Time’s Secret Chapter One

I Always Anticipate Problems

Commander Michael Blayne, late of the Special Assignments Force, or SAF, a division of the Galactic Armed Forces, awoke with a start. His eyes roved over the room seeking the sound that had disturbed him. Sunlight streamed through the windows, reflecting off the creamy walls and the sparkling yellow window panels. The room was not part of his quarters on the SAF base where he had been stationed nor was it the bedroom of the suite he had occupied during his stay at Belencourt, a school for those gifted with paranormal skills. He was in the guest suite of the castle of his friend and former commanding officer, Alrick Zartollis.

A mumbled voice and sudden movement brought his eyes back to the bed and the woman who lay next to him. Her eyes were closed, and she was speaking softly, words he could not quite hear. She shifted uneasily, a frown creasing her brow. A bad dream, obviously. She had certainly been through enough recently to give her nightmares. Michael debated waking her but knew she had had as little sleep as he over the past few days. He drew her closer and brushed a soothing hand over her forehead and down the tumbled mass of long dark curls. She quieted within his embrace.

It must have been the sound of her voice that had awakened him, Michael thought. He tilted his head to look at her face. She was beautiful by any standards: an oval face, small nose, full lips and smooth, porcelain skin. Her most striking feature, a pair of bright turquoise eyes, was obscured by her closed lids. Kate Weston Blayne was a gifted seer and healer, a talented harpist, and who knew what else. Michael had the suspicion he had not yet seen everything she was capable of doing.

That thought reminded him that he had only known her for a little over three months. About one minute after he had met her, they had fallen through a portal to a place far across the galaxy from the Old Earth sidetime where he had found her. There they had shared several adventures, not the least of which was their sudden marriage. It wasn’t until after the union that they discovered Kate, the only daughter of a royal family, had been betrothed from birth to a man on her home planet. Moreover, since Michael was the only son of the ruling family of the sister planet, their marriage was forbidden by law.

That didn’t trouble Michael. Since no one had bothered to inform either him or Kate of their true identities, everyone would have to accept the consequences of their silence. Alrick had tried his best to convince them to annul the marriage but in the end had realized the bond they shared was too strong to be broken. Alrick had warned them, however, that the Executive Council, which governed the two planets of Tierne and Yarlo, would most likely dissolve the marriage. Michael smiled grimly. It would be a very great mistake on their part if they did.

He thought about the family waiting for him on Yarlo. Up until a few days ago, he had believed he was a product of the genetic engineering laboratories of the Galactic Armed Forces. He had been raised by a series of foster families who came and went according to the whim of the GAF. He was apprenticed to the SAF at age twelve. By age twenty-six, he had become a commander. Soon, he was one of the SAF’s top operatives.

The truth was an embryo had been taken from his mother and hidden in the GAF’s genetic nurseries by Alrick, who had carefully watched over Michael’s development, never revealing his true identity or that Michael possessed a powerful gift. When Michael was still a very young child, Alrick had taught him to create a shield around himself that would stop anyone from feeling the great energy that was the source of Michael’s power. Michael had not even been aware that he was gifted.

Michael shifted uneasily. He had only spent three months at Belencourt and had barely begun to learn about the power he possessed and how to use it. He had been told he was a scientician, capable of manipulating great energies and altering the basic structure of objects. He knew from the surprise displayed by his teachers, Ivar and Jafrey, that he was a scientician of unusual power. He had even inadvertently named the mysterious realm of the scienticians. That naming had brought forth Rista Jhalan, the Keeper of the Realm. Her hints indicated the naming of Time’s Edge was far more significant than he knew.

Kate moved restlessly again, but he stroked her bare shoulder and arm until she quieted. She had been hidden away as an infant in an Old Earth sidetime. Michael knew some of the details of her life there. He was sure she would never tell him the entire story. However, he had enough information to know she had suffered from the ignorance and fears of that primitive society. He had seen the tiny apartment she had lived in with only a gray and white tiger cat for a companion. Alrick had been responsible for her also, but, in Michael’s opinion, hadn’t done a very good job.

Neither he nor Kate had been prepared for what had happened. Their home solar system had been locked away in a void dimension to hide the planets from Xerxes, a powerful scientician who was determined to possess the Origin Stone. The Stone, reputedly a source of phenomenal power, had been hidden somewhere in the vanished solar system. The planets had slept in their frozen vault for over one hundred years until Kate and Michael together had created the power that opened the dimension and set the solar system free.

