd, Mondrago reappeared. “I followed that man as ordered sir,” he reported crisply. “He went back in the direction of the Acropolis, and through the gate in that old wall at the base—but not up the ramp to the summit. Instead, he turned left when nobody was looking and skirted the side of the hill—pretty rough footing, I can tell you. He scrambled partway up the side, past some really old-looking shrines or whatever.”

“The sides of the hill,” Landry interjected, “especially the northern side, were riddled with tiny shrines, some of them of Bronze Age vintage, in Classical times. In fact, come to think of it, there was a shrine to Pan in a grotto there. Although,” he continued, sounding puzzled, “it’s always been believed that that shrine was established after the Battle of Marathon.”

“Well,” Mondrago resumed, clearly uninterested, “he vanished into one of those shrines. I expected him to reappear soon—it seemed barely large enough for him to take a leak in! But he never came back out. I thought I ought to get back here and report.”

“You did right.” Jason turned to Landry and Chantal. “You two get back to our rented house. Alexandre and I are going to look into this.”


It was late afternoon when Jason and Modrago passed through the gate at the base of the Acropolis ramp, and there was almost no one about. So they turned unnoticed to the left and began to scramble along the steep, craggy northern side of the Acropolis.

Looming above them to the right were the walls that surrounded the summit. Below to the left spread the sea of small, tile-roofed buildings and winding alleys that was Athens. They had eyes for neither, for it was all they could do to keep their footing on the crumbling ancient pathways that clung to the almost cliff-like face.

Here and there, they passed the mouths of shallow caves holding the worn-down remnants of shrines carved into the hill in ages past, often holding barely recognizable statues which must surely predate written history.

Jason knew full well that humans were quite capable of imagining gods for themselves without the help of the Teloi—the entire religious history of humanity outside the Indo European zone bore witness to that. So he didn’t know how many of these Bronze Age sculptures represented the alien “gods” and how many reflected images that had arisen from the subsoil of the human population’s own psyche. All he knew was that these shrines, sacred to the forgotten deities of a forgotten people, belonged to a different world from the bustling city below or the self-conscious monuments above. Child of a raw new world, he had always found Old Earth’s accumulated layers of ancientness oppressive—almost sinister. Now he had passed into a realm of ancientness beyond ancientness, and the tininess of his own lifespan shook him.

“This is the one,” he heard Mondrago say.

It was much like the others, little more than a rough indentation in the hillside. Inside and to the left was one of the crude sculptures, in a roughly hewn-out niche with an opening to the sky. It got no direct sunlight, here on the north side of the Acropolis, but there was enough illumination to make out the statue’s outlines. With a little imagination, it was possible to see a goat-legged man.

“He’s gone,” said Mondrago.

“Gone from where?” Jason demanded irritably, waving his hand at the little cavern, which hardly deserved the name; it was barely deep enough for a man to stand up inside, “Are you sure this is the right shrine?”

“Of course I’m sure!”

“But he could barely have squeezed in here, much less remained for a long time.”

“I tell you, this is where I left him!” Mondrago angrily slammed the rocky rear wall of the cavern with his fist for emphasis.

With a very faint humming sound, a segment of the rough stone surface, seemingly indistinguishable from the rest, slowly swung inward as though on hinges.

For a moment the two men simply stared at each other, speechless in the face of the impossibly out-of-place.

“I must have hit exactly the right spot,” Mondrago finally said, in an uncharacteristically small voice.

Jason shook his head slowly. No one in the twenty-fourth century had any inkling of anything like this under the Acropolis. “This has to be the work of the Teloi.”

“Why? Chantal said she saw high-tech equipment on a human.”

“I know what Chantal said. But she had to be mistaken. The Authority doesn’t allow it. Ever.”

Mondrago’s brown face screwed itself into a look of intense concentration. “Look, ours is the only expedition that’s ever been sent to this era, right? So if there are other time travelers around here, they must have come from our future.”

Jason shook his head. “The Authority has a fixed policy against sending multiple expeditions to the same time and place, where they could run into each other. God knows what paradoxes that could lead to!”

“But you told us—“

“—That there are no paradoxes. Right. But I also told you that we don’t go out of our way to invite paradoxes, because the harder we push, the harder reality is apt to push back—maybe so hard as to be lethal.”

“Yes, I know, that’s another fixed policy. But think about it: maybe sometime in our future, the Authority’s policies will change. Maybe the Authority itself will change . . . or even cease to exist.”

Jason was silent. This had of course been considered, for it was obviously not impossible that it could happen in the unforeseeable scope of the twenty-fourth century’s future. But while no one had ever denied the possibility, no one ever seemed to think about it very much either. Its implications didn’t bear thinking about; the mind reeled from the potential consequences of unregulated laissez-faire time travel. And as more and more expeditions had returned from the past and reported no indication of other time travellers from further in the future, the thought had receded to the back of people’s minds. Everyone had settled into the comfortable assumption that, for whatever reason, the restrictions imposed by the Temporal Regulatory Authority and the Temporal Precautionary Act under which it operated must be forever immutable.

“Anyway,” said Mondrago, interrupting his thoughts, “why are we standing here speculating? Let’s investigate this.”

Jason eyed the opening dubiously. “We’re unarmed.”

“No, we’re not.” Mondrago lifted his himation, which he was wearing hanging from his left shoulder and draped around despite the late-July heat, and the chiton under it. He had contrived a heavy cloth sheath with leather strings, by which his short Spanish falcata was strapped tightly to his left thigh.

Jason frowned. Going armed was not customary in Athens, and the sword would have taken some explaining if anyone had spotted it. But this was no time to raise the issue. He peered through the doorway, which admitted enough light to reveal a flight of shallow steps carved in the stone, leading downward into the gloom.

“We’ll see how far we can get before the light gives out,” said Jason. As they passed through the doorway, he looked for whatever machinery had opened it, but it was concealed beyond his ability to find it in the dimness.

They descended the steps, and as their eyes accustomed themselves, they saw they were in what appeared to be a small, natural cave from whose opposite side a tunnel had been dug. At the tunnel’s far end was a faint glow.

“My God,” whispered Mondrago. “How far under the Acropolis does this extend?”

“Shhh!” Jason motioned him to silence. Straining their ears, they detected a murmur of voices from the tunnel.

Without waiting for orders, Mondrago drew his sword.

They advanced into the tunnel, in which Mondrago could just barely stand up straight and Jason had to stoop slightly. The sides were too smooth and even to be entirely the work of nature. But it was crude excavation, and Jason began to think that humans of the Bronze Age or earlier were responsible for the basic work, to which the Teloi had later added high-tech touches like the door.

The glow grew brighter as they approached, and they could smell the aroma of burning oil lamps. The sound resolved itself into voices joined in a kind of low chant—a dark, weird, unmelodious drone that was somehow repellent. Jason was wondering if it was bringing to the surface of his consciousness certain memories from the Bronze Age that he had no desire to recall.

Nearing the tunnel’s end, they flattened themselves against opposite walls in shadow and cautiously peered through the opening. In the light of the lamps they saw a large, roughly circular cavern, clearly of natural origin but shaped by human tools as the tunnel had been shaped. Its floor had been flattened and smoothed, and it was crowded with figures in nondescript local clothes, who were producing the chanting. Those people—they were humans—were arrayed in a half-circle, focused on an idol on a rough dais toward the rear of the cavern and somewhat to the left. It was a crude idol similar to the one in the outside shrine, but in better condition as consequence of being sheltered, and therefore more readily recognizable, even in the dim flickering lamplight, as representing the Pan of mythology.

But Jason’s attention was riveted on the tall man standing behind the idol—the man they had seen in the Agora. He stood with arms folded, not joining in the chanting but surveying the chanters. His eyes looked down on them with a cold remoteness reflected in the set of his thin lips. It was an expression too far removed from the merely human to be arrogant. He did not sneer, any more than a man sneers at dogs.

He’s definitely no Teloi, thought Jason, but he could scarcely seem any less human if he was one.

Abruptly, the man unfolded his arms and spread them wide. The chant instantly ceased, leaving a palpably expectant hush.

Then the man spoke. His voice was a rich, deep baritone. But there was more to it than that. Below the level of audibility there was something that compelled one to listen to it, to the exclusion of every other sound, and to believe what it said in defiance of all critical faculties. Jason wondered if certain otherwise inexplicable historical figures as disparate as Joan of Arc and Adolph Hitler had possessed the same quality.

“Rejoice!” he said. “The time is at hand—the time you have been promised. And this time was chosen for a reason. Your god knew that this would be the time when your city would stand in its greatest danger. Even now, the barbarians close in on Athens! Everyone knows it! Nothing your leaders can do will save you from death, your sons from being gelded, your daughters from being raped, and all your children from being enslaved and scattered like dust among the rabble of slaves all across the vastness of Persia. And after another generation, no one will remember that the Athenians ever existed!”

A low moan of utter desolation filled the cavern.

“But your god will save Athens!” The extraordinary voice rose like a clarion. “Your devotion is enough to cause him to withhold his righteous anger against this city for its failure to worship him. He will cause the barbarians to go mad with fear, as he has the power to do, and they will flee, howling, to their ships!”

A rapturous sound arose from the worshipers.

“Afterwards, Athens will erect a proper shrine out there on the north slope where our poor shrine now is, and offer sacrifice to him every year. But,” he continued, and his voice dropped, “no one must ever know of the secret doorway to this, the god’s true shrine. For you and your successors will continue as you always have to be the custodians of his innermost mysteries. And every few generations, at the prophesied times, the god’s promise to you will be kept, as it has been before.”

The air of the cavern was now thick with breathless anticipation.

“Such a time is now come, as was foretold to your ancestors. I and my companions are only the heralds. Now there comes among you . . . the Great God Pan!

Without warning, some well-concealed lighting fixture in the wall behind the idol—and hence at about ten o’clock, from Jason’s perspective—activated, and a harsh glare flooded the cavern. The worshipers’ eyes, which had been focused on the idol, were dazzled. But Jason’s, viewing it from an angle, were not. So he was able to discern, in the glare, the idol sinking into the floor with a practically inaudible hum, leaving a hatchway through which a living being emerged—a being at which Jason’s mind reeled. But he didn’t doubt his sanity, for it was inarguably the figure he had briefly glimpsed on the slopes of Mount Aigaleos.

The artificial light—supernatural to the worshippers in the cavern—faded to a relatively dim glow. In that glow stood revealed an outrage against nature, with the legs of a goat and the upper body of a brown-skinned, hirsute, muscular man—very definitely a man, for it was grotesquely male, almost ridiculously so. The head was that of a man—broad, snub-nosed, full lipped, with thick curly hair and beard of a dark reddish brown. From amid that hair grew a pair of horns.

An ecstatic, almost orgasmic moan gusted from the worshipers.

The tall man from the Agora turned toward the apparition with the air of a magician who had produced a rabbit from a hat. The motion caused him to face the tunnel opening.

It belatedly occurred to Jason that the opening where he and Mondrago had crouched in shadows was no longer shadowed.

The Classically handsome face of the speaker contorted into a mask of rage. “Intruders!” he bellowed. “Seize them!”

“Run!” Jason yelled to Mondrago as the worshipers began to emerge from shock. They ran back along the tunnel, as fast as its cramped confines permitted.

That slight head start enabled them to reach the steps ahead of their frantic pursuers—who then caught up as they struggled up the steps. Jason felt his legs grappled from behind and below. He wrenched one leg free and kicked backwards, feeling facial bone and cartilage crunch under his hard-driven heel. Momentarily free, he ascended the rest of the way to the area just inside the tantalizingly open doorway, where there was more room. Mondrago was already there. Jason saw him spring backwards after delivering a slicing sideways lunge with his Spanish sword that ripped through a pursuer’s throat and sent him silently to the floor, his head flopping loosely on a neck that had been severed to the spinal column. Jason recognized the Afghan fighting technique, but he had only a split second to admire Mondrago’s mastery of it before a crush of bodies from behind bore him to the floor and a shattering impact to his head caused the universe to explode into a shower of stars and then go dark.


Jason awoke to a nauseatingly painful headache. He didn’t want to open his eyes, but to fail to do so was out of the question. He parted his eyelids very cautiously.

The light sent fresh pain stabbing through his head, but it was not quite as bad as he had feared—he could sense that it was dim interior lighting. Lying on his back as he was, all he could make out was a completely nondescript ceiling. He slowly turned his head to the left.

He found himself looking into a pair of brown eyes, somehow like the eyes of an animal, but not quite, for they held something that no animal would ever know. Those eyes looked out at him from under bushy brows of the same dark russet color as the curly hair and beard that framed a face whose expression he could not interpret. The head lowered to look more closely at him, a motion which caused the horns to dip.

Unconsciousness mercifully took him again.

When he awoke again his head was clear. Another difference was that he was sitting up, in a chair to which he was tied. One of the first things he noticed in the light of the oil lamps as his eyes darted around the small, windowless room was that Mondrago was similarly seated and bound to his right, although he was only just stirring from unconsciousness. He also saw a man in local garb walking out the door, holding a hypospray injector by which he and Mondrago had presumably been awakened.

But mostly he noticed that now he was looking into a human face. Human . . . but inhumanly perfect.

It was the man they had seen in the Agora and in the inexplicable cavern under the Acropolis. Now he sat at his ease in a chair of local manufacture. His wavy hair was an unmistakable shade: a unique kind of blond-black, like an alloy of gold and iron. His eyes were large and luminous, the color of amber. His lips were full without being thick. There was no indentation between his brow and the bridge of his ruler-straight nose.

“Well,” he said in his strangely compelling voice, “what are we to do with you?” He spoke in twenty-fourth century Standard International English.

Jason made himself blink with incomprehension before swallowing to moisten his dry throat and speaking in indignant Greek. “What is this barbarian babble? Who are you? And how dare you hold us prisoner? I am a nobleman of Macedon, and this is my retainer. And we are friends of the strategos Themistocles! Release us at once or it will go hard on you.”

The perfect lips quirked in a momentary smile. “It’s no use. Our instruments detected the energy surge your arrival produced. It was just by chance that we happened to be in the vicinity at the time, between Athens and Eleusis.” The man gave an irritated headshake. “And it was an unfortunate chance that you happened to spot Pan. It’s all your fault, you know. We would have preferred to simply avoid you and let you return to your own time, blissfully ignorant. We still wish we could have. If only you hadn’t meddled—!”

Jason had almost stopped listening after the word instruments, for he suddenly recalled what Chantal thought she had seen, and what he had definitely seen in the shrine on the Acropolis north slope. “Who the hell are you?” he blurted, all thoughts of dissimulation forgotten. “You’re brought advanced technology back in time! That is flatly contrary to the regulations of the Temporal Regulatory Authority, besides being a felony under the Revised Temporal Precautionary Act of 2364.”

This time the full lips formed a smirk. “We don’t concern ourselves with either.”

Jason stared at him. “You must be from our future.”

“Evidently not, since we didn’t know you were going to be here in this time-period. If we had known, it would have made things awkward for us, as this expedition is essential to us but, like you, we make it a point to avoid creating possibilities for different time travelers to encounter each other. That’s one rule of the Authority which we follow—an uncharacteristically sensible one. We would have had to go to great lengths to avoid attracting your attention.”

“But if you’re not from our future, how can you be here? The Authority certainly didn’t send you.”

Another smirk. “We have our own arrangements.”

“You keep saying ‘we.’ Will you kindly answer my question and tell me who you are? What’s your name, for God’s sake?”

For an instant the man seemed to weigh the pros and cons of revealing the information. Then he smiled as though pleasurably anticipating the effect his answer would have.

“I am Franco, Category Five, Seventy-Sixth Degree.”

Jason stared. “But that’s a—”

“Yes. I am a genetically upgraded agent of the Transhuman Dispensation.”

“What are you trying to put over on us?” demanded Mondrago, now fully awake. “The Transhuman movement was wiped out a generation before Weintraub discovered temporal energy potential.”

“So you Pugs think.” From history lessons, Jason recognized the Transhumanist acronym for products of uncontrolled genetics—their term for the human race in its natural form. “You truly believe you successfully stood in the way of evolutionary destiny. You merely delayed it. Our inner circles withdrew into concealment, in various hidden places all around Earth and the Solar System, where we have secretly continued our great work.”

“Too bad,” remarked Jason. “We really did think the universe had been cleansed of the Transhuman abomination.”

Franco leaned forward, and his amber eyes glowed as though fervor burned like a flame behind them. “It is you who are the abomination: a form of life that has outlived its time but refuses out of mere parochialism and nostalgia to step aside and get out of the way of its successors. Humanity is clinging to its primordial state—a race of randomly evolved apes—when for centuries it has had the technology to transform itself into a consciously, rationally self-created race of gods—”

“—And monsters.” Jacob shook his head irritably. “Why am I wasting my breath talking to you? I have no idea who you really are, but you’re obviously a liar in addition to being a raving lunatic. The fact that you’re here and now proves that. The Authority has never sent any diehard Transhumanist fanatics into the past, and it never will.”

Franco took on an infuriatingly complacent look. “Who said anything about the Authority?”

“Talk sense! The Authority operates the only temporal displacer in existence.”

“So it pleases the Authority to think. Shortly after Weintraub’s initial experiments, we stole his data—it was pathetically easy, and we were very interested in its potentialities. Our research ran parallel to, but in advance of, Fujiwara’s. She and Weintraub were brilliant, for Pugs, but they followed several false trails. The result was a ‘brute force’ approach to temporal displacement, requiring a titanic installation and a lavish expenditure of energy. We soon spotted the flaws in their mathematics. Our displacer is relatively compact and energy-efficient, and therefore concealable.”

“Are you saying,” said Jason, thunderstruck, “that there are two displacers on Earth in our era?” He wanted to believe it was a lie, because it removed the foundations of his accustomed structure of assumptions. But, try as he might, he could see no other way to account for the presence of unauthorized time travelers with proscribed equipment.

“Only since the Authority’s came into operation,” said Franco, amused. “Ours was the first. We’ll probably build more, as the one we have is getting somewhat overworked. As I mentioned, we have been intensely interested in time travel ever since Weintraub demonstrated that it was a theoretical possibility.”

“Why? I’ve never heard that the Transhumanists had any interest in historical research.”

“We don’t.” Once again Franco leaned forward avidly. “We look to the future, not the past. We don’t want to study history. We want to change it.”

For a heartbeat or two, Jason stared openmouthed. Then he burst out laughing.

“Now I know you’re a lunatic!” he finally gasped. “History can’t be changed! But please don’t let me stop you. I hope you try—I really do. In fact, I hope you try very, very hard!”

“I never said we thought we could change observed history. But have you ever considered how much of the human past is unobserved and unrecorded? There are vast empty stretches of territory and time in which we are constantly changing the past, filling up those stretches with what will, in the end, turn out to have been humanity’s secret history—a history inevitably leading to our eventual triumph at a date which . . . I don’t believe I’ll reveal to you. We call it, simply, The Day.

“And how, precisely, are you doing that?” Jason inquired, unable to keep a reluctant and horrified fascination out of his voice. In one corner of his mind, he wondered why Franco was telling him all this. Probably the Transhumanist simply felt a need for someone besides his own underlings to brag to. Jason had known enough blowhards, in his own time and others, to be able to recognize the type.

Of course, there was another, more unsettling explanation: Franco thought his revelations could do no possible harm because he had no intention of letting his listeners live.

“We have various techniques. For example, we plant genetic flaws in the unmodified human population by infecting populations with gengineered retroviruses, which by The Day will have rendered those populations vulnerable to a biochemical warfare using tailored proteins or polysaccharides. Another approach is to plant retroactive plagues, spreading mutagens whose genetic time-clocks result in the poisoning of certain vital food supplies on The Day. And there are even more subtle ‘time bombs’ that we plant, some of a purely psychological nature.”

“But,” said Jason with an incredulous headshake, “things like that would be extremely long-term, and require repeated visits to various eras in succession.” Inwardly, he fought to hold at bay an obscene vision of Earth as a rotten apple, seemingly sound on the outside but a writhing mass of worms inside the skin, waiting to break through it.

“To repeat, our temporal displacement technology is less expensive than yours by orders of magnitude. We are therefore less constrained in how far into the past we can go, and how often. This is particularly helpful in my own work: the establishment of cults and secret societies, which we nurture over the centuries by repeated visits from the same, seemingly ageless agent at prophesied times. At those times the agent foretells the next visit, dazzles the faithful with technological ‘magic,’ and gives them enough foreknowledge of the future to confirm the succeeding generations in their faith. As the ages pass and the scientific worldview takes hold, we will begin to reveal the truth to them. By then their loyalty will be practically hereditary, and we will offer them suitable rewards in the new order.”

“A promise which naturally won’t be kept,” Mondrago stated rather than asked.

“Naturally. Promises to Pugs mean nothing. By the time The Day arrives, Earth will be riddled with such cadres, not knowing of each other’s existence. Like all our other projects, it will not contradict recorded history. But recorded history will turn out to have been a mere ornamental façade, behind which real history has been building all along toward a Transhumanist future.”

“And,” Jason said slowly, “I imagine it helps to no end when you have some kind of pre existing cult to build on.” He wanted to keep Franco talking as long as possible, revealing as much information as possible.

“You’re surprisingly perceptive. Yes, my first appearance in this region was in the late Bronze Age—the thirteenth century b.c. Pan, you see, is a very ancient god. And, since we are not limited by the irrational restrictions you labor under, my genetic code was resequenced by nanotechnological means, altering my appearance to godlike standards, as you’ve doubtless noticed.”

“Actually I hadn’t.”

Franco’s eyes narrowed a few microns and chilled a few degrees, but otherwise he showed no reaction to Jason’s jab.

“At the same time,” Jason went on, “it must limit you that you can’t send any of your radically specialized—and unhuman-looking—gengineered castes back in time. Nor can you send those of your servitors with blatantly obvious bionics. They couldn’t exactly blend, could they?”

“It is a handicap,” Franco acknowledged. “But this was one of those cases in which we were able to make use of recorded history, rather than merely avoiding it. We knew, of course, of the later belief that Pan had intervened at Marathon. It was the perfect opportunity to reinforce our cult’s fervor.”

“And, of course, you’ve been able to show them their god Pan in the flesh. Another of your gene-twisted obscenities, of course—although I didn’t realize that even you were able to produce anything so grotesquely divergent from the human norm.”

“We’re not, at least not without great difficulty. We had help. You see, in the course of my earlier visits to Greece, we acquired allies.” Before Franco could elaborate, a door opened and a handsome but relatively nondescript man came in and whispered to him. He nodded, said “Bring him in,” and turned back to Jason with a dazzling smile. “By a most fortunate coincidence, the leader of those allies is here now.” He stood up and, to Jason’s amazement, went to his knees.

“Greetings, Lord,” he said, oozing a reverence that would not have deceived a child. But it seemed to satisfy the figure who entered, bending low to get through the door and unable to stand up straight without brushing his gold-shot silvery hair against the ceiling. His huge, disturbingly alien eyes stared at Jason, empty of recognition.

“Hi,” said Jason in the Teloi tongue, eliciting a satisfyingly startled reaction from Franco. “It’s been a long time. Well, actually it hasn’t been all that long for me. But for you it’s been almost eleven hundred and forty years.”

Zeus looked puzzled.


“You seem somehow familiar,” said the Teloi, with a frown, stroking the beard he shared with some but not all males of his race. His deep voice held the indefinably disturbing quality Jason remembered.

“Let me refresh your memory,” said Jason. “Do you recall your ‘son’ Perseus? It was at the time Santorini—or Kalliste as it was called then—exploded. Surely you must remember that.” While waiting for a reply, he glanced around and saw that Mondrago was staring, wide eyed, in spite of having seen video imagery of the Teloi.

“Oh, yes,” Zeus finally nodded, a little vaguely. “Perseus was one of the superior strain that we created for the purpose of leading the ordinary human masses into a proper state of submission to their creators. They were a great disappointment to us, from Gilgamesh on. But Perseus was better than most. He kept his word and established my worship at Mycenae after I had imprisoned the Old Gods forever.”

Wait a minute! thought Jason, speechless. What’s this? You imprisoned them?

“And now I remember you,” Zeus continued. “You were one of the time travelers who appeared around that time. You were of some assistance to me.” He turned to Franco. “He must be spared, for I pay my debts to mortals.”

He’s gone senile, Jason realized. He really believes it. He thinks he really is a god. And he’s forgotten how the senior Teloi got permanently trapped in their pocket universe. The myths and legends that his human worshipers have woven around what happened have become more real for him than the truth.

And why should I be surprised? For almost eleven and a half centuries he and his faction of younger-generation Teloi—the ones who didn’t get trapped—have been stranded on low technology Earth without their extradimensional hidey-hole and with none of their advanced technology except what they happened to have with them when Santorini blew up and their tame human empire based on Crete was wrecked by the tsunami and other side effects. All that time, they’ve been running a bluff with the aid of whatever flashy displays of techno-magic they could manage.

All things considered, I suppose it’s surprising he’s retained any vestige of sanity at all.

Franco broke into his thoughts. “So you already know about the Teloi?”

Jason saw no point in evasion or denials. “We encountered them on an expedition to observe the Santorini explosion.”

“Ah, yes . . . that expedition had departed from the twenty-fourth century shortly before we did. So you must be Jason Thanou. I hadn’t realized we had such a distinguished guest. By the time we encountered the Teloi, four centuries after you did, they had forgotten about you.”

“But now I remember,” Zeus broke in. “Yes, you were useful to me. And now new time travelers have arrived.” He indicated Franco, who inclined his head graciously. “And they too recognize true divinity—not to be confused with a silly legend like ‘Pan’! We helped them produce a living image of that legend, with which to gull the local human cattle, who deserve no better. In exchange, they will help restore my worship to this disrespectful city!”

“What?” Jason managed.

Zeus’s voice had been steadily rising. Now he was almost raving. “Yes! Athens has sought the patronage of my daughter Athena, while neglecting me!” Familial affection, Jason recalled, was not a trait of the vastly long-lived Teloi, who produced children but rarely. In fact, the being Oannes who had told Jason the story of the Teloi on Earth had been of the opinion that their second generation, including Zeus, were infertile. Jason wondered if, in his increasing dementia, Zeus had come to believe the local mythology’s version of his relationship to Athena. “At least the tyrant Hippias, son of Pisistratus, began building a suitable temple to me. But then the Athenians drove him out and failed to complete it. Instead they have left it standing unfinished, as though wishing to flaunt their impiety!

“But now, thanks to Franco—a member of an improved human stock called the Transhumans who have returned to the worship of us, the true gods, as he assures me—matters will be set right. The Persians are coming, and bringing Hippias back with them. Franco will enable them to win the coming battle, conquer Athens, and restore Hippias as tyrant. And then Hippias will put the Athenians to work completing his great temple, thus atoning for their ingratitude to me!”

Behind Zeus and out of the Teloi’s range of vision, Jason saw Franco smile.

“What has this Transhumanist pimp been telling you about time travel?” Mondrago suddenly burst out. “He’s lying. It doesn’t work that way. History is fixed—and it says that the Athenians are going to kick the Persian army’s ass up between the ears and then pull it out through the nose!”

“And even if Franco could prevent that,” Jason added, “he wouldn’t, because it’s precisely what he’s promised his cult of Pan-worshipers is going to happen, thanks to their ‘god.’”

“Lies!” Zeus was truly raving now. He loomed up, standing as straight as he could, shaking with the extremity of his passion. His right hand grasped Jason’s throat with choking force, half-lifting him from the chair. “All lies! Franco warned me to expect this. He told me you would be jealous of him as a more highly evolved form of life.”

“Can’t you see?” croaked Jason desperately. “He’s just using you—making a fool of you!”

“No! He is my true worshiper. It is all clear to me now. But,” Zeus continued, with the abrupt tone-change of the insane, “you served me well, long ago. Franco, this man and his follower must be spared.” He released Jason, who sagged back down in his bonds, gasping for breath.

“Yes, Lord,” said Franco smoothly. Zeus gave a vague nod, and departed. As he stooped to get through the door, there was, in spite of everything, a quality about him that could only be called pathetic.

“You heard him,” Jason wheezed to Franco through his bruised throat. “About not killing us, that is.”

“He’ll get over it.” Franco’s smile was charming. He shook his head with what Jason would have sworn was sincere regret. “We really would have preferred to just let you complete your studies and go home, ignorant of us. As it is. . . .”

“If you cut our TRDs out—TRDs that nobody in this era is supposed to be able to detect—and we don’t reappear in our time on schedule, a lot of questions are going to be asked. The Authority isn’t stupid, you know.” Jason wasn’t absolutely certain of the last part, but saw no useful purpose to be served by sharing his skepticism with Franco.

“Oh, we won’t do that. We’ll simply kill you in some acceptably ‘in-period’ way, and your corpses will appear on the Authority’s displacer stage. Very sad. But we all know that human history is a violent place.”

Without moving his head, Jason turned his eyes as far to the right as he dared and met Mondrago’s. The latter nodded imperceptibly. He understood. Chantal and Landry, about whom the Transhumanists might be ignorant, must not be mentioned.

Franco seemed to read his mind, or at least read the byplay correctly. “And as for the other two members of your party, we will deal with them in due course. Oh, yes, we know about them. Since capturing you, we have brought certain intelligence sources to bear, and we’ve learned about Themistocles’ Macedonian guests, and where they are lodging now.” His eyes took on the unfocused look of one sending a command via direct neural induction through an implant communicator of a sort prohibited even to someone in Jason’s position, involving as it did a proscribed melding of mind and computer.

Taking advantage of Franco’s distraction, Jason mentally activated his map-display, with its red dots representing the party’s TRDs. Chantal and Landry were still at the house. He forced himself not to let his relief show.

Presently, four of Franco’s underlings entered the room. “Take them back to separate cells,” he ordered.

The goons cut Jason’s and Mondrago’s bonds with unemotional efficiency and hoisted them to their feet. It took some hoisting, for they were horribly stiff, and Jason realized for the first time how hungry he was—they must have been unconscious for at least the better part of a day. As they were being led out of the room, a sudden impulse made Jason twist out of the grip of one of his two handlers and turn to face Franco. He had no time to try and understand his own motivations—what was the point of arguing with a Transhumanist?—but he looked into those large, perfectly shaped amber eyes and waved his one free hand at the door through which Zeus had passed.

“That thing that just left this room is the inevitable end product of the Transhuman movement’s vision of humanity’s future! Is that really what you want?”

Franco’s face showed no resentment or anger, or anything at all except the certitude of the true ideologue. “Oh, no. You’re wrong. Don’t confuse us with the Teloi. We won’t repeat their mistakes. Remember what you said earlier about gods and monsters? The Teloi sought to turn themselves into gods. They neglected the monsters. We won’t.”

The goons tightened their grip and marched the two prisoners through the door, into a corridor even more dimly lit than the room they had departed. As they proceeded, a short figure appeared from a side-corridor to the right.

It took a heartbeat for it to register on Jason’s mind, as his eyes met the brown ones of Pan. From Mondrago’s direction, he heard a non-verbal growl.

Without consciously formulating a plan, he used a basic release technique: he went limp, ceasing to resist the two men holding him. By an instinctive reaction, they relaxed their grip.

With a Judo-like wrenching motion he freed himself and forced his still-stiff muscles to propel him forward. He grasped the startled Pan from behind, locking one arm around the hirsute throat. With his other hand, he grasped one of the horns. He took the creature halfway to the floor and pressed his right leg behind the creature’s knees to prevent a backward kick of its cloven hooves.

“If you cry out,” he snapped at the guards, “I’ll break his neck. And then where will your ‘god’ be?”

He was betting that the guards didn’t have implant communicators like Franco’s. He recognized their sort from history disks. They were nondescript-looking, low-grade Transhumanists, doubtless with high but very specialized intelligence and little initiative. His intuition seemed to be paying off, for they stood seemingly paralyzed with indecision.

“I’ll also break his neck,” he continued, pressing his advantage, “if you don’t release my companion.”

They released Mondrago, who hurried to join Jason behind Pan.

“Don’t hurt me.”

It took a second for Jason to realize the voice was Pan’s. It had an odd timbre to it, and was unexpectedly high-pitched, and it was difficult to sort out the emotions behind it. But he found himself thinking it was an undeniable—if odd—human voice. And it was pleading.

“I won’t hurt you if you do as you’re told,” Jason said. “Show us to the nearest exit from this building.”

With Jason still holding him in the same potentially neck-snapping grip, Pan moved in a cautious sidewise gait back along the corridor from which he had emerged. The four guards followed closely but cautiously, making no moves that might precipitate the death of the god the cult-worshipers expected. The corridor was a very short one, terminating in a door.

And here Jason faced a dilemma. They couldn’t take Pan with them out into the city, where he would have been conspicuous to say the least.

“Kill it now!” hissed Mondrago, seeming to read his mind. “We don’t need it as a hostage anymore—they won’t be able to pursue us once we’re outside in public. Kill it just before we bolt out the door. And that will be the end of their little scheme for a cult of the ‘Great God Pan’.”

“No,” Jason heard himself saying. “We’re not murderers.”

If telepathy had been a reality, Mondrago’s searing contempt could have been no more obvious. “‘Murderers’? This thing isn’t human. It isn’t even a decent animal. It’s just a filthy, obscene mutant! Have you gone soft in the head?”

“We don’t kill any sentient being without a reason! Remember that. And get ready to move . . . now.” With a sudden movement, Jason thrust Pan back into the narrow corridor. The four guards rushed, but got in each other’s way in the confined space even before stumbling over Pan. Jason and Mondrago hit the door with their shoulders. It burst open, and they were out, into one of the crooked streets of Athens.

While running, Jason summoned up his map-display and saw that the red dots of his and Mondrago’s TRDs were in the area south of the Agora, on the terraced lower slopes of the Areopagus hill—the vicinity of their rented house, where the dots of Chantal’s and Landry’s TRDs still glowed reassuringly.

Good! Jason thought as they sprinted through the winding, uneven alleyways. Even in this maze, it won’t take us long to find it. We’ll get Chantal and Landry out of it before Franco can “deal with them in due course” . . . and find a new address.

There were no such things as apartment blocks in fifth century b.c. Athens. But there were blocks of houses—as many as six houses. Their quarters were in such a block. All the houses had the inward-looking design of Athenian residences, organized around miniscule courtyards and having upstairs rooms. A narrow street-front door in the mud-brick wall gave access to the courtyard.

It was ajar.

Off to the left, out of the corner of his eye, Jason barely glimpsed a figure hurrying around a corner of the block, seeming to push another figure ahead. He was about to investigate when he heard shouting from within, in Landry’s voice. Without waiting for Mondrago, he plunged through the open door.

The shouting was coming from one of the small rooms opening off the courtyard. Jason rushed in, to see one of the goon-class Transhumanists grasping Landry by on arm and holding a dagger in his other hand.

Without thinking, Jason sprang forward, reaching out to seize the wrist of the dagger arm.

With the strength of desperation, Landry broke the Transhumanist’s grip and rushed frantically forward. He succeeded only in tripping himself and Jason. The Transhumanist grasped him from behind, under the chin, and brought his dagger-edge across the historian’s throat. With a gurgling shriek, Landry fell across Jason. Mondrago, desperately trying to get into the room, stumbled over the fallen body. The Transhumanist, with the quickness of his unnatural kind, shoved him aside and plunged out the door.

Mondrago got to his feet and gave chase. By the time Jason could get out from under the body atop him, it was too late. That which had been Bryan Landry, Ph.D., lay in a pool of blood and excreta, his slit throat like a ghastly, grinning second mouth—an ‘in-period’ death.

Of Chantal Frey there was no sign. Jason checked his map-display again. It was unchanged, still showing both Landry’s and Chantal’s TRDs right here.

Mondrago returned. “The bastard got away,” he gasped. “Where’s Chantal?”

“She ought to be here.” Jason began to look around frantically.

“Look,” Mondrago said expressionlessly, pointing at the floor in a corner of the room. The small smear of blood was barely noticeable. So was the tiny metallic sphere that had been cut out of Chantal’s arm.

Jason clamped calmness down on himself. “They can’t have gotten too far with her. Let’s go!”

As they reemerged onto the street, they heard a roar of voices from the direction of the Agora, like a disturbed sea with an undertow of terror. People were running along the street, wild-eyed.

Jason grabbed one such passerby. “What has happened?” he demanded. “What’s going on?”

“You haven’t heard? The news has just arrived. The Persians have sacked Eretria! Burned it to the ground and enslaved the people!”

Eretria, thought Jason, frantically summoning up information from his implant. The one Greek city, other than Athens, that aided the Ionian rebels and therefore was marked for destruction by the Great King. Located on the island of Euboea, just across a narrow strait from Attica—within sight of Attica at its narrowest point, in fact.

“The Eretrians resisted,” the man went on. No Greek could resist recounting a story. “For five days they defended their walls. But then they were betrayed. Two members of an aristocratic faction sold out, opened the gates, and let the Persians in.”

Uh-huh! thought Jason, remembering what Themistocles had said. That’s all the Athenians need to hear at this point.

“And they’ll be here next!” The man must have suddenly remembered just how close Eretria was, for he grew wild-eyed and fled.

Jason consulted his implant for the calendar. It was still late July.

Well, I suppose we’ve settled the question of whether the Battle of Marathon took place in August or September. Kyle Rutherford will be interested.

It didn’t seem terribly important at the moment.


There was no sign of Chantal. And no one was in a position to help find her, under the circumstances in which Athens now found itself.

“It’s a shame about Lydos,” Themistocles said distractedly as they hurried across the Agora. “I was glad to have the body taken care of, and of course I’ll do what I can to find the murderer later. And I wish I could help organize a search for Cleothera. But now there’s no time. The Assembly is about to bring the question of our strategy against the Persians to a final vote.”

Jason saw that the Agora crowd was moving steadily southwestward, in the direction of the Pnyx hill where the Ekklesia, or Assembly of all citizens, had met since the establishment of the democracy. They were being herded in that direction by the exotically costumed “Scythian” police force of Athens. Some of these men were really Scythians; most were merely dressed up to resemble those famously fearsome barbarians from north of the Black Sea. But all were public slaves, and Jason had a feeling they relished any opportunity to ram it to the free citizens. This was such an opportunity, as they advanced through the Agora toward the Pnyx in a line, holding a long rope daubed with red powder. Any citizen found outside the meeting area with red marks on his clothing was fined. Athenian democracy was not just participatory; it was compulsory.

“Miltiades mentioned that the debate had been going on even before the news from Eretria,” Jason remarked.

“Yes, and now we no longer have the luxury of time. A little time, true: the north coast of Attica, just across the strait from Eretria, is too rugged for a landing. They have to sail back down the strait. But we can’t afford to let the debate drag on any further. The Assembly has got to act now and approve Miltiades’s proposal.”

“What proposal is that?” asked Jason, who already knew.

“The Eretrians made a big mistake: they took shelter within their walls and let the Persians land and deploy unopposed. A lot of fools in the Assembly want us to repeat that mistake. Miltiades—and he’s got Callimachus and most of the strategoi behind him—argues that we should march out and meet them. And,” Themistocles added grimly, “it’s not as though there was much question about where they’re going to land.”

“Where is that?”

“Marathon. After they leave the strait and turn south, it’s just around the headland. It’s a wide, sheltered bay with room to draw up even a fleet the size of theirs. And beyond the beach is a flat plain that’s always been horse-breeding country—perfect terrain for their cavalry. And not one but two roads lead from there to Athens, one north and one south of Mount Pentelikon.” Themistocles looked grim. “They’ll know all this—that traitorous dotard Hippias will have told them. Oh, yes, they’ll be landing there any day now.”

A man passed them. Jason recalled having seen him among the strategoi. He was about forty, tall for this milieu—taller than Jason, in fact—and distinguished-looking, with smooth deep-brown hair and a neatly sculpted beard of the same color, with a reddish undertone. His expression was one of studied seriousness, and he moved with a kind of self-conscious dignity, as though very aware of having an image to uphold. He and Themistocles locked eyes. If looks could kill, Jason thought, there’d be two corpses in the Agora. But they exchanged a glacially polite nod, and the tall man moved on in his grave way, nose in the air.

“Aristides,” Themistocles told them with a scowl. “Strategos of the Antiochis tribe, as I am of the Leontis. He knows as well as I do that Miltiades is right. But, knowing him, he may argue against Miltiades just because I’m for him.”

“So the two of you are political opponents?” Once again, Jason knew the answer full well but hoped to draw Themistocles out. He succeeded beyond his expectations. Clearly, Aristides was a subject on which Themistocles would expound to anyone who would listen.

“That pompous hypocrite! He poses as a model of old-fashioned, countrified virtue, preening himself on never accepting bribes while implying that I do!” Jason noted that, for all his indignation, Themistocles didn’t actually deny it. “Ha! He doesn’t need bribes—he’s got a large estate outside Phalerum, and a whole network of rich relatives. But that doesn’t stop him from letting his sycophants go around calling him ‘Aristides the Just.’ In fact, he cultivates the title.” Themistocles looked like he wanted to gag. “Ah, well. Here we must part. Come see me afterwards and I’ll tell you what happened.”

Jason would have given a lot to have heard the debate on the Pnyx—arguably one of the most crucial in history—and he knew Landry would have given even more, a thought which caused him to feel a twinge like an emotional nerve-pain. But it was, of course, as impossible as ever. One of the defining features of the Athenian version of democracy was its single-minded exclusivity. Only voting citizens were allowed in the Assembly. As metoikoi, or resident foreigners, he and Mondrago were no more likely to be admitted than women and slaves. They said their farewells and turned away, looking around them as they went for any sign of Chantal—or of any of the Transhumanists they had seen. As usual, there was none. As they walked through the now practically deserted Agora, Jason chuckled, despite his bleak mood.

“What’s so funny?” asked Mondrago.

“Aristides the Just. I was remembering a story Bryan told me.” As he spoke Landry’s name, Jason found himself unable for a moment to continue. He would, he knew, be a long time coming to terms with the fact that a member of an expedition he led was now dead—at least one, for God knew what had happened to Chantal. And Landry had died, not in an act of heroic self-sacrifice like Sidney Nagel’s, but butchered by murderous enemies in Jason’s very presence. And Jason hadn’t saved him. Knowing he couldn’t let himself dwell on his oppressive sense of failure, he resumed briskly.

“You see, the Athenian constitution provides for something called ‘ostracism.’ That doesn’t mean what it will later come to mean in English. It means that they hold a kind of election where everybody can write someone’s name on a potsherd, called an ostrakon, and if your name appears on over six thousand potsherds you’re exiled for ten years.”

Mondrago whistled. “Pretty harsh.”

“It’s not quite as bad as it sounds. The exile’s property isn’t confiscated. It’s just a way of temporarily removing individuals who are felt to be getting too big for the britches they haven’t got, for the health of the democracy. Sometimes it’s the only way of breaking irreconcilable deadlocks. Anyway, at the present time, it’s never been used. The first ostracism won’t happen until 487 b.c. And then, in 482 b.c., Aristides will be ostracized. It will be a kind of referendum on Themistocles’s naval policy, of which Aristides is a die-hard opponent. As a result, Athens will have the fleet it needs to defeat the Persians at Salamis in 480 b.c. when the big invasion comes. That’s what I meant about breaking deadlocks.”

“But what’s the funny story?”

“During the election, an illiterate voter walks up to Aristides, not knowing who he is, and asks him to write the name ‘Aristides’ on a potsherd for him. Aristides asks him why—has Aristides ever done him any injury? Does he know of any wrongdoing Aristides has done? ‘No,’ the man replies, ‘it’s just that I’m so sick and tired of hearing him called Aristides the Just all the time!’”

Mondrago guffawed. “I’m with him!”

“It gets better. Aristides, without another word, goes ahead and complies with the man’s request.”

“Maybe at that point he decides there are worse things than exile from Athens and its politics.”

Jason smiled wryly. “And then, in 470 b.c., Themistocles will be ostracized.”

What? Themistocles? After saving this city’s bacon at Salamis?”

“Precisely the problem. By then the Athenians will have gotten just so sick and tired of him being so insufferably right all the time. Anyway, he’ll go to Susa and end his life as a valued advisor of the Great King of Persia. Many people in our era are shocked to learn that. They find it crushingly disillusioning and disappointing—a colossal let-down.”

“Not me. This self-opinionated, back-biting town doesn’t deserve him.” Mondrago shook his head and looked around at Athens. “I’m beginning to think I’d be willing to write my own name on one of those potsherds.”

Jason said nothing, for now that he had told the story, his dreary inward refrain—I’ve lost a team member—was back in full force. The fact that they were, for the second time, unable to witness the Athenian Assembly in session made it worse, for he knew how unendurably frustrated Landry would have been.

It got even worse as they walked along, parallel to the South Stoa. It wasn’t the long open-fronted building, with offices for governmental market inspectors, which would one day give its name to the Stoics, philosophers who would declaim in its colonnaded shade. That wouldn’t be built until the late fifth century b.c. But Landry had been delighted to discover that an earlier version—just a long portico, really, fulfilling some of the same functions but never suspected by the archaeologists—existed in 490 b.c. He had insisted that Jason look at it and thereby record it. The recollection caused Jason another jag of emotional pain. He found himself compulsively glancing backward over his right shoulder, in the direction of the Pnyx.

I’m frustrated too, he suddenly realized. Not as much as Bryan would be, of course. But still . . . considering the importance of what’s going on there today. . . .

Abruptly, he halted, and a sudden wild resolve drove the depression from his mind.

“Alexandre,” he stated firmly, “we’re going to that Assembly!”

Mondrago stared at him, goggle-eyed. “Uh . . . we haven’t exactly been invited.”

“Who said anything about invitations?” asked Jason with a grim smile.

“Sir, are you trying to get us in trouble—and jeopardize the mission?” Mondrago pointed back in the direction they had come, where the police had by now rounded up the last of the stragglers. “Those guys in the odd costumes don’t strike me as having much of a sense of humor.”

“We’re not going that way, back through the Agora.” Jason consulted his map-display of Athens. It confirmed his hunch. “There’s a roundabout alternate route, where nobody ought to be just now. We’ll work our way around to the side of the Pnyx.”

“Won’t somebody there notice us?”

“I have a feeling that everyone will be so focused on the debate that two extra men will be able to slip in unobserved. We’ll have to keep our mouths shut, of course, and not draw attention to ourselves. And we probably won’t be able to stay too long. But the outcome of this Assembly session is a matter of recorded history, so nothing we do should cause any harm.”

“So you’re always telling me, sir: no paradoxes. But you’ve also told me that there’s no predicting what will happen to prevent paradoxes, and that whatever it is might be hazardous to your health.” Mondrago’s tone was respectful but determined, and Jason had to respect him for sticking to his guns. “If this debate is as important to observed history as you say, then reality, or fate, or . . . God, or whatever, might be even less particular about it than usual this time.”

“I can’t deny the hazards. And of course we won’t be able to appreciate what we see and hear to anything like the extent Bryan could have. But my implant will record it all. It will be priceless data for historians, when we return. It’s what Bryan would have wanted. We owe it to him.” All at once, Jason could no longer meet the other’s eyes. “Or rather, I owe it to him.”

Mondrago’s face wore an expression Jason had never seen, or expected to see, on it. “You didn’t kill him, sir. Those Transhumanist vermin did. Now it’s up us to get home with the information we’ve got on them, so that maybe they can be made to pay!”

Every word of which, Jason admitted to himself, was demonstrably true. Only. . . .

“I may not have killed him, but I didn’t prevent it either—any more than I prevented Chantal’s abduction. It may not make sense to feel that way, but I’m stuck with it. And I need to do this. If you don’t want to come, I won’t order you to. You can go back to the house and wait for me.”

“Hell, somebody’s got to keep you out of trouble,” said Mondrago gruffly. “I’ve been doing it for officers for years.”

“You’ll pay for that,” said Jason with a grin. “Let’s go!”

They hurried on to the eastern end of the South Stoa. There, between the Stoa and the fountain-house, stairs ascended to a street that ran parallel to the Stoa, behind it and at a higher level. Here they turned right and followed the raised street a short distance, with the upper parts of the Stoa’s rear elevation to their right. To their left were the low, white-plastered walls that enclosed the rear yards of the houses clustering on the lower slopes of the Areopagus hill. At the first break in those walls, they turned left onto an upward-sloping alley.

So far, it was the same route they would have taken to return to their quarters, now haunted by the ghost of Bryan Landry. But instead of taking the next turn, Jason led the way straight ahead, further up the slope. The houses began to thin out. As Jason had foretold, hardly anyone was about.

Beyond the houses, they worked their way to the right, scrambling around the middle Areopagus slopes toward the hill’s northern side. Down to their right, they looked over the sea of tiled roofs to the southwest of the Agora. Ahead rose the Pnyx, their destination, from which a sound of distant voices could be heard.

Reaching the valley between the two hills, they came among more houses. Here, too, the steep, narrow streets were practically deserted. There was, Jason reflected, something to be said for Athenian society’s domestic seclusion of women, at least from the standpoint of one trying to get around unnoticed. Starting up the Pnyx, they passed between houses cut so deeply into the hillside that their rear rooms were semi-basements. Then they were on the undeveloped slopes, and began scrambling to the left and upward. The sounds of the thousands of men gathered ahead grew louder.


In the course of their orientation, Jason had learned that the Ekklesia, or Assembly of all Athenian citizens, had originally been held in the Agora. After the overthrow of the tyrants the new democratic regime had decided to move it to the Pnyx, and a great workforce had been employed carving a fitting meeting place out of that hill’s rocky slopes, a project that had only been completed fifteen years previously.

He also knew that in 403 b.c. the Athenians would erect a truly impressive artificial platform on the Pnyx, earthen but supported by a massive stone retaining wall set against the northwestern slope, with concentric semicircles of seats sloping downward in a theater-like way to a speaker’s dais backed up against the higher slope that rose on the southeast side. Jason had seen a holographic image of that platform, based on the archaeologists’ deductions, and he was very glad that it still lay eighty-seven years in the future. The only way to its top would be two steep and rather narrow stairways on the northwest side, rising from the twin termini of the road leading up from the Agora, along which the citizens were driven. With such limited access, there would have been no way a pair of metoikoi interlopers could have gotten past the vigilance of the police. That very consideration, Jason suspected, would at least unconsciously go into the design—an architectural expression of Athenian exclusivity.

But in 490 b.c. no such platform and no such stairways existed. The meeting-place was a shallow depression sunk into the slope. Thus it was possible to approach unnoticed, climbing the slope to the rim of the “bowl.” That rim was lined with the backs of standing figures, for the rough-hewn seating only accommodated five thousand and the Assembly’s quorum was six thousand. But everyone’s attention was riveted on the speaker’s platform below. No one noticed the two figures ascending the slope from behind and insinuating their way into the overflow crowd. Jason and Mondrago worked their way forward as inconspicuously as possible and reached the rim, just above the highest seats. They looked out over the packed amphitheater-like womb of democracy.

I’m getting all this for the historians, Bryan, thought Jason, activating his implant’s recorder function. He held no belief that Landry could hear him or would ever know. But he himself knew. That was enough.

He ran over in his mind what he knew of the Assembly. Each of the ten tribes presided for one-tenth of the year—the prytany or “presidency.” Normally, meetings were on the average every nine days, to consider legislation proposed by the boule, or “Council,” of fifty members from each tribe, selected by lot for a one-year term. But emergency sessions, of which this was emphatically one, could be called. Any citizen—not just those of the upper classes, as had previously been the case—could speak, but in practice only trained speakers did so. Voting was by a simple show of hands.

Looking toward the speaker’s platform, stage to the amphitheater, Jason saw that the elite got the best seats. There were gathered the nine archontes, or administrative officers, and the ten astynomoi, or magistrates, all chosen by lot. In the same favored area were the ten elected tribal strategoi. He could pick out Themistocles’ jet-black head and Miltiades’ graying-auburn one.

There was, Jason thought, more than a quorum here today—hardly surprising under the circumstances. And the orientation of the meeting-place was such that the participants got an unrivaled view. For Jason, on the upper rim, the panorama was especially breathtaking. To the right rose the acropolis in all its awesomeness. Below spread the city, and beyond that the plain of Attica. In the distance Mount Pentelikon could be glimpsed, and the two roads to Marathon.

I can see why they moved the meeting-place here, Jason thought. Unlike the people of other Greek city-states, who invented fanciful foundation legends of heroic migrations and divine descent, the Athenians believed themselves to be autochthonous, sprung from the soil of the corner of Greece they inhabited, as much a part of the landscape as the vineyards and the olive trees and the very rocks. Up here, looking out over that landscape, it was hard for them to forget that.

The day’s debate had begun while he and Mondrago had followed their indirect route, and was obviously well under way. And Themistocles had indicated that, after days of discussion, both sides were down to summations of their arguments. That seemed to be the case at present. A speaker was holding forth even now, untypically portly for this society and evidently a Eupatrid judging from his obviously imported himation, dyed Phoenician purple and lined with gold figurings. “We all know the Persians will have us hopelessly outnumbered. I have it on good authority that their army numbers two hundred thousand men!

There was a collective gasp.

“I heard six hundred thousand!” somebody yelled from the seats. A shudder ran through the throng, accompanied by moans.

“Shit!” Mondrago muttered in Jason’s ear. “How many men do these people think each of Datis’s six hundred ships can carry, over and above its own crew?”

“Not to mention supplies,” Jason whispered back, nodding. “What would all those men be eating? Each other?” He motioned Mondrago to silence, so as not to interfere with the audio pickup.

“And,” the speaker continued, “They are bringing their cavalry!” A hush settled over the crowd. The memory of the retreat from Sardis was all too fresh among these people, many of whom had lost relatives to the arrows and javelins of the Persian horsemen. “And no Greek army has ever defeated them in open battle! We have no choice. We cannot submit and expect mercy—not after. . . .” He left the thought unspoken and glared in the direction of the strategoi, and specifically at Miltiades, who had advocated the trial and execution of the Persian envoys. “No. We must remain inside our walls and place our trust in the gods!”

“Like the Eretrians did?” came a coarse jeer. A commotion erupted. Jason recalled being told that the Assembly was a tough audience.

The presiding officer, chosen from the current prytany, called for order and sought for the next speaker to recognize. Miltiades stood up. A respectful silence gradually descended, for everyone knew his background.

“The last speaker,” he began, “has addressed you with an eloquence I cannot hope to emulate, for I am only a rough, simple soldier who has spent his years fighting the Persians while he has perfected his oratorical skills.” A titter arose from the audience, with outright laughs rising like whitecaps above it. The Eupatrid turned as purple as his himation. “Nor do I need to, for he has set forth, far more persuasively than I could have, the arguments for marching forth and confronting the Persians in the field!”

A flabbergasted hubbub arose. Miltiades raised his hands to silence it.

“Yes, the Persians are coming in overwhelming force, and are bringing their cavalry. And after the last few days’ debates, we are all agreed that they will probably land at Marathon.” Miltiades pointed theatrically toward the distant outline of Mount Pentelikon. “From there, two roads lead around that mountain to this city. If the Persians seize even one of those roads, their horsemen will have the freedom of the plain all the way across Attica!” He let the breathless silence last a couple of seconds. “But, if we can get there in time and deploy across those roadways, we can pen them up in their beachhead where the cavalry will have no room for maneuver.”

Miltiades paused, and someone else got the attention of the presiding officer, clearly seeking leave to answer him. While that byplay was in progress, the Assembly seemed to lose focus as discussions began everywhere. Jason could sense a trend, which doubtless had been building up gradually over the last few days’ debates, in Miltiades’ favor. Nearby, among the standing-room crowd, one man’s voice rose above the rest as he addressed those around him. “Miltiades is right! Let’s all of us speak out in support of him when someone stands to argue with him.”

“Right!” agreed someone else. “All of us. . . .” He looked around, and his eyes narrowed as they rested on Jason and Mondrago.

Uh-oh, Jason thought. I knew this was bound to happen sooner or later. These men naturally clump together in tribal groups, and they all know each other—Aristotle considered that a basic precondition of democratic government. Any outsiders are bound to stand out. They’ve been fixated on the speakers so far. But now—

“Who—?” the man began.

Time to fight fire with fire, Jason decided. “Who’s that?” he shouted, pointing off to the side. Heads swiveled in that direction, and a commotion spread—a commotion that, Jason saw, was disrupting the new speaker’s opening remarks. But that was all he stayed to see. He grasped Mondrago’s arm, and while everyone’s attention was distracted they slipped back and scrambled back down the slope, working their way back the way they had come.

When they were back on the slopes of the Areopagus and could afford to relax their haste a little, Mondrago finally spoke. “Remember that speaker you threw off his stride, there at the end?”


“Well . . . what if he hadn’t been thrown off his stride? He might have been more effective, and talked the Assembly out of approving Miltiades’ strategy.”

Jason gave him a sharp look. It was the sort of unexpected thing Mondrago occasionally came out with. And it was one of the questions that gave the Authority headaches.

“I suppose,” he finally said, “that if what I did influenced the outcome, it always influenced the outcome, if you know what I mean. In other words, it was always part of history. That’s just what we have to assume.”

Mondrago said nothing more, and neither did Jason, because he was still brooding over their enforced early exit from the Pnyx. God, but I wish I could have stayed to the end! he thought in his frustration. He consoled himself with the thought that Themistocles had promised them a recap that evening.

Themistocles looked drained but triumphant. He took a swig of wine with less water in it than usual. “We won! I have to admit, that canting prig Aristides came around in the end, even though some of his usual allies advanced strong arguments that we should squat inside the walls and settle in for a siege. The same arguments we’ve been hearing for days. But Miltiades was brilliant. He stood the whole argument on its head and turned the fear of the Persian cavalry to his own advantage.”

“And, as Miltiades has more experience fighting the Persians than anyone else, his opinion naturally commanded respect,” Jason nodded.

“Naturally. But nobody ever mentioned aloud what was really at the back of everyone’s mind. It was too touchy a subject to raise in the Assembly.” Themistocles smiled rather grimly. “The Eretrians didn’t contest the Persians’ landing, but withdrew inside their walls to resist. And all it took was two traitors to open the gates from inside. And now Eretria is a smoldering heap of rubble.” He took a pull on his almost-neat wine. “In this city, with all its irreconcilable factions and aristocratic family feuds brought to a boil under the pressure of a siege, what are the chances that no one would accept Persian gold or take revenge for some old slight or seek to curry favor with the new rulers? Ha! I doubt if we’d last the five days that Eretria did before somebody betrayed us.”

“Still, Miltiades’s strategy seems to carry risks of its own,” Jason prompted.

“Oh, yes. That nonsense about hundreds of thousands is just old women’s rubbish, of course, but the fact remains that the Persian army is going to number several times the nine or ten thousand we can put in the field.” (Thirty-five thousand or so, by modern estimates, Bryan told us, Jason thought. Rutherford wants us to confirm that. All at once, like so many of Rutherford’s priorities, it doesn’t seem quite so important any more.) “So if we’re to have any hope of victory we’re going to have to commit every man we have—which means that Athens itself will be left defenseless.” Themistocles tossed off the last of the wine. “Ah, well, it’s irrevocable now. By solemn resolution of the Athenian people, we will march as soon as the beacon-fire atop Mount Pentelikon is seen, confirming that the Persians have landed.”

“Not before that?” inquired Mondrago with a frown. “If you could get there earlier, and secure the beach—”

“No. That was something even Miltiades had to concede. We can’t be absolutely certain the Persians will land at Marathon, even though everything points to it. No, we have to wait until it’s confirmed. Then we’ll march, with every available man. Speaking of which,” Themistocles continued without a break, “about your own military obligation. . . .”

“Yes, Strategos?” Jason had been waiting for this. One of the peculiarities of the Athenian system was that metoikoi, while denied practically all political rights, were liable for military service. “We naturally expect to serve the city that has so generously taken us in, as ekdromoi.” The term referred to light-armed infantry, not very numerous and with a marginal role. The hoplites who made up the phalanx were members of the three uppermost property-owning classes, who could afford a panoply of armor and weapons costing seventy-five to a hundred drachmas, which was what a skilled worker could expect to make in three months. Jason was fairly confident that his and Mondrago’s broad-spectrum expertise with low-tech weapons should enable them to function as hoplites, but that wasn’t what they were here for. As skirmishers, around the fringes of the battle, they should be able to observe with minimal risk. More importantly, now, they would be in a position to watch for Transhumanist intervention.

“Ordinarily, that would be true,” Themistocles nodded. “And in fact it is true in your case, Alexander. Coming from Macedon, you ought to be familiar with that kind of fighting.” The remark held a note of unconscious condescension. The Thracians whom “Alexander” would naturally have fought were noted for hit-and-run skirmishing by light infantry called peltastes. It was looked down on by the southern Greeks, for whom real warfare meant the head-on clash of phalanxes composed of the Right Kind of People—which, Landry had speculated, was why the role of light troops at Marathon had always been ignored by historians. “But you, Jason, as a Macedonian nobleman . . . well, it would hardly be fitting for you not to take your place in the phalanx.”

Jason groaned inwardly. He hadn’t thought of this. He should have, for it went to the heart of the paradox of Classical Athens. Politically, it had the most radically democratic constitution in human history, a record it continued to hold in the twenty-fourth century. Socially, it was class-conscious to a degree that might have seemed just a bit much in Victorian England.

“Ah . . . Strategos, I have no armor, and no weapons other than my sword, and am in no position to supply myself with them.” There was, Jason knew, no such thing as “government issue.”

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Themistocles said expansively. “Remember, over the last twenty years, we Athenians have captured a lot of equipment in our victories over the Thebans and Chalcians. Most of it has been put on the market—a good thing, as it’s reduced the prices and enabled more of our men to afford it. But there’s a reserve of equipment, to be supplied at public expense to the sons of men who’ve met an honorable death in battle.” Jason knew of the custom. He had wondered how the distribution was organized. Themistocles proceeded to enlighten him. “As strategos of the Leontis tribe, I have control of a portion of that reserve, for our people.” He winked broadly. “I’ve always felt I have a certain latitude in exercising my discretion with regard to that portion.”

No doubt, thought Jason drily. Aloud: “But, Strategos, I belong to no Athenian tribe.” This, he knew, was an important point. The phalanx was organized by tribes, for the Greeks understood something that had eluded various bureaucrats throughout history. Men do not face the pain, death, and simple horror of combat for nationalistic abstractions, and they assuredly do not do it because some politician has made a speech. They do it for the other men in their unit. Never—not even in a Roman legion or in a regiment of the old British army—had this been more true than in a phalanx, where every man depended on the others, for if one man’s cowardice broke the shield-line, all were dead. In the Roman legion or the British regiment, such solidarity was instilled by discipline, training, and unit traditions. In a phalanx it was inherent; the men to either side of you were men of your tribe, known to you from childhood and linked to you by kinship ties. To break ranks in their sight was unthinkable.

“Don’t worry, Jason,” Themistocles assured him, growing serious. “You’ll stand with the Leontis tribe. I know it’s a little irregular.” (Not that you’ve ever let that stop you, Jason thought.) “But I’ll tell those men that you have reason to hate these Persians who made slaves of your people and a puppet of your king. They’ll know you can be relied on.”

I hope they’re right, Jason thought bleakly.


Jason lifted the little white-ground ceramic vase called a lekythos. It held the ashes of Bryan Landry.

Themistocles had arranged the cremation—an acceptable though non-compulsory rite. They had placed the traditional coins over the eyes—a tip for Charon, the ferryman who would convey the spirit across the River Styx into Hades. Due to their ambivalent status in Athens, and the general social disruption, they had been able to short-circuit the customary preliminaries of anointing the body with oils and wrapping it in waxed cloths. Nor, for the same reasons, were they under any pressure to have the lekythos interred in the Ceramicus beyond the wall. Jason intended to have it with him when their TRDs activated. Naturally Landry’s own TRD—indestructible by mere fire—now lay, invisibly small, in the ashes at the bottom of the cremation oven and would appear on the displacer stage.

So would Chantal Frey’s TRD. Jason had left it with Themistocles for safekeeping, concealed in melted wax at the bottom of one of the small pyxides or cosmetics-holding covered jars, that were among her possessions. Jason was grimly determined that it would arrive in the twenty-fourth century clutched in her living hand.

The second expedition in a row when I’ve gotten somebody killed, he thought, knowing how unreasonable the self-reproach was but unable to dismiss it. It’s getting to be a habit.

It wasn’t the only thing preying on Jason’s mind. Whether or not any of them got back alive, the Authority had to be made aware that a Transhumanist underground was operating an unlawful temporal displacer. His plan had been to hire a local bronzesmith to hammer a message—unreadable by anyone of this milieu—onto a thin sheet of bronze, which he would deposit in this expedition’s message drop, located on the slopes of Mount Pentelikon. But he’d had no opportunity. Besides, in Athens’s current miasma of fear and paranoia, what was obviously writing in an unknown language and alphabet would surely draw suspicion onto the head of a foreigner like himself.

“It’s time,” he heard Mondrago say. He nodded. The great beacon-fire atop Mount Pentelikon had been sighted, confirming that the Persians were landing at Marathon.

They stepped out into the early morning coolness that unfortunately wouldn’t last, and moved toward the Agora with all the other mustering men. Athens’ unique economy, with over half of its wheat supplies imported and stored in granaries, had made it possible to concentrate the army at a central location rather than having to call men in from farms all over Attica. This, in turn, made the strategy of a rapid response to the Persian landing possible. Slaves carried the armor and weapons; the miserably uncomfortable fifty-to-seventy-pound hoplite panoply was intended to be donned no sooner before battle than was absolutely necessary, especially in the August heat. Of course, ekdromoi like Mondrago marched in their own lighter equipage of small round shields, leather shirts, slings and two javelins, with light helmets hanging from the waist for travel.

As they descended the steps between the South Stoa and the fountain house and entered the Agora, Jason searched for the Leontis muster, hoping to spot Themistocles among the throngs. As he stood looking around, an older man approached him.

“You’re Jason, the man from Macedon, aren’t you? Rejoice! I’m Callicles, of the Leontis tribe. The strategos Themistocles—he’s done a good turn or two for my family—asked me to look you up and sort of give you any help you may need, since you’re new here.”

Which, Jason thought, was damned nice of Themistocles. In the not-exactly-open society of the Athenian tribes, having a buddy in the ranks would help an outsider like himself to no end. He studied Callicles with interest. He already knew that hoplites were liable for active duty up to sixty, with no concessions of any kind to their age, and Callicles was fifty if he was a day—a much riper age than it was in Jason’s world. But he looked like a tough old bird.

“Thanks,” Jason said. “I know I’ll be grateful to have you around, not being a member of the Leontis tribe at all.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Callicles reassured him. “Themistocles told us about you. He explained that you’re a well-born soldier in your own country.” Not a tradesman like most metoikoi in Athens, was left unsaid. “Some of the men’s sense of humor may be a little rough around the edges, I grant you. But nobody will really give you a hard time. Come on. We’re over here.” As he turned and led Jason toward his fellows of the Leontis, he spoke to Mondrago over his shoulder, as an afterthought. “The ekdromoi are over there,” he said shortly.

Jason saw Mondrago make a gesture in the direction of Callicles’ back—a gesture he suspected was a very old one in Corsica.

They joined the Leontis ranks, and Callicles greeted various fellow veterans of numerous campaigns in defense of the Athenian democracy. As he did, Jason noticed a knot of older men off to the side, surrounding a much younger man wearing only a loincloth and a headband. They seemed to be giving him last-minute instructions. A gooseflesh-raising thought occurred to Jason: Could that possibly be . . . ? Moved by a sudden impulse, he turned to Callicles. “Who is that young man over there?”

“Pheidippides. You wouldn’t know about him, not being from Athens. He’s the best runner we’ve got. We’re sending him to Sparta to ask for their help.” Callicles spat expressively and rubbed his grizzled beard. “Small chance, if you ask me. But even the Spartans ought to be smart enough to see that they’re next, after throwing those Persian emissaries down a well.”

Jason stared, and brought up information from his implant. Pheidippides was in his late teens or early twenties, tall and long-legged, with barely an ounce of body fat overlaying muscles that were long and flowing rather than massive and knotted. He looked like what he was: one of the greatest long-distance runners the human species would ever produce. For he would run the one hundred and forty miles of rough, winding, hilly roads to Sparta in two days—something a few athletes would duplicate starting in the late twentieth century, wearing high-tech running shoes and served by numerous watering stations. Then he would turn around and return to Athens in the same incredible time. And then he would fight in the Battle of Marathon. And then—if legend was to be believed—he would carry the news of victory the twenty-six miles to Athens in full armor, with an urgency that caused him to fall dead after gasping, “Rejoice! We conquer!” The last part had given rise to the Marathon race of the modern Olympic games (whose runners were not required to wear armor), but modern historians had been inclined to pooh-pooh it, asserting that Pheidippides’s run to Sparta had become confused in popular imagination with the Athenian hoplites’ rapid march back to Athens from Marathon after the battle. Rutherford wanted them to settle the question.

But there was another story that was somewhat more relevant to their present situation. On his return run from Sparta to Athens, on the heights just this side of Tegea, Pheidippides would afterwards swear that the god Pan had appeared, greeted him by name, and asked why the Athenians did not worship him, promising to aid them in the coming battle if they would do so henceforth. Historians had naturally written this off as an exhaustion-induced hallucination. It was, Jason reflected, an assumption they might just have to rethink.

He was, however, puzzled about one thing: how was Franco going to get his pet “god” to the Tegea heights, roughly two thirds of the way to Sparta, for the occasion? Even assuming that they had already departed, travel by daylight would be out of the question, as Pan was not exactly inconspicuous.

But then there was no time to dwell on the matter further, for Themistocles was bawling orders and the roughly nine hundred strong muster of the Leontis tribe was shaking itself into marching order. Jason consulted his implant’s calendar function. It was August 5.

The optic display read August 7 as Jason leaned on the camp’s earthen defensive barrier, still drenched with sweat under the early afternoon August sun even though he was now out of his armor, and gazed out over the plain of Marathon.

He had always regarded himself—accurately—as being in excellent physical condition. It had been fortunate that he was, for the hoplites had marched from Athens to Marathon at a pace he was surprised that Callicles and the rest of the older men could sustain. Hoplites, he was learning, were very, very tough—especially the hoplites of Athens, who had been at war more or less continuously in defense of their fledgling democracy for almost twenty years. These men might not be professional soldiers—unlike the Spartans, they had day jobs, normally in agriculture, the only really respectable occupation for men of their class—but all of them except the very youngest were seasoned veterans.

They had arrived in time, while the Persians were still organizing themselves on their beachhead, amid the inevitable chaos of all amphibious landings. They had deployed across the two roads to Athens in a strong defensive position, facing northeast from rising ground with the higher wooded slopes of Mount Agriliki behind them and a temple of Heracles with its sacred grove shielding their right flank. Callimachus and Miltiades—who seemed to function as unofficial chief of staff cum operations officer, not that either term existed in this era—had set them to work establishing a fortified camp. From there they could look out across a scene that Jason was sure caused these men, brought up on Homer, to imagine what the defenders of Troy must have witnessed.

The beach curved away to the northeast, where the bay was sheltered by a rocky promontory called the “Dog’s Tail.” For miles, that beach was black with six hundred ships hauled up on the sand. About half of these were triremes—fighting galleys that could have overwhelmed Athens’s seventy-trireme fleet had the Athenians been suicidal enough to commit it. The rest were transports of various kinds, including fifty specialized ones that carried twenty horses each. The almost fifty thousand rowers and other sailors stayed on or near the ships. Just inland from the base of the promontory was a marsh. Between it and the Athenian position stretched a flat, barren plain, hemmed in by hills and divided into northern and southern halves by the Chardra, a stream mislabeled a river. To the southwest of the marsh, just inland from the narrow sandy beach, was the vast Persian camp, three miles from where Jason stood, pullulating with thousands and thousands of outlandishly clad invaders. Jason’s practiced eye confirmed the modern estimate of their numbers, which meant the Athenians were outnumbered about three to one, even counting their light troops (which almost nobody ever did) and the addition of almost a thousand hoplites who had arrived, to vociferous cheers, from the small city-state of Plataea—its entire levy. It wasn’t a large reinforcement, but it was the only help the Athenians were to get, and Landry had mentioned that Athenian gratitude to the Plataeans would endure for generations.

Then a stalemate had commenced. Something like a ritual had been established. The Greeks would form up their line in the morning, with light troops like Mondrago carrying forward abittis cut from the trees on the slopes to shield the phalanx’s flanks. The Persians would also form up, and their dread cavalry would ride forth in their colorful trousered costumes, perform show-off caracoles, and shout taunts—the language was incomprehensible, but the tone was unmistakable—at the Greeks, who had no archers to respond. It was, of course, intended to draw the Greeks out, off the high ground and onto the plain. The Greeks would not rise to the bait; and the Persians, armed for raiding and not for shock tactics, would not venture to charge uphill against the shield line. And thus another day’s morning ceremonies would conclude.

Jason became aware of Mondrago at his side. The Corsican was bathed in sweat even though he hadn’t been encased in hoplite armor. “This is ox shit,” he said with feeling.

“You look tired,” said Jason solicitously.

“Tired? You’d be tired too. All you hoplites have to do is go through this morning charade, then sit on your asses the rest of the day while we ekdromoi go out on patrol!”

My God! thought Jason. Is Athenian class consciousness getting to him?

“But,” Mondrago continued, calming down a little, “I’m sure Callimachus and Miltiades are happy as clams at high tide.”

“How so?” asked Jason, who thought precisely the same thing but was curious to see if Mondrago had come to the same conclusion by the same path.

Mondrago waved an arm in the direction of the Persians. “They can’t sit here forever. The food supplies for that horde must be getting used up fast, and they’ve been trying to gather some locally. Remember what I said about going out on patrol? At least I’ve been getting some practice with my sling. We’ve been going out into the hills to keep them from foraging—us and the horsemen.”


“Yes. Athens does have a tiny cavalry force, you know. It’s largely ceremonial. Nobody around here even claims it would be close to being a match for the Persian cavalry even if the numbers were equal.”

“I know.” Jason recalled the Panathenaic frieze, and the flowing artistry of its procession of splendidly mounted young men—magnificent, but somehow not seeming very combat-ready. And that frieze had been from the Parthenon, as completed in 437 b.c. He somehow suspected that the current generation of Athenian cavalry, more than half a century earlier, would be even less impressive in battle.

“Still,” Mondrago grudgingly admitted, “they’ve got heart. And they’re good enough to help us cut up forging parties. I can guarantee you the Persians are still consuming the supplies they brought with them.”

“Logistics,” Jason nodded. “It’s the most important part of war, and the part that historians and novelists are most likely to forget.”

“Something they’re even more likely to forget about than food is what comes out the other end,” said Mondrago with a nasty grin. “Can you imagine what that camp must be like, with that many men crammed into it? Ours is bad enough!”

Jason gave a grimace of agreement. With the exception of the as-yet-unborn Roman legions, camp sanitation had not been the strong suit of ancient armies. He, with his experience of past eras, and Mondrago with his military background, could endure it—barely.

“Right,” Jason said. “No large army in this era can sit encamped in one place for long. It’s only a matter of time—and not much of it—before disease, the real killer in ancient warfare, is going to hit, starting with intestinal ailments.”

“And then they’ll have tens of thousands of men with diarrhea packed in there.” Even Mondrago, hardly the most fastidious of men, shuddered at the thought. “No doubt about it: time is on our side. Hence this miserable standoff we’re in. Why should Callimachus seek battle when he can just watch the Persian army rot?”

“Besides,” Jason reminded him, “Callimachus expects the Spartans to come. Why rush things when you’re waiting to be reinforced by an army of full-time professional killers?” He was about to say something else, when, at the outermost left-hand corner of his field of vision, a tiny blue light began blinking for attention.

At first it didn’t even register on Jason. His implant had a number of standard features which had often come in handy in the Hesperian Colonial Rangers but which were irrelevant in past eras of history. He therefore never used them on extratemporal expeditions, and it was easy to forget they were there. So it took him a heartbeat or two to remember this one, from his time with the Hesperian Colonial Rangers, when it had been useful to have a sensor that detected the space-distorting effects of grav-repulsion technology. In retrospect, he could have used it in the Bronze Age; but, as he recalled, the Teloi “chariots” had always been upon him before such use had occurred to him.

Now, however, that blinking light told him that an aircar or some such vehicle was being used in the near vicinity.

Mondrago seemed to notice his distracted look. “What—?”

“Quiet!” Jason concentrated furiously, attaining the mental focus necessary for direct neural activation of the sensor’s directional feature. He had barely done so before the blue light winked out.

“Something to do with your implant, right?” said Mondrago after a moment of silence.

Jason took a deep breath. “Yes. Somebody around here is operating a grav vehicle.”

This got Mondrago’s undivided attention. “The Teloi?”

“Presumably. But whoever it is, they just switched it off—” he turned to the left and pointed to the hill to the northwest “—up there, on Mount Kotroni.”

Mondrago’s gaze followed his pointing finger. It wasn’t really a mountain, at seven hundred and eighty feet. Like the rest of the hills defining the plain of Marathon, it was forested in this era. “We’ve got to check this out.”

“No, I’ve got to check it out. My implant will enable me to zero in on it if it’s reactivated. I’m going up there.” He instinctively reached for his waist and confirmed that he still had his leaf-shaped sword.

Mondrago looked around. “I have a feeling these guys don’t exactly approve of people going AWOL. Least of all now.”

“So you have to stay here and cover for me. If anybody wonders where I am, make up some excuse.”

“Like what?”

Jason started to try to think of one . . . and then came to the realization that he trusted Mondrago fully to handle it on his own. And, in fact, the further realization that he was glad to have the Corsican at his back in general.

“You’ll think of something.” Without waiting for a reply to this gem of brilliance, Jason turned away and headed for the camp’s eastern perimeter. At least everyone seemed too relieved to be out of armor to notice him.


In the early afternoon August heat, Jason was grateful for the shade of the foliage as he scrambled up the slopes of Mount Kotroni.

As he neared the crest, a level clearing opened out before him. At that moment, the tiny blue light began flashing again.

He looked around and saw nothing where the sensor assured him he should. But experience-honed instinct caused him to take cover behind a boulder and take a fighting grip on his short sword. No sooner had he done so when he heard a faint, whining hum. And he saw dust swirling upward from the clearing, as though from the ground-pressure effect of grav repulsion.

Above the ground, now that he knew what to look for, he recognized the shimmering effect of a refraction field, which achieved invisibility by disrupting the frequencies of light and causing them to “bend” or “slip” around the field and whatever was within it. It was cutting edge technology in Jason’s world.

And I never saw the Teloi using it, he thought, puzzled.

Then the dust settled, and the field evidently was switched off, for an aircar appeared out of nowhere, settling to the ground—and Jason’s puzzlement turned to shock.

It was a small model, little more than a flying platform with a transparent bubble and two seats, for the pilot and one passenger. This one held only the pilot—a human, who proceeded to raise the canopy and emerge. And it was not one of the overdecorated, somehow Art Deco-reminiscent Teloi designs Jason remembered. He recognized it as a Roszmenko Krishnamurti model, a few years old as his own consciousness measured time.

Until this instant, he had been able to tell himself that Franco’s claims of radically superior time-travel technology were mere braggadocio, or perhaps an attempt at disinformation. Now he knew he could no longer take shelter in that comfortable assumption. The Transhumanists had temporally displaced this aircar—along with all their personnel and God knew what else—almost twenty-nine centuries. The Authority couldn’t have done that without an appropriation request that would have precipitated an all-out political crisis. The Transhumanists had done it using a displacer so compact, and drawing so little power, that it could be concealed somewhere on Earth’s surface.

Rutherford has to be told about this! He cursed himself for not having somehow managed to leave word at the message-drop on Mount Pentelikon.

The pilot stepped to the ground and, with his back to Jason, fumbled for a hand communicator. Jason suddenly realized that, after the man reported in, his own window of opportunity to take any action would vanish. Without pausing for further thought, he bunched his legs and launched himself over the boulder.

It was fairly artless. Jason hit the totally surprised Transhumanist from behind, smashed him over prone. His sword-holding right arm went around the man’s neck, while his left hand grasped his left wrist and pulled that arm up behind his back.

But this Transhumanist was one of the genetic upgrades designed for, among other things, strength. His free right arm went up behind Jason’s neck while his legs sent both of them surging upwards until he had Jason practically piggy-back. Then, with a further surge, he threw Jason over his right shoulder.

Jason’s trained reflexes took over for him. He kept his grip on his sword, and hit the ground in a roll which brought him back up to his feet even as he whirled to face his enemy. The Transhumanist was already rushing him, hands outstretched in what Jason recognized as one of the positions of combat karate.

Jason’s options suddenly became very simple. He had hoped to take the man alive, but he had no desire to have blade-stiffened hands smash through his rib cage and pull out his lungs. With a twisting motion, he evaded those hands while driving his sword into the Transhumanist’s midriff. Then he dropped to his knees, wrenched the sword point-upward inside the guts in which it was lodged, and rammed it straight up. Blood gushed from the Transhumanist’s mouth as he fell to his knees and toppled forward, pulling the sword out of Jason’s hand by his sheer weight.

Jason retrieved his sword, wiped off the blade, and used the pommel to smash the communicator the Transhumanist had never had a chance to use. Then he examined the aircar. It was, as he had thought, a standard model aside from the decidedly non-standard invisibility field. He activated its nav computer and brought up its last departure point on the tiny map display.

It was a point in the heights just east of Tegea, just over ninety miles to the southeast as the crow or the aircar flies.

Just about where Pheidippides swore that Pan appeared to him, came the thought, bringing with it a flash of understanding.

Jason summoned up his implant’s clock display. He really needed to be getting back to camp. But at the aircar’s best speed he could cover the distance in less than half an hour. And this had to be looked into.

He had neither time nor tools to bury the Transhumanist’s body, but he didn’t want to leave it to be found. With difficulty, he hauled it into the passenger seat and tied a heavy stone to it. Then he set the computer to retrace its last course, lowered the canopy, activated the invisibility field, and took to the air.

Jason’s route took him over Mount Pentelikon and just north of Athens, but he was in no mood to appreciate the view, and at any rate the outside world appeared in blurry shades of gray when viewed from inside the field. He flew on into the dim-appearing afternoon sun. Soon he was over the island of Salamis, and the waters where ten years from now the navy that was now only a gleam in Themistocles’ eye would scatter the fleets of Xerxes. Then the waters of the Saronic Gulf were beneath him. He stopped, hovered only twenty feet above the waves, and made certain there were no boats nearby whose crews might have noticed a body appear out of nowhere in midair and fall into the sea. He raised the canopy and pushed his deceased passenger out.

Resuming his flight, Jason went feet-dry over the Argolid. He did not permit himself to glance to the right, toward Mycenae and the bones that lay buried there. Instead, he spent the few remaining minutes of flight wondering just what the aircar had been doing landing on Mount Kotroni. No answer came to him, and none would now be forthcoming from the former pilot.

Approaching the end of the route, Jason resumed manual control of the aircar. Zooming the map display to its largest scale, he narrowed the landing site down to a flat area on a ridge overlooking the road from Sparta. He set the aircar down as gently as possible, to minimize the telltale dust-swirl. After satisfying himself that there was no one about, he deactivated the invisibility field and stepped out and walked to the edge of the ridge.

Looking cautiously down, he could see the winding road. On a lower level of the ridge, two humans were observing the road from concealment. Above them, but slightly lower than Jason, Pan crouched behind a boulder.

To Jason’s right was a smooth, gentle slope which allowed easy access to Pan’s position. He slipped very quietly down the slope, taking advantage of the fact that he was facing the sun and therefore casting his shadow behind him. He worked his way close behind the obviously preoccupied Pan and, with an adder-sudden movement, his left arm went around the being’s neck, forcing the chin up. With his right arm, he pressed the edge of his sword against the exposed throat. It wasn’t much of an edge—these swords were primarily for thrusting—but it would do.

“Quiet!” he hissed. The two Transhumanists below, their attention riveted on the road, hadn’t noticed. “Don’t make a sound.”

Pan remained rigid but did not struggle. “What are you going to do with me?” he whispered.

Which, Jason realized, was a very good question. He hadn’t formulated a plan, and when he thought about it he wondered why he hadn’t simply killed Pan outright. Arguably, it would be the rational course—at least Mondrago would have so argued.

“What are you here for?” he whispered back, temporizing.

“I’m waiting for the Athenian runner who is returning from Sparta. He should be passing here soon. I am to accost him and ask him why the Athenians fail to honor me, and promise to aid them nevertheless in the coming battle by causing the Persians to flee in terror. And at the height of the battle, I am to appear to the Athenians, so they will believe they owe me their victory.”

“And are you going to do it.”

“I must!” The whisper held a quavering squeak. “I have been ordered to.”

“Do you always follow orders?”

“I have no choice!” For an instant Pan’s voice rose almost to a full squeak. Jason pressed his sword-edge harder against the hairy throat, and Pan subsided into a dull whisper. “You don’t know what it’s like!”

“You mean they torture you?”

“They don’t need to. My entire existence is torture! Only they have the power to deaden it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“How could you? Franco and his people came to this country fifteen years ago and persuaded the Teloi to help them create me, knowing this was the year they would need me to be available. They used . . . medicines to make me mature faster,” Pan explained, coming as close as fifth century b.c. Greek could to the concept of artificial growth accelerants. “They needed the help of the Teloi to do all this.”

Jason nodded unconsciously. Of all the perversities forbidden by the Human Integrity Act, species modification—genetic tinkering which introduced genes not native to the original human genome—was the ultimate obscenity. The Transhumanists, of course, had had no compunctions about it. But even they had never developed it to the level that must have been required to create a thing like Pan. Evidently, though, they and the Teloi together had been equal to the task.

“But,” Pan continued, still struggling with the limits of the language, “the parts of me that are not human could not be made to really fit. And my forced growth made it worse. Almost everything I do, especially walking, is unendurable . . . or would be without the medicines they constantly give me.”

Again, Jason understood. It was one of the reasons species modification was regarded as such a unique abomination. The human organism was a totality. It was not designed to support, say, a digitigrade walking posture. Pan was a living mass of incompatibilities—a biological wrongness. And applying growth accelerants to such a ramshackle skeleton must have made it even worse, especially considering that the Transhumans and their Teloi allies probably hadn’t bothered with any of the usual precautions.

Yes, Pan would never be free of pain, or at least discomfort, for a second of his waking life—and how would he ever sleep?—without chemical analgesia. He surely would have long since escaped into madness had it not been for the drugs that only his creators could supply . . . or withhold.

Now Jason understood how they controlled him. And from what he had heard in Pan’s whisper, he dimly sensed how much the twisted being must hate them.

Killing Pan now would be the merciful thing to do as well as the expedient one.

Only, thought Jason as his grip tightened on the sword-hilt, he might be a valuable source of information on the Transhumanists.

“Listen,” he said, improvising, “you can get away from them. You can get help from the Temporal Regulatory Authority.” Of necessity, he said the last three words in English.

“How?” whispered Pan in a tone of dull scorn.

“Well. . . .” This was no time for a lecture on the physics of time travel, even had it been possible in the language. “After I return to my own time, I’ll come back to this time with soldiers to kill those two men down there—it can be a few minutes after this point in time, in fact—and I’ll bring with me the medicines you need.” Once Rutherford knew what was at stake, Jason was sure he could get an appropriation for such an expedition, and a waiver of the rules to allow him to bring back a substantial supply of advanced medications.

“Can you take me to your time?”

“No.” Jason found he could not lie. “You are of this era. There can be no travel forward in time.”

“But you travel forward in time!”

