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Timeline
Author: Michael Crichton

Chapter 1

CORAZoN

"Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it."

NEILS BOHR, 1927

"Nobody understands quantum theory."

RICHARD FEYNMAN, 1967

He should never have taken that shortcut.

Dan Baker winced as his new Mercedes S500 sedan bounced down the dirt road, heading deeper into the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona. Around them, the landscape was increasingly desolate: distant red mesas to the east, flat desert stretching away in the west. They had passed a village half an hour earlier  -  dusty houses, a church and a small school, huddled against a cliff  -  but since then, they'd seen nothing at all, not even a fence. Just empty red desert. They hadn't seen another car for an hour. Now it was noon, the sun glaring down at them. Baker, a forty-year-old building contractor in Phoenix, was beginning to feel uneasy. Especially since his wife, an architect, was one of those artistic people who wasn't practical about things like gas and water. His tank was half-empty. And the car was starting to run hot.

"Liz," he said, "are you sure this is the way?"

Sitting beside him, his wife was bent over the map, tracing the route with her finger. "It has to be," she said. "The guidebook said four miles beyond the Corazón Canyon turnoff."

"But we passed Corazón Canyon twenty minutes ago. We must have missed it."

"How could we miss a trading post?" she said.

"I don't know." Baker stared at the road ahead. "But there's nothing out here. Are you sure you want to do this? I mean, we can get great Navajo rugs in Sedona. They sell all kinds of rugs in Sedona."

"Sedona," she sniffed, "is not authentic."

"Of course it's authentic, honey. A rug is a rug."

"Weaving."

"Okay." He sighed. "A weaving."

"And no, it's not the same," she said. "Those Sedona stores carry tourist junk  -  they're acrylic, not wool. I want the weavings that they sell on the reservation. And supposedly the trading post has an old Sandpainting weaving from the twenties, by Hosteen Klah. And I want it."

"Okay, Liz." Personally, Baker didn't see why they needed another Navajo rug  -  weaving  -  anyway. They already had two dozen. She had them all over the house. And packed away in closets, too.

They drove on in silence. The road ahead shimmered in the heat, so it looked like a silver lake. And there were mirages, houses or people rising up on the road, but always when you came closer, there was nothing there.

Dan Baker sighed again. "We must've passed it."

"Let's give it a few more miles," his wife said.

"How many more?"

"I don't know. A few more."

"How many, Liz? Let's decide how far we'll go with this thing."

"Ten more minutes," she said.

"Okay," he said, "ten minutes."

He was looking at his gas gauge when Liz threw her hand to her mouth and said, "Dan!" Baker turned back to the road just in time to see a shape flash by  -  a man, in brown, at the side of the road  -  and hear a loud thump from the side of the car.

"Oh my God!" she said. "We hit him!"

"What?"

"We hit that guy."

"No, we didn't. We hit a pothole."

In the rearview mirror, Baker could see the man still standing at the side of the road. A figure in brown, rapidly disappearing in the dust cloud behind the car as they drove away.

"We couldn't have hit him," Baker said. "He's still standing."

"Dan. We hit him. I saw it."

"I don't think so, honey."

Baker looked again in the rearview mirror. But now he saw nothing except the cloud of dust behind the car.

"We better go back," she said.

"Why?"

Baker was pretty sure that his wife was wrong and that they hadn't hit the man on the road. But if they had hit him, and if he was even slightly injured  -  just a head cut, a scratch  -  then it was going to mean a very long delay in their trip. They'd never get to Phoenix by nightfall. Anybody out here was undoubtedly a Navajo; they'd have to take him to a hospital, or at least to the nearest big town, which was Gallup, and that was out of their way -

"I thought you wanted to go back," she said.

"I do."

"Then let's go back."

"I just don't want any problems, Liz."

"Dan. I don't believe this."

He sighed, and slowed the car. "Okay, I'm turning. I'm turning."

And he turned around, being careful not to get stuck in the red sand at the side of the road, and headed back the way they had come.

"Oh Jesus."

Baker pulled over, and jumped out into the dust cloud of his own car. He gasped as he felt the blast of heat on his face and body. It must be 120 degrees out here, he thought.

As the dust cleared, he saw the man lying at the side of the road, trying to raise himself up on his elbow. The guy was shaky, about seventy, balding and bearded. His skin was pale; he didn't look Navajo. His brown clothes were fashioned into long robes. Maybe he's a priest, Baker thought.

"Are you all right?" Baker said as he helped the man to sit up on the dirt road.

The old man coughed. "Yeah. I'm all right."

"Do you want to stand up?" he said. He was relieved not to see any blood.

"In a minute."

Baker looked around. "Where's your car?" he said.

The man coughed again. