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Ronald M. Hahn & Harald Pusch
A Science Fiction-Novel
1887: Adventurers from all over the world sell all their property, buy equipment and provisions and cross the Chilcoot pass in hope of finding gold at the Klondike. But not all of them are what they seem to. In fact, some have spent a fortune for the adventure of their lifetime. They are Temponauts, tourists from a future where Alaska at the time of the gold rush has become the romantically
glorified hit of a time travelling agency. But there's a catch: Temponauts may not alter the past, lest they jeopardize their own future.
Temponaut Nick Scott is well on his way to break all rules of time tourism. He has lost his memory, forgot his origin and is chased by mysterious enemies without knowing why. He meets Constance, a woman from the future who has known him well there. Together they search for the last remaining time gate and can only hope that their future world still exists.
Ronald M. Hahn - seven times winner of the Kurd Lasswitz-Preis, the most prestigious German science fiction award - and Harald Pusch tell a gripping adventure yarn set against the background of Jack London's gold digger world.
This novel is based on Jack London’s short story
The Sun-Dog Trail
(Harper’s Monthly, 1905)
„All my life“, he said, „I have searched
for the treasure. I have sought it in the high
places, and in the narrow. I have
sought it in deep jungles, and at the ends
of rivers, and in dark caverns – and yet
have not found it.
„Instead, at the end of every trail,
I have found you awaiting me. And now
you have become familiar to
me, though I cannot say I know you well.
Who are you?“
And the stranger answered: „Thyself.“
- From an old tale
Your name is now Nicholas Scott.
You have a perfect history.
If someone should address you by your real name, do not react.
If someone should give the impression of knowing you, do not deny this outright. But do not go into the matter too deeply. Stay non-committal. At all costs avoid intimate contacts. The danger of entering into emotional commitments is too great.
Do not talk about things which are not present in your immediate surroundings.
Avoid discussing books you have read and films you have seen. Do not sing.
Do not engage in serious discussions.
Do not talk politics.
Do not let anyone realize how much you really know.
Admit only in the direst emergencies that you speak foreign languages. Do not arouse suspicion with undue correctness.
If you come across familiar faces, go out of your way to avoid them.
Under no circumstances associate with historical figures.
Is everything clear?
Is everything clear?
As the tip of the needle penetrated his vein, he was filled with an inner warmth. It swelled into heat, the heat he had experienced in a calcium injection.
He could not shake off the feeling that there was something wrong with his eyes.
Hey, old chap, he told himself, it’ll soon be over. There is just the entry, the entry to…
Or the exit.
It depended on how you looked at it.
The man... There had been a man there a moment ago. A man bending over him.
It’ll be O.K., he thought, you’ll see. They’ll manage it. They’ll pull it off. They’re experts. They’re not doin’ it for the first time. Those guys’ll pull it off all right. No problems.
The gentle tingling in his veins increased, grew stronger, stronger still, overwhelmingly strong, huge, cruel, painful.
That was the way.
They’ll pull it off.
The ground stopped shifting. Heat gave way to coolness.
There was a wind blowing.
From far off: the murmur of voices.
Frost and fire. He was burning and freezing.
And then: INSIDE.
That was when he knew that something had gone wrong.
Leaving the Chilcoot Pass behind them, they had found their way through the chain of lakes and across Lake Linderman and came on through the Yukon to within striking distance of Dawson. Cody had been the first to give in. His weak ticket collector’s heart stopped beating when the winter took them by surprise and the snow fell so thick and so steadily that nobody could see his hand in front of his eyes, while the camps of those who had already been here some time grew more and more numerous.
Hellman, who had cleared out of San Francisco because he thought the child his wife had given birth to was not his, was the one to suggest that the others should forget their hunger for gold for a while and take a break, in order to bury Cody under the snow and fashion a thin cross of spruce twigs.
The ceremony did not last long. Ten minutes later Devereaux, who had taken the opportunity to unharness Cody’s dogs, drove the animals together. Gorsky, the narrow-chested, tuberculous Russian who had been carried on from the Bering Strait into the Gulf of Alaska, cast a brief glance at the dead man’s equipment and said, „What do we do with it?“ He had a harsh accent, which not everyone understood.
Hellman said: „No-one can drive two sleds at once.“
„We should divide up the things among us“, proposed Devereaux with a shrug of his shoulders. „I think we can all do with a bit of them.“
„Hm“, was Hellman’s comment.
„He no had luck“, said Gorsky. „So short way to go.“ He looked sad.
Devereaux’ gaunt face tautened. He stood on tiptoe and said: „A few minutes more – and he would have been able to see Dawson.“
The others were silent. Hellman took on the job of dividing up Cody’s property. Gorsky got two of his dogs, as he had lost one on the way and another of his animals was lame. Devereaux got two as well: his team had always been too weak to pull the loads the North-West Police imposed on all gold-seekers wishing to enter the Klondike territory.
Hellman, whose soft heart had too often talked him into giving away his own supplies to men who had run short of food on the trail, received the lion’s share. Nobody raised any objection.
Nick got a sled dog, Cody’s cooking gear and the rest of his equipment.
During the whole procedure he said not a word. He just stood there, looked at his boot caps and asked himself if it had not been a mistake to head north.
In contrast to the other men, the gold finds made up here left him strangely cold. What am I doing here? he asked himself. What devil has got into me, for me to cut and run like this? He had not the slightest motive for being here.
While the other men dealt out Cody’s goods, he watched passively. Devereaux, struck by Nick’s strange indifference, doubtless shared his puzzlement. Nick was no great talker. Although he obviously had an American accent, he sometimes came up with words which made it sound as if he had been brought up in another language. Devereaux had seen that he kept a diary, on the evenings when he didn’t fall straight onto his bed exhausted. And now and again, when he thought himself alone, he talked to himself and used expressions which neither he nor the others were familiar with. Nick for him was somebody out of the ordinary; he was a journalist, writing for a paper. He was often absent-minded, and when spoken to he always seemed to be coming out of a deep daydream.
Hellman, the only one of them to have benefited from a certain degree of education, was of the opinion that one could tell Nick’s occupation just from his language: „He talks like a book.”
At that, Gorsky had only nodded. Such concepts meant nothing to him, for he could neither read nor write. Anyway, he could think of nothing more desirable than speaking the English language as fluently as the taciturn stranger who had joined them outside Fort Selkirk.
Eleven miles separated Cody’s grave from Dawson City, a town pulsing with life which had brought together from all corners of the world men who were getting ready to strike it rich in the northern cold. The narrow streets of the town were overflowing with life; from the bars and amusement halls which had shot up like mushrooms rang laughter and raucous voices. In the gambling dens the roulette wheels turned incessantly.
Prices had risen to astronomical heights. Anyone with enough supplies of food to last out the long Arctic winter could make them worth their weight in gold dust on the spot. The first finds had made a few dozen men into multimillionaires and turned a few hundred others into wealthy individuals.
Once in town, Gorsky was the first to leave the group. He wanted to meet a fellow-countryman who had crossed the pass a good half year earlier and had written to tell him that there were good pickings for him too. Despite his poor command of the language, Gorsky planned to keep a look-out for his acquaintance among the over twenty thousand gold diggers thronging the town. As he went, he shook the others’ hands, slapped Nick on the shoulder and said to Hellman: „Good luck, you people. Was much happy, travel with you. Good comrade, all.“
Hellman waved after him. Devereaux gave a friendly grin. Nick gazed at the departing Russian with a pensive look in his eyes.
„A penny for your thoughts“, said Devereaux.
„I’ve just remembered a song“, he said.
„A song?“ Devereaux raised his eyebrows quizzically. „In these surroundings you think of a song?“ He shook his head, baffled. „Look at this town! Look at the lights, the life, the present! We have made it, Nick, and hundreds of others have fallen out along the way.“
„I was surprised myself“, said Nick.
„What’s it called?“ asked Hellman. He looked tired, with his red-rimmed eyes and a beard which had put ten years on him.
Nick shrugged his shoulders. „I don’t know.“ He dropped his gaze as if he had been caught red-handed.
„Then sing it to us“, said Devereaux. „I like songs.“
Nick pursed his tips, as if to whistle the song. Then he looked round, gave an embarrassing grin, pulled his mittens off and lit a cigarette.
Devereaux looked at Hellman gleefully.
„Let’s find somewhere to put the dogs“, said Hellman, intervening. And turning to Nick, he added: „Dumb idea. You wouldn’t find me standing in the middle of the main street singing a song, either.“
The price charged by the kennel owner for looking after the huskies was almost as high as for a night in a San Francisco hotel. In a town like Dawson, which currently had more millionaires knocking about in it than anywhere else in the world, no-one seemed to be surprised at that.
Hellman, who had the least ready cash, saw no other way of getting solvent again but selling one of his animals.
Fortunately the hardy sled dogs seemed to be as keenly sought after as gold in these parts. The price obtained would certainly be enough to free him from all worries for weeks to come.
Night was already drawing on as they seated themselves in the taproom of the ‘Eldorado’ in the midst of all manner of adventurous-looking figures; ignoring the stinking cigar smoke, the infernal noise and the discords produced by a drunken pianist, they enjoyed the meal they had been looking forward to for weeks. Some joker had hung a notice by the piano, which said PLEASE DO NOT SHOOT THE PIANIST – HE IS DOING HIS BEST! On stage, an unmistakably American female trio were endeavouring to disguise their nasal Tennessee dialect with a thick layer of French accent.
The hungry men who had spent months on their claims before coming into town to have a good time, acclaimed them as if they had come straight from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
The gold-diggers did not ask much. The months of hard work had ground them down and tired them out; that was the only reason why they abandoned themselves to cheap pleasures. Some of them drank so much on this evening that they fell down and took whole tables with them. But so long as they paid their date and the bags of gold dust in front of them were not empty, no-one would take them by the collar and turn them out into the cold. They might be ragged, with unkempt beards, but between them they had more gold at their disposal than the owner of the ‘Eldorado’ kept in his safe.
Around midnight, as the crescendo of noise reached its climax, Devereaux laid aside his eating irons, lit his Meerschaum pipe and leant back. He fixed his ice-gray eyes on Nick. After looking at him for a long while he said: „You were going to sing us a song, weren’t you?“
Hellman pushed back his chair, gestured with evident unease at the screeching can-can dancers doing their stuff on the stage and said: „I’m tired. I’m going to hit the sack. Good night.“
„Take care“, said Devereaux. He blew out a thick cloud of smoke. Then his eyes fell upon Nick again.
„You’re not quite happy about me, are you?“ asked Nick.
Before Devereaux could object, he went on: „I’ve noticed you watching me.“
Devereaux raised a hand in protest.
„All right, Frank, take it easy“, said Nick. „It’s just that I...“
„...I wouldn’t like you to think I...“
„It’s just“, broke in Nick, „that I can quite understand you. I mean... You’ve got good reason to watch me. I can see that I...“
Nick shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, searched for words. „I know I behave... strangely. But I can tell you the reason for that.“ He looked at Devereaux. „I seriously wonder what I’m doing here at all.“
Devereaux looked up in surprise.
„You wonder what you’re doing here?“ He took his pipe out of his mouth. „Say, have I understood you correctly?“
„Yes... well... I...“ Devereaux seemed rather at a loss, and no wonder. He was here for the gold. So was Hellman. The same went for Gorsky and would have gone for Cody. It went for most of the men who were in Dawson at the moment. Every one of them wanted to make a fortune. Of course there were people here who planned to get rich without breaking their backs on it, but basically they were all here to get rich, one way or another.
„I don’t give a shit about the gold“, said Nick.
Devereaux gulped. „Well, why is that, in Heaven’s name?“ he asked.
„I have the feeling“, said Nick, casting an absent-minded look at his fingernails, „as if I’m here for a different reason altogether. A reason which... has slipped my mind.“
„You’re joking“, said Devereaux. He put down his pipe and took a hefty swig from the beer glass in front of him. „You’re trying to make a monkey out of me.“ He felt that the world no longer made sense.
Nick shrugged his shoulders. „That’s all I can tell you.
“You know“, said Devereaux, „you always seem so far away.“
„I know.“ Nick leant back, folded his arms and studied
the dancing girls, who were just twirling their skirts.
„It’s because it’s so often on my mind. That and other things.“ He pursed his tips and whistled a tune.
„Was that the song?“ asked Devereaux.
„Yes“, said Nick. „But it’s not just that. There’s other stuff in my head which sets me thinking. Things, names, songs. I keep hearing them. I can’t get away from them.“
He looked Devereaux in the eyes and said with a distracted smile: „I hope you’re not thinking I’ve flipped out."
Devereaux could not conceal his astonishment, but as he was not perfect in English, being a French-Canadian, he did not lose time puzzling over words he had never heard before. „Tell me what was going through your head when we were standing in the street with Hellman“, he said.
Nick bent forward, pulled thoughtfully at his collar and seemed to direct his gaze inwards.
„It goes like this“, he said: „I wanna live/I wanna give/I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold/It’s these expressions I never give/that keep me searching for a heart of gold/and I’m getting old.“
Devereaux looked at him in bewilderment. He did not know the song, but the tone of voice in which Nick hat recited the words gave him a fair idea of the tune.
„There’s more“, said Nick and went on: „I’ve been to Hollywood/I’ve been to Redwood/I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold/I’ve been in my mind, it’s such a fine line/ that keeps me searching for a heart of gold/and I’m getting old.“
While Nick reached for his cigarettes, Devereaux pulled deeply on his pipe and said: „Where is Hollywood?“
„That’s the problem“, replied Nick huskily. „Nowhere. It doesn’t exist.“
„Not on any map?“ said Devereaux, frowning. „Not even in England?“
„Not on a map“, said Nick. „Not even in England.“
„How can you be so sure?“ asked Devereaux.
Nick squared his shoulders. „I just know. I’m good on geography.“
„Hum“, grunted Devereaux. „But a town that’s sung about must exist somewhere.“ He knitted his eyebrows. „Maybe in Australia? Or Ireland?“
„Neither“, said Nick. He shook his head and pulled his chair straight. As he was going to get up, the door of the saloon opened, and a bearded man came in. He was slim and lean-faced, with wakeful eyes, and had a modern rifle in the crook of his arm. He had on expensive boots, wind proof pants, a fur jacket and a beaver skin cap. He was accompanied by a delicate, dark-haired woman with big light blue eyes, long eyelashes and red lips.
A fit of dizziness seemed to hit Nick. He laid one hand on his forehead, shook his head and stood there for three seconds as if unable to move.
Devereaux looked up and stared at him, startled, but Nick pulled himself together so quickly that nobody else noticed the state he was in.
A little uncertainly, but nevertheless determinedly.
Nick left Devereaux in his seat and retreated to the room they shared.
The next morning brought more snow. It also brought an unawaited message from the hotel management to the effect that they had to vacate their room. Only out of the purest Christian charity, or so the management of the ‘Eldorado’ gave them to understand, had they been provided with sleeping accommodation for the first night in Dawson. Both beds were reserved.
When Hellman heard the news, he immediately offered to leave along with Devereaux and Nick; he could not lie there wrapped in warm blankets with a clear conscience, he explained, knowing that two of his travelling companions were having to pitch camp in the open.
„Don’t worry about that”, said Devereaux to reassure him. „Hundreds here are sleeping in tents. In any case we aren’t chechaquos now. What have we to be afraid of?“
„There are all kinds of shady characters drifting round the neighbourhood“, said Hellman. „Life in tent city is definitely no picnic. And it costs plenty. Anyone with an undeveloped plot here squeezes people’s last dollars out of them.“
„Don’t let anyone put the wind up you“, said a voice behind them. It belonged to a powerful, dark-haired man of about twenty, whose broad features had been tanned a deep brown by the Northern sun. He wore fur pants, a dark blue cotton shirt, Indian moccasins and a cap with its ear flips turned up for the moment. When he grinned, he showed two rows of white teeth.
„If you’re looking for a place to camp, ask for Wild Water Charley when you get to tent city. And say Jack sent you.“
As Devereaux and Nick brought their baggage downstairs, the man who had been in the saloon the night before with the delicate-looking woman entered the ball. He looked at Nick for two whole seconds in surprise. Then he gave him a wink, as if they were old friends.
Nick shrugged his shoulders and held open the door for Devereaux, who was taking a few things out. The stranger asked the porter if he could bring in his baggage. His wife had been terribly cold in the tent overnight.
The porter evidently found the situation embarrassing. As Nick went out into the street, Devereaux stood there with arms akimbo. He now understood who they had had to give up their rooms for.
„Nice friends you’ve got“, he said, as they loaded their sleds.
„What?“ said Nick, without breaking off his work.
„You know this guy, eh“, said Devereaux out loud, pointing with his finger at the entrance of the ‘Eldorado’.
„What guy?“ Nick asked, and looked up.
„Look here“, burst out Devereaux, „why are you putting on this act with me, Nick? You know exactly who I mean.“
He took the pipe out of his mouth and jabbed the stem in the direction of Nick. „Last night, when he came in with the woman, you looked as if you’d seen a ghost. Today they tell us our room is reserved. And now guess for who? For the same guy that gave you such a friendly wink just now!“
Nick paused. He turned slowly round, took a look at the entrance of the ‘Eldorado’ and then said, ignoring the barking of the harnessed dogs: „You noticed it too, then?“
Devereaux gave an audible release of breath. „Too? That almost makes it sound as if...“
Nick held Devereaux in his gaze and said: „...as if I didn’t know what that wink meant myself?“
Devereaux nodded, open-mouthed.
„That’s just it, Frank. I hadn’t expected that from the man. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. He must have mixed me up with someone else.“ Nick busied himself with his lead dog’s harness. „Although...“
„Although?“ asked Devereaux. He did not even notice that his pipe had long since gone out, so intent on Nick’s words was he.
„Although last night I had the impression that we’d met somewhere before.“
„Great“, said Devereaux. „But when I run into someone who strikes me as somehow familiar...and who winks at me, what’s more – then I think it’s the most natural thing in the world to go up to him and ask him where the devil we’ve seen each other before!“ Devereaux flung his arms in the air and cried: „Why don’t you go after him and ask him where you could possibly know each other from?“
Nick lifted his head thoughtfully. „Because I have the feeling that’s exactly what I should not do.“
Devereaux pipe practically fell out of his mouth.
„Because you have a feeling?“ he asked. „Because you have a feeling? Hell and damnation, Nick, but you really do take the cake?“
„Maybe“, said Nick. He raised his whip and started his hounds; they moved off barking, sending up into the air the snow lying on Front Street.
It was not easy to track down Wild Water Charley, but after half an hour of asking around in the tent city surrounding Dawson, the new arrivals were directed to a big blue-gray house tent, in front of which a sign struck in the ground announced that a man of that name sold plots of land and rented out camping sites there.
Wild Water Charley was one of those adventurers who, while not finding any gold, had made a fortune anyway. Arriving in the Yukon Territory as a fur trapper, all of ten years ago, he had acquired sizeable parcels of land before the gold rush set in and was now selling these off at a profit. In Dawson itself he owned two saloons, a hotel and several gaming hells. He was a financial partner in sundry claims. He was a young man, in his early thirties and a shining example of drive and initiative.