“No.” How to explain temporal energy potential? “I only return to the time from which I came, and where I belong. You belong here, and must remain here. But we can free you from your dependence on Franco and the Teloi.”

Afterwards, Jason was always certain that Pan wavered for a heartbeat before stiffening convulsively. “No! I can’t trust you! They created the agony that is my life, and only they can grant surcease from it. I must do as I am told.”

At that moment, before Jason could reply, one of the Transhumanists below—from whom Jason had never entirely taken his eyes—rose to his feet and gestured at the road from Sparta. In the distance was a tiny, running figure.

The sight of that figure—Pheidippides, returning with the news that the Spartans would be delayed—distracted Jason for a fraction of a second, causing him to lower his sword. That was enough. With the strength of desperation, Pan broke free of him and scrambled recklessly downhill despite Jason’s efforts to catch him by his caprine legs. Jason could only watch, cursing under his breath, as he joined the Transhumanists.

He really ought, Jason knew, to return to his aircar while the Transhumanists’ attention was riveted on the road and get back to Marathon. But curiosity held him. He compromised with caution by ducking behind the boulder and watching as Pheidippides reached a point almost directly below. He saw one of the Transhumanists manipulate a remote control unit. A concealed device by the side of the road erupted into a flash of light and a thunderclap of sound. With a cry, the runner staggered and fell to his knees. While his eyes were still dazzled, one of the Transhumanists shoved Pan forward and up into plain sight. When Pheidippides could see again, the “god” stood on the ridge looking down at him.

“Pheidippides of Athens,” said Pan in more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tones, “why have the Athenians failed to worship me?”

Pheidippides groveled in the dust of the road. “We do, Great God, we do,” he stammered frantically.

“No. My sacred grotto on the slope of the Acropolis is neglected, save by a few. The smoke of sacrifice does not rise from my altar there.”

“We will neglect you no longer, Great God. I swear it! After I tell what I have seen, we will make amends. We will offer sacrifice.”

“It is well. Continue on your journey, and assure the Athenians of my affection for their city. Tell them also that I know the peril in which Athens now stands, and that I mean to come to its aid very soon, because I trust that your promise to me will be kept.”

Pheidippides looked timidly up. “Aid us how, Great God?” he dared ask.

“You know, Pheidippides, the power I possess to arouse unreasoning fear in men,” Pan replied obliquely. “Now go, and complete your errand, and bear my words to the Athenians!”

The hidden Transhumanist touched his remote again, and the bogus thunder and lightning sent Pheidippides flat on his face with a wail. Pan scurried back to join his two handlers. After a few moments, Pheidippides cautiously looked up and rose to his feet. Still blinking, he cast nervous glances all around. Then a slow smile awoke on the young face—a smile of serenely confident hope, the kind of smile rarely seen among Athenians these days. The smile broadened into a grin as he resumed his run.

The Transhumanists crouched, preparing to leave as soon as the runner was out of sight, and Jason dared delay no longer. He retraced his steps, flung himself into the aircar, reactivated the invisibility field, and set his course back to the clearing on Mount Kotroni, overlooking the Greek camp on the plain of Marathon.

Once in the air, he had leisure to reflect wryly. Of course I didn’t kill Pan. History says Pheidippides claimed to have met him on the road.

Only . . . if I had killed him, then maybe Pheidippides would have hallucinated him anyway, as historians think he did.

He shook his head and flew on, with the westering sun behind him.


Mount Agriliki rose two thousand feet to the southwest of the plain of Marathon, with the Athenian camp backed up against its lower slopes. Jason found a clear ledge about halfway to the summit and shielded from the view of those below. He doubted if the Transhumanists had a means of locating it when it was powered down. Of course they might have installed some kind of beacon that had enabled them to track its flight, but concealing the aircar was worth a try. He might well want to use it again, and what Rutherford didn’t know wouldn’t cause him to have a stroke.

He scrambled down the forested slope in the late-afternoon shadows. He slipped into the camp without difficulty, as nobody was being particularly careful about guarding its mountain-protected rear when the Persians were bottled up on the plain.

Mondrago, who had not been required to account for Jason’s absence, greeted him with relief. They found a relatively private spot toward the rear of the camp and Jason recounted his story.

“It would be nice to think you stranded them there on that ridge in the Peloponnese,” Mondrago remarked when Jason was finished. “I can’t believe the Transhumanists could have displaced more than one aircar almost twenty-nine hundred years into the past.”

Jason shook his head dourly. “They must be able to call in Teloi aircars, even if those are restricted to flying at night because they lack invisibility fields. In fact, they must be using them already. The aircar I took can only carry two, and I saw four: the pilot I killed, two more on the Tegea heights, and Pan.”

“And that nauseating little mutant is still alive!” said Mondrago venomously. The look he gave Jason was accusing.

“I’m still hoping to turn him. I’ve told you how much he resents his own existence.”

“He should. And I’ll bet it’s not just the things you told me about.” Mondrago grinned nastily. “That gigantic dong of his must have been designed for nothing but show. It probably hurts him to piss.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Jason admitted with a grimace.

“So what’s the plan?”

“I’m just going to have to improvise. Remember, they’ll be bringing him here before the battle—come to think of it, that must have been what their aircar was doing on Mount Kotroni, scouting out a suitable landing spot. Maybe that will be my chance.”

“You say they’re going to have him appear here so he can take credit for spreading panic among the Persians. That sounds like they’re planning to create the panic themselves. I can think of ways that might be possible.”

“So can I,” nodded Jason. Such effects could be achieved in ways involving focused ultrasonic waves affecting the human nervous system, sent along a laser guide-beam. And the Teloi might have other techniques.

“Well, then, sir,” Mondrago continued, his tone changing to one of formal seriousness, “has it occurred to you that maybe this is why the Greeks end up winning the battle?”

“You mean, that the Transhumanist intervention has always been part of history? That it’s the reason Western civilization survives?” Jason knew his voice probably reflected his unwillingness to believe it.

“Can you rule out the possibility? And if it’s true, and if our theories about time travel are correct, you won’t be able to undo it. Something will prevent you—maybe something lethal. And if those theories aren’t correct. . . .” Mondrago left the thought dangling.

Jason drew a deep breath. “Remember when we were at the Athenian Assembly? This is sort of the opposite side of the coin from that. Once again, I don’t deny that there are risks involved. But if the opportunity presents itself, I plan to try again to offer Pan our help in exchange for his cooperation.”

Mondrago looked disgusted.

Pheidippedes half-ran and half-staggered into the camp the following night. He had paused only briefly at Athens to impart the news he now brought to the army. In the immemorial way of armies everywhere, Rumor Central promptly conveyed that news to everyone.

“Carneia!” old Callicles snorted, with his patented eloquent spit. “The Spartans are celebrating Carneia, their holy festival—quite a big festival, I’ve heard—and they can’t march until the moon is full!”

Mondrago shared his feelings. “Greatest warriors in history!” he muttered to Jason in an English aside. “More like the greatest party animals!”

“Mark my words,” Callicles continued, “if that bastard Cleomenes was still running things in Sparta, he wouldn’t let any stupid ‘period of peace’ stop him. But now he’s dead, and the Spartans are shitting in their chitons with fear that they may have offended the gods by throwing those Persian emissaries down that well, not to mention burning that sacred grove at Argos. So they’re being very careful to observe their religious holidays—and never mind that we Athenians get butt-fucked by the Persians while they’re doing it!”

A pair of men passed within earshot, heading toward the tents of the Aiantis tribe. One of them paused. In the light of the campfires, Jason saw he appeared to be in his mid-thirties, beginning to go prematurely bald. “But,” he called out to Callicles, “if they set out at the full moon and march as fast as Pheippides says they promise to, shouldn’t they be here in a week? Surely we can hold the Persians at bay that long.”

Jason expected a scornful reply accompanied by another expressive spit. But Callicles’s “Maybe you’re right” was no worse than grudging. He sounded as though he knew the man, at least by reputation.

“Come on!” the man’s companion called. “We’re already late.”

“Coming, Cynegeirus.” The man waved to them and hurried on.

“Who was that?” asked Jason.

“Fellow named Aeschylus, from Eleusis,” said Callicles. “Writes plays.”

Jason stared at the retreating back of the man who was to become Greece’s greatest dramatist—but whose epitaph would say nothing about that, only that he had fought at Marathon. And the familiar tingle took him.

“You’ve heard of this guy?” Mondrago asked him.

Jason nodded. “In our era he’s going to be known as the Father of Tragedy.”

“He seemed pretty cheerful to me.”

“He may not be quite as much so after what is going to happen to the man with him—his brother Cynegeirus.” Jason shook himself, recalling what Landry had told him. In the final phase of the battle, on the beach, Aeschylus would watch as Cynegeirus had a hand chopped off as he tried to grab the stem of an escaping Persian ship, a wound from which he would subsequently die. “I’ve got to go. The generals must be meeting now to decide where we go from here, and I want to get that meeting on my recorder—there have always been a lot of unanswered questions about it.”

“They’re going to just let anybody listen in?” Mondrago sounded scandalized by such sloppy security.

“Maybe not. But I’ll never know if I don’t try.” And Jason slipped away through the camp.

Security almost lived down to Mondrago’s expectations—indeed, it was a barely understood concept in this place and time. In the heat of the August night, Callimachus and the ten strategoi were meeting under an open tent. Herodotus had claimed that command of the army had been rotated among those ten tribal generals, one on each day, and that as the day of battle had approached the others had handed command over to Miltiades on their allotted days. Mondrago had scoffed at that, declaring roundly that no army could or would have tried to function under such a nonsensical system. He had turned out to be right. Their initial impression—that Callimachus the war archon was in actual as well as honorary command, assisted by Miltiades as primus inter pares among the strategoi—had proven to be correct. Mondrago, whose sole intellectual interest was military history, had mentioned the names “Hindenburg” and “Ludendorff.”

Jason had a great deal of experience at making himself inconspicuous. He now brought all the subtle techniques he had learned to bear as he moved among the campfires and approached the open tent. He saw Pheidippides walking groggily away from that tent, where he must have finished rendering his formal report and would now doubtless collapse into a very long sleep that no one would begrudge him. Jason continued on in his unobtrusive way toward that tent and its murmur of voices, working his way inward until he could see the figures within, illuminated by flickering torchlight, and his implant’s recorder function could pick up the voices.

“You heard Pheidippides,” said someone Jason didn’t recognize. “All we have to do is hold out until the Spartans arrive: seven days if they keep their promise, and he’s convinced they will.”

“And there’s no reason why we can’t keep this stalemate going that long,” said someone else. “All we have to do is stay here, in this fortified camp on ground of our choosing.”

A murmur of agreement arose from what seemed to be a clear majority of the generals. The murmur rose to a pious pitch when one voice added, “And remember, according to Pheidippides we have Pan’s promise of assistance!”

Miltiades rose to his feet, the torchlight glinting from the remnants of red in his beard. The self-convincing murmur gradually subsided. All the strategoi were veterans of wars against the enemies of Athenian democracy—Greek enemies. But Miltiades knew the Persian way of war from inside and outside, and they all appreciated that fact.

“We can’t just sit here behind our earthworks and wait for the Spartans,” he said as soon as he had absolute silence. “The Persians have spies and well-paid traitors everywhere. Anything we know, we must assume they know. So don’t you suppose they’re taking account of Spartan schedules themselves?”

The silence took on an inaudible but perceptible quality of uneasiness. “Military intelligence” was still a barely understood concept among the Greeks, and there was something sinister, almost uncanny about it. But the Persians were the first people in history to recognize that information was the key to control. And Miltiades knew the Persians.

“Furthermore,” Miltiades continued, “Datis is running out of time. Even on half rations, his food stores can’t last more than a few days. I know we’ve seen some coming and going of ships, bringing in supplies from islands under Persian control. But with harvest season coming on, even those supplies must be running low. Before the Spartans arrive, and before his army starves, Datis is going to have to try a new strategy.”

“What strategy?” someone demanded. “What can he do? He can’t attack us here in this position.”

“What he can do,” explained Miltiades patiently, “is embark his army and sail around Cape Sunium and land at Phalerum, with nothing between them and Athens, leaving us still sitting here, looking stupid.”

A shocked silence fell. None of these men, Jason was certain, were under any illusions as to the likelihood that the undefended city wouldn’t contain a single fifth columnist to open the gates as the gates of Eretria had been opened.

“When they begin to embark,” Miltiades resumed into the silence, “We will have no choice. We will have to advance onto the plain and attack.”

If possible, the silence deepened into still profounder levels of shock as the strategoi contemplated the prospect of doing exactly what Datis had been hoping they would do.

“But,” said Miltiades before anyone could protest, “that will be our opportunity. Think how difficult an operation that embarkation will be for them—especially because they’ll want to break camp at night, to conceal it from us. And the hardest part will be getting the cavalry aboard. Whenever they’ve loaded horses aboard ships before, they were able to use the docks in Ionia and at Eretria; they didn’t have to get them up gangplanks on a beach in shallow water. They’ll have to do that first, before daybreak. If we can strike them at exactly the right time, they’ll be without their cavalry, and off balance. We’ve never had such a chance! And we’ll never have it again!”

“But,” protested Thrasylaos, strategos of the Aiantis tribe to which Callimachus himself belonged, “we’ll need to know in advance when they’re preparing to depart.”

Even at a distance, Jason could see Miltiades’ teeth flash in a grin. “The Persians aren’t the only ones with spies. They have a lot of Ionian conscripts over there, and among them are some old associates of mine from the rebellion. I still have contacts among them. They and I have arrangements for meeting and exchanging information, over there in the Grove of Heracles.” Miltiades raised a hand to hush the hubbub. “That’s all you need to know at present.”

“But,” Thrasylaos persisted, although his voice was that of a man who was wavering, “if we advance out onto the plain, they’ll be able to outflank us, with their superior numbers.” An uneasy murmur of agreement arose, for a phalanx was always terrifyingly vulnerable to flank attacks. “And they’ll have their archers,” he added, in a tone that held a mixture of conventional disdain—the Greeks had always looked on archery as the unmanly expedient of such dubious heroes as Prince Paris of Troy—and healthy apprehension.

Callimachus rose to his feet. His bald scalp gleamed in the torchlight, but he looked younger than he had when Jason had first seen him in the Agora, for he no longer had the stooped, careworn look. He now exuded calm confidence.

“We will prevent them from outflanking us,” he explained, “by lengthening our line. To accomplish this, our center—the Leontis and Antiochis tribes—will form up four men deep.” He gave Themistocles and Aristides, the generals of the two tribes in question, a meaningful look. “The right and left wings will be eight deep as usual.”

Themistocles and Aristides looked at each other, their mutual detestation for once in abeyance as they considered the implications of this order.

Polemarch,” said Themistocles respectfully, “we have observed over the past several days that the Persian center is always the strongest part of their formation.” There was no fear in his voice. He was merely inviting his commander’s attention to certain facts, with scrupulous correctness.

Aristides amazed everyone present by nodding in agreement. “It’s where the Medes and the Persians themselves are concentrated, and the Saka from the east—the best troops they’ve got.”

Miltiades answered him. “Yes. That’s the standard Persian formation, with their weaker troops—levies from all over the empire—on the wings. And that’s precisely why we’re making our wings stronger.”

Callimachus quieted the hubbub that arose. “You’ll all understand why soon, for I mean to explain my plan to you so you can tell your men what to expect. And as for Thrasylaos’ other point, about their archers. . . .” For the first time, Jason saw Callimachus smile. “Well, we’ll just have to give them the least possible time to shoot their arrows!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jason noticed men beginning to take notice of him. Reluctantly, he moved on, carefully projecting the casual air of a man who had paused for no particular reason. Given the reputation of the Persians for espionage, he couldn’t risk any suspicious behavior.

And besides, he had a very good idea what Callimachus was about to say.


Another day of deadlock went by, and then another, and another.

The ritualistic morning confrontations continued, and Jason saw what Callimachus and Miltiades meant about the Persian formation. The Medes and Persians and their eastern ethnic relatives, the Saka, were massed in the center, with archers behind the protecting lines of infantry carrying wicker shields and armed with short spears and the short swords known as akenakes. Here as well were the lightly clad horse archers, and cavalry armed with spears and—alone among the Persian army—wearing bronze helmets. It was a typical Persian array, except that, having had to cross the sea, it contained a lower percentage of horsemen than was normal. And, just as typically, it was flanked by polyglot masses of troops from all over the empire, visibly less smart about getting into formation each morning and staying there in the baking August sun.

“Rabble,” sniffed Mondrago with reference to the latter troops, late in the afternoon.

“Don’t be too sure,” Jason cautioned. “Remember, this army has spent six years crushing the Ionian rebels and conquering Thrace. They’re veterans, and all that experience fighting and training together has probably given them about as high a degree of operational integration as is possible for such a multiethnic force. And they have a tradition of victory—they’ve never been defeated.” He looked around to make sure no one was observing them. “Anyway, I need to get going.”

Jason inconspicuously gathered up the fruits of his surreptitious labor over the past two nights. Mondrago looked at the small satchel dubiously.

“Do you really think these things are going to last over twenty-eight hundred years?”

“Why not? Archaeologists dig them up all the time.” Jason took out one of the ceramic potsherds he had been collecting and inscribing with his report. Only a small amount of the English lettering would fit on each one, but he had numbered them; Rutherford should have no trouble puzzling them out when they appeared at the message drop.

“So now I’m going to have to cover for you again,” Mondrago grumbled.

“Well,” said Jason reasonably, “I have to be the one to go. Would you be able to find the message drop on Mount Pentelikon?”

“I know, I know. You’re the one with the map spliced into his optic nerve.” This clearly didn’t sweeten it for Mondrago.

“I’m still going to need daylight, though. So I’d better get going now.”

Jason slipped out of back of the camp and made his way up Mount Agriliki to the ledge where he had left the Transhumanists’ aircar. It was still there, to his relief; the Transhumanists evidently had no way of locating it. He took it aloft and made his invisible way to Mount Pentelikon, rising over thirty-five hundred feet a few miles to the southwest.

Before their departure from the twenty-fourth century, he had taken a virtual tour of the mountain, and his implant had been programmed to project a tiny white dot on his neurally activated map display where an overhanging rocky ledge sheltered the spot that had been chosen as a message drop.

At this moment, in the linear present of the year 2380, it was empty. In a few minutes, Jason’s potsherds would be there, to be discovered in the course of the next of the inspections of the site. But no one would be there at the precise instant of the linear present when Jason put them there. Something would prevent it. He suppressed the eerie feeling that always took him at moments like these.

He cruised about in search of a place where the aircar could rest concealed from any goatherds who might be about, finally settling for a kind of small glen. Save for being more extensively forested, all was as it would be in his era. He hefted his satchel and set off on a narrow path leading around the mountainside toward his destination. Turning a corner, he saw the flat top of the ledge under whose far end was the message drop, a few feet below.

But he had eyes for none of that, for he was not alone. Ahead of him stood Franco, Category Five, Seventy-Sixth Degree, and one of his strong-arm men . . . and Chantal Frey.

For a heartbeat the tableau held, as they all stood in shocked surprise. Then the low ranking Transhumanist sprang into action as he was genetically predisposed to, whipping out a short sword and lunging toward Jason.

Jason dropped his satchel and let his trained reflexes react for him as he took advantage of the tendency of a lunge to put the swordsman slightly off balance. Twisting aside to his left and gripping the wrist of his assailant’s sword-arm, he pulled the man forward while bringing his right knee up, hard, into his midriff. The wind whooshed out of him as Jason pulled him forward, continuing the lunge, and his grip on the sword-hilt weakened enough for Jason to twist it out of his hand as he fell.

Jason whirled toward Franco, who was too far away for a thrust. He knew he had only a few seconds before the swordsman recovered. His sword wasn’t designed for throwing, but it would have to do. He drew it back. . . .

With an almost invisibly quick motion, Franco grabbed Chantal in his left arm, swung her in front of him as a shield and, with his right hand, put a dagger to her throat.

“Drop the sword or she dies,” he said emotionlessly, in his strangely compelling voice. Chantal’s eyes were huge in her frozen face.

A measurable segment of time passed before Jason let the sword slip from his fingers and hit the flat rock ledge with a clang. The guard retrieved it, and Franco released Chantal. She took a step toward Jason.

“I’m sorry, Jason.” She seemed barely able to form words, and her features seemed about to dissolve in a maelstrom of conflicting emotions.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he said dully. But then he looked into those enormous eyes, and began to understand what he was seeing in them.

No, he thought as a horrible doubt began to dawn.

Then she stepped back and stood beside Franco, half-leaning against his side as he put an arm around her shoulders.

“No,” said Jason, aloud this time but almost inaudibly.

“Yes,” said Franco with a smile. “This works out very well. When she returns to her own time she’ll be able to explain how you and the others met your unfortunate end.”

“Returns to her own time? Haven’t you made that impossible?” Jason jerked his chin in the direction of Chantal’s left arm, which still had a bandage around it. She seemed to seek refuge deeper in the crook of Franco’s arm. “Why did you do that, by the way? Just sheer, random sadism?”

“Oh, we had to, in order to keep you from being able to track her whereabouts. Oh, yes, we know about your brain implant, and the passive tracking devices incorporated in the other team members’ TRDs.” Franco pursed his lips and made a mocking tsk-tsk sound. “Whatever happened to your precious ‘Human Integrity Act’?”

“You never told me about that, Jason,” Chantal said with a kind of weak resentment in her voice. She snuggled even closer to Franco. “He did!”

“Chantal,” said Jason, still struggling with his bewilderment, “don’t you understand? He’s made it impossible for you to return to your own time. You’ll have to spend the rest of your life in this era!”

“Oh, no,” Franco denied, shaking his head, before Chantal could speak. “Now that we have you, and while that thug of yours is otherwise occupied at Marathon, we’ll find her TRD.”

“You’re lying, as usual. Why would you want to do that?”

“You’ll learn in a moment. But, to resume, it must be at your house in Athens or, more likely, the house of your friend Themistocles.” Jason tried to keep his features immobile and not confirm Franco’s supposition. From the latter’s expression, he saw that he had failed. “We’ll retrieve it—sonic stunners will take care of his servants, and we have sensors that can detect it. We also have some field dermal regeneration equipment among our first-aid supplies. It will be a simple matter to re-implant it in her arm and restore the tissue.”

“That will never get past a careful examination.”

“But why should there be such an examination? There will be no reason for anyone to suspect her. At the same time, there will be a tendency to want to spare the single survivor of the expedition any further distress.”

“So there will. It’s called ordinary human decency.”

“Yes—an obsolete concept that continues to serve a useful purpose simply because we have always been able to exploit it. She’ll be welcomed back with open arms after she arrives accompanied by her companions’ corpses, and receive a great deal of sympathy for the harrowing experience she has been through. She will therefore be in an excellent position to be a useful agent of ours.”

Jason shook his head as though to clear it of a fog of unreality. “Chantal . . . why?

“Jason . . . I’m sorry. I know what you’re thinking. But he’s made me understand—made me see things clearly for the first time. Remember our conversation in the lounge the night before our departure? I’d always wondered, but now, thanks to him, I know. Our society is trying to stand in the way of destiny—the destiny that the Transhumanists represent. It’s . . . it’s as though we’re like the Persians at Marathon, unconsciously fighting to prevent a better world from being born. The human race can transcend itself, become something better.

“Chantal, I can’t believe I’m hearing this claptrap! Surely you can’t believe it—not after he murdered Bryan and did that to you!” Jason pointed at her left arm.

A convulsive shudder went through her. “He’s explained to me that they never intended to kill Bryan. They were just going to take him as a hostage, like me. You forced them to kill him, by interfering. And as for me . . . he had to do that. He didn’t know yet that he could trust me. He had no choice. But he truly regretted it—he’s told me so.” She looked up into Franco’s face.

Jason saw the look she gave Franco, and Franco’s smile. And all at once he understood.

A plain, shy, insecure girl, he thought. Attracted to the study of aliens because she’s always found them easier to cope with than her fellow humans—especially the male ones. And suddenly, at a time of special vulnerability, she’s exposed to a man whose genes were tailored to maximize his charisma. He must have really turned on the charm, and the flattery. . . .

“Chantal,” he burst out desperately, “can’t you see he’s just using you? He’s lying to you. He’s not capable of love. And even if he was . . . to him you’re nothing but a Pug!”

Jason’s consciousness exploded into a spasm of sickening pain as the guard punched him from behind, hard, in the right kidney. He fell to his knees, gasping. When he finally looked up he saw Franco examining the contents of the satchel he had dropped.

“Very ingenious,” said Franco, holding up one of the laboriously inscribed potsherds. He dropped it on the ground, and poured all the others out to join it. Then, with his foot, he crushed them into fragments.

“Chantal told us your message drop was up here on this mountain,” he explained. “But of course she didn’t know the exact location. We have patrolled the area periodically in the hope of encountering you. But it was just good fortune that we happened to be up here today on . . . other matters.”

“You still don’t know the message drop’s exact location,” Jason reminded him.

“No. But it would be useful to us—we could leave whatever messages we want, to be found by your superiors. That—and also the location of the aircar you stole—is information we will now obtain from you.”

“You can try.”

“And succeed. I don’t have access to any high-tech means of torture, but I won’t need them. To tell you the truth, I’ve always considered them overelaborate. Come, Chantal,” Franco said offhandedly, turning on his heel and striding off without waiting for her. “And,” he called out over his shoulder to the guard, “bring him.”

Chantal, her face still working as though she was on the verge of an emotional collapse and her body moving as though it could barely remain upright, turned slowly and followed Franco like a sleepwalker. Jason, responding to a prod by the guard’s sword, fell in behind her.

They were walking along the ledge when Chantal abruptly swayed, lost her balance, and began to crumple to the flat rock, near its edge.

The guard automatically reached out past Jason to catch and steady her. But his position was awkward, and she continued to fall, pulling him down.

Jason had only a split second to react, and he was not in a good position to do it. The best he could manage was a kick that caught the guard in his ribs and sent him sprawling over the ledge to the ground a few feet below. He bellowed in rage, but kept his grip on his sword and sprang back to his feet almost immediately. From up ahead, Franco was roaring with rage and running back toward them. All Jason could do was spin around and, without even a backward glance at Chantal, sprinted for his aircar.

He was around the bend in the path and in the aircar before his pursuers could see it. He activated the invisibility field just before the guard, with Franco behind him, came around the cliffside. In the murky grayness of the outside world, they looked around in bewilderment. Jason smiled grimly as he took off, blowing a satisfying amount of dust into their faces.

Once in the air, he released a long-pent-up breath, sank back into the seat cushion, and tried to sort out his swirling thoughts.

She looked like she was fighting off a nervous breakdown, he told himself. It was just a lucky break that she collapsed when she did.

Or . . . was that a deliberate stunt on her part, to let me escape?

I may never know.

Back in the camp that night, in the light of the full moon that had enabled him to scramble down the now-familiar slope of Mount Agriliki from his concealed aircar, Jason related the story to Mondrago, who muttered something about the Stockholm Syndrome. “And now,” he concluded, “I’ve got to get back to Athens, go to Themistocles’ house, and retrieve that jar containing Chantal’s TRD.”

“Back to Athens? Now? Are you crazy?” Mondrago shook his head. “It’s just lucky you got back here no later than you did.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Haven’t you noticed all the commotion around here?” Jason hadn’t, in his emotional uproar. “Well,” Mondrago continued, “it seems that after sunset some unusual noises were heard from the direction of the Persian camp. Then, just before you got here, there were some comings and goings in and out of the Grove of Heracles over there to our right.”

“Miltiades’ Ionian spies!”

“Good guess. Anyway, there hasn’t been any official announcement but the word has spread: the Persians are beginning their embarkation, starting with the cavalry. And we’re going out there to attack them at dawn.”

Jason hadn’t looked at his calendar display in a while—he’d had other things on his mind. Now he did. It was August 11.

The Battle of Marathon would take place on August 12, as Rutherford had assumed on the basis of an increasing consensus among historians starting in the early twenty-first century. Kyle would doubtless be interested. Jason, at the moment, didn’t give a damn.


No one got much sleep that night, under the light of the full moon that meant the Spartans were starting to march. The slaves were kept busy burnishing the shields and armor, the generals went over the plan repeatedly as they moved among their tribes with whatever pre-battle encouragement they could give . . . and everyone could hear the distant tramping of tens of thousands of feet as the Persians moved forward onto the plain, and the more distant sounds of the embarking cavalry.

The Greeks were not great breakfast eaters—a crust of bread dipped in honey or wine, at most—but before the afternoon battles that were customary in their interminable internecine wars they were wont to take a midmorning “combat brunch” including enough wine to dull fear. Not this time. This army mustered before dawn, sorting itself out into the tribal groupings. There was surprisingly little confusion, given that the light was limited now that the full moon had passed.

“At least we won’t have to fight in the heat,” old Callicles philosophized grumpily.

Jason, standing beside the elderly hoplite with the rest of the Leontis tribe, saw Aeschylus and his brother Cynegeirus, hurrying to the right flank to join the Aiantis. The playwright waved to Callicles—he must, Jason thought, have a good memory for faces. Then, with the help of slaves and each other, they began the task of donning the panoply that was never put on any earlier than necessary before battle, such was its miserable discomfort.

The greaves were the least bad: rather elegant bronze sheaths that protected the legs from kneecap to ankle, so thin as to be flexible and so well shaped that they needed no straps—they were simply “snapped on,” with the edges nearly meeting behind the calves. But despite their felt inner linings they were apt to chafe with the movement of the legs and lose their snug fit. They were put on first, while the hoplite could still stoop over.