That had been the reason they had been hidden on different sides of the galaxy, ignorant of their true identities, safe from their enemies. Once they had appeared at Belencourt, assassins and abductors had tried repeatedly to kill him and kidnap Kate, whom they believed held the secret to the Origin Stone. Of the three he knew about, Thoron was dead, Kashar imprisoned. The third was Valda Taire, an SAF agent who had turned traitor. She had escaped from the Temple of Baval in a small ship after Kate had slashed her face with a knife. Michael and Alrick had been occupied inside the temple and unable to go after her.

Kate mumbled in her sleep again. Michael looked down at her, wondering what she was dreaming about.

Kate knew she was dreaming. She was standing before the Temple of Baval and also watching herself as she stood there, a participant and an observer as is often the case in dreams. Moonlight bathed the silver panels of the roof in a cold, pale light. The black stones from which the temple was built were as thick and uncompromising as the night itself. She wanted to run, wanted to wake up, but was compelled to go forward. With a rapidly beating heart, she passed through the door, which had ominously opened by itself, and entered the darkened structure.

She saw the casket right away. Although the temple lay in darkness, the long metal box stood out as if a beacon shone upon it. The pulsing circle on its lid lit the surrounding area with waves of blood-red light. Unwillingly, Kate drew closer, both fascinated and repelled by the coffin. As she neared, she could feel vibrations emitting from beneath the closed lid. Whatever was inside the box was alive.

She stopped next to the casket. Through the red light, she could see a strange creature carved into the top of the box. It was an unpleasant looking thing with claws and fangs and an elongated silver body with many legs. If the beast symbolized what lay inside the box, Kate was sure she didn’t want the box to open.

Even as the thought passed through her head, the lid of the coffin began to separate from the box. Kate stood frozen as the lid rose with agonizing slowness. As the gap between the lid and the casket became greater, Kate’s terror increased. She knew she didn’t want to see what was inside just as she knew she couldn’t move until she did so.

The lid finally stood perpendicular to the box. A man lay within. He had long, dark brown hair and a beard. He wore a satin robe of a deep, rich red studded with jewels. His hands, which lay folded on his chest, were covered with rings. Slowly, he opened his eyes.

For one moment, their eyes met. His were deep gray and burning with anger and power. It was like looking into the eyes of a snake. Kate wanted desperately to look away but could not. In his eyes she saw a hunger so vast it could never be appeased. He wanted nothing less than the galaxy itself and would not be satisfied once he had it.

The man’s gaze held her. He was trying to draw her to him. Terror overwhelmed her. She shrieked, unable to tear her eyes away. Suddenly, his hands shot upward and grasped her arms. He was pulling her down toward him into the coffin…

Kate screamed again and fought against the hands that held her. A man’s voice called, “Kate! Kate, wake up.”

Her eyes opened. The man before her had tousled blonde hair and light blue eyes, not dark hair and hungry gray eyes. She realized she was sitting up in bed, her hands pressed against Michael’s chest trying to push him away. He had grasped her arms and was lightly shaking her. With a gasp, she fell against him, and his arms encircled her. Slowly, the terror of the dream fled.

“Are you all right?” he asked after a moment.

She nodded and turned to look up at him. “I had a…nightmare.”

Michael noticed the hesitation before she choose the word. “Are you sure that’s all it was?”

Kate dropped her head onto Michael’s shoulder. “No. I’m not sure. It was so real, like I was actually there…”

“Tell me,” he urged.

She took a breath and related the dream. “Well,” Michael said when she had finished. “There’s only one way to know if your dream was true. I’ll go back to the Temple of Baval—”

“No!” Kate pushed away from him so she could see his face. “Michael, it wouldn’t be safe. If it was a true dream and he’s really there—”

“I doubt much would happen. A man waking up from suspended animation, which is what you described, wouldn’t be in any condition to cause trouble for quite awhile.”

“He was very, very powerful. Even though his vibrations were weak at that moment, I could sense great power in him.”

“All the more reason to find out if he truly exists. If there is a man that powerful around, we need to be aware of it.”

“Michael, you don’t understand. His power is equal to yours, maybe even greater.”

“So?” Michael smiled. “I’ve been on many missions where it would have meant death to be caught and yet I survived.”

“How many scienticians have you spied upon?” Kate snapped.