„So Jack sent you!” he drawled, after he had shaken hands with Devereaux and Nick and offered them some coffee. „Hard to believe he’s still sending me clients after he lost out over the egg business. But never mind about that. Who can read the mind of a scribbler? It was a camp site you wanted? Okay, no problems. Ten dollars a week. How long do you want it? A week to start with? No problem!“
The man in the next tent to theirs was a German called Droonberg. His greeting to Devereaux was a voluble harangue made up of fragments of broken English, French and German. He had been there for five days and was looking for a partner, as his money was running out. Droonberg's enthusiasm had decidedly cooled already, and he was even thinking of giving up the search for gold before he had really begun to look. True, he could reckon with generous credit from Wild Water Charley, but all told he only had two months left. If he had found no gold by then, he would have to spend the rest of the winter like so many others who had left their homeland in a hurry with insufficient financing: he would have no choice but to look for a job in Dawson.
Droonberg proved himself a handy man to have around. In no time at all he had positioned himself at Devereaux’ Yukon stove and was fixing his new neighbours a meal with steaming coffee. Nick pulled off his coat. Droonberg brought up wood, and soon the fire was blazing so fiercely that the men could take off their caps and shed their moccasins.
Droonberg contributed half a bottle of whisky, and after they had given their full attention to the drink over
the next half hour, each man felt himself pervaded by a comforting warmth. Finally Devereaux lay down and fell into a deep sleep. Droonberg talked about Germany, and Nick listened. Eventually their neighbour too had had enough; he said his goodbyes and tottered out.
Nick lit a cigarette, stared absently at the snoring Devereaux, slipped his moccasins back on and went out. The cold hit him like an unexpected punch and practically knocked him off his feet. He stayed up, fought for breath and looked around. It had stopped snowing, and that could only mean it had got even colder. Tent City was still full of life, however. Nick saw packs of baying dogs fighting between the tents which housed the men, snapping at anything which seemed good to eat. The piled-up stores of those who, despite their evident wealth, had not been able to secure a hotel room seemed to be the dogs’ favorite target. Now and again you could hear the furious cries of men who had discovered a sack of dried fish torn open and sprang among the hungry beasts, armed with burning sticks of wood.
A horde of adventurers from all over the world had made Dawson their home. Among them one occasionally saw the broad-brimmed hats of the North-West Police. The Canadians had made no exceptions at Chilcoot Pass, which separated the USA from their country: anyone without at least a ton of provisions, a gold panning kit and five hundred dollars cash was sent back without mercy. Nick had seen men break down, men who had left house and home and cashed all their possessions – only to be refused admission to the land of gold.
Others, who had quit on the pass, had been pushed to one side without a word. They had had to give up, then sat there with cheek muscles held stiff until the evident fact of their failure had stripped away the last of their illusions and forced them to descend.
For the new arrivals, Dyea Beach itself had been a madhouse, with tens of thousands of tons of supplies lying around waiting to be transported over the pass. And the prices charged by the Indian porters of the Chilcoot tribe rose daily. Only those with substantial financial reserves had been able to afford to recruit natives. The others had simply had to pack their load into Canada on their own backs, hundredweight by hundredweight. Twenty hundredweight of supplies meant – depending on the physical constitution of the carrier – twenty to forty journeys over the pass. And the subarctic winter had already begun to set in. Only a few of the twenty thousand had cleared the pass unaided.
Nick frowned and drew on his cigarette. Not far off from where he was, he spotted the man who had met him in the hotel foyer that morning. The stranger was about his age, early thirties. And his wife...
Nick spat the half-smoked cigarette out into the snow and moved off. As he reached Wild Water Charley’s office tent, where he had spotted the couple, a sled moved off on his right. Picking up speed, it headed for the center of Dawson. Nick stopped, took a long hard look at it and then opened the tent flap.
He saw two bundles of kit, two pairs of skis and a big man with an almost Indian aquiline nose. He was in the process of rolling up a sleeping bag.
„What do you want?“ he asked, scrutinizing Nick from head to foot with a contemptuous air. The man was unshaved and suntanned. Round his narrow hips was draped a belt loaded with cartridges and a heavy Colt revolver.