Next, over his chiton, came that which prevented him from stooping: a bronze corselet of front and back segments, laced at the sides and connected over the shoulders by curved plates. Jason had been given a choice from Themeistocles’ stock and had found one that seemed to fit him reasonably well—an absolute necessity. But the weight and inflexibility of the thing, and its efficiency as a heat-collector in the August sun, made him understand why later generations of hoplites in the Peloponnesian Wars would abandon it in favor of a cuirass made from layers of linen. Feeling his chiton already begin to grow sweat-soaked even before sunrise, he decided he didn’t need to worry about the Persians; heat prostration would get him first. The skirt of leather strips hanging from the lower edge were the only protection the groin had.

Even more uncomfortable was the bronze “Corinthian” helmet, covering the neck and with cheek pieces and nose guard, practically encasing the entire head and face. It had no interior webbing or other suspension, only a soft leather lining; its five pound weight rested on the neck and head. Jason now understood why hoplites grew their hair as long and thick as possible, despite the problem of lice, and he wondered what it must be like for older, balding men. With no real cushion between helmet and cranium, blows to the head—such as those dealt by the axes favored by the Persians’ Saka troops—were often fatal. And, of course, the heat and stuffiness inside such a bronze pot were stifling. Given all this, it was easy to understand why Classical Greek art usually showed the helmet propped back on the head; it was worn this way until the last possible moment before battle, at which time it was finally lowered over the face. At this point, the hoplite became semi-deaf (there were no ear-holes) and able to see only directly ahead. But, Jason reflected, in a phalanx that was really the only direction you needed to see. And it occurred to him that this was one more bit of cement for a phalanx’s unique degree of unit cohesion. A hoplite need not worry about his blind zones as long as the formation held; but alone, he was locked into a world of terrifying isolation.

At least, Jason consoled himself, his helmet was not one of those with a horsehair crest, intended to make the wearer look taller and more fearsome but adding to the helmet’s weight and awkwardness. He had made sure to draw one of the plain, crestless versions, whose smooth curved surface would have a better chance of deflecting a Saka axe.

Then the slave handed Jason his most important piece of defensive equipment: the shield, or hoplon, that gave the hoplite his name. It was circular, three feet in diameter, made of hardwood covered with a thin sheet of bronze that didn’t add much to its protective strength but which, when highly polished as it was now, could dazzle the enemy. Its handgrip (antilabe) and arm grip (porpax) distributed its weight along the entire left forearm, making it usable. But there was no getting around the fact that the thing weighed sixteen pounds, and was damned awkward. Fortunately, its radical concavity made it possible to rest most of its weight on the left shoulder. Of course, carried that way the hoplon couldn’t possibly protect the right side of the man carrying it. For that, he was utterly dependent on the man to his right in the formation keeping his sixteen-pound shield up. Again, solidarity was survival.

Finally, Jason was handed his primary offensive weapon, far more important than the short leaf-shaped sword at his side: a seven-and-a-half-foot thrusting spear, carried shouldered while the phalanx was advancing, then held underhand for the final change, but afterwards generally gripped overhand for stabbing. It was made of ash with an iron spearhead and, at the other end, a bronze butt spike. The latter was useful because the spear, only an inch thick, often shattered against hardwood shields and bronze armor in the thunderous clash of two phalanxes; a man deprived of his spearhead could reverse what was left of the spear and stab with the spike. Also, the ranks behind, still carrying their spears upright, could jab downward into any enemy wounded lying at their feet as the phalanx advanced.

Speaking of feet, there was one thing Jason could not understand, and never would. The human foot, as he knew from painful experience on his last extratemporal expedition, was a vulnerable thing composed of numerous small and easily-broken bones. Hoplites went into brutal, stamping, stomping battles with nothing on their feet but sandals. Why men already wearing and carrying fifty to seventy pounds of bronze, wood, iron, and leather didn’t go one step further and avail themselves of the fairly sturdy boots their society was quite capable of producing was a mystery he was never to solve. He had, with careful casualness, put the question to Callicles, and had gotten a blank look for his pains. Evidently, it was just the way things were done—which, as Jason already knew, was more often than not the answer to questions about the seemingly irrational practices of preindustrial societies.

Finally the outfitting was done. Jason looked at Callicles and knew that what he saw mirrored how he himself looked. Dressed to kill, he thought.

Themistocles moved among the Leontis, telling dirty jokes, calling men by name and asking how their children were, recalling various men’s former heroisms, and generally being Themistocles. The fact that he was here told Jason that the customary sacrifices had been offered to the gods by the generals, and that the omens had proven favorable. Now the order was given, and in the first glimmerings of dawn the hoplites moved through gaps in the defensive earthworks and took up their positions in accordance with the plan on which everyone had been repeatedly briefed over the past few days. There was little talk, and most of that was in whispers, as older men offered advice and encouragement to newbies.

Themistoicles positioned himself in the front line, of course, as Aristides was doing in the Antiochis front rank to their immediate right. There, they and the other tribes’ strategoi would fight as ordinary hoplites, which was precisely what they would revert to being after their tenures in office expired. Very few Classical Greek generals who held repeated commands died in bed; when phalanxes clashed, the commander of the defeated side was almost invariably killed, as were not a few victorious commanders. The idea of a general standing safely on a hill in the rear and issuing commands was utterly foreign to these men. The concept of “leading from the front” went without saying, and it was one more layer of psychic cement for the phalanx. Jason knew that Callimachus was taking up a similar position on the right flank, the traditional place for the war archon, among his own Aiantis tribe. The Plataeans were on the left. Only Miltiades, in his capacity of “chief of staff,” was somewhere around the center, overseeing the big picture.

According to Herodotus, Jason told himself, a hundred and ninety-two Athenians and eleven Plataeans get killed today, out of a total of ten thousand. Pretty good odds against being one of those two hundred and three.

The sun cleared the hills of Euboea, visible in the distance across the water to the east, and for the first time the panorama on the plain was visible, with the dense masses of the enemy, and, beyond that, their camp, which must be mostly broken down by now. Along the curving beach, it could be seen that the Persians had gotten most of their ships into the water during the night, but the activity swirling around them suggested that the loading of the horses—obviously in progress, since very few cavalry were visible in the Persian formation—was still incomplete.

Jason stared at the Persian line, just under a mile away. Then he looked left and right at their own formation. Let’s see, ran his automatic thought processes, ten thousand hoplites, of whom two thousand in the center are arrayed four ranks deep and the rest eight ranks deep. . . . That makes a front line of fifteen hundred. Assuming each man has a total of three feet of space, that’s a front forty-five hundred feet long, plus a little more to allow for spaces between the tribes. It looks like the Persian front is very little longer than that, and, and our right is sheltered by the Grove of Heracles. But their formation is a hell of a lot deeper, with maybe thirty thousand men packed into it.

He became aware that all the muttering and whispering in the ranks had ceased. Everyone was staring fixedly at the outlandishly costumed horde a mile across the plain, and especially at the center, directly ahead of them—the core, or spada, of the enemy array, ethnic Iranians all, and veteran soldiers. This was the army that had, in a mere two generations, conquered all the known world to the east, and beyond into the fabulous reaches of India. The army that had crushed the Lydians, the Babylonians, the Elamites, the Egyptians, and all the rest of the seemingly eternal ancient civilizations and ground their rubble into a new universal empire. The army that no Greeks had ever defeated in pitched battle.

It was, Jason thought, understandable that he could feel a kind of collective shudder run through the tight formation. He also caught a whiff of an unmistakable aroma. From his expression, Callicles also recognized it.

“Always some who do it about now,” he chuckled. “I’ve never done that, but I’ve occasionally been known to let the water run down my legs.” The old hoplite’s voice held no embarrassment, and no condemnation of the men who were voiding themselves. Fear was nothing to be ashamed of. The only shame was in failing to hold the all-important line. A hoplite could feel as much natural fear as he wanted, as long as he overcame it enough to keep formation.

Themistocles took a few steps forward and turned to face his men. He didn’t shout, or even seem to speak loudly, but his voice carried. He pointed with his spear at the Persian multitude.

“Men of Leontis! These barbarians stand on Attic soil, where they do not belong—the soil from which you are sprung.” A murmur of agreement ran through the ranks, for as Jason knew, this was no mere figure of speech to these men, with their literal belief that they were the autochthonous race of this land, unconquered for all time. “They are here to carry out their Great King’s command: after killing you they are to castrate your sons and scatter your daughters in slavery all across his vast mongrel empire, as they have scattered so many conquered peoples. Thus your bloodlines are to be extirpated and Athens itself forgotten.”

A paralyzing silence held the phalanx. But Themistocles knew what he was doing. He allowed the silence to hold for only a couple of heartbeats before resuming.

“Yes, this is the most terrible fear that any Greek can imagine. But by being here, you have chosen to come face to face with that fear, and defy it, and thereby conquer it. You have chosen to prevent the obliteration of your families and your polis. You can make these choices because you are free men, not slaves. That freedom to choose gives you a power that the Persians will never know, for there are no free men among them, only slaves and slavemasters. It is a power that is new in the world—a power that you are going to unleash here, today, on this plain. And after you do, the world will never be the same again.”

Themistocles fell abruptly silent and resumed his place in the line. There was no cheering or boisterousness, just a grim, steady determination which settled over the formation like a cloak.

Orders were passed. The Corinthian helmets were lowered into position, and the hoplites ceased to be individuals and became faceless automata. Rutherford will bitch about the limited input my recorder implant has to work with, Jason thought, looking through his tiny eye-slits. To hell with him. With a shuffling of feet and a clanging together of shield rims, the phalanx locked itself into rigidity.

In unison, ten thousand voices began to sing the holy paean.

Greek music—all ancient music, really—had rhythm and melodies, but no harmonies. That was true even of the instrumental music, and still more so of the singing. This was more of a chant. It sounded eerie inside Jason’s helmet. He followed along as best he could, not that anyone could make out any individual voice.

Trumpets sounded, reverberating inside the bronze helmets. In accordance with the plan they all knew, the phalanx advanced, at a walk at first. Then, after just a few steps, double time. The air began to fill with dust as all those thousands of feet pounded the dry ground of summer, and the bronze-against-bronze clatter of jostling armor rose to a clanging roar.

Jason, peering through his helmet’s eye-holes, became aware of something. Unable to see more than a small range of vision, barely able to hear at all, he was dependent on the feel of the shoulder-to-shoulder phalanx around him: the pressure and the pushing and the shoving. It became clear why every man drew courage from all the others, and why all were caught up in an irresistible compulsion to advance, ever forward.

He was also beginning to understand why men in their forties, fifties, and occasionally even sixties were to be found in the phalanx alongside those in their twenties. They weren’t expected to hold up under the kind of endless campaigning endured in the trenches of World War I or the jungles of Southeast Asia or the high desert of Iota Persei II. Hoplite warfare wasn’t like that. The whole point was to avoid ruinous protracted war between city-states by deciding matters in one brutal afternoon. The toil and the fighting and the bloodshed were concentrated and distilled into a single decisive clash of appalling violence but short duration. Callicles and his ilk could handle that. It also explained why men were able and willing to endure the awkwardness and discomfort of the hoplite panoply: they didn’t have to do so for long.

They were getting closer, and up ahead Jason saw that the Persians were starting, rather belatedly, to firm up their formation. At first they must have been unable to believe what they were seeing: the Greeks, with no archers, were actually coming out onto the plain and attacking three times their number. And then the rapid Greek advance had left them with less time than they had thought they had. But there was no panic. These were veterans. Now the spear bearing infantry were forming up in front and grounding their wicker shields to form a palisade, while thousands and thousands of archers massed behind them, ready to release a sky darkening sleet of arrows that would decimate the crazy Greeks, after which the infantry (and the few horsemen in the formation) would advance and slaughter the disorganized remnant. Such were the standard Persian tactics, and no army in the known world had ever stood before them.

Then the trumpets gave another signal. At what Jason estimated was a distance of six hundred yards from the Persian front, the double-time became a fast trot.

Herodotus had said the Athenian hoplites had run the entire distance of almost a mile, a unique event. Historians had hooted at that, flatly denying that men so equipped could have done it and been fit to fight afterwards. But, in the surge of adrenaline now singing through their veins, Jason didn’t doubt that for the rest of their lives these men would remember what they were doing as a run. And those skeptical historians had overlooked one thing: hoplites trained, in the task-specific way of all successful exercise programs, to run in armor. In fact, one Olympic event was a foot-race whose contestants wore armor and carried shields. No, these men couldn’t sprint a mile. But they could cover ground at a pace that few athletes of any other era, however well-conditioned, could have matched carrying the particular burden they carried. Jason only hoped he’d be able to keep up.

At the same time they began to trot, they began to scream their war-cry: a terrifying alleeee! calculated to fray the nerves of any who heard it. The ululation rose even above the clattering of shields. Jason recalled what a colleague who had observed the American Civil War had once told him about the “Rebel yell.” Between that and the cacophony of moving armor, the noise reverberating inside Jason’s bronze helmet was deafening.

The air was filling with the dust kicked up by ten thousand pairs of trotting feet, the August sun was getting hotter, and breath was coming in painful gasps. No one cared. They were all half-crazed now, and their trot covered the ground much faster than Persian tactical calculations allowed for. Blinking the sweat out of his eyes, Jason thought he could see frantic movement in the Persian formation up ahead.

Then, at a distance of two hundred yards, the war-cry rose to a collective nerve shattering scream . . . and the trot became a run.

It was more than a run. It became, in the insanity of the moment, almost a race, as the phalanx thundered down on the now visibly rattled Persians.

Now the Persian archers let fly, and thousands upon thousands of arrows arched overhead with a whoosh like a rushing of wind and plunged downward. But most of them missed entirely, for the speed of the running attack had thrown the archers’ timing off. And of those that hit, most were ineffective. Jason heard and felt them clattering off his shield and helmet. The advance did not slow, and the formation did not waver. If anything, it picked up speed. Exhaustion didn’t matter anymore; adrenaline was irrelevant. These ten thousand screaming madmen were carried forward on a tide of sheer impatience to start killing these barbarians who had come to destroy their world and everything that gave their lives meaning.

Now, with a collective crash, the spears of the first two ranks were brought down into an overhand position and leveled.

The Persian archers scrambled to reload. But there was no longer any time for that.

Even through his helmet, Jason could hear new screams. They came from up ahead, and they were screams of panic, for the Persians now knew that these bronze killing machines in human form were not going to stop. Jason could see that horrified realization in the faces of the infantry just ahead. They were instinctively flinching backward, their shield-palisade dissolving.

Now, then, let’s see, thought Jason in the calm, detached corner of his mind that was still running calculations even in these final seconds. Ten thousand men, weighing an average of maybe a hundred and fifty pounds and carrying an average of maybe sixty pounds of weapons and armor. That comes to. . . .

Over a thousand tons of bronze and hardwood and bone and muscle, bristling with iron spearpoints and moving at the velocity of a sprint, smashed into the Persian army.


Jason had witnessed the Fourth Crusade’s sack of Constantinople. He had seen the ghastly bloodbaths of the Thirty Years’ War. He was no stranger to the brutal madness of battle waged with weapons driven by human muscle at face-to-face range amid the stench of sweat and blood and shit. But none of that had really prepared him for the crashing impact of a running phalanx.

In all the other low-tech clashes he had experienced, there had always been a last second instinctive flinching, an avoidance of an actual full-tilt collision. But hoplites were trained to smash straight in, rocking the opposing phalanx back and hopefully opening up tears in its shield-line, after which the battle would cease to be a battle and become a slaughter. The result of such a collision was one for which Jason doubted his generalized expertise in low technology combat would have prepared him: a thunderclap of din and violence as the two phalanxes came together, the pressure of the rear ranks forcing the front rank ever forward into a nightmarish thunderclap of shields bashed against shields, of thousands of splintering spears.

But not this time. The front rank of the Persian army was simply pulverized as the thrusting spears went through wicker shields and quilted cloth and occasional armor of loosely hanging metal scales to punch into bodies. The phalanx ground on, trampling the shield palisade and seeking out the even less well-protected archers.

Jason drove his spear into the midriff of a Persian, looking into the man’s terrified eyes and smelling his shit as the spearhead ripped through flesh, muscle, and guts before coming up against the spine. Yanking the spear out of the squalling Persian, he came to a realization that was simultaneously dawning on the Greeks all up and down the line: their spears weren’t breaking. This time they weren’t up against another phalanx. There were no hardwood shields and bronze breastplates for the spears to break against. A rectangular Persian wicker shield, made by threading sticks through a wet framework of leather, might as well not have been there when a hoplite thrust his iron-headed ash spear through it. So the spear could be used again . . . and again . . . and again.

The front ranks pushed on. Now the unbroken spears were being used overhand, for stabbing. Jason felt his sandaled feet almost slip in blood and entrails, and heard a scream as he stepped on a wounded Persian. He reversed the spear and slammed the butt-spike down into the terrified face, through the eye-socket into the brain, and jerked it out jellied and bloodied. He couldn’t let himself think about it. But the next time he stepped on a screaming man he moved on, and heard the scream abruptly cease behind him. One of the men in the rear ranks must have brought his spear’s butt-spike down.

In the midst of the crushing press of armored men, forging ahead through a welter of gore and a din of endless screams, Jason could see nothing of what was happening elsewhere on the field. He could only advance, thrusting again and again, through the abattoir that was the battlefield of Marathon. But he knew that the Greek flanks, eight ranks deep and facing second-rate troops, were advancing more rapidly than they were here in the center, where a formation only four deep faced a massive concentration of Persians and Saka. Soon the enemy flanks would give way entirely and flee in howling panic, seeking the safety of their ships. The Greek flanks would follow . . . but only for a hundred yards or so.

This, Jason knew, would be the crucial moment. And it would disprove what a small but persistent school of revisionists had been claiming ever since around the turn of the twenty first century: that the Athenians had fought Marathon as a disorganized mob. None of those revisionist historians, Mondrago had remarked archly, had ever commanded infantry in combat. If they had, they might have spared themselves the embarrassment of making such a silly assertion, for they would have known that no disorganized mob could possibly do what the Greek flanks were about to do. First of all, they would halt their pursuit of a routed enemy on a trumpet-signal, leaving the light troops, or thetes, to harry the Persians along. And then they would pivot their formations ninety degrees, facing inward toward the center from left and right.

Even as Jason was thinking about it, he realized that their own advance in the center had halted, as the massive Persian numbers began to tell. He even had a split second to wonder at the courage of the Persian and Saka elite troops they faced here, for they were pushing back against the terrifying, spear-jabbing front line of the phalanx, forcing it back by the sheer weight of their mass of human flesh. The tide began to turn against the Athenian center.

Time lost its meaning. The sun was rising in the sky, and in the midst of heat and exhaustion and thirst the men of the Leontis and Antiochis tribes fought on, giving ground stubbornly, their thin line bending back but not breaking. From behind, their tribes’ thetes, including Mondrago, kept up a supporting rain of javelins and sling-stones. They could do so over the heads of the hoplites because the withdrawal was now slightly uphill.

Jason’s spear had finally broken, and the stump of it had been knocked out of his hand before he could reverse it and use the butt-spike. He frantically drew his short sword as the crush of enemy troops, sensing victory, pressed the Greek center further back. Now the Athenians were backing up into the wooded terrain in front of and to the right of their camp. That terrain had been their friend over the past days, screening their right flank from the Persian cavalry; now it turned traitor, causing the phalanx to begin to lose its cohesion. Now it was individual fighting, more a brawl than a battle, and the awkward hoplon, intended as an interlocking component of the phalanx rather than an individual defense, was almost more hindrance than help.

Jason saw a huge Saka—instantly recognizable as such by the distinctive pointed hat they wore—break free of the press and turn toward him, swinging his battle-axe in a powerful downward cut. Jason managed to raise his heavy shield in time to block it, but the hard-driven axe, striking off-center, knocked the hoplon aside. With a roar, the Saka recovered and brought his axe around for a second blow before Jason could get the sixteen-pound shield back in line. Jason raised his sword to parry the cut, deflecting the axe’s arc, but it struck his helmet a glancing blow that caused stars to explode in his eyes. He instinctively whipped the sword around and drove it into the Saka’s midriff, a vicious twisting thrust that brought a rope of entrails out with it when he withdrew the blade.

As the Saka sank, groaning, to the ground, Jason looked around him, cursing the helmet’s limited field of vision. To his left, he saw Callicles, using the butt-spiked stump of his broken spear to fend off an akenake-wielding Persian. But exhaustion was finally beginning to tell, and the old hoplite was slowing. With a visible effort, he raised his shield to counter what turned out to be a feint. The Persian rushed in under it and brought his short sword upward, driving into Callicles’ groin. Callicles shrieked. The Persian heaved the akenake out and stabbed again.

Jason lunged, swinging his hoplon around like a weapon. Its edge caught the Persian on the back of the neck, smashing his face into Callicles’ shield, crushing his nose and breaking his teeth. Before the Persian could recover from the stunning impact and pain, Jason raised his sword and chopped down where neck met shoulder. Blood sprayed. The Persian and Callicles collapsed together, their blood mingling. It was all the same color.

At that moment, Jason became aware of a sea-change in the battle. He must, he thought, not have heard the second trumpet call. For now the Persian center, so exultant mere minutes ago, was dissolving in consternation. A deafening cacophony of shouts and clashing weapons and armor to left and right told Jason why. The victorious Greek flanks, having wheeled inward in a way impossible for any but veteran troops well-briefed on a prearranged plan, were crunching into the Persian center, which was now boxed in on three sides. The Leontis and Antiochis men of the Greek center were now advancing again as the screaming Persians and Saka fled for their lives in the only direction left open to them, having had their fill of the horror, the sheer awfulness, of hoplite warfare. But as always in warfare at this technological level, running for one’s life was precisely the wrong thing to do, for fleeing men could not protect themselves. The Athenians of the center went in pursuit, cutting them down in the ever-shrinking killing ground as the flanks pressed in from the sides. Jason was left behind.

He sank to his knees, feeling in his left temple the pressure from a dent the Saka’s axe stroke had made in his helmet. He laid down his sword and shield, pulled the helmet off, threw it away, and took great gulping breaths now that he was free of its stifling confines. He also looked around, relishing the full field of vision. The slope was littered with the dead and dying, a wrack left behind as the roaring tide of battle receded. Otherwise, he was alone.

Now’s my chance to get away, go up this hill to the aircar, get back to Athens and retrieve Chantal’s TRD from Themistocles’ house—assuming that Franco and his merry men haven’t already beaten us to it, he told himself. First, I have to find Alexandre. He forced his brain, still numb from what he had just experienced, to start forming the mental command that would bring up a map of the locality complete with TRD locations. . . .

At that moment, he saw out of the corner of his eye that he wasn’t alone after all. A hoplite, still fully armed and equipped, was coming toward him at a trot, his face hidden by one of the crested Corinthian helmets.

Who is that? he wondered, looking at the inhuman facelessness of the Corinthian helmet. And what’s he in such a hurry for?

“Rejoice!” he called out, one fifth century b.c. Greek to another.

Instead of replying, the hoplite brought his spear up overhand and stabbed with it. For some infinitesimal fraction of a second, Jason clearly saw the spearpoint coming toward his unprotected face.

Jason’s paralysis broke. He scooped up his shield and, with no time to get his arm through the porpax arm-grip, he awkwardly grabbed the shield by the hand-grip and the left edge and shoved it up and out as he surged to his feet.

The iron point, driven by all the strength of his onrushing assailant, punched through the shield’s thin bronze covering and the hardwood beneath, protruding from the inner surface inches from Jason’s arm. Jason twisted the shield sharply to the side, and the spear-shaft broke. Before the attacker could reverse it and use the butt-spike, Jason shoved the shield forward against him, pushing with his entire weight, bowling the man over. Taking advantage of the momentary respite, he scrambled backwards and retrieved the sword he had laid on the ground. At the same time, he frantically tried, using his left arm alone, to grip his shield properly. Clumsy and burdensome as the sixteen-pound hoplon was, it was all he had.

But the man had gotten to his feet with remarkable speed for one wearing hoplite armor, and was carrying his shield very easily—he must, Jason thought, be very strong, to be able to use the hoplon for personal defense. He swung the remainder of his spear-shaft almost like a mace and struck the rim of Jason’s shield just as Jason was still trying to correct his grip, sending it flying. The spear-shaft also went flying, and the attacker whipped out his sword and rushed in. Jason knew himself for a dead man, for he stood no chance in a sword fight, shieldless and helmetless.

Only . . . at least I can see, without that damned helmet!

It was the only card he had to play. He lunged forward, evading the sword-slash and moving into the attacker’s right-hand blind zone.

Even with these short blades, it was too close for swordplay. But taking advantage of his instant of invisibility, Jason got his right arm under the attacker’s from behind and, holding both their sword-arms locked into temporary uselessness, used his free left hand to grab the man’s helmet by its crest and wrench it off.

At appreciably the same instant, the attacker brought his clumsy shield sharply back, smashing its rim into Jason’s left rib cage. The breastplate prevented it from breaking any ribs, but the impact caused Jason to lose his grip and the man flung him away. He landed supine, and a sandaled foot came painfully down on his right wrist, pinning his sword-arm to the ground.

Jason had time to look up into his assailant’s face. It was one of the unpleasantly similar faces of Franco’s gene-enhanced underlings. Jason recognized him as Landry’s killer. The man raised his sword. . . .

There was an odd and unpleasant sound, which seemed compounded of those usually characterized as whack and crunch. The Transhumanist’s face went abruptly expressionless, and blood began to seep from a small round hole in the exact center of his forehead. His raised sword fell to the ground, and he followed it there with a clang of armor as his legs crumpled.

Jason looked behind him. Mondrago held the sling that had sent its little lead pellet into the Transhumanist’s brain.

“You really do know how to use that thing,” Jason remarked, inadequately.

“You helped by getting his helmet off,” Mondrago grinned, helping Jason to his feet. He glanced at the body. “So I suppose his job was to provide us with an ‘in-period death.’”

For a moment they stood and looked to the northeast over the plain of Marathon, where the battle was roaring along toward the Persian ships. Jason knew what was happening up there. Datis, the Persian commander, had managed to get enough of a new line formed to hold the Greek light troops. But when the re-formed phalanx—moving slowly this time, for there were limits to the endurance even of hoplites—arrived, a final desperate battle would rage. The Persians would hold the narrow beach long enough for all but seven of their ships to get away. But many of them would be driven into the great marsh behind their camp, and the sixty-four hundred Persian dead that would be counted after the battle didn’t even count the ones drowned there.

Still, the surviving Persians, including the dread cavalry that had embarked before the battle, would be at sea, and the way around Cape Sunium, to Phalerum and undefended Athens, lay open to them. And at the same moment that horrifying realization dawned on the Greeks, they would see a signal, like the sun reflected from a polished shield, flash atop Mount Pentelikon—surely the work of the traitors whom everyone feared lurked amid Athens’ labyrinthine political factions.

So the weary victors would send a runner to assure the city that the victory had been won. And then they would set out for Athens, leaving the Antiochis tribe to guard the captured loot of the Persian camp. (Apparently only Aristides “the Just” was trusted with that particular assignment, and Jason had to admit that he himself wouldn’t necessarily have trusted Themistocles with it.) These men who had just fought a battle would march, in full armor, the twenty-six miles back to Athens, starting at ten in the morning and arriving at Phalerum by late afternoon, barely in time. And the Persian fleet would sail away.

And as a result of all the sickening butchery on this plain Western civilization would live, to one day give humankind—for the first time—an economic system that allowed for at least the possibility of prosperity, a legal system that allowed for at least the possibility of justice, and a governmental system that allowed for at least the possibility of individual liberty . . . including the liberty of free scientific inquiry that would lead to the stars.

Rutherford wanted us to find out if there’s any truth to the tradition that the runner is none other than Pheidippides, and that he drops dead after delivering his message, Jason recalled, or if historians have been right to ridicule it . . . just as they’ve ridiculed the idea of the hoplites running to the attack. He also wanted us to find out the truth about the “shield signal” from Mount Pentelikon, because the mystery of that was never solved.

Too bad, Kyle. We don’t exactly have time for any of that at the moment.

“Come on,” he told Mondrago as he discarded his breastplate and greaves and tried to discard his exhaustion with them. “Let’s go. The aircar is concealed about halfway up here on Mount Agriliki. We’ll take it to Athens and—maybe—make it to Themistocles’ house and get that jar containing Chantal’s TRD before Franco does.”

They ascended the wooded slope behind the Greek camp, the sounds of shouts and screams and clashing weapons diminishing as the battle moved on. Jason concentrated on retracing his steps to the clearing. As a result, he almost missed the flicker of motion among the shadow-dappled underbrush.

“What?” Mondrago exclaimed, and bounded toward the barely-glimpsed movement. A figure broke cover and skittered frantically away.

It was Pan.


Mondrago scrambled uphill and plunged forward, catching the fleeing Pan around the legs. A backward kick of cloven hooves caused him to lose his grip and yelp with pain.

But the split second that kick took enabled Jason to catch up. Avoiding the goatish legs, he landed atop Pan’s thrashing back, wrapping his left arm around the throat and gripping one of the horns with his right hand. The hybrid being was immobilized, and the force of his struggles confirmed an impression Jason had gotten when grappling with Pan before: that his muscularity was deceptive, or perhaps the word was “decorative.” He didn’t seem very strong, and there was an odd but unmistakable feeling of artificial fragility about him.