Michael laughed. “Aren’t you forgetting you’re talking to a scientician? If things look dangerous, all I have to do is open a door and depart.”

Kate looked at him dubiously. “If I thought you would really do that, I wouldn’t object to your going.”

“How untrusting you are, madam,” Michael said in mock reproof. Then he grinned. “I assure you—”

“That you’ve been trained to assess situations before proceeding,” Kate finished. She eyed him gravely. “Are you going to quote SAF policy every time you want to do something dangerous?”

“I won’t have to.” He pulled her back into his arms and kissed her. “You’ll save me the trouble by reading my mind.”

Michael felt the familiar exchange of power between them. He had felt it the very first time he encountered her but had not realized what it meant. His aura and hers, when united, produced a very powerful energy capable of opening doors to other dimensions and unlocking hidden worlds. It also had the very excellent side benefit of creating a sizzling sexual atmosphere.

Kate opened her mouth to protest further, but Michael effectively silenced her with another kiss. He pushed her back onto the bed, his hands sliding through the dark tumble of her hair and then down her body.

“I know you’re trying to distract me,” she said breathlessly as his lips slid from her mouth to the soft skin of her throat.

“Just a little,” Michael smiled, raising his head to look into her eyes. “Is it working?”

“Yes,” she sighed and gave herself up to his caresses. Her eyes closed as the pulsing energy they created whenever they came together enveloped them in its web.

Afterwards, as they lay entwined, Kate suddenly lifted her head from his shoulder.

“Michael, what if things don’t work out when we go home?”

“Are you worried about meeting your real parents?”

“No. Yes. That’s not what I was thinking about. Alrick said our marriage was forbidden. What if that’s true?”

“Well, what if it is? The Executive Council can fuss all it wants to, but it can’t change the fact that we’re married.”

“And if they decide to annul our marriage?” Kate raised herself up on his chest and looked at him.

“Then we’ll leave,” Michael said matter-of-factly. “We’ll get married again and go live somewhere else. I’m quite familiar with several parts of the galaxy. There are a lot of good places to make a home.”

“Really?” Kate looked excited. “Tell me about them.”

Michael thought for a moment. “Entathia is nice. A small planet in the Delian system. Stable central government, rich in minerals, a member of the Interplanetary Trade Commission—”

“Michael,” Kate said in exasperation. “This isn’t an SAF debriefing. Tell me about the people. What are they like? How do they live?” A sudden thought struck her. “For that matter, how will we live? We don’t have a source of income right at the moment.”

“That’s not a problem. I earned a good salary with the SAF, and I didn’t have much in the way of expenses. I invested most of it. We could probably live quite comfortably on the income from those investments for…” He paused as if calculating. “Oh, I’d say…”

“One or two hundred years!” Kate blurted out, having read his mind.

“Approximately.”

Kate closed her gaping mouth. “Define comfortably.”

Michael grinned. “We could build a house like this.” He waved a hand to indicate Alrick’s castle. “Have a few servants. Get a really nice ship for interplanetary hopping.”

“Since when do scienticians need space ships?” Kate quipped and then grinned back at him. “Are you saying you’re rich, Commander Blayne?”

“Not by most standards, but I have more than enough for the two of us. We could spend a few years visiting planets before deciding where to live. Then we would have to design and build our house. After that, I’ll probably take a position with the Trade Commission or a local corporation. With my SAF background, finding employment won’t be difficult.”

“What about me?”

Michael eyed her speculatively. “What would you like to do?”

“I…” Kate hesitated. “I’m not sure. I don’t think a four year education at a twenty-first century Earth university will qualify me for much. I really don’t have any other skills.”

“You don’t consider your psychic talents skills?”

“Those aren’t skills I can use to earn a living.”

“Certainly they are! Most corporations would give anything to have a gifted seer.”

“They would?” Kate’s eyes widened and she burst into laughter.

“What’s so funny?”

“How do you interview for a job as a psychic?” she gasped, rolling back onto the bed in her mirth. “Do I have to guess what color the interviewer is thinking of? Tell her what she had for breakfast?”

“No, but if you could point out who’s stealing from the organization or give them a tip on what the competition is doing, they just might be impressed.”

Kate stopped laughing. “You mean you’re serious?”

“Of course. Even the SAF used seers when they could. Unfortunately, there are very few truly gifted psychics around. You’ll be in great demand if you choose to make a career of it.”

Kate looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know, Michael. I’ve always thought of my talent as an oddity, not a gift. I’m not sure how I’d feel about being known as the company seer.”

“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. I only brought it up as an option. You’ll have plenty of time to think about it, so don’t worry.” Michael pulled her closer and began to nuzzle her neck.

“All right, no worrying,” Kate murmured, arching closer to him. “Maybe there won’t even be a problem once our families learn you’re a scientician.”

Michael lifted his head away from her. “I don’t intend to tell anyone I’m a scientician.”

Kate pulled back so she could see him better. “Why not?”

“Because I’m not sure what’s waiting for us. Perhaps I’ll be meeting an entire family of scienticians. Maybe there won’t be one. Whatever way it is, I want to know who and what I’m dealing with before I let them know my strengths and weaknesses.”

“You’re anticipating problems?”

“I always anticipate problems.” Michael smiled at her worried look. “Twenty years in the SAF gave me a healthy distrust of others. It may all be for nothing, but I refuse to take any unnecessary chances.”

“Wouldn’t it be better for people to know what you can do? I think they would be much less likely to try anything foolish.”

Michael shook his head. “If they’re afraid of me in that manner, they’ll simply plot behind my back. If they think I’m nothing, they’re much more likely to try more direct methods of attack.”

“And that’s better?” Kate was aghast.

“Much better. I’ll know who my enemies are and how they think.” He smiled at Kate’s shocked expression. “It’s really a great advantage when you can trick your enemies into giving themselves away.”

“You sound like you’re preparing to go to war.” Kate sat up and stared at him.

“Well,” Michael said, “the Origin Stone was hidden on one of the planets in the Cadian system. There may still be several people looking for it.”

“The Origin Stone.” Kate’s face whitened. “I had forgotten…”

Michael sat up and reached for her. “That has nothing to do with us, but we may end up caught between the parties who want it. It’s best to be prepared.”

Kate looked even more stricken at his words. Thinking he had frightened her, Michael pulled her closer. “If things get too dangerous, we can always leave,” he assured her. “We don’t even need a ship. I’ll open a door to anywhere you want, and we’ll be gone.”

“Oh, Michael.” Kate squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her face against his chest. “You can’t—”

“Yes, I can,” he stated firmly. “I’ve had enough of this business. I don’t like the way we’ve been treated, and I don’t like the feeling of having been born and raised in order to be a political puppet. We did our part and freed the planets. Alrick knows where the Stone is. They don’t need us for anything else. We are free to do what we want.”

Kate drew a deep breath. Michael didn’t know the truth. She suspected no one except herself knew it. In a flash of vision in Belencourt, Kate had seen Michael’s future, and it had stunned and terrified her. Whether he liked it or not, he was bound to the Origin Stone. She opened her eyes and raised her head, wondering how to tell him.

Michael smiled down at her. “I know Alrick is wrapped up in this Stone business, but that doesn’t mean we have to be.”

He kissed her before she could respond. Kate felt a wave of power rise up between them. She freed her mouth. “Michael—”

A knock sounded on the door, followed immediately by Edgar’s entrance into the room. Kate quickly slid beneath the blankets. She knew Edgar was an android, but he looked and acted too much like a human for her behave as if he was nothing more than a piece of machinery. Michael, who had snatched a sheet up to his waist, glared at his mechanical servant.

“Why did you bother knocking if you were going to walk right in?” he snapped.

“That is my programming,” Edgar explained matter-of-factly. “It is rather late in the morning, and I assumed you would wish to rise and dress.”

“I’ve been rising and dressing without your assistance for over thirty years.”

“Of course, Commander, but since I am in your service now—”

“I’ll call you when I need help. Now close the door. From the outside.”

“I beg your pardon, Commander.” Edgar was apologetic. “Lord Alrick has been awake for several hours and is most anxious to speak with you.”

On his words, Darya, Kate’s maid, peered tentatively into the room. “Are you ready to rise, my lady?” she asked hopefully.

Kate sighed and glanced at Michael. “I think we had better get up before Al decides to barge in, too.”

Michael grimaced. “Fine.” He flicked a hand at Edgar and Darya. “We’ll call you when we need you, and since we are not in need of your assistance at this moment—”

“Your clothing has arrived from Belencourt,” Edgar informed him. “Do you wish me to bring you something to put on, or are you going to continue to wear the sheet?”