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Read an Excerpt From Paul Levinson’s Time Travel Novel, UNBURNING ALEXANDRIA

Unburning Alexandria is the sequel to The Plot to Save Socrates by Paul Levinson, now available from JoSara MeDia, first in eBook then in print.

Here is what the book is about:

Mid-twenty-first century time traveler Sierra Waters, fresh from her mission to save Socrates from the hemlock, is determined to alter history yet again, by saving the ancient Library of Alexandria – where 750,000 one-of-a-kind texts were lost, an event described by many as “one of the greatest intellectual catastrophes in history.”

Along the way she will encounter old friends such as William Henry Appleton, the great 19th-century American publisher, and enemies like the enigmatic time-traveling inventor Heron of Alexandria. Her quest will involve such other real historic personages as Hypatia, Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe, Ptolemy the astronomer, and St. Augustine – again placing her friends, her loved ones, and herself in deadly jeopardy.

In this sequel to the THE PLOT TO SAVE SOCRATES, award-winning author Paul Levinson offers another time-traveling adventure spanning millennia, full of surprising twists and turns, all the while attempting the seemingly impossible: UNBURNING ALEXANDRIA.

Read on to read an excerpt from Unburning Alexandria.

[Hotel de Vie (formerly Monticello), NY 2061 AD]

The pines outside her window were beautiful.  They reminded Sierra of the pine trees in the backyard of her parents’ little cottage on Sea Street in Quivett Neck, just a few feet from Cape Cod Bay.  But she had been free to leave that place, even as a child – to walk to the water whenever she pleased.  Here in Hotel de Vie she was a prisoner–

Heron stuck his head through the mottled ivy doorway.  “I’m taking the fastrain to the city.”  He looked at his watch, a 20th-century analog model. “I’m meeting someone at the Millennium in 41 minutes. . . .  Don’t look so angry – I’m keeping you here to save your life.”

She turned her head away, denying him the civility of a response. She walked to the window after he was gone, and followed his passage through the grounds outside.  As always, he had something to say to several legionaries, Roman soldiers trained somewhere by Heron, and employed by him throughout time to do his dirty work.

These ones were armed to the teeth with sleek new guns – “I always take care to arm them with weapons appropriate to their time, just as I do with their garb,” Heron once had boasted to her. “But for some special jobs I cannot resist giving one or two of them a laser, whatever the epoch,” he had admitted a split second later. “Lasers leave no traces identifiable to people in the past who are not already familiar with them.  And eyewitness accounts of bolts of light are usually dismissed as over-active imagination, or in ancient times, as the act of some god.” Sierra knew that their presence here, in any case, made any escape unlikely.

A small, deep part of her was glad to be back here, some 19 years on the calendar after the time she had first become involved in this insane business, just a few short years that seemed a lifetime in her own lifetime. The ancient world had been around for a long time in 413 AD – in 150 AD, as well, even in 399 BC – the three times of her visits, although visit was too insignificant a word for it.  Even in those ancient times, the lands near the Aegean and the Mediterranean had been densely populated for millennia.  Here in the Catskills of New York  – anywhere in the New World – dense population was a matter of several centuries, at most.  The air was fresh to her – or maybe it was just good to breathe in something close to her own time.

Being here also had the dual effect of distancing her from Alcibiades, yet making her think more about Thomas her mentor . . .  and Max.   She somehow missed Alcibiades less in the 21st century, so far from where she had come to love him.  Did that make her superficial?  She knew enough to know that when it came to time travel, the usual standards in life and love did not apply. . . .  But what had happened to Max was something she could make no real sense of, even with her first-hand experience of how travel through millennia could jumble the soul

How many times had she replayed it in her head, that nightmare on the shore of the Thames. . . .  Max going down. . . .  Why not just go back there, with the knowledge that Max would be slaughtered, and stop that from happening, stop him from going there?  The answer was that she knew, even if she escaped from this prison in the pines, she could not just go back to London and stop herself and Max from walking down to that river on that morning in 150 AD.  She knew that to stop that would be to prevent her being here right now, which would prevent her from going back there to prevent Max’s death, and prevent everything else that had happened to her since. She knew that, but it didn’t help the guilt.  A painful breeze rustled through the trees and her pores.  It whispered paradox, paradox, paradox. . . .

She shuddered and sneered at the breeze.  She had stayed away from it. But she would find a way, somehow, of saving Max, of blowing through that paradox.  Just as she would save the books of Alexandria.  All things were possible in time travel.  All things, she had to keep reminding herself.

She still needed to learn more, how to skate the loops without breaking the ice and the world around it.  One thing she clearly understood about time travel is she had almost all the time that she needed.  She could go back and save Max next year or the year after or the next decade. He could be saved whatever her age, whatever the time she came from.  As long as she was alive, she could do that.  It wouldn’t matter to Max, he wouldn’t suffer – he would be pulled away from the knives, and never know he had died, unless she or someone else told him.  Sierra was the only one who would suffer the longer she waited to save Max.

She breathed out, shakily.  Her first job now was getting out of here.  She looked carefully at the legionaries outside.  They could have been twenty-first century Mafia soldiers.  She smiled, sourly.  She wondered how many Mafia wise guys in the past hundred years had really been Heron’s men on some damn mission.

She looked at each of the legionaries.  This had to start with one – someone she could talk to, get him interested, get him started. . . .  But who?

She looked at one, two, three faces.  None very promising.  She looked at a fourth, and a fifth.  Even worse.  She looked at a sixth–

He was standing by himself.  She hadn’t noticed him before.  Something about this angle made him look very familiar. . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

Jonah walked into her room about 15 minutes later.  She ran to him, flung her arms around him, and kissed him on the lips – too passionately for a friend, she realized.  She pulled away and looked at his face.  “I’m just glad you’re alive,” she said and touched his cheek.  Then–  “It’s probably not a good idea for us to stand here like this.”

Jonah smiled.  “You mean Heron’s butchers?  They would just think I was taking advantage of a beautiful woman in need – more beautiful than ever, in Hypatia’s face.”

“We’re speaking English,” Sierra said, still somewhat in shock. “And you’re speaking it fluently. . . .  It’s been a long time since the Lux for you, hasn’t it? You were barely more than a boy, then, and I . . . .”  She thought he looked at least ten or fifteen years older.  She had no idea whether she looked older or younger than Sierra as Hypatia–

Jonah nodded.  “I have a son–”


Jonah nodded again.  For the first time in this conversation, he seemed uncomfortable. “His mother – my wife–”

“I know,” Sierra said softly.  “I’m so sorry.” She hugged him, and kissed him again – this time, on his stubbly chin.

“He is three years old – when I saw him last.  He is with my sister’s family in Alexandria.”

Sierra smiled.  “When I saw him last he was nearly the same age as you when you were Heron’s student in Alexandria, and you took us to that restaurant where someone threw a knife at me. . . .”   She laughed for a second.  “You should be very proud of him.  When we met in Ptolemais, he had all of your strength and intelligence–”

They heard footsteps in the hallway.

Jonah touched her shoulder.  “I’ll return as soon as I can.  I have a way for you to escape that will take Heron weeks to know you are missing.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Jonah returned nine days later.  “New soldiers are being mixed into the rotation – this will give us more time for conversation.”

“Good,” Sierra said.

“What will you do – what do you want to do – when you leave here?”

“Three things,” Sierra answered immediately.  “Find Alcibiades, prevent someone else who was very dear to me from dying, and save what I can of the Library at Alexandria.”

Jonah shook his head.  “To attempt too much is to risk accomplishing nothing.”

“I know,” Sierra replied.  “But truthfully, I want to do even more than those three things.  I also want to find my mentor, Thomas – he drew me into all of this in the first place.

Jonah frowned.

“Not every mentor is as evil as your Heron,” Sierra said.  “Thomas was good to me in many ways.”

“As Heron was to me – evil and good can live quite comfortably together even in the same soul, I have found.”

“Your philosophy was astute when I knew you,” Sierra said.  “It is even better now.”

“Thank you.”  Jonah smiled.  “Let us start with Alcibiades – you know that he was the source of Theon’s notation about a cure for the illness of Socrates.”

“That is what Heron told me before he took me here  – I did not know whether to believe him – yet–“

“It is true.  Though I do not believe that Alcibiades intended to plant a seed of false hope from the future.  He was very new to time travel then, and was not versed in avoiding these kinds of contaminations.”

Sierra was silent for a moment.  “But you are,” she said.  “You know how to tread carefully.”

“The chances of contamination are always high, regardless of how much care you take. You would like me to take you to Alcibiades now, or at very least tell you where he is.” Jonah’s face grew grave. “I cannot.  To possess such knowledge would endanger too many things.”

Sierra started to object–

“What I can safely tell you is he is alive,” Jonah said softly, “and he is well.”

* * * * * * * * * *

On the fourth visit, their conversation turned to the Library of Alexandria.  “It was burned at least three times, different parts of the Library but all interconnected by passageways and tunnels, as you know,” Jonah said. “By the pagan Julius Caesar’s soldiers in 47-48 BC, possibly by accident as they fought in the harbor.   By the Christian Patriarch of Alexandria, Theophilus, in 390-391 AD – the same Theophilus who later converted Synesius to Christianity.”

Sierra winced at the name Theophilus, because of his connection to Synesius and because of what he did to the Library.  Of the three despoilers of civilization, Theophilus was the only one she had had the displeasure of meeting in person.   She had avoided attending his funeral as Hypatia when he died in 412 AD.

“And by the Islamic Caliph Omar in 640 AD. Only my Jewish people are thoroughly innocent,” Jonah concluded.

Sierra laughed.  “That is only because your people were long removed from any power by the time the Library was constructed by Alexander’s general.”

“Not completely true–“

“But I grant you that it’s not in the Jewish culture to ever burn as wondrous a thing as a book.”

Jonah smiled . . . then sighed.  “There are serious, different problems – perhaps insurmountable – attached to stopping each of the three burnings.  Perhaps most profound, and obvious: preventing either or both the first and second burnings would only leave more books vulnerable to Omar, unless his burning was stopped as well.  But the Islamic tide in 640 AD was unstoppable in Alexandria.  Even killing Caliph Omar would have no effect.  We would have to kill followers of the Prophet Mohammed in such large numbers that– God forgive me, but even were that possible, I am afraid I would prefer to let the Library burn than ever attempt such a mass extermination.  Human lives are worth more than books, however profound their inscribed knowledge.”

“I see you have given this much thought,” Sierra considered, “and I agree with you.  But even if we sought to change the life of one man – such as Julius Caesar – we could be triggering enormously dangerous changes to history.  Had anything been different in Julius Caesar’s life – had he lived longer, died sooner, made Cleopatra his wife, never met her – we might well have had no Roman Empire, certainly not the one that Augustus founded in Caesar’s aftermath.”

Jonah looked out of the window at the legionaries on the lawn.  “No Roman Empire could have its advantages.  But I take your point.  So where does that leaves us?  We cannot conduct a massacre, and even the murder of one man could have consequences disastrous to history.”

“Oh, I would gladly see Theophilus dead,” Sierra said, “and Synesius could find another priest to convert him.  But, yes, even Theophilus’s death could have unforeseen consequences.”

“Which means we abandon saving the Library of Alexandria, and move on to another one of your goals when you leave here,” Jonah said.

“No,” Sierra said.  “I think I have at least a partial solution, which wouldn’t kill a single person and won’t interfere with any of those histories.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Heron came to see her two mornings later.  He bared his yellowed teeth in a big smile.  “You are free to go.”


“I have no further interest in keeping you prisoner here.”

“Then why did you take me from my work in Alexandria?” she asked.  And my vigil for Alcibiades? she thought.

“To save you from yourself, as I have told you.  To prevent you being hacked to death by those Nitrian maniacs – whether in 415 or 414 or 413 AD.   You wouldn’t leave with Synesius, you wouldn’t leave with Mr. Appleton, though both tried repeatedly.   Someone had to save you – to save you from your compulsion to die.

“How do you propose to do that if I am free to travel back there. . . ” She paused.  “Ah, I see.  You locked that time – you programmed all the chairs not to be able to go back to that time – one of your favorite tricks.  You did this to the chairs in New York, London, and Athens.  I assume it took you some time to do that – even you can’t instantly be in more than one place at the same time.  And I assume your legionaries will be looking for me, if I travel back to any earlier time, and try to reach Alexandria in 413 the old fashioned way – by living into it.”

Heron bowed.  “Precisely.” He pulled out ten new hundred-dollar bills and put them on the table.  “Pocket change.  But more than enough to get you to New York City.  And I left a change of mid-21st century clothing for you near the door.” And he left.

Sierra thought over her options.  This was no doubt part of Heron’s plan, to free her now – for whatever real purpose he had – but in a way that kept her away from 413 and 415 AD.  Her leaving now might also separate her from Jonah. . . . Did Heron know about his being here? . . .  Impossible to say. . . .

But . . .  she thought she might know of another way to get back to Alexandria at the time she wanted.  She took the money, put on the coveralls Heron had provided, and walked out of the compound.  No one stopped her or said a word.  The Hotel De Vie fastrain terminal was a forty-minute walk down the azalea path.  She was used to walking and enjoyed it.  She found it preferable, in the past, to sitting in a carriage pulled by slaves or animals.  When she arrived in the town center, she ducked into its one clothing store and bought a new outfit.   She left Heron’s clothing in the changing room, just in case its fibers had been set to do some digital tattling to Heron.

[mid-Hudson valley, NY 2061 AD]

Sierra looked out of the window as her train zipped down the western bank of the Hudson.  She had been in New York City in 2061 only once before, and very briefly, when she and Socrates had taken a taxi from the airport to the Millennium Club and spent just a few minutes there with Mr. Charles. . . .  Far more vivid – and painful – in her memory was her immediately following visit to the Club in 2042 . . . .  She thought often of Socrates, Thomas, and Mr. Charles sitting at that table, as she said goodbye. . . . They of course would always be at that table at that moment, having the same conversation, Socrates giving her the same sage advice, unless someone mucked around in the past and changed that history.  She hoped, however, that that particular conversation stayed intact. She drew an odd comfort from it through the pain.  She also wondered how much longer Socrates had survived, given his illness . . . .

That had been the last time she had set foot in the Club, in any year. New York had been cold and grey on that 13 April 2061.  Now it was 6 September, and the world outside her window was warm and green.  That made it safe – or at least not dangerously courting of paradox – for her to visit the Club today.  No chance of her running into herself and Mr. Charles and Socrates. . . .

[New York City, 2061 AD]

Sierra disembarked at Grand Central Terminal.  Not much had changed, as far as she could tell, between 2061 and 2042, her home year.  Grand Central had been kept wonderfully the same since its great renovation at the turn of the 21st century.  The Fastrain commuter system had been in place with its lightning speed since the 2020s.  Maybe the women looked a little sluttier in 2061.  But she knew better than to make the facile generalization that the future was always more libertine.  Some of what she’d seen casually exposed in Alexandria was enough to make a crow blush, as that antique Kim Carnes song – one of her favorites – put it.  Then she thought – funny how songs you come to love as a kid stay with you the rest of your life, wherever you are.  She had first heard that song at her boyfriend’s house, when she was fourteen.  Tommy had been a real fan of late-20th-century music.

The short walk north to the Millennium Club on West 49th Street, just off of Fifth Avenue, was uneventful – except for the robot taxis in some kind of standoff stalemate on Madison and 47th.  If she remembered her traffic programming correctly, whichever robot got to the intersection even a fraction of a second earlier was supposed to have right of way.  And if by some fluke both arrived at the same instant, a whole protocol based on urgency of trip, communicated from one robot to another, was supposed to decide which car went first.  So what was going on here?  Likely a new model, with some crucial function from the 2042 program inadvertently left out.  Progress.

But one benefit of this showdown on Madison Avenue was that it had pulled her mind far away from the butterflies in her stomach. They returned now in fluttering force as she made her way to 48th and then 49th Street . . . . She could see the Millennium, its shim-shield glinting, at the end of the block.

She wondered if the doorman would know her.  Surely some of them from 2042 would still be at their posts.  Even in 2042, people regularly lived until their hundred-and-teens, and usually worked at one job or another at least until a hundred.  The life-and-work-spans likely had improved since then. . . .

But the doorman at the Millennium looked closer to 40, and unfamiliar.  “I’m not a member,” Sierra said sweetly, “but Thomas O’Leary or Cyril Charles, if either are in, would be happy to see me.”

“Terribly sorry.”  The doorman bowed unctuously.  “I am afraid I have only been on the job a few weeks, and have yet to fully master the membership names by heart–“

Great, Sierra thought.

“I could check the membership presence rosters for Mr. O’Leary,” the doorman continued, “or, I believe Mr. Charles is in right now.  Which would you prefer?”

Good old reliable Mr. Charles!  “Mr. Charles would be perfect – thank you!”

“I won’t be long,” the doorman assured her.  “Please wait in the vestibule.”  He showed her to a room with real paper newspapers and computer screens, and left to fetch Cyril Charles.

Sierra realized just how much she missed computers.  There had been none in Heron’s bucolic prison room, and the texts in Alexandria of course said nothing more than what they already said, when you addressed them or ran your finger on its words.  That’s why Socrates, presumably without ever seeing a computer, had yearned for an “intelligent writing” – one that could answer questions put to it – at least according to Jowett’s translation of the Phaedrus.  But humanity could not afford to lose those scrolls back there, those stubborn but vulnerable guardians of knowledge. . . .  She spoke to the screen: “Thomas O’Leary–“

“Miss, can I help you?”  Cyril Charles, looking confused, was beside her.

Sierra jumped up–

The computer spoke:  “Thomas O’Leary, independent scholar and academic, deceased 2058–“

“What?  No!  Repeat!”  Sierra screamed at the computer.

“Thomas O’Leary, independent scholar and academic, deceased 2058,” the computer complied.

“Yes, of course,” Charles said, mostly to himself.  “Thomas told me about Hypatia. . . .  Forgive me for not recognizing you.”  He looked at Sierra, who was staring, shaking, mouth open and horrified, at the computer screen.  “You didn’t know about Thomas.” Charles said softy and put his arm around her.  “Let’s go upstairs.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“He was in his 80s at most, died suddenly of a stroke,” Charles told Sierra, when they were seated at a quiet table.  A beautiful Raphael painting – an original – hung on the wall near them. “It was fast, instant,” Charles continued, and wiped a tear from his own eye, “at least we can be thankful for that.  But who dies in their 80s in this day and age?  Modern medicine – educated quacks who don’t know what they’re talking about. . . .”

Sierra couldn’t speak.  Sorrow coursed through her system and all but short-circuited her brain.  But with the slender part of her mind that could still think, she wondered how much Mr. Charles knew about what was actually going on, about what had really happened.  She knew Charles knew about Socrates – he had been there, here in the Millennium, the last time she had seen Socrates.  The last time she had seen Thomas. . . .

Charles continued.  “He spent a very happy period of months with Socrates in 2042, I can tell you that.  I never really got to know Thomas very well, but I don’t think I had ever seen him happier.  We laid Socrates to rest in a nice quiet corner of Woodlawn, when the philosopher finally succumbed to that inoperable brain tumor . . . . Our bumbling medicine failed again . . . . We keep the gravesite in good appearance. I can take you there, if you like . . . .”

Sierra nodded.  Why hadn’t Jonah told her about Thomas?  Could he not have known?

Charles went on. “And after Socrates left us, Thomas retreated. . . .  If I had never seen him happier than during those months with Socrates, I don’t believe I had ever seen Thomas sadder than he was, afterwards.  He seemed to take no joy in life.  It was as if he was suffering from a broken heart – which I guess, in a sense, he was. . . .”

Sierra caught just the flicker of an inscrutable expression in Charles’s eyes.  It occurred to her that, just as she was being careful with Charles, he might be speaking very carefully to her, unsure of what he thought she knew or did not know about all of this, especially given her different face.  “Are there any chairs in the room upstairs?” she asked, quietly.

“You would like to go back, prior to his death in 2058?  But I am afraid there has not been a chair in the room for several months – three months, twelve days, four hours and fifty-six minutes, to be exact.”

Sierra looked at Charles quizzically.

“I have the room monitored,” Charles explained.  “I have a device.”

Heron had taken her from Alexandria to Athens in 413, where they had taken two chairs to 2061, and then a private plane to New York.  So she had seen no evidence of chairs upstairs at this specific time. She knew full well that the rooms were frequently bereft of chairs. . . . Was this just more bad coincidence or more of Heron’s manipulation?

And something else about what Charles had just said caught her attention.  He had “a device” – no doubt something connected to a video or holographic surveillance of the room at the top of the winding stairs.  But why had he used just the general word “device,” and not something more specific like holographic cam?  Because it would not arouse suspicion with whomever he might be conversing about this, whatever their time of origin?

“What century do you originally come from, if you’ll pardon such a personal question,” Sierra asked him.

“Mid-nineteenth – same as Mr. Appleton.  A glorious age – so much hope in the powers of humanity!  But I have spent so much time in the 20th, 21st, and 22nd lately – I sometimes feel like a denizen of all eternity itself!”

He was indeed reminiscent of her dear Appleton.  She hoped that the publisher was safe at home in his beloved 1890s, as Heron had at some point assured her Appleton was. “What century did Thomas originally come from?” she asked Charles.

Charles coughed, and sipped some of his ginger seltzer.  “Apologies – I am just recovering from a bit of the croup, I think – I guess they call it minor Mutando virus now.” He laughed, and then coughed again.

Sierra kept her sympathetic gaze on him.

“Yes . . . about Thomas.  I’m afraid I honestly do not know,” Charles said.  “He was a very private man, as you know.”

Sierra quelled an unexpected surge of tears.  “Could you take me to Woodlawn now?  Would that be possible?  I assume Thomas is buried near Socrates?”

Charles nodded silently and called for the check.

* * * * * * * * * *

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx was very quiet this early, rusty, late September day.  They came upon the grave of Socrates first, under an oak.  Like most of the trees in the cemetery, it had seen better days.  Much like the people here, Sierra reflected.   The grass was neatly trimmed.  “The grave diggers keep the dandelions at bay,” Charles said.

“Dandelions don’t bother me,” Sierra said quietly.  She looked at the plain marble headstone.  Carved upon it, in equally plain letters, was “Socrates, 470 BC – 2042 AD.  He preferred speaking to writing, but the impact of his writing is beyond measure.” Sierra smiled, just slightly.

“Thomas was confident this would not attract attention – given some of the absurdities, the outright obscenities even, you see carved on other tombstones. . . .”  Now Charles smiled.  “I guess my public morality will always be a result of my father’s cane, and the mid-nineteenth century,” he added, apologetically.  Then he pointed, delicately, to another grave, with a smaller headstone, about five feet away.   There were no other graves between it and the grave of Socrates.

Sierra approached it.  It said: “Thomas O’Leary: ? – 2058 AD.  I ask the forgiveness of all whom I disappointed.”

“We found a note,” Charles said, shakily.  “It’s what Thomas wanted–“

And Sierra found her herself sobbing in huge waves.  She wrapped her arms around the gravesite.  “You didn’t disappoint me.  You made my life.”  Her tears ran from her cheeks down the rough grey stone. A few collected in the “o” of the carved “forgiveness”. The rest evaporated, or were absorbed in the stone, before they reached the ground.

Charles helped her up.  She didn’t know how long she had been crying, or what she had been saying.  She was still shaking.  “I’ve lost everyone I love,” she said.  “Everyone.  I’m the one who’s disappointed everyone.”

Charles hugged her for a while, then spoke softly but intensely.  “Listen to me.  Thomas never lost faith in you.  He told me, many times, ‘I do not worry for Sierra – she is destined to do great things.’  He loved you, very much.  He believed in you.”