Mondrago got to his feet and drew the dagger that was part of standard thetes equipment. “I’ll kill the miserable little—!”

“As you were! I want information, not a corpse.” Mondrago subsided, and Jason addressed Pan, with a jerk on the horn for emphasis but a slight relaxation of the throat-hold. “Talk! What are you doing here? And how did you get up here anyway?”

“I came in a Teloi aircar,” rasped Pan in his squeaky voice, through a still-constricted throat. “The Transhumanists have to use them, since you stole the only one they brought with them.”

“Doesn’t that limit their mobility, having to use aircars with no invisibility fields?”

“Yes. Franco’s fury is terrible. But they have no choice. I came with one of his men, who was sent to kill the two of you. We were dropped off here on Mount Agriliki because of its location; the killer could slip down unnoticed behind the Greek center as it was being forced back. He ordered me to wait here.”

And of course you had to obey, thought Jason. The Transhumanists had no need to worry that their “god” would run away and cut himself off from the drugs that made his existence endurable.

“Afterwards,” Pan continued, “I am to be picked up and taken to Mount Kotroni.” He pointed northward, to the left of the plain. “Franco has a machine set up there, which he is very shortly going to use to induce uncontrollable fear in the Persians when they form their second line, protecting the departing ships.”

Jason called up his map-display; it made sense.

“That will have to be very soon,” he said, listening to the distant battle-sounds.

“Yes. They’ll be here for me any minute now. I am to show myself on the slope, so the Greeks can see me. The Persians’ panic—” (Pan did not smile) “—will be attributed to me.”

Well, well, thought Jason, so that was what their aircar was doing on Mount Kotroni when I took it. They were scouting out a good location.

“Afterwards,” Pan went on, “we are to return to Athens in the Teloi aircar. Even traveling cautiously to avoid being observed, we will arrive there in not many minutes—long before any runner that can be sent from here. I will appear to my worshippers in the cave under the Acropolis and tell them of the victory before anyone else in Athens knows. The Teloi will signal from Mount Pentelikon the instant the battle is over.”

“Aha!” Mondrago burst out. “So that’s the famous ‘shield signal’ that everybody has always wondered about.”

“Right,” Jason nodded. “The Greeks will think it’s traitors signaling to the Persian fleet, even though the meaning and purpose of such a signal will be hard to understand, and afterwards no treason will ever be proved. But now we know what it’s really for: to let Franco & Co. know exactly when they can proceed with the ceremony. It’ll make it even more of a belief strengthening miracle for the true believers when their god appears to them and tells them about the battle just as it’s ending. A very precisely choreographed operation all around.”

“And one which we’re now in a position to abort!” said Mondrago wolfishly. “You’ve gotten your information out of him. Now let me kill him.”

Pan stiffened with fear.

“No!” said Jason, without really knowing why.

“Why not? Franco will have egg on his face when the ‘god’ doesn’t show up as promised.”

Which, Jason was forced to admit to himself, made sense. Only. . . .

All at once, it came to him. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. But of course he had thought of it before, when he had last spoken to Pan on the Tegea heights above the road from Sparta.

“Listen, Pan,” he said hurriedly. “We’ve got to go. I just need to know one thing: do you know how to pilot the Teloi aircars that the Transhumanists are using?”

“Why, yes.” Pan seemed puzzled, as did Mondrago. “They taught me how, in case I should ever need to do it when alone.” He didn’t need to add that he could always be relied on to go to the destination he was ordered. In light of that utter reliability, it made perfect sense that the Transhumanists would have availed themselves of the flexibility of training him to pilot himself. But Jason had had to be sure.

“Good. Now, if I let you live, I know you’ve got to stay and do as Franco tells you . . . and I know why. But I’m going to do it anyway.”

Mondrago began to splutter, inarticulate with outrage. Jason shushed him.

“I’m going to leave you here. But I’m going to stop the Transhumanists from using you as they intend to, over there on Mount Kotroni. And afterwards I’m going to take you to Athens.”

“How will you accomplish all this?” Pan asked in a tone of dead incredulity, too hopeless even to sneer.

“Good question,” muttered Mondrago.

“Never mind that for now. Just remember what I told you before about getting help for you, and freeing you from your dependence on the Transhumanists and the Teloi? Well, I swear to you that I’ll do exactly that, in exchange for your cooperation.”

“Cooperation in what?” The high-pitched voice was no longer entirely lifeless, for a flicker of eagerness had awakened in it.

“I’ll want you to appear to the cult members and tell them that you’re no god, and that the Transhumanists are some kind of evil supernatural beings—I’ll leave the details to you—who’ve duped them. Do you agree to my terms?”

“If you do indeed take me to Athens, and protect me from Franco and the others, I’ll do as you ask.”

“Good.” At that moment, the tiny blue light began to flash that told Jason a grav repulsion vehicle was approaching. In this era, when such vehicles weren’t supposed to exist, it could mean only one thing. “The Teloi aircar is coming for you. We have to go. Remember what I said.” He got to his feet and motioned the still visibly thunderstruck Mondrago to follow him. Mondrago looked at Pan, and then at his dagger, with obvious longing, but he obeyed.

The two men hastily ascended the short remaining distance, flung themselves into the Transhumanist aircar, and engaged the invisibility field. As they went aloft they saw, in the ghostly grayish world viewed through the field, an open-topped Teloi aircar flying low for concealment.

“Well,” said Mondrago with a gust of released breath, “here they come to take Pan over to Mount Kotroni so he can put on his little performance—and there’s not a damned thing we can do about it about it now. What, exactly, was the purpose of all those lies you told him?”

“I wasn’t lying,” said Jason distractedly as he set a course for Athens. “I meant every word.”

What? But how—?”

Jason turned to meet Mondrago’s eyes, and all the distraction was gone. When he spoke, the bullwhip crack of command was in his voice. “At the present time, you have no need to know that. For now, you will simply follow orders. And any more borderline insubordination on your part will go into my report. Is that clear?

Mondrago came to as close to a position of attention as the aircar’s cramped passenger seat permitted. “Yes, sir!” he said with a new snap.

“Good.” Jason allowed his expression to soften into a smile. “Oh, and by the way, thanks for saving my life. That also will be in my report.”

With no need to conceal the movements of a vehicle that was, in the present milieu, supernatural, they were at Athens in minutes and were able to pick a landing spot with care.

While he was doing it, Jason spared a moment to consult his map display.The red dot that marked Chantal’s TRD was still at Themistocles’ house. He ordered his weary body not to go weak with relief. Now, no matter what happened to him and Mondrago, he would be able to scupper Franco’s plan to use Chantal as a mole.

There was a small clear area just within the city wall near the “Hangman’s Gate.” Jason settled the aircar gently down and made sure no one was in sight. Leaving Mondrago to keep the power on, Jason got out with the invisibility field still activated. To an observer, he would have seemed to step into existence from nowhere. Fortunately, there were no observers. He hastened through the narrow alleys, encountering no one, for all the women and old men and children who currently occupied Athens were either keeping to their homes or milling uneasily about the Agora, waiting for news.

Reaching Themistocles’ house, Jason pounded on the door. The slave who opened it gasped at the sight of him—either from recognition or from sheer horror at the apparition, encrusted with dust and gore. This was no time for subtlety. While the slave was still goggling, Jason jabbed him in the solar plexus just hard enough to double him over, then wrapped an arm around his throat in a choke-hold that induced prompt unconsciousness. Then he rushed into the house, sending maidservants fleeing screaming as he went to the storeroom where he had left “Cleothera’s” possessions. The jar was still where he had left it. He opened it to confirm the presence of the TRD, then ran from the house and retraced his steps to the open area and the carefully-memorized location of the aircar.

“Got it!” he told Mondrago as he took the aircar aloft. “We beat Franco to it.”

“He probably thought he had plenty of time and no need to hurry,” Mondrago opined. “Now he’s going to be shitting rivets.”

“Maybe.” Jason frowned. “We’ve got to get out of Attica—and not just because the Transhumanists are going to be hunting for us. Themistocles is going to think we’re deserters—and if the house slaves recognized me, he’s going to think I’m a thief as well. I hate that.”

“So do I. I like Themistocles. I’m glad he survives the battle.”

“Not everyone does. Callimachus, for example, dies in the final battle on the beach, by the Persian ships, transfixed by so many spears he’s propped up and can’t fall to the ground.”

“Shit.” Mondrago shook his head at the thought of the gallant old war archon, to whom history would never accord as much credit for the victory as he deserved. “At least Miltiades lives, right?”

“Right—but he probably would have been better off getting killed.” Seeing Mondrago’s puzzled stare, Jason explained. “Later this year, the Athenians will give him command of their fleet, and he’ll take it around the Aegean on an expedition against islands that collaborated with the Persians. At Paros, though, he’ll be defeated and badly wounded in the leg. On his return to Athens, his political rivals the Alcmaeonid family will smell blood. They’ll put him on trial and hit him with a fine of fifty talents—an impossibly large sum—as an alternative to execution. But by then he’ll have gotten gangrene in his wound, and will die shortly after the trial.”

“Shit!” Mondrago repeated, but in a very different tone. “So these people are going to do that to the man who, along with Callimachus, masterminded the victory of Marathon for them. And you told me how they’re going to ostracize Themistocles after he does the same thing for them at Salamis when the Persians come back ten years from now. And I seem to recall something about making Socrates drink hemlock.” He looked down at the receding maze of Athens. “Tell me again about how these are supposed to be the good guys!”

Jason was silent for a moment. When he spoke, it was to himself as much as to Mondrago. “Infants are awkward and messy—even the ones who end up growing into worthwhile adults. Democracy in Athens in this era is awkward and messy. But it had to survive this day. Otherwise, the world we come from could never have been.” He fell silent again, then spoke briskly. “Anyway we’re going to have to lay low for a month and six days, and as I said, we’ve made Attica too hot to hold us now, even if there weren’t Transhumanists running around in it looking for us. We’ll need to go somewhere else.”

Mondrago held his peace about the promises Jason had made to Pan concerning the events of this very day, here in Attica. “Where?” was all he said.

Jason smiled. “Well, I remember a place I hid out once before.”

He set a course for the island of Crete.

The shepherds and goatherds around Mount Ida now spoke the Doric dialect of Greek instead of a Hittite-Luwian language, and Jason noticed the occasional iron tool among them. Otherwise, they were exactly as he remembered their ancestors in 1628 b.c.

He had brought the aircar over Crete and across the Tallaion Mountains (as the Kouloukounas range was called in this era) and along the Mylopatomas Valley to the upland plain of Nidha, with the snow-capped mass of Ida looming up eight thousand feet above sea level. At least this time he hadn’t had to struggle, lamed by a broken foot, over all that dramatic terrain. A slow circle of Mount Ida had revealed the well-remembered cave, under a looming shelf of rock, where he and Deirdre Sadaka-Ramirez had sheltered.

He had cut off the invisibility field as he had brought the aircar in for a landing on the nearest piece of level ground he could find, allowing any locals who happened to be around a glimpse of it. Rutherford, he knew, would have had heart failure. But among a profoundly illiterate population like this, any tales would die out after a couple of centuries at most, and never be believed by anyone in the greater world outside this totally ignored backwater of an island. And a little supernatural cachet wouldn’t hurt.

And so it had proved. They had taken up residence in the cave, believed by some to have been the nursery of the infant Zeus. It, too, was much as he remembered, although this time it didn’t lie under a sky polluted with the ashes of Santorini in the aftermath of the most cataclysmic volcanic explosion in history. After a while the locals had timidly sought them out. A series of hints, haltingly delivered through the barrier of dialect differences, had persuaded them to supply the uncanny pair of strangers with cheese and wine (by courtesy so called) and certain other items, while keeping their presence a secret lest the displeasure of certain baleful deities be called down on the whole region. Jason and Mondrago had certain skills—first aid, for example—that enabled them to repay the favors and in the process acquire even more prestige. And they were both experts in wilderness survival, who quickly improvised bows with which to hunt the wild goats. They passed late August and early September with no great difficulty.

As September 18 approached, Jason programmed a fairly complex navigational command into the autopilot of the Transhumanists’ aircar. He sent it looping, pilotless, in a circle that brought it around to the opposite side of Mount Ida . . . and then, with all the acceleration it could pile on, directly into the mountainside. After his return, any investigators the Authority might find it worthwhile to send to that mountainside might find a few bits of wreckage that hadn’t been there before.

Through it all, Mondrago remained stoically silent on the subject Jason had ruled off limits.

Finally the time came when they stood (it seemed undignified to arrive on the displacer stage sitting on one’s butt) awaiting retrieval. Jason held the little jar stolen from Themistocles’ house tightly in his hand. The digital countdown projected onto Jason’s optic nerve wound down. It was nearing zero when Mondrago finally blurted, “Sir, I just don’t get it!”

“What don’t you get?”

“You know what I mean. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about you, it’s that you’re a man of your word. And you told me that you meant what you said to Pan. But all the things you said you were going to prevent—the performances on Mount Kotroni and under the Acropolis—happened over a month ago, back in Attica. So you didn’t keep your promise.”

“Didn’t I?” Jason grinned. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

“What, sir?”

“We’re time travellers!”

Mondrago’s bug-eyed stare of realization was the last thing Jason saw before the indescribable unreality of temporal transition took them.


As always, the glare of electric lighting in the great dome was blinding after instantaneous transition from a relatively dim setting—and practically all settings in past ages were relatively dim. It made the disorientation of temporal displacement even worse, affecting even an old hand like Jason. Between the blindness and the dizziness, it was a moment before he became aware of the hubbub among the people behind the ranks of control panels. They had been expecting four people to appear on the stage, not two.

Blinking the stroboscopic stars out of his eyes, Jason saw Mondrago shamefacedly getting to his feet. “Don’t worry,” he assured him. “Everybody loses his balance the first time.” Looking around the floor of the stage, he spotted Landry’s TRD, covered with the ashes of the crematory furnace. Then he saw Kyle Rutherford advancing toward the stage, his face a question mark.

“Dr. Landry was killed,” said Jason, pointing at the tiny, ashy sphere on the floor. He offered no further explanation. Rutherford restrained himself from demanding one.

“And Dr. Frey . . . ?”

“She remained in the target milieu. Her TRD is in here.” Jason held out the ceramic vase.

Rutherford stared wide-eyed. Jason had a pretty good idea what he was thinking, after his own last extratemporal expedition. He recalled the words of a probably mythical twentieth century figure with the unlikely name of Yogi Berra: “Déjà vu all over again.”

“Yes, it was cut out of her,” he said, answering Rutherford’s unspoken question.

Rutherford went pale. “The Teloi?”

“No . . . or at least not principally. There are a lot of things you need to know—things that can’t be made public. Can we go somewhere for an informal preliminary debriefing?”

“Yes . . . yes, of course.” Rutherford started to lead them away, then paused. “But from your choice of words, do I gather that Dr. Frey was alive when you last saw her?”

“Yes. I left her in the fifth century b.c. still alive. And. . . .” Jason paused, and his face took on a look that caused Rutherford to flinch backwards. “And this time I’m going to get her back!”

Reducing Rutherford to a state of inarticulate shock had long been an ambition of Jason’s. Now he had achieved it . . . and the circumstances made it impossible for him to enjoy it.

They sat in Rutherford’s private office. It was more austerely furnished than the one in Athens that he preferred whenever he didn’t need to be in Australia, but like that one it held a display case containing items brought back from the past. And here, also, the prize exhibit was a sword—in this case, a seemingly undistinguished medieval hand-and-a-half sword. A teenaged French peasant girl who believed the saints had told her to liberate her people and crown her Dauphin had found it buried behind the altar of the church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois in 1429 and carried it to the relief of Orleans. More to the point, the office contained the necessary equipment for playing the sights and sounds recorded on the tiny disc Jason had removed from his implant through an equally tiny slot in his skull, concealed by a flap of artificial skin. They had corroborated a story Rutherford clearly didn’t want to believe.

Now Jason and Mondrago—uncharacteristically subdued, unaccustomed as he was to such surroundings—waited while Rutherford shook his head, slowly and repeatedly as though in a semi-daze. Jason wasn’t sure which revelation had hit the old boy hardest: that a surviving Transhumanist underground still existed, or that they were operating an illicit temporal displacer on a higher technological level than the Authority’s, or that they were taking high technology equipment into the past, or the objectives for which they were using their displacer. Now he sat amid the rubble of his well-ordered world.

“One thing in our favor,” Jason concluded, trying to end on a positive note. “The Transhumanists are limited to sending their varieties that look more or less like normal humans—that’s the only sort we saw—back in time. Their more extreme species variations would be pretty conspicuous in past eras, not to mention the cyborg warriors with grossly obvious bionic parts.”

“But,” said Mondrago, spoiling the effect Jason had intended, “there’s no reason they can’t have all of those on Earth in the present day, in the various concealed strongholds Franco bragged about.” They all shuddered inwardly, as members of their culture always did at the thought of the grotesque and unnatural abominations the Transhuman movement had spawned, all of which were believed to have been extirpated a century before.

Rutherford gave his head a final shake, this time a decisive one. “This is terrible! It must be stopped! The potential consequences of what you have discovered are simply incalculable.”

“Agreed,” Jason nodded. “But the Authority can’t handle it alone.”

“I know.” Rutherford’s voice was desolate. The prospect of having to compromise the Authority’s sacrosanct status as an independent agency was one more blow. “We shall have to involve the government’s law enforcement agencies. Earth must be combed from pole to pole. This illegal displacer must be found!”

“Easier said than done,” Jason cautioned. “Remember, they didn’t steal the Authority’s technology; they developed it themselves from Weintraub’s original work, in a superior form. It won’t be like searching for an installation the size of this one. Their displacer is compact enough to be hidden, and so energy-efficient that they could send a fairly numerous party equipped with an aircar twenty-nine hundred years back using a concealable power source.”

This time a low moan escaped Rutherford. “And in the meantime,” he said in a dead voice, “we have no idea where to look for their various schemes of temporal subversion. You said the Transhumanists you encountered were from a time slightly earlier than the present—“

“Yes, Franco let that slip.”

“—but we don’t know how long they have been pursuing their nefarious program, nor how much further into our future they will be continuing to send expeditions back, nor where and when those expeditions will go. Our field of investigation is impossibly large. And we don’t know where to begin!”

“Not altogether true. We know exactly what one of their schemes is: the Pan cult. And we know exactly how to scupper it.” Before Rutherford could speak, Jason leaned forward and spoke with grim, tightly controlled urgency. “I propose that you send me and Alexandre and a couple of other combat-trained Service men back to the moment after I left Pan, the point of arrival to be Mount Kotroni, where they were about to take him.”

“But . . . but . . . you and Mondrago were already there,” stammered Rutherford, scandalized. “So you and your own earlier selves will be present simultaneously!” What Jason was proposing violated one of the most basic policies of the Authority.

“Once there,” Jason continued, ignoring the interruption, “we’ll stop them from using high-tech means to induce panic in the Persians while staging an appearance by Pan. Then, as per my agreement with Pan, we’ll take him to Athens where he’ll tell the cultists that they’ve been played for suckers. Of course,” he added as an afterthought, “we’ll need certain rather special equipment and supplies.” He launched into a list. As he proceeded, Rutherford experienced more and more difficulty breathing, and by the time he was done the older man seemed on the verge of a stroke.

Rutherford gradually regained the power of speech. “But the expense! The illegality! The. . . .” He pulled himself together. “You realize, of course, that while I have a great deal of discretion as regards the Temporal Service’s ordinary operations I could not possibly take it upon myself to authorize anything like this. The entire governing council of the Authority will have to consider your proposal.”

“Bring ’em on.”

If Mondrago had seemed uncomfortable in Rutherford’s private sanctum, he was positively fidgeting in the understatedly ornate conference room that held a quorum—indeed, almost the entirety—of the council, sitting around a long table with him and Jason at one end and Rutherford at the other.

The councilors had been summoned from around the planet to Australia—a summons sent under conditions of maximum security, for it had included the essential elements of Jason’s findings. Since their arrival they had seen and heard the supporting evidence, and no one was inclined to doubt those findings. Not that there had ever been any serious doubt, given Jason’s well-known reputation for competence, despite his equally well-known reputation as a wise-ass.

His proposal, however, was something else.

Helene de Tredville, a small woman of almost ninety standard years with white hair pulled tightly back into a severe bun, stared down the table at him. “So, Commander Thanou, do I understand that you want us to let you take modern weapons back to the fifth century b.c.?”

“Modern weapons and medical supplies?” Alistair Kung’s voice—unexpectedly high pitched, coming from such an overweight body—rose to a squeak on the last two words.

“Yes to both. Actually, I’d also considered asking you to send back an aircar with an invisibility field.” Jason knew it was wicked to relish the signs of incipient cardiac arrest around the table. He relished it anyway. “Fortunately, Pan knows how to pilot the Teloi aircars, so we can use one of those, even though the lack of invisibility technology will be inconvenient. But as for modern weapons . . . the Transhumanists surely have them, and we can hardly be expected to go up against them with in-period swords and spears.”

“But the medical supplies,” Kung began, only to be silenced by Jason’s expression. All the flippancy slid away, revealing what lay beneath it.

“I promised Pan that if he did as I ask I would free him from his dependency on his Transhumanist and Teloi masters. I keep my promises. Since we’ve been back, I’ve had a chance to confer with medical specialists and ascertain precisely what he needs. We can take back a supply that will, quite frankly, last him as long as a twisted organism like him is likely to live. I intend to leave him the Teloi aircar and advise him to go somewhere out-of-the-way—maybe the part of Crete where Alexandre and I hid.” A ghost of Jason’s trademark raffish smile reawoke. “He can start a ‘cult’ of his own there to assure his safety. In a historyless place like fifth-century b.c. Crete, it won’t cause any problems.”

“But,” dithered Alcide Martiletto with a flutter of slender wrists, “it’s all so improper! We’d have to violate our own rules and protocols in just so many ways!”

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Jason philosophized drily. Then, doing his best to make it seem an afterthought, he added, “There’s one additional benefit. We can rescue Dr. Chantal Frey.”

“What?” Jadoukh Kubischev leaned forward. Unlike the frankly corpulent Kung, he could be described with minimal charity as “well-fleshed.” And in his case, the flesh was held up by a substantial bone structure. “Whatever are you talking about, Commander? You know perfectly well that this is impossible. The TRD restores the temporal energy potential of a person or other object, causing it to return to the time from whence it came. Dr. Frey’s TRD was separated from her and came back with you. Even if you were to take an extra TRD with you and give it to her to hold, it would be inseparably linked to the linear present of the time from which it made transition—as is she. It would return to its own linear present, but she would not. This is axiomatic.” He shook his head with a force that set his wattles jiggling. “No. That is the end of it. She is permanently stranded in Classical Greece.”

“And besides,” Martiletto honked, “by your own account, the bitch turned traitor!”

“No!” Jason took a deep breath and forced himself to keep his tone deferential. “I was there, and I ask you to believe me when I say she was . . . conflicted, and that I can win her back.” He turned to Kubischev. “And as for how . . . well, you all know the rule of thumb for bringing objects back with you when retrieved. The restored temporal energy potential, in a manner still imperfectly understood, seems to encompass not just your clothing but any objects you can conveniently carry, and therefore such objects require no separate TRDs of their own. Dr. Frey is a slightly built woman, and I’m a reasonably strong man. Yes,” he continued hurriedly, before the murmur around the table could coalesce into flabbergasted rejection, “I know, it’s never been tried with a human before. But I know of no theoretical objection to it.”

From the far end of the table, Rutherford studied him shrewdly. “So that was what you meant about ‘getting her back.’ This, despite the fact that the Transhumanists were planning to send her back as an infiltrator—a scheme which was prevented only by your recovery of her TRD before they could re-implant it, and which must have had at least her passive acquiescence. Jason, are you certain that, after your last extratemporal expedition, this isn’t a matter of . . . working out guilt over what happened to Deirdre Sadaka-Ramirez?”

Once again, Jason recalled the Yogi Berra quote. He decided the humor wouldn’t be appreciated here. He kept silent, fearing that anything he could say might damage his credibility even more than Rutherford had.

“However,” Rutherford continued, addressing the meeting at large, “that is really immaterial. Whatever deep-seated feelings and motivations may lie behind Commander Thanou’s proposal, the fact remains that he is right. This is the only point we presently know of where the Transhumanists’ plans can be attacked—their only current point of vulnerability. We must exploit it. For one thing, we may be able to acquire valuable intelligence about the Transhumanist underground in the course of the operation.”

“Maybe from Dr. Frey, if she can in fact be turned and brought back for debriefing,” Mondrago ventured.

“Yes,” Jason nodded. “Franco must have spilled something to her in the course of their . . . relationship.” He trusted himself to say nothing more. He was coping with the unaccustomed—not to say unimaginable—sensation of feeling gratitude to Rutherford.

“An excellent point,” nodded Rutherford.

“But the expense!” wailed Martiletto. “We just sent one expedition of four persons back nearly three millennia. Now you want us to send another!”

“The Authority has fairly substantial contingency reserve funds,” said Jason, refraining from commenting on the council’s notorious stinginess in spending them. “If this isn’t an extraordinary emergency, I don’t know what is.”

“It would require extensive preparation,” said Kubischev, wavering.

“Of course,” agreed Jason. “But that doesn’t matter. What counts is not the time we depart from, but the time we arrive in the target milieu.”

“Quite true,” said Rutherford with another nod, this time a brisk subject-closing one. “If there is no further discussion, I call for a vote.”


The Temporal Regulatory Authority solemnly maintained that its enforcement arm was not even quasi-military in nature. And, for a fact, the Temporal Service had never been noted for military punctilio. Nevertheless, the two new members of the team rose to their feet into something resembling the position of attention when Mondrago called out “Attention on deck!” and Jason entered the briefing room. They knew his reputation in the Service, and that he held the permanent rank of Commander in the Hesperian Colonial Rangers, not exactly an ill-regarded outfit.

“As you were,” he said, studying the two as they resumed their seats. Like every officer who has ever led troops into battle, he would have liked to have had more of them. But he hadn’t dared to press his luck by demanding that more than four people be displaced such a vast—and correspondingly expensive—temporal “distance.” And he had to admit that, on short notice, it had been hard enough to find even two combat-trained people, not otherwise occupied, who possessed the particular qualifications required, including the ability to blend in fifth century b.c. Greece. He didn’t really expect them to have to do any blending, but Rutherford had been adamant.

It was that very difficulty in finding suitable people that had led Jason to accept a woman, despite his misgivings in light of the social milieu into which they would be displaced. And he couldn’t quarrel with Pauline Da Cunha’s combat record—in fact, on further reflection he’d decided he was lucky to have her after all. She was wiry, deceptively small, and dark enough to require a cover story as a Hellenized native of Caria in Asia Minor.

Adam Logan was of average size (hence on the large side, where they were going) and unobtrusively muscular, with nondescript features and medium-brown hair and eyes. He was sufficiently unremarkable-looking to pass in a wide range of Caucasian-inhabited historical settings, which made him valuable to the Service. His quiet competence made him even more valuable.

“By now,” Jason began, “you’ve gone through all the preliminary procedures, including your microbiological ‘cleansing’ and the acquisition of the appropriate dialect of ancient Greek through direct neural induction.” Jason didn’t really expect them to be doing any hobnobbing with the locals on this expedition; it was just something else Rutherford had insisted on. “You have also received extensive orientation on the target milieu in general terms. This is in the nature of your actual mission briefing.

“You both volunteered on the strength of the highly classified information that was offered to you, including the involvement of the Teloi aliens. So you know that this mission is not our usual escort duty—nursemaiding teams of researchers. In fact, it’s unique in the history of the Service. This time we’re going up against illegal time travelers—a surviving cadre of Transhumanists, in fact.”

“That last part helped induce us to volunteer, sir,” said Da Cunha. Logan’s expression confirmed it.

“I know. I’m sure there would have been no lack of volunteers if we had put out a general call for them. We didn’t, partly due to security considerations but mostly because we could only use people with certain qualifications. We’re almost certainly going to be facing modern weapons, so we’ve obtained special permission to use such weapons ourselves. And you two are experts with those as well as with the various low-technology weapons we in the Service normally take with us into the past.”

“What kind of firepower are we going to be dealing with, sir?” asked Da Cunha, who clearly did the talking for this duo. “We’ve heard that you had some run-ins with these, uh, Teloi when you were in the Bronze Age.”

“The Teloi use rather low-powered neural paralyzers, designed to resemble heads—‘Heads of the Hydra’ they’re called—when dealing with the primitive local humans. For serious work, they have weapon-grade lasers; the only ones I saw were pistol-sized, so I can’t say whether or not they have anything heavier. As for the Transhumanists, I simply don’t know. I never encountered any of their stuff—I got the impression that they preferred to use the local stuff whenever possible, thus minimizing the chances of having some awkward explaining to do. But since they have no scruples about taking modern equipment, up to and including an aircar, back in time, we dare not assume that they didn’t take modern arms as well.”

Da Cunha spoke up again. “What about us, sir? We do have scruples. Surely we’ve had to give some thought to avoiding the possibility of our weapons being observed.”

