Chapter One The Realms of Thor A shaft of silver that gleamed in darkness, a javelin thrown across the black of space, the great ship hurtled down toward a hole in the sky. The Dom Pedro IV, flying under a false name and false pretenses, dropped toward Hanson's Timeshaft, more formally known as TR-40.2, in the Thor's Realm Timeshaft Wormhole Farm. She was the DP-IV no more, so far as the outside universe was concerned. She flew now under the name "Merchanter's Dream." And if that was the third most common name for a ship in all of Settled Space, that could not be helped--and perhaps it would be very helpful indeed. Norla Chandray sat in the copilot's seat. She had the very distinct feeling that she was not much help to anyone at the moment. Captain Marquez sat next to her, in the pilot's seat, seemingly imperturbable, but with a hint of tension, excitement, hovering there beneath the surface. "Give me a final check on all externals," he said. Norla ran her boards, blipped through all the telltales and camera ports. "All retractable external devices retracted and stowed." "Close forward view shields," Marquez ordered. Norla activated the proper controls. Overhead, the shutters swung to over the Dom Pedro IV's--no, pardon, the "Merchanter's Dream's"--forward observation dome. The massive shutters clamshelled shut, ready to protect the bow of the ship against the nothingness that loomed just ahead. The thud-clack thud-clack thud-clack of the shield latches locking down boomed out, transmitted through the hull of the ship. "Forward view shields up and locked," Norla reported, quite unnecessarily. If Marquez couldn't tell for himself that the shields were up, he had very little business flying a timeshaft ship. But Marquez knew his business, even if he hadn't flown a timeshaft transition in the last 128 years--no, longer than that. Add another forty-plus years since we boarded ship, Norla told herself, and shook her head. Even if the thought was precisely accurate, it still didn't make sense. But it didn't matter. Not now. Right now all that mattered was that she was the one who had never flown a timeshaft transition before this trip. But that was about to change. "Very well," said Marquez. He pressed the general intercom button. "All hands, this is the captain. Final strap-in warning. All hands to timeshaft transition stations. We're going in." He turned toward Norla, and grinned at her, an expression of manic enthusiasm, tinged perhaps with a hint of worry. And even above and beyond the mere question of deliberately dropping a multimegaton ship through a black hole and back several decades into the past, there was plenty to worry about. Marquez glanced over to the comm officer's station, where Admiral Koffield was sitting. There was distinctly very little for a comm officer to do at this point. They had sent and received the standard arrival signal and mirror reply to the Chronologic Patrol ship on station, here on the uptime end of the timeshaft. Any further communication at this point would almost certainly mean out-and-out disaster, with a volley of railgun fire about to slam down into them. Koffield sat where he was because it was a convenient place from which to watch the proceedings. If it became anything else, it could only mean the game was up, almost before it began. "Ready for the timeshaft, Admiral?" Admiral Anton Koffield smiled, as open and relaxed an expression as Norla had ever seen on the man. "Long past ready," he said. "We have to get through here before we can get where we're going. Let's do it." There was an odd eagerness in his voice. Somehow, Norla found herself reminded of a restless child on a long trip, asking over and over again -- "Are we there yet?" Well, they wouldn'Allen, Roger MacBride is the author of 'Ocean of Years' with ISBN 9780553583649 and ISBN 0553583646.