She put her head against Charles’ chest, cried, and realized something about him at that moment.  He could not be an agent of Heron.  She also thought she understood now why Heron had let her leave.  He had wanted her to come here, to founder on her sorrow and guilt, to retire now from the stage he also had helped set her upon.  She understood this, because that is what she most wanted now.

She pulled away and managed a smile.  “Thank you, Mr. Charles.  I’m lucky to have you as a friend. . . .  Can we go back to the Club, now?”

* * * * * * * * * *

They took the Woodlawn line back to Manhattan – the reverse of the conveyance they had taken to the cemetery.  A static, non-digital plaque mounted above the seats opposite theirs advised that a train of one sort or another had been making this trip for better than 150 years. Sierra knew that this current model was one step below fastrain.  But it was still pretty fast.  It would be in Grand Central in 12 minutes.

Another sign said that they could press a button under each of their seats, and get a clacking sound piped in to each of them. “Many of the trains in the 20th century made this sound as they traveled this route,” the sign concluded.  “Many of our passengers say they find this sound comforting.”

Sierra looked at Charles, who nodded.  “Yes, I find it comforting, too,” he said.  The two pressed their buttons.

Sierra closed her eyes.  “I like it. . . .  Mr. Charles, do you have records of what your device sees in the room at the top of the spiral stairs?”

“You mean digital recordings?  No, I’m afraid not.”

Sierra looked at him.

“There is something in the lighting of the room that prevents permanent recording, and prevents making copies of the recordings,” Charles elaborated.  “After 24 hours precisely, the original recording fades.”

Sierra shook her head slowly and frowned.

“I assume it is some trick of Heron’s, from the future,” Charles said.  “Thomas agreed.  He said it was akin to some early forms of photography, before Daguerre in France.”

Sierra nodded.  “Before the right chemical compound was discovered, the precursors of the first photographs would always fade – and usually well before 24 hours.”

* * * * * * * * * *

The train arrived at Grand Central exactly on time.  Sierra and Charles walked the old Northcut promenade, which would take them to Madison and 53rd.  It was filled with spicy new restaurants and hi-tech boutiques.

Sierra stopped, suddenly.

“Is everything ok?” Charles inquired.

“I’ve changed my mind about going to the Millennium. I . . . I’m going someplace else.”

“Where?” Charles asked, concerned.  “Don’t you think it would be better if–“

“No,” Sierra replied.  “It’s something that I need to do now, as soon as possible.  And it’s better that you do not know what that is.”

Charles started to object, thought the better of it, then took Sierra’s hand and walked over to an ATM.  “I don’t know what kind of resources you have in this year–“

“My eye-scan should still give me access to my 2042 accounts–” It had the last time she’d been in this year, with Socrates.

“True, but just in case. . . .” Charles did some quick silent work with his fingers on the ATM, and it produced a thin, gleaming earring.

“Looks like a silver teardrop,” Sierra said.

Charles took it and put it in Sierra’s palm.  “There’s ten thousand dollars in there.  Use it as you see fit.”

“I can’t–”

“It’s what Thomas would have wanted,” Charles said.  “Don’t worry – I won’t tell anyone I even saw you today.”

“You can tell Jonah, if you see him.  He’ll know where I’ve gone.”

“The young Alexandrian man?”

“Yes.” Sierra hugged Charles, then kissed him on the cheek.  “Thank you, for everything.  You Victorian gentlemen are very lovable.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Sierra made a quick stop in an Apples & Oranges digi-boutique – “a device for every conceivable and inconceivable communication” – and dashed onto a train for the airport.

She used the comm on the arm rest of her seat to confirm that her eye scan still worked–  good, it did.  She sighed in relief.  She had Hypatia’s eyes now, but the retinas were her originals.  So the scan should have worked.  If it hadn’t, she no doubt eventually could have gotten complete claim and control of her identity by appealing to the DNA in her body, any place other than her face.  DNA facials, after all, were not uncommon.  She would have prevailed. . . . But this way was better.  Now she had complete access not only to her money, but to passport privs, etc.

