Key Out of Time by Andre Norton

Key Out of Time


3.67 — 3 ratings — 0 reviews

subjects: Science Fiction

series: The Time Traders (#4)

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Time Agents Ross Murdock and Gordon Ashe, aided by a Polynesian girl and her team of telepathic dolphins, probe the mystery of the sea-planet men have named Hawaika. Its cities and civilizations have vanished, but our agents are snatched back through a Time Gate and marooned in the midst of the struggle for power that must have destroyed the planet. “The sweep of imagination and brilliance of detail in the author’s previous space-time novels, render Andre Norton a primary talent among writers of science fiction” – Virginia Kirkus. This adventure in the watery, grotesque world of Hawaika is further evidence of the author’s mastery.

227 pages, with a reading time of ~3.5 hours (56,853 words), and first published in 1963. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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There was a shading of rose in the pearl arch of sky, deepening at the horizon meeting of sea and air in a rainbow tint of cloud. The lazy swells of the ocean held the same soft color, darkened with crimson veins where spirals of weed drifted. A rose world bathed in soft sunlight, knowing only gentle winds, peace, and–sloth.

Ross Murdock leaned forward over the edge of the rock ledge to peer down at a beach of fine sand, pale pink sand with here and there a glitter of a crystalline “shell”–or were those delicate, fluted ovals shells? Even the waves came in languidly. And the breeze which ruffled his hair, smoothed about his sun-browned, half-bare body, caressed it, did not buffet on its way inland to stir the growths which the Terran settlers called “trees” but which possessed long lacy fronds instead of true branches.

Hawaika–named for the old Polynesian paradise–a world seemingly without flaw except the subtle one of being too perfect, too welcoming, too wooing. Its long, uneventful, unchanging days enticed forgetfulness, offered a life without effort. Except for the mystery….

Because this world was not the one pictured on the tape which had brought the Terran settlement team here. A map, a directing guide, a description all in one, that was the ancient voyage tape. Ross himself had helped to loot a storehouse on an unknown planet for a cargo of such tapes. Once they had been the space-navigation guides for a race or races who had ruled the star lanes ten thousand years in his own world’s past, a civilization which had long since sunk again into the dust of its beginning.

Those tapes returned to Terra after their chance discovery, were studied, probed, deciphered by the best brains of his time, shared out by lot between already suspicious Terran powers, bringing into the exploration of space bitter rivalries and old hatreds.

Such a tape had landed their ship on Hawaika, a world of shallow seas and archipelagoes instead of true continents. The settlement team had had all the knowledge contained on that tape crowded into them, only to discover that much they had learned from it was false!

Of course, none of them had expected to discover here still the cities, the civilization the tape had projected as existing in that long-ago period. But no present island string they had visited approximated those on the maps they had seen, and so far they had not found any trace that any intelligent beings had walked, built, lived, on these beautiful, slumberous atolls. So, what had happened to the Hawaika of the tape?

Ross’s right hand rubbed across the ridged scars which disfigured his left one, to be carried for the rest of his life as a mark of his meeting with the star voyagers in the past of his own world. He had deliberately seared his own flesh to break the mental control they had asserted. Then the battle had gone to him. But from it he had brought another scar–the unease of that old terror when Ross Murdock, fighter, rebel, outlaw by the conventions of his own era, Ross Murdock who considered himself an exceedingly tough individual, that toughness steeled by the training for Time Agent sorties, had come up against a power he did not understand, instinctively hated and feared.

Now he breathed deeply of the wind–the smell of the sea, the scents of the land growths, strange but pleasant. So easy to relax, to drop into the soft, lulling swing of this world in which they had found no fault, no danger, no irritant. Yet, once those others had been here–the blue-suited, hairless ones he called “Baldies.” And what had happened then … or afterward?

A black head, brown shoulders, slender body, broke the sleepy slip of the waves. A shimmering mask covered the face, catching glitter-fire in the sun. Two hands freed a chin curved yet firmly set, a mouth made more for laughter than sternness, wide dark eyes. Karara Trehern of the Alii, the one-time Hawaiian god-chieftain line, was an exceedingly pretty girl.

But Ross regarded her aloofly, with a coldness which bordered on hostility, as she flipped her mask into its pocket on top of the gill-pack. Below his rocky perch she came to a halt, her feet slightly apart in the sand, an impish twist to her lips as she called mockingly:

“Why not come in? The water’s fine.”

“Perfect, like all the rest of this.” Some of his impatience came out in the sour tone. “No luck, as usual?”

“As usual,” Karara conceded. “If there ever was a civilization here, it’s been gone so long we’ll probably never find any traces. Why don’t you just pick out a good place to set up that time-probe and try it blind?”

Ross scowled. “Because”–his patience was exaggerated to the point of insult–“we have only one peep-probe. Once it’s set we can’t tear it down easily for transport somewhere else, so we want to be sure there’s something to look at beyond.”