That’s an understatement, thought Jason, recalling Rutherford’s jitters. “You are correct. A bit of forced-draft engineering was required. I had a hand in the design myself.” He reached out an arm, and Mondrago handed him what appeared to be a four-foot walking stick of the sort typically used by the ancient Greeks, perhaps a trifle stouter than most such sticks.

“You will note a row of small knobs along the shaft, about a foot from one end, appearing to be natural bumps on the wood. If you depress the forward one. . . .” He did so, and the far end of the “stick” flipped open and folded out into a set of focusing lenses about three inches in diameter.

“The basic mechanism is that of the standard Takashima laser carbine, but miniaturized and redesigned to fit into this shape. Like the standard Takashima, it functions in two modes: ‘kill’ and ‘stun.’ In the former mode, it is a weapon-grade laser; in the latter, the laser is powered down to a guide beam to ionize the air, along which an electrical charge is carried. These functions are activated by pressing the second and third knobs respectively. The fourth knob back is the actual trigger. The fifth knob activates a harmless visible-light setting, which may be useful as we’re going to be spending part of our time underground. Finally, the energy cells that provide power are fed in through this slot, opened by pressing the sixth knob. We are under orders to retrieve all ejected cells and bring them back with us.” Jason ignored his listeners’ expressions on hearing this, hardly the kind of order a combat infantryman wants to hear.

“As you know,” he continued, “even the standard Takashima is not a battlefield weapon; you wouldn’t want to take it up against opposition in powered combat armor. That is doubly true of this little improvisation, given the amount of power we’ve had to sacrifice on the altar of inconspicuousness. But it ought to be adequate for our needs, as any action we see should be at very short ranges.”

Da Cunha looked thoughtful. “The stunner setting ought to work particularly well on this mission. For one thing, Greece has a dry climate; as we all know, the electrical charge does stupid things in rain or even high humidity. And as we also know, metal armor conducts the charge and actually attracts it.”

“Agreed, with the caveat that our targets almost certainly won’t be wearing armor. However,” Jason continued, and his expression turned more chilling than he knew, “in the absence of orders to the contrary, your weapons should be permanently set on ‘kill.’ Remember, it’s impossible for us to bring back prisoners for interrogation, however much I’d like to. There are two exceptions to this, which I’ll get to in a few minutes.”

Jason turned toward the rear wall of the room and touched a remote-control unit. Part of the wall flickered and became a screen displaying a map of the Marathon plain. He indicated Mount Kotroni, to the northwest of the plain. “We will materialize here, a few minutes after the point in time—precisely ascertainable thanks to my recorder implant—when Alexandre and I left Pan on Mount Agriliki.” His listeners’ looks of distaste at the mention of Pan were unmistakable, though quickly smoothed over. Their orientation had included imagery of the artificially engendered hybrid being. “At that time, the Transhumanists were on their way in a Teloi aircar to take him to Mount Kotroni, overlooking the current phase of the Battle of Marathon.” He touched more controls, and color-coded battle lines appeared. “The Persians will have hastily formed a new line, adjacent to their camp, to shield the embarkation of their ships. As the Greeks—advancing slowly at this point—approach this line, the Transhumanists’ plan to induce panic in the Persians by means of a sonic projector—a technique which, as we know, is useless against modern countermeasures, but which ought to serve this purpose—while having Pan appear on the slopes about here.” He zoomed in on Kotroni and used a cursor to indicate its eastern slopes. “Our point of appearance will be here, so we can arrive unobserved by them. The element of surprise should be total.” The cursor moved a third of the way around the peak, westward, to a level area on the opposite slope.

“We will proceed around behind them and kill all Transhumanists present. I want to emphasize that Pan must not be killed or even stunned, for he is essential to the next phase of the operation. He knows how to pilot the Teloi aircar—I ascertained that before making an agreement with him. In exchange for the pharmaceutical supplies we are bringing, he will take us to Athens in the aircar, which must be a model capable of carrying several passengers, given the use the Transhumanists were making of it. There we will make our way to the cavern under the Acropolis, where more Transhumanists—probably including their leader—and the members of the cult of which you learned in your orientation will be awaiting Pan. Here we will have to play it by ear: the Transhumanists must be neutralized with as few manifestations of out-of-period technology as possible. And Pan will tell the cultists that he’s not really a god and that the Transhumanists are evil supernatural beings who have been deceiving them.”

“That might not be easy, sir,” said Logan slowly. “The ancient Greeks didn’t have ‘devils’ or ‘demons’, and none of their gods were either purely good or purely evil. They were just a kind of super-powerful immortal humans.”

“Very astute,” said Jason with a sharp look. Evidently there was more to Logan than met the eye, or the ear. Rutherford had raised the same objection. “That’s why I told Pan to use his imagination. But while awaiting retrieval on Crete I had time to think about it some more. In particular, I thought about a line of theological propaganda that the Persian commander Datis used on the Greek island of Delos on his way to Athens. There’s no point in going into the details at this time, as it would sound like mumbo-jumbo to you. As a matter of fact, it is mumbo-jumbo. But since my return, after consultation with Rutherford and various experts on the period, I think it may work. It doesn’t really fit into the conventional Greek version of metaphysics, but maybe Pan’s word will carry weight anyway. As always, flexibility and adaptability are going to have to be our watchwords.

“At any rate, afterwards we will use the small gravitically focused explosive charge we’re taking with us to seal the tunnel without doing any damage to the buildings above. The cavern will be gone, but the historically attested grotto sacred to Pan on the north slope of the Acropolis will remain. The Athenians will continue to offer annual sacrifices to Pan there, as history says they did, but the Transhumanists’ twisted cult will be aborted.

“Now, there’s one other matter—the second of the two ‘exceptions’ I mentioned in connection with weapon settings. At some point in this operation, it is highly probable that we will encounter Dr. Chantal Frey, a member of my prior expedition to this milieu. As you know from your orientation, she had her TRD surgically removed and may have defected to the Transhumanists.” Jason said this in a very even tone of voice, and he noted his listeners’ carefully neutral expressions at his choice of words. “She must not, under any circumstances, be killed. It is permissible, if the situation seems to warrant it, to stun her. I intend to bring her back with us, willingly or otherwise, by actual physical carriage just as we have always brought various items back. It is a method that has never been tried before with a human or any other living organism. In fact, the idea of doing so has never occurred to anyone before, doubtless because we’re so accustomed to thinking exclusively in terms of our standard procedures. But I am advised that it is within the bounds of theoretical possibility.

“Now, as to your TRDs. You’re probably wondering why they haven’t been implanted yet. The reason is that they’ve only just become available. They are a new model, hastily developed and rushed into production for this mission. They are somewhat larger than the standard models, but the implantation will still be a minor operation. Unlike all TRDs up until now, these are not set to activate at a pre-set moment. Instead, they are designed to activate on command. The command is transmitted through my brain implant. I will decide when we are to be retrieved.”

Da Cunha and Logan stared, for this was beyond unprecedented. “But how will anyone here know when to expect us?” Da Cunha asked.

“They won’t.” Jason permitted himself a wintery smile. “This, as we all know, would normally be out of the question due to ‘traffic control’ considerations on the displacer stage. Which, of course, is why TRDs like these have never been developed before; no one could imagine a use for them. But that issue won’t arise this time, because the stage will be kept clear until we return. Which, in turn, won’t be much of a problem because this is going to be the briefest extratemporal expedition in the entire history of the Authority. A couple of hours, if that, ought to be long enough for us to accomplish this mission, if it can be accomplished at all. And every additional minute we spend in the fifth century b.c. is just one additional chance for some kind of screw-up.

“Finally, Alexandre here is my second in command. This is due to his familiarity with the target milieu, despite his junior status in the Service. If either of you has a problem with this, now’s the time to get it off your chest.” Total silence answered him. “Very well. If there are no further questions, you are dismissed. We’ll have further briefings, and opportunities to practice with these rather unique versions of the Takashima, at a later time.”

As they filed out of the room, Mondrago lingered. “Sir, may I have a word?”

“Sure. What’s on your mind?”

“Well, sir, about the ‘all you can conveniently carry’ rule on which you’re basing your plan to bring Dr. Frey back to our time in the linear present. . . .” Mondrago trailed to a halt, looking uncharacteristically abashed.

“Yes?” Jason prompted. “What’s the matter? You don’t think it will work?”

“I’m sure I’m not qualified to say, sir,” replied Mondrago, armoring himself in military formality. “If the experts say it will, I believe them. It just occurs to me that at the same time you’re doing it . . . well, Pan is a fairly small being, and if it works at all I ought to be able to do the same with him.”

Jason stared. “Are you saying you’ve decided you want to rescue Pan?”

“No, sir!” said Mondrago, a little too emphatically. “I’m just thinking that he might be a useful intelligence source, if we could bring him back for debriefing.”

“I see.” Jason carefully kept his face expressionless. “You know, you may have a point. I hadn’t thought my idea out to its logical conclusion. I was thinking exclusively in terms of using it for Dr. Frey, because this is her proper time. But on reflection, that shouldn’t matter; we’re always bringing inanimate objects with us from their own periods in the past this way, and they stay here. Otherwise Rutherford wouldn’t be able to keep that sword and the other souvenirs in his display case! And the experts keep telling me that whether the object is living or nonliving shouldn’t matter. I’ll tell you what: if the opportunity presents itself, without jeopardizing the success of the mission, I’ll let you make the attempt. Good enough?”

“Yes, sir.”

The time came, and the four of them filed onto the displacer stage with their “walking sticks.” They also carried in-period daggers. Logan and Mondrago also carried the kind of satchels that ancient Greeks normally carried when going on lengthy walking journeys. The former contained the explosive charge; the latter the medical supplies for Pan, just in case Mondrago’s idea didn’t work. All of them carried, in the usual sort of waist-tied wallets, a supply of the energy cells for which they were strictly accountable.

Rutherford met them at the edge of the stage for the traditional handshake. On this occasion it seemed overlaid with a new grimness. In the past there had sometimes been a possibility that Rutherford was sending time travelers into battle; this time it was a certainty. As mission leader, Jason was the last to shake hands. But at the last moment he paused.

“Ah, Kyle . . . what with one thing and another, I haven’t gotten around to asking you. But . . .?”

Rutherford’s eyes met his. “Yes. It’s still there.”

Jason nodded. No more needed to be said. He mounted the stage.


They were all experienced, so the disorientation didn’t hit them too hard when the dome surrounding the displacer stage faded into oblivion as though it had never been and they stood on a ledge in Mount Kotroni’s shadow.

Still, there was a moment when they would have been helpless had there been any hostiles present—assuming, of course, that those hostiles hadn’t been stunned into immobility by their appearance out of thin air. It was why Jason had chosen the side of the hill opposite the side from which the Transhumanists would be overlooking the plain of Marathon, their attention riveted on the battle below and to the east.

That fixation couldn’t be counted on, though, and the all-important element of surprise had to be preserved. Using the Service’s standard hand signals, Jason motioned the others to follow him to the right. They silently worked their way around the hill’s southern slopes, emerging into the morning sun. Jason spared an instant for a glance to the south, where the taller Mount Agrliki loomed beyond the Greek camp, defining the southeast end of the plain. Mere minutes ago, he thought with a sudden chill, his own three-months-younger self had left those slopes and was now flying his invisible aircar toward Athens. He couldn’t let himself dwell on it, lest the sense of strangeness immobilize him.

They rounded the hill and the plain lay spread out before them. To the southeast the ground was choked with corpses, the detritus of the initial clash, where the inward-pivoting Greek flanks had crushed the Persian center a lesser trail of carnage extended northeast of that, following the path of the re-formed, grimly advancing phalanx that was now nearing the improvised Persian line defending the ships, almost directly to the east. Beyond that, the narrow beach was a scene out of hell, with the ships putting out to sea and the shallows choked with frantic men trying to find a ship, any ship, that would take them. On the Persian right, the Greek light troops were hunting scattered Persian stragglers into the great marsh.

The noise from the plain, compounded of the screams of the wounded, the panicked cries of the Persian fugitives, the shouted command, and the tramp of the phalanx’s twenty thousand feet, was horrifying. But Jason knew it was about to rise to a truly hellish crescendo, for this was a lull in the battle, before the final clash.

Jason tried to imagine the exhaustion of the dust- and gore-encrusted hoplites of the phalanx, moving toward what by some accounts was to be the fiercest fighting of the day, where Callimachus and many others would fall. He knew that their exhaustion would allow the Persians to hold out long enough for all but seven of their ships to escape. He also knew—although it almost defied belief—that these same men would turn around later that same morning and march twenty-six miles in armor to Phalerum, where the Persian fleet would find them drawn up on the shore. Jason had to wonder how much of a fight they would really have been able to put up at that point, had it come to that. But after what the Persians had just experienced, they would have no appetite to put it to the test. They would sail away.

Then Jason turned the final corner of the goat-trail they were following. There, on a ledge beyond a boulder, were three Transhumanists—none of whom was Franco—and Pan. He motioned his followers to a halt and crept forward to peer over the boulder.

The Transhumanists, who had a good view of the Persian line that Datis had somehow managed to improvise, were aiming a subsonic projector of the kind he had imagined they would use. It was a small model, with barely enough range. But all that would be required of it would be to induce emotional turmoil in just a few men, here and there in a hastily organized formation of men already badly shaken. That would be enough to dissolve that formation. Off to the side was the Teloi aircar, an open-topped model large enough to carry four passengers besides the pilot, not quite as overdecorated as the “chariots” Jason remembered.

Only three of them, Jason thought. No doubt there had originally been a fourth, but that one—the murderer of Bryan Landry and would-be murderer of Mondrago and himself—now lay near the Greek camp with Mondrago’s sling-pellet in his brain. And they’re preoccupied. This ought to be easy. He signaled the others to slide forward and join him behind the boulder. They noiselessly took up their positions and he prepared to give the signal.

At that instant, at the far end of the ledge beyond the Transhumanist group, an inhumanly tall figure appeared.

One of the Transhumanists cried out. They all whirled to face the new apparition. Pan cowered. Jason, his tactical calculations thrown off, motioned Mondrago and the others to lay quietly as he tried to evaluate the situation’s new dynamics. Da Cunha and Logan stared over the top of the boulder wide-eyed, for this was their first sight of Teloi in the flesh.

Zeus stalked forward. Three other Teloi followed him: a male who somewhat resembled him, another male who seemed more powerfully built than the Teloi norm, and a female who, like Zeus, exhibited the Teloi indicia of aging. Jason didn’t recognize any of the three, but certain hard-to-define qualities about them made him wonder if he was looking at Poseidon, Ares and Hera.

One thing was certain: none of them looked happy, Zeus least of all. And all wore, on the belts of their tunics, laser pistols of the kind that had killed Sidney Nagel on the island of Kalliste shortly before it had exploded, leaving the remnants that would one day be known as the Santorini group.

The Transhumanist who seemed to be the leader—he looked to be one of the varieties gengineered for intelligence and initiative, at the expense of some of the physical attributes—bowed and addressed Zeus in the tone of patently bogus servility Jason had heard Franco use. “Why, greetings, Lord. This is most unexpected.” He looked around in vain for an aircar. “How did you—?”

“The sky-chariot that brought us has departed,” said Zeus, his voice thick with an emotion that made it even more disturbing than Teloi voices normally were. “Aphrodite took it away, for we will not be needing it. We mean to reclaim this one, which we unwisely let you use before we learned of your impious betrayal of us, your gods.”

“Whatever do you mean, Lord?” The Transhumanist’s reverential tone was getting a little frayed around the edges. As a member of one of the upper Transhumanist castes, he was struggling to suppress a heritage of arrogance. “As our leader Franco has repeatedly told you, we wish only to serve you.”

“You lie, as Franco has lied to us from the beginning. He promised to enable the Persians to restore Hippias to power in Athens so he could complete his great work: the raising of a temple almost worthy of me. But now I see your true aim. You mean to give the victory to the Athenians!”

“A minor change in plans, Lord—a mere tactical adjustment.” The Transhumanist’s struggle to maintain his pose of obsequiousness was now comically obvious—or at least it would have been comical under any other circumstances. “Rest assured that our long-term goal is unchanged: leading Athens back into its proper reverence for you.”

“More lies! It is all clear to me now! Your only concern is to establish a cult of this grotesque artificial being Pan which we enabled you to create but which is now under your control. And you intend to commit the ultimate blasphemy by establishing him as a god, for your own selfish purposes!”

Pan looked like he wanted to burrow into the stony soil of the hillside.

Zeus was raving now, his features working convulsively. “You are no better than all other humans—the original stock, and the Heroes we created in an effort to guide the others back to their proper role. You ‘Transhumanists’ claim to be a superior strain, but you are like all the rest: treacherous and disloyal and, above all, ungrateful to us, your creators and your gods! We should never have summoned your species up from apedom!”

A strong shudder convulsed the Transhumanist and his façade of worshipfulness seemed to fall from him and shatter, revealing what lay beneath. Not just his face but his entire body was one great sneer of loathing and contempt.

“Our gods? You senile, decayed, demented fool! You are inferior even to the lesser breeds of humans. You have long since outlived your time—and you have now outlived your usefulness to us, your supplanters—the new gods!” And with motion of almost insect-like quickness, possible only to genetically upgraded reflexes, the Transhumanist reached inside his chiton, pulled out an extremely compact laser pistol, and shot Zeus in the upper chest.

In the late twentieth century, after the invention of the laser but when weapon-grade applications of it had been only a theoretical possibility, people had had peculiar ideas about them. The vision of a blinding but silent beam of light was wrong in every particular; it was invisible in vacuum, and in atmosphere there was only a sparkling trail of ionized air, accompanied by a sharp but not very loud crack as air rushed in to fill the tube of vacuum that had been drilled through it. And a continuous laser beam swinging back and forth and reducing its target to sizzling salami slices was out of the question; even aside from the impossible energy demands, any attempt to do it in atmosphere would have come to grief on the hard facts of thermal bloom. Instead, a pulse of directed energy burned a hole in the victim, with a burst of superheated pinkish steam—the human or Teloi body is, after all, seventy percent water—whose knockback effect now sent Zeus’ body toppling over backwards.

The other two Teloi drew their weapons, as did the two subordinate Transhumanists. There was an intense instant of crisscrossing, crackling beams. One of the Transhumanists went down, as did all the Teloi.

It all happened so quickly that the last Teloi was sinking to the ground before Jason could react.

“Get them!” he snapped, rising to his feet from behind the boulder and activating his “walking stick.” He speared the Transhumanist leader with a series of rapid-fire laser pulses more powerful than those of the pistols. Mondrago and the others opened up at appreciably the same instant, and the Transhumanists died, practically incinerated by multiple laser burns.

Jason turned away toward Pan. But as he did he heard a low, croaking “Jason.” Zeus was still barely alive.

Moved by some impulse, Jason walked over to the Teloi with whom he had once conspired the “imprisonment of the Titans,” and looked down into the nonhuman face. It was contorted with pain, but the strange pale-blue-and-azure eyes held an odd clarity, as though the clouds of insanity had dissipated.

“Jason,” Zeus repeated, though this time it was more a whisper than a croak. “Yes, I do remember you. It was so long ago, when Kalliste exploded and our older generation were trapped forever.” He stated it matter-of-factly—nothing about imprisoning the Titans in Tartarus. All his delusions were gone, burned away by the fires of agony. “You made that possible.”

“I and my two companions,” Jason nodded. “Both of them died to do it. One was Oannes.”

“Yes, I remember him too—one of the Nagommo.” The Teloi’s voice held none of the hate that would once have suffused it at the name of his race’s mortal enemies. Even that was gone now. “And I remember Perseus, who afterwards established my worship at Mycenae as king of the gods. King of the gods!” The huge eyes closed, and Jason thought Zeus had spoken his last. But then they fluttered open, and were empty not just of lunacy but of everything, holding the ultimate horror of absolute nullity as he looked back over thousands of barren, pointless years with the pitiless clarity of impending death. His desolate whisper was barely audible.

“Lies. All lies. No, not even lies. Just . . . nothing.” The Teloi’s last breath whistled out in an oddly humanlike way.

Jason turned away and looked around him. In the usual way of laser firefights, it had been very quiet, without spectacular visual effects. None of the battling thousands on the plain below—none of whom were looking up the hill in any case—had noticed. Besides, even as the Transhumanists were dying, the Athenian war-cry of Alleeee! had arisen again, and the grinding crash as the phalanx had rammed into the Persian holding force.

Jason couldn’t pause to admire the view. He rushed over to where Pan crouched in a fetal position. Grabbing a shoulder, he rolled the being over. Large brown eyes went even wider.

“It’s you!” squeaked Pan. “How—?”

“It’s a long story, and we haven’t got time. What I need to know is this: does the agreement we made a few minutes ago over there on Mount Agriliki still hold?”

“Yes. But now you’re suddenly dressed differently, and you seem somehow changed. And who are these others?”

“Never mind. You said you knew how to pilot this Teloi aircar. I need for you to take us to Athens, as fast as it can possibly be managed while maximizing concealment.”

“Yes . . . yes, that was always the plan. And there is a prearranged landing site—the precinct that’s always been sacred to Zeus, and where his unfinished temple is located. Nobody ever goes there now.”

“Good.” The irony was not lost on Jason, as he glanced at the detritus of the erstwhile king of the gods. “Do you also know how to program the aircar’s autopilot?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then let’s go.” Jason turned to his subordinates. “Put that sonic projector into the aircar’s baggage compartment—it should fit, and we ought not to leave it here. Move!”

They piled into the aircar. Jason had intended to be the last one in, but Mondrago, standing on the rim of the ledge, called to him. “Sir, look down here.”

Jason joined him. He had forgotten the roar of battle from the plain below. But now he followed Mondrago’s pointing finger to the east. The makeshift Persian line had given way, and the battle was dissolving into a chaotic melee on the narrow beach as the Greeks pursued the fleeing Persians through the sands and the shallows as they sought rescue, desperately scrambling aboard the ships that Datis’ last stand had enabled to disembark before it had collapsed in—

“Panic,” Mondrago stated. “The Persians panicked after all, even though the Transhumanists never got a chance to use that sonic projector! Ah . . . what’s funny, sir?”

Jason brought his chuckling under control. “Of course the Persians panicked! I mean, after the hell they had been through in the first stage of the battle, the one we were involved in . . . and remember, this Persian battle-line was a pick-up force of stragglers Datis somehow put together to cover the embarkation. And now they saw that blood-spattered phalanx coming at them again. What could be more natural than panic? So you see . . . it happened anyway!

Mondrago nodded his understanding. “And because of the ‘prophecy’ that Pan gave Pheidippedes on the road from Sparta a few days ago, the Athenians will attribute it to Pan and sacrifice to him in that grotto every year, just like history says.”

“Exactly. As usual, reality protects itself. Come on, let’s go.”

They departed, leaving the bodies of the would-be gods to the carrion birds.


They flew southwestward, relying on the aircar’s low altitude and high speed to avoid being observed—or, at least, to assure that anyone who did observe it would not be believed. As they curved around the lower northern slopes of Mount Pentelikon, Jason reflected that somewhere up there on the summit was at least one Transhumanist, ready to flash the “shield signal” that would so perplex contemporary Athenians and later historians. He would subsequently return to his own time and place, for they had no leisure to attempt a search for him. Then the mountain was behind them and they sped across the plain of Attica.

As they went, Jason spoke to Pan in haste, because they had little time. “Do you know anything about the beliefs of the Persians? The teachings of their prophet Zoroaster?”

“Some,” said Pan, clearly puzzled by the question. “Franco and others have spoken of it.”

“Good, because when you address the cultists, this is what I want you to say.” Jason set it out in a few swift sentences, which was all he had time for. Pan frowned but claimed to understand. Jason could only accept that.

Pan brought them carefully around to approach Athens from the southwest, where no one’s attention was fixed. There, tucked into an angle of this century’s unimpressive city walls, was the dust-blown, weed-choked precinct sacred to Zeus. Here stood the forest of unfinished columns that had been intended to uphold the immense temple the tyrant Hippias had begun to erect, ostensibly to the glory of Zeus but in reality to his own and that of the Pisistratid dynasty of political bosses. It was what Napoleon might have built as a monument to his own ego if he had been a Classical Greek. Now it stood in its permanently unfinished state, left by the Athenian democracy as an object lesson in the futility of dictatorial megalomania.

Pan landed the aircar in the roofless space that was to have been the temple’s vast central aisle. As they got out, alert to the possibility of stray bystanders—even more unlikely than ever, on this day—Jason spoke to Pan. “Now, I want you to set a course into the autopilot which will, when signaled to do so, send this aircar out over water—I don’t care where, as long as it’s a remote stretch of coast—and then into a crash dive. I don’t really expect to use it,” he added, seeing Pan’s expression. “It’s just in case of contingencies.”

Pan obeyed, as he was conditioned to do, then handed Jason a remote-control unit, small and austerely functional by Teloi standards. “You need only press this stud to activate the command.”

“Good.” Jason put the unit in the pouch at his waist. “All right, everybody, let’s go!”

It was only about a third of a mile to their destination-point on the Acropolis’ north slope, as the crow flew. Of course, crows didn’t have to negotiate the twisting narrow streets of Athens. But Jason’s map display helped keep them from deviating from the most nearly direct route. And those streets were practically deserted, with the old men and women and children thronging the Agora on the far side of the Acropolis, waiting for news of the battle. The baggage compartment had held a hooded cloak in which the Transhumanists had customarily wrapped Pan when it was necessary to move him about where he might be observed. Swathed in it and hunched over, he might be mistaken for an elderly woman, as long as the cloak fell to the ground and concealed his hooves.

As they hastened through the streets, Jason briefly wondered if that slightly younger Jason Thanou was even now on the far side of Athens retrieving Chantal’s TRD from Themistocles’ house, or if he had already departed for Crete.

Moving along the narrow roadway that ran along the north side of the Acropolis, with the steep hillside immediately to their left, they reached a point directly below the grotto of Pan. The decaying Bronze Age wall did not extend here, for it only enclosed the area around the Acropolis’ western end. The hillside here was regarded as unscalable. Jason understood why as they scrambled up it, not wishing to waste time and risk notice by proceeding around to the gate in the wall and backtracking along the pathway Jason and Mondrago had followed before.

There was no one outside the grotto. Pan had explained that the cultists would not arrive until later, although they were probably already on their way, following the pathway from the gate, which was another reason Jason hadn’t wanted to take that route. The question was whether Franco was already inside. It was at this point that they were going to have to begin playing it by ear.

“Do you remember where you hit the rear wall?” Jason asked Mondrago.

“About here, I think.” Still, Mondrago had to pound several times before finding the right spot. The door-sized segment they remembered swung open. He and Jason led the way in, down the crude, shallow steps and across the small cave and into the tunnel. They activated their laser weapons’ “flashlight” feature as the light from the doorway dimmed. There was no light from up ahead, and no sound. Jason dared to breathe a sigh of relief.

They entered the large cavern holding the eerily archaic cult statue. But the idol was not on its dais. Rather, it was sunk into the floor, leaving the hatchway Jason remembered Pan emerging from in a glare of artificial light.

“Franco will be here any moment,” said Pan nervously as he busied himself lighting oil lamps.

“With how many others?” demanded Mondrago.

“No more than one. Aside from the one on Mount Pentelikon, that’s all he has left.” Jason nodded; he’d always thought there had to be a limit to how many people the Transhumanists, however advanced their time-travel technology, could displace, especially when they were also displacing the mass of an aircar. “He’ll be expecting the four others from Marathon to be waiting here with me. Oh . . . and he’ll also probably bring the woman defector. He’s represented her to the cultists as a priestess.”

Jason made no comment. He looked down into the chamber into which the idol had sunk. “It looks like there ought to be room for all of us to squeeze in down there. Pan, you wait up here where Franco expects you.”

The four of them descended a short ladder and crowded together. It was at least as tight a fit as Jason had thought . . . and though the cavern was cool, they had all been sweating profusely in the outside August heat.

“It’s just as well,” whispered Mondrago, as though reading Jason’s thoughts, “that none of us have been eating the local diet. All those beans—!”

“Shhh!” Jason shushed him, for there was a faint sound of approaching footsteps above.

They hadn’t long to wait before Franco’s unmistakable voice spoke, curtly and without preamble. “Where are my men?”

“Dead, Lord,” squeaked Pan. “Zeus and three other Teloi arrived atop Mount Kotroni and accused you of betraying them. A fight broke out and everyone, on both sides, was killed. Afterwards, I took the aircar and came here according to the plan, as I knew you would wish.”

“You lie, you nauseating piece of filth! All of them, on both sides killed? Do you take me for a fool?” There was a meaty smack, followed by a high-pitched whimpering.

“Don’t, Franco!” came a female voice—Chantal Frey’s voice. “After all, he came back as ordered.”

“He had no choice.” Franco’s voice held a dismissiveness that transcended contempt.

“They’re coming!” said a male voice unknown to Jason.

Franco’s voice muttered a non-verbal curse. “All right, we have no time. We’ll get to the bottom of this later. You: get down there and be prepared to play your role.” Franco didn’t look down into the compartment below the dais, for he had no reason to. Pan scurried down the ladder and crammed himself in with Jason and the others. His body odor was oddly acrid, but none of them were particularly squeamish. Above, Franco must have activated a control, for the cult statue rose up to its position on the dais and the hatch closed. Darkness settled over them.