She breezed through security at Kennedy, purchased her ticket, and boarded her plane.  She took her seat, closed her eyes, and relaxed just a bit – for the first time, she thought, since Heron had come into her room this morning.

“The sky is clear, the weather over the Atlantic is great, we should be in Athens Realport in just a little over two hours,” the captain announced.

[Athens, 2061]

The captain was even better than his word – Sierra’s hypersonic touched down in Athens 1 hour and 53 minutes after its departure from New York.  She moved swiftly through customs.  She hailed a cab, and told it to take her to that rundown bar in Athens – with the chairs, she hoped, in its back room.  She had no way of knowing beforehand if any were there.

“Certainly,” the cab’s male contralto voice acknowledged the address, in English with a slight Greek undertone.  She enjoyed what that sounded like.

“Top down,” she commanded, and the top of the taxi split in the middle, and came down on both sides, like an egret gracefully retracting its wings.  She put on the blue Raybans she had picked up at the Realport.  She loved the Grecian sun, whatever the millennium.

She touched the two scanners in her pocket.  Always good to have one for backup.  These 2061 models were much like the ones she knew from 2042.  She squeezed them, anxiously.  The question was whether they would work in the past.

She hadn’t addressed this question with Jonah.  She hadn’t thought of it until Charles had told her that his devices that watched the chair room at the Millennium Club were unable to permanently record.  Surely Heron’s doing.  But if Heron had done that, had he also put some kind of blockage on devices from the future – scanners, cams, phones – that attempted to record in the past?  It seemed like something that Heron might do – protect the future, meaning, his future, from contamination by the past.  It would probably be easy to do.  Just put something into the chairs, some burst of radiation or electro pulse, that permanently disabled any recording equipment.

Or, for all she knew, the very travel through time would disable any digital or electrochemical recording device.  Heron had never said a word to her about the physics of the chairs, and nothing in her experience with them had given her an inkling of what made them move through time. . . .

She would find out soon enough.  And if her scanners were indeed useless in ancient Alexandria, she would have to move to a Plan B – significantly more difficult and much less effective – to save the texts. . . .

Her taxi arrived at the bar.  She assented to her fare, stepped out onto the street, and waved goodbye to the voice as the cab sped away. It was a beautiful ride, all sunshine and breeze. But she knew she was not really waving goodbye to the cab.  She was saying goodbye to 2061, for who knew how long, possibly forever.

Emotions welled in her chest. She fought them back.  She pocketed her sunglasses, opened the door, and walked into the bar.  Anyone could be here – Appleton, Heron, Thomas, Alcibiades. . . .  Her eyes adjusted to the darkness.  The place was empty, not only of light but people.

She walked quickly to the back door, and placed her palm in the proper place.  The door opened.  She knew this would also tell Heron that she was here at this moment, but she had no choice.

There were two chairs in the room – thank goodness!  She sat in the closest one.  She had not completely decided how far back in time she should go.  413 AD had the enormous advantage of giving her access to any text she desired in the Library, as Hypatia.  But these chairs were so damn imprecise, she couldn’t be sure she would arrive after the time Heron had taken her and Appleton.  And she could hear Appleton – not to mention Jonah and even Synesius – pleading with her to stay away from that cursed time.  She could go back to 150 AD, where she had previously visited as Ampharete.  But Heron was ensconced in the Library back then, and running into him could lead only to no good.  She could go back even further, to 50 BC, before Caesar’s soldiers began the burnings. . . . God, that was appealing.  To see Caesar, Cleopatra, Antony – and geniuses like Cicero if she made the easy trip from Alexandria to Rome. . . . But she wasn’t here as a tourist, she had to remind herself.  Still, she might be able to see – and scan – a text or two back then that had been lost by 150 AD.  She intended to do just a few scans on this trip, and if they endured, if the scanners worked as they should in the past, see if the scans then survived the trip back to 2061, or 2042. . . . But she had no knowledge at all of who the main Librarians were in 50 BC.  She hadn’t had time to do the research. . . .

She ran through the three possibilities again, made a decision, and entered a year.

[End of excerpt]
About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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