Sounds from above were now muffled, but Jason could discern shuffling feet as the cultists filed into the cavern. It didn’t sound to him like as large a group as he had seen here before, but that made sense on this day; this would be mostly women and older men, with only those younger men who had managed to evade military service. Then he heard the droning, somehow sinister chant he had heard before. Soon the chanting began to be responsive, alternating with various ritual signals. Jason paid no attention to the sounds of the ceremony, which had probably been crafted to conform to the type of ritual that members of the various mystery religions would expect. Then it stopped abruptly, replaced by the stirring sound of Franco’s voice.

“Rejoice! Civilization is saved! While other Athenians huddle in the Agora, quaking with fear, Pan now grants you, his elect, the news they await. Know, then, that at this very moment, the battle is already won. The barbarians, driven mad with fear by Pan, have fled shrieking to their ships. The only ones left on Attic soil now lie dead on the plain of Marathon or drowned in the marshes.”

The rapturous collective sigh was audible.

Franco’s voice dropped an octave. “But those barbarians who escaped still believe they can defy the will of the gods and vent their rage on Athens. They have now set their course for Cape Sunium, and Phalerum beyond it, where they mean to land and descend on this defenseless city.”

There was a faint hissing sound of indrawn breath.

“But fear nothing!” Franco’s remarkable voice again became a clarion. “Pan has granted to his priestess Cleothera a vision of the future. Hear the prophecy!”

There was a pause, either intentionally or unintentionally dramatic, before Chantal spoke. Jason thought he could discern a quavering hesitancy in her voice. To the cultists, the effect must have been one not of ambivalence but of eeriness. And her singsong tone of recitation by rote must have been exactly what they expected of an oracle through whom a god spoke to mortals.

“Rejoice,” she intoned. “At this moment, the men of Athens have recognized the danger, and are girding themselves to march back. And they will arrive at Phalerum in time! The Persians, seeing the men who had just bested them drawn up on the shore, will wet their barbarian trousers in fear and sail away.”

Another, even more relieved sigh arose.

“And now,” Franco resumed, “your god has once again shown the favor in which he holds you. You have already received oracles that will enable your families to enrich themselves when the events they foretell—the second Persian invasion ten years from now, the wars between Athens and Sparta, and all the rest—come to pass. Thus you will be able to profit at the expense of this city that has never accorded Pan proper worship! And he will always hold you and your descendants in this same favor, as long as you unquestioningly obey his commands, as told to you by us, his messengers, while keeping your vow of secrecy.”

There was a chorus of frantically affirmative noises.

“Finally, even though his previous appearance was spoiled by impious intruders, you will now receive the ultimate reward of your devotion . . . for now the Great God Pan appears to you!

All at once, the hatch above Jason’s head was outlined in light that shone through the cracks as the harsh electrical light he had seen before flooded the cavern. He heard the gasps of the cultists as they were temporarily blinded by the unnatural glare. Then the hatch, with the idol atop it, sank down, leaving the opening. Pan ascended the short ladder and the light above faded, allowing the cultists to see the apparition in the dimness.

Jason, crouched in the darkness below, heard the weird half-moan and half-sigh that arose above. It was a sound that no group of people in Jason’s world could have produced, for it held the kind of skepticism-free terrified ecstasy that the human race had lost the capacity to feel when it had emerged from the shadows of superstition. Gradually it droned down into silence, leaving a breathless hush.

The silence seemed to last a long time.

Jason felt Mondrago’s body, pressed up against his in the confines of the chamber, go rigid with tension.

Pan’s not going to go through with it, thought Jason, with a sickening sense of defeat. He can’t. The habit of obedience is too strong, and now it’s reasserting itself. He’s going to do exactly as Franco told him to do. I was an idiot to think otherwise.

All at once, the silence was shattered by a high-pitched sound. It took Jason a second to recognize the sound for what it was, for he had never heard it or even imagined it could be.

It was the sound of Pan laughing.

“You fools! Are you really such idiots that you still think I’m your god Pan? Now the time has come when I can enjoy telling you how you’ve been deceived.”

Jason tried to imagine Franco’s state of shock. It must, he thought, be as complete as that of the worshippers, though for different reasons. And there was nothing Franco could do. He could hardly shoot or otherwise silence the “god.” He could only stand, paralyzed, and listen as his creation’s jeering voice went on, tearing down his edifice of intrigue with every syllable.

“Know, then, simpletons, that I am come from the East, for I am of the daiva, the anti-gods who impersonate and thwart the gods just as black smoke rises along with the sacred fire. Even as the Ionians of Didyma worshipped one of my fellows thinking him to be their god Apollo, so you have worshiped me! Oh fools, fools, fools!”

As Zoroastrian theology it was, of course, perfect gibberish. But these people didn’t know that. They had some vague knowledge of the religion’s concepts and terminology, for their fellow Greeks in Ionia had long been in contact with the Persians. And they had heard of what Datis had told the Apollo-worshipers of Delos about the oracle at Didyma. So this all held a ring of horrible verisimilitude for them, and continued to do so as Pan raved on.

“You think what I have done at Marathon today was to save Athens, this stinking pig-wallow you call a city? Ha! I did it to punish the Persians for their failure to worship the one true God: Ahriman, lord of the darkness which must inevitably engulf the universe when the last light finally gutters out, no matter how many futile fires the priests of Ahura Mazda ignite. But the Persians have chosen to worship Ahura Mazda, following their stupid prophet Zoroaster, and now they have paid for their folly. And so shall you, fools! For my servants are here to destroy you!”

It took a fraction of a second for Jason to realize what Pan meant. Then he barked “Move!” at the others and forced his stiffened legs to propel him up the ladder, to stand beside Pan.

The light in the cavern was dim enough that his eyes required no real adaptation. He saw the cultists, still immobilized with shock, and, off to the side, Franco with Chantal beside him, staring wildly. Another figure, which he recognized as one of the middle-level Transhumanists, lunged at him, drawing a dagger as he moved. Jason brought up his “walking stick” and speared the man with a laser beam.

Behind him, Mondrago and the others were scrambling up the ladder and, as they emerged into the cavern, firing laser bolts into the mass of cultists. In this dimness, the trails of ionization were almost bright enough to resemble lightning. And the vicious crack was loud in this confined space.

The cultists went mad with terror. They pelted toward the tunnel mouth, trampling and crushing each other in their hysterical haste to be gone from what had become a chamber of inexplicable horror.

The rapid-fire laser bolts stabbed again and again into that writhing, screaming mass of bodies, and the stench of burned flesh filled the cavern.

But Jason had eyes for none of that. He swung his weapon toward Franco.

With that unnatural quickness of his, Franco whipped out from under his tunic a small laser pistol of the same model his fellows had used earlier on Mount Kotroni. But he did not point it at Jason. Instead, he grasped Chantal by the upper arm, twisted it up in an obviously painful grip, and swung her in front of him, placing the pistol’s focusing lens against her head.

Chantal gave a cry of pain and something worse than pain. “Franco . . . darling. . . .”

“Shut up, you pathetic Pug cunt!” Franco snarled, and yanked her arm further up, eliciting a fresh cry. “You’re useless for my purposes without your TRD—except as a shield.”

Jason forced himself to remain calm and do nothing reckless like trying for a head shot, for even if it succeeded it might well cause Franco’s trigger finger to spasm in death. He looked around. The last of the surviving cultists had by now fled down the tunnel, and Mondrago, Da Cunha and Logan were also covering Franco and his captive with their weapons. Pan groveled beside Jason’s feet.

Franco looked them over for a moment, then smiled at Jason. “So . . . you’ve come back, while an earlier version of you is simultaneously here. The fuddy-duddies who run the Authority will never recover!”

Jason was in no mood to appreciate Franco’s perspicacity, which would doubtless also enable him to recognize the falsity of any offer to let him live. “Let her go,” he said evenly, “and you can have a quick, clean death. Your choice.”

Franco gave another infuriating smile. “I believe I’ll choose no death whatever. I’m taking her with me. If anyone tries to stop me, she dies. If I see anyone following me, she dies.”

Jason put on a devil-may-care expression. “What makes you think a threat to the life of a defector is going to deter us?”

“It shouldn’t. But if I know Pugs, it will.” The false levity abruptly slid away, and Franco’s face, for all its designer Classical handsomeness, grew very ugly. “No more childish bluffing! I’m going now, to the precinct of Zeus, where that repulsive little genetic monstrosity must have brought the Teloi aircar.” He gave Pan a look of loathing. “I wish I were in a position to kill it now, for its betrayal. But no; that would be kinder than letting it live.”

Beside his legs, Jason felt Pan stiffen, and a kind of convulsion go through the misshapen body. All at once a high-pitched scream of pent-up hate split the air of the cavern and Pan’s goatish legs propelled him forward like a projectile.

Startled, Franco pulled Chantal with him as he tried to avoid that sudden attack. He almost succeeded. Pan careened against his and his prisoner’s legs, knocking them both off balance. He tried to grapple Franco’s legs. Instinctively, Franco brought his laser pistol down hard. The butt struck Pan’s right temple, under the horn, with a sickening crunching sound. Pan went limp.

Mondrago was the first to recover. With an inarticulate shout, he fired at the now partially exposed Transhumanist. But Franco was still staggering, and the aim was off. The laser beam brushed against his left arm, and also Chantal’s, which Franco had never quite let go. Her scream immobilized them all just long enough for Franco to bring his laser pistol back up against her head.

“Now, where were we?” said Franco, although his face was too contorted with pain to manage a mocking smile. “Remember, nobody is to follow us, or she dies. After I reach the aircar, I’ll let her go. After all, I think I’ve had the full use of her! You’re welcome to her now, Thanou—not that I’d give her much of a recommendation.” He gave Chantal’s laser-burned left arm a particularly vicious jerk and pulled her along with him as he backed into the tunnel. The sound of their footsteps and Chantal’s whimpering gradually receded.

Jason dropped to his knees beside Pan. As expected, the artificial being whose fragility Jason had thought he had sensed was dead.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Mondrago miserably. “I didn’t mean to hurt her. I thought I could—”

“Forget it”. Jason held up a hand for silence, and waited until he was sure Franco had had time to exit the tunnel. “All right. The three of you set up the explosive charge in the tunnel, as per the plan. And . . . leave Pan’s body in here. After you’ve set the timer, come to the precinct of Zeus. I’m going there now.”

“What?” Mondrago goggled. “But sir—”

“Don’t worry. Of course I’m not going to let Franco see me—at least not until he reaches the aircar. There . . . well, I think I have a way of dealing with him.”

“Let me come too!”

“No. There’s less chance of him spotting just one of us. Now just follow orders for once, damn it!” And Jason plunged into the tunnel.

Franco had closed the outer door, but like Houdini’s safes it was easy to open from the inside. Jason scrambled down the steep, rocky slope of the Acropolis and slipped through the twisting alley-like streets. Once he caught a glimpse of Franco and Chantal far ahead, and instantly flattened himself against a wall before resuming his stealthy pursuit.

He emerged from the labyrinth of alleys and buildings into the open area where the unfinished temple stood, just in time to see Franco drag Chantal between two of the topless columns. He followed, circling around and passing through the colonnades at another point. Franco had mounted the open-topped aircar and was pulling Chantal up onto it.

“But you said you’d let me go!” she protested, struggling to resist.

“Don’t be even stupider than you have to be. I lied, of course. No, I think I’ll take you with me. I can amuse myself with you in various ways before my TRD activates. By then, you’ll be begging me to kill you. But I probably won’t. No, I believe I’ll just leave you permanently stranded . . . an unattached woman with no family, in this society . . . maimed and disfigured, as you’ll be by then after what I’ll have done to you . . . yes.” With a final heave of his good arm, Franco hauled her up onto the aircar.

Jason stepped out from behind his concealing column. “Hi!” he called out with a jaunty wave. In his hand was a small black object: the remote control unit Pan had given him.

Franco and Chantal, standing on the aircar’s edge, both stared.

Jason pressed the stud.

The autopilot awoke, and under its control the aircar lurched aloft.

Chantal lost her balance and fell a few feet. The impact, landing on her burned left arm, brought a gasping shriek of pain.

But Jason’s attention was fixed on the swiftly rising aircar. Franco was windmilling his arms, frantically trying to regain his balance. But he toppled over the side. He managed to catch the rim and hold on as the aircar rose still higher and began to swing into a southward course.

Jason took careful aim with his disguised laser carbine and burned Franco in his good right shoulder. With a cry of pain, the Transhumanist lost his grip and fell. He hit the stump of an unfinished column face-first with bone-cracking force, then fell the rest of the way to the ground and lay still. The aircar continued on its way, and would plunge into the sea, vanishing from an era in which it did not belong.

Jason walked over to Franco. The Transhumanist’s ribcage was crushed, and when he tried to speak only a feeble, gurgling hiss of agony emerged from between his splintered teeth, along with a froth of blood.

Jason drew his dagger, but then stopped. Why bother? He sheathed the dagger, turned away and went to examine Chantal. Her breathing was shallow, and aside from her laser burn, she had broken her right leg. But she would live. Franco’s noise had ceased by the time she regained consciousness.

“Lie still,” he told her. “You’re safe. Franco’s dead.”

“Jason,” she whispered weakly, “I’ve been a fool. I wish I could make amends, but I know I can’t, ever. I deserve to stay in this century and die.”

“You’re not going to. We’re going to take you back.”

What? But how—?”

“Never mind. Just lie still,” Jason repeated. He heard footsteps behind him. It was his team.

“All done, sir,” Mondrago reported. “The charge is set. In fact, it ought to be—”

From the direction of the Acropolis, Jason thought he heard an extremely faint crump, but he knew it was probably his imagination. The explosive device they had used generated a momentary sound-deadening field at the instant of its detonation, rendering it effectively inaudible to Athens’ preoccupied citizens. If he’d heard anything, it must have been the rumble as the subterranean tunnel collapsed.

“We left Pan in there as ordered, sir,” Da Cunha added.

“Good. It’s a fitting tomb for him.” Jason smiled. “No one will ever know who’s lying under the Acropolis.”

“When the Athenians offer their annual sacrifices to Pan at the grotto,” mused Logan in the thoughtfully deliberate way he always seemed to speak, on the rare occasions when he did it at all, “they’ll never dream that the real thing is entombed inside it.”

“Interesting point.” Jason handed his “walking stick” to Mondrago and, with great care, put one arm under Chantal’s knees and the other behind her back, and lifted her up. She gasped with pain but clung to his neck. He focused his mind, preparatory to giving a neural command. “All right. Is everybody ready? Let’s go home.”


The great domed displacer chamber was almost exactly as they had left it a couple of hours earlier. Rutherford had to all appearances never moved. After his initial startlement at their appearance, he brusquely motioned forward the waiting medical team. Jason handed Chantal over to them.

“How is she?” he asked as soon as they had laid her on a stretcher and brought their medical sensors to bear.

“She’s in a great deal of pain,” a doctor replied as he gave her a hypospray injection against that same pain. “And she’s in mild shock. But none of her injuries are life-threatening. She’s going to be fine.” He gestured, and his orderlies lifted the stretcher.

Chantal turned her head to meet Jason’s eyes, and spoke weakly. “Jason . . . thank you. I’m—”

“Hush. Don’t try to talk.”

“No, let me finish. I already knew I was wrong. But you’ve shown me just how very wrong I was, because what you’ve done has reminded me of what it is to be truly human. So now I know why—whatever humanity’s imperfections—we must always remain human. That is too precious a thing to be gambled away against the chance of something ‘superior’.” The effort of speaking seemed to exhaust her. The doctor gave a more peremptory gesture, and she was borne away. Only when she was out of sight did Jason turn to face Rutherford.

“Mission accomplished,” he reported wearily, “in all particulars. I’ll tell you the details later, in private. But the Transhumanist operation has been scotched, and their leader was killed. And I don’t think Dr. Frey’s loyalties are going to be in any question after this.”

“And the, uh, ‘cleanup’ aspects of the plan?” asked Rutherford anxiously.

“All done. The tunnel under the Acropolis behind the grotto was sealed, and no anachronistic hardware was left lying around.”

“Good.” Rutherford’s relief was palpable.

“Also, the being ‘Pan’ was killed by his own Transhumanist master.”

“Just as well,” said Rutherford offhandedly.

Jason glared at him. So, he noticed to his surprise, did Mondrago. “I suppose it could be regarded that way, from the standpoint of ‘cleanup.’ But . . . well, he kept his bargain with me, and he died trying to aid us. I think he’s entitled to just a little respect.”

“I meant no offense.” Rutherford seemed genuinely contrite, and Jason’s annoyance ebbed.

“None taken. And before we head for your office, there’s one other thing you’ll want to know, because it relates directly to one of the questions the original expedition sought to answer. As we learned then, the Olympian ‘gods’ were still alive and active in the flesh—at least the Teloi flesh—up to 490 b.c. But after that, for the most part, they became just what they’ve always been assumed to have been: myths.”

Rutherford’s eyes kept going to the sword that was his private office’s prize exhibit. Jason wasn’t sure why.

Finally Rutherford swung around to face Jason and Mondrago. “So not all of the Teloi were wiped out in this final confrontation with the Transhumanists?”

“No. Zeus, before he died, mentioned Aphrodite—or whatever names she was known by in the other Indo-European cultures—as being the pilot of the aircar that had dropped them off. So she and various others must have lived on afterwards; I can’t account for Athena or Artemis or Apollo, for example. And they could have continued to play the god game with the help of the self-repairing Teloi techno-magic devices. But remember, they were all members of the youngest Earth-born generation, which Oannes assured me suffered from a drastic reduction in life expectancy. They must have died off, and even before they did, the literal belief in their pantheon began to dissipate, leaving a void that was filled by various Eastern mystery religions and, finally, by Christianity.” Jason chuckled. “Knowing the Teloi, I have a feeling that the loss of human belief in them helped hasten their end.”

“Quite likely.” Rutherford turned brisk. “But, more to the point, about the Transhumanists. . . .”

“Yes. That’s the real problem. At least one of them survived, as we knew from the first was going to happen, since we didn’t have time to hunt down whoever sent the signal from Mount Pentelikon. So one or more of them were retrieved on schedule, as were the corpses of Franco and the others. The survivor or survivors didn’t know the details of Franco’s death, but they did know in general about our discovery of their presence. And they knew that Alexandre and I may have gotten back with that knowledge, even though we were earmarked for assassination down there on the battlefield.

“Incidentally, I’ve been using the past tense deliberately, because as you know, their expedition came from, and therefore returned to, a time somewhat prior to ours. So their linear present lies in our past—”

“I know,” interjected Rutherford bleakly, for he understood the implications.

“—and therefore by now they know that their scheme for a Pan cult was foiled, although they don’t know how. And they must regard it as at least a possibility that, as of a point slightly in their own future, we know about their underground and its extratemporal activities, so they’ll be on their guard. One good thing: when we went back we killed all the ones who actually saw us, so just exactly what happened on Mount Kotroni and at the grotto in Athens must be a mystery to them.”

“One other good thing,” Mondrago spoke up. “They know that we got Dr. Frey’s TRD back, so they’ll assume she was left to die in the fifth century b.c.”

“That’s right,” Jason agreed. “I suggest that we keep her presence here strictly under wraps, even to the extent of providing her with a new identity. I’m certain she’ll cooperate. And a debriefing by intelligence specialists ought to be productive.”

“Surely Franco didn’t give her a great deal of detailed and specific data about the Transhumanist underground,” said Rutherford dubiously.

“No, of course not, but he could hardly have avoided dropping some information in the course of her . . . association with him. He was an incorrigible braggart. She may turn out to be an ace in the hole for us.” Jason paused. “I don’t know what the final judicial determination of her case will be, or if it will even come to that. But if she ends up being sentenced to incarceration, I recommend that the time we keep her here be credited against her term.”

“I will pass along your recommendation, with my endorsement. Coming from a man whose death she almost caused, it should carry some weight. And you may quite possibly be right about her usefulness to us. But it goes without saying that she can provide no information on what the Transhumanists have been doing since Franco’s expedition. And as to what they may do in the future, the expeditions they may send back before we find this compact and energy-efficient temporal displacer of theirs, as we must find it . . . !” Rutherford shook his head slowly and looked at least his age.

“And,” said Mondrago, “we don’t know how riddled Earth is with these long-term secret organizations of theirs—we only aborted one of them, remember. We also don’t know when ‘The Day’ is scheduled to be, when all their long-term schemes are scheduled to come to fruition. Basically,” he concluded with a kind of pessimistic relish, “we don’t know much of anything at all.”

“One thing we do know,” said Jason grimly, and his eyes held Rutherford’s. “We know that the Temporal Service is going to have to change. The days of us being a sort of glorified tour guides are over. Oh, of course we’ll continue to send historical research expeditions back. But those expeditions are going to have to have more guards—very watchful guards. And above and beyond that, the Service is going to have to have a new unit whose full-time job is hunting down the Transhumanists across time the way we just did—a specialized combat section.”

Rutherford winced. “Perhaps we could call it the ‘Special Operations Section.’”

“Sounds good. Call it whatever you want. But for that section, at least, the old loose jointed style isn’t going to work anymore. It’s going to have to be a military, or at least paramilitary, outfit—and outfits like that have the kind of organization they do, including a formalized rank structure, for a reason.”

“And I think I know just the man to head it,” Rutherford told him, with a very brief smile. Then his expression grew desolate again, as he contemplated the coming era of time wars. It was the look of an old man seeing his life’s assumptions and verities slipping irretrievably away into the past and vanishing, leaving him face to face with a harsh, unfamiliar, and unfriendly future in which he did not belong.

But then his eyes strayed to the fifteenth-century sword in his display case—the sword that had been borne by she who had come to symbolize d the capacity of human beings to fight bravely and die gallantly for something they knew in their souls was worth dying—and killing—for. He seemed to draw strength from it. He turned back to Jason and spoke matter-of-factly.

“You will, of course, need to commence recruiting without delay.”

“Right. Da Cunha and Logan are, of course, obvious candidates. And we’ll need as wide a range of ethnic types as possible.”

“Sir,” Modrago blurted. “I want to be the first to sign up for this Special Ops Section of yours.”

“Satisfactory, Jason?” asked Rutherford with a lift of one eyebrow.

Jason pretended to consider. “Well, he’s an insubordinate wise-ass—”

“I can see how there might be a certain affinity, however reluctantly acknowledged,” Rutherford interjected drily.

“—but he’s an insubordinate wise-ass who is very handy to have around in a fight.” Jason turned to Mondrago. “I just might be able to use you. But I need to be sure you’ve got the right kind of motivation.”

“Well, sir, let me put it this way. Of course I’ve always hated Transhumanists, but mostly just because everybody hates them, if you know what I mean. Now I understand why I ought to hate them.” Mondrago seemed to seek for words to explain further, but then shook his head and spoke briefly. “It’s just something that has to be done.”

“Like what those men we fought beside at Marathon did,” Jason nodded. “Yes, I think you may possibly do.” He turned to Rutherford. “Will that be all for now?”

“Yes.” Then, as Jason and Mondrago got to their feet, Rutherford seemed to remember something. “Oh, yes, Jason, I almost forgot. A most remarkable coincidence occurred.” He took out the little plastic case Jason had left in his care. It was empty. Then he held out his other hand. It held a tiny TRD.

“Do you recall our last exchange just before your departure? Afterwards, still thinking about it, I looked in the case and found it was empty. A subsequent search revealed this on the displacer stage. Would you like to keep it?”

“No. I don’t think I need it anymore.” Jason smiled. “Come on, Alexandre. We’ve got work to do.”


That Marathon was one of the most crucial battles of world history has been recognized by such diverse authorities as Sir Edward Creasy and the U.S. House of Representatives, in a resolution on its 2500th anniversary. I fail to see how any other view is possible.

The events of Xerxes’ invasion of Greece ten years afterwards—the immensity of the Persian host, even when discounted for exaggeration; the heroic last stand of the three hundred Spartans (and their seven hundred forgotten Thespian allies) at Thermopylae; the stunning naval victory at Salamis; the titanic clash of massive armies at Plataea—have an epic quality which causes them to get most of the attention. But none of these things would ever have happened had the Athenians lost at Marathon, or submitted without fighting. No subsequent Persian invasion would have been necessary. It would have all been over in 490 b.c.—or perhaps the following year, if Sparta had not yielded and another campaigning season had been required to complete its obliteration.

A few historians—including Arnold Toynbee, in one of his less brilliant passages—have attempted to minimize the criticality of the Persian Wars. And in the 2006 collection Unmaking the West, Barry Strauss presented a counterfactual scenario suggesting that even if the Persians had conquered Greece and gone on to conquer the rest of the Mediterranean basin, it is not impossible that Western civilization—or at least a Western civilization, sharing many of the characteristics and values we associate with that term—still could, maybe, just possibly, have arisen. As an intellectual exercise, the essay is as original, ingenious and thought-provoking as one would expect from Professor Strauss . . . and it doesn’t convince for an instant. Not even he can succeed in defending the indefensible.

No. When those ten thousand hoplites broke into a run and charged three times their number of a hitherto invincible enemy, our future went with them. We cannot calculate the debt we owe them.

The scholarly literature relevant to Marathon is intimidating in its voluminousness. For the interested reader with finite time, I recommend three books on which I have leaned heavily and to which I take this opportunity to acknowledge my debt.

The first is The Western Way of War, by Victor Davis Hanson, a brilliant study of Classical Greek warfare and its long-term historical repercussions, which latter theme is further developed in the author’s subsequent Carnage and Culture. Hanson has been on the receiving end of a great deal of hysterical invective and politically correct name-calling. He must be doing something right.

The second is Persian Fire, by Tom Holland, a compulsively readable overview of the Persian Wars which achieves an almost unique degree of evenhandedness without ever seeming to lean over backwards to be evenhanded. Rather, the author simply accepts each side on its own terms while skewering both with his trademark sardonic wit. He is particularly good on the little-known and less-understood subject of what can only be called the ideology of the Persian Empire.

Third and most recent is The First Clash, by Jim Lacey, which focuses on the Marathon campaign and benefits from the fact that its author, aside from his academic credentials, is an experienced infantry officer and defense analyst. And unlike all too many historians, he does his math. On narrowly military questions I have tended to defer to his judgment, or at least to give it respectful weight when balancing it against Holland’s. I have not always done so in less specialized areas such as the much-disputed chronology and sequence of events. For example, I agree with Holland and an ever-increasing number of other historians that the battle took place in August. Lacey, in his Prologue, does perfunctory obeisance to the traditional date of September 12, but he doesn’t mention it again—which is understandable, inasmuch as his own reconstruction of the campaign (and, in particular, of the logistical constraints under which the Persians labored) makes nonsense of it. In fact, in a later chapter he himself refers to the “hot August sun” in the days immediately preceding the battle.

Finally, in addition to these books, I cannot forbear to mention The Ancient City, by Peter Connolly and Hazel Dodge. In the absence of actual time travel, it is the next best thing. After studying the segment on Classical Athens, I felt as though I had been there.

With the exception of Callicles, all the fifth century b.c. Greeks named in this novel are historical. Themistocles is the only one for whom we have what is self-evidently an individual portrait—the Ostia bust—free of artistic conventions and idealization. Otherwise, I have had to use my imagination about personal appearance, aided by hints from sculpture (the baldness of Aeschylus) and names (“Miltiades,” derived from the word for red ochre clay, was often bestowed on reddish-haired children).

The dualistic theology of Zoroastrianism is complex and fascinating, but I have not gone into it as it deserves. The Persian kings of the period in question were far from consistent in their practice of it, for their imperial policy was based on scrupulous (if insincere) respect for the innumerable gods of their various conquered peoples. Even among the Iranians themselves, Ahura Mazda was by tradition merely the chief god of a pantheon almost as inchoate as that of the Greeks, rather than the one uncreated God proclaimed by Zoroaster. The Persian Empire was not in any sense a Zoroastrian theocracy. But Darius I, one of the greatest masters of spin who has ever lived, used Zoroastrian imagery and terminology to justify his usurpation of the Persian throne. It was in this spirit that Datis used a distorted version of it as a propaganda tool as I have described. I have followed in his footsteps, albeit with even more outrageous distortion.

* * *

In the matter of dialogue, I have permitted myself certain anachronisms in the interest of clarity.

The initial Persian conquerors of Ionia were Medes led by their General Harpagus, and since this was the Greeks’ first contact with the Persian Empire they tended to refer to all the Persians as the “Medes,” just as Near Easterners today call all Western Europeans “Feringhi,” or Franks. In these pages the Persians are simply the Persians.

Conversely, the Greeks referred to themselves as “Hellenes,” as in fact they still do. I have used the more familiar “Greeks,” a name later applied to them by the Romans, who derived it from the Graeci, the inhabitants of the colony of Graeae in Italy. Interestingly, in light of the preceding paragraph, Near Eastern terms for the Greeks have always been some variation on “Ionians,” the Greeks with whom the Near East was most directly in contact. (The Persian word was “Yauna”; in the Old Testament, one of the sons of Japheth, the son of Noah whose progeny peopled Europe, is “Javan.”)

Likewise, I have used the well-known Latinized forms of Persian names rather than the originals. (“Cyrus,” not “Kurush”; “Darius,” not “Daryush.”.

Whenever transliteration of Greek place-names is disputed, I cheerfully admit that I have simply picked whichever version struck my fancy, with a fine lack of that foolish consistency which as we all know is the bugbear of small minds. (“Mount Pentelikon,” not “Mount Pentelicus”; “Phalerum,” not “Phaleron.”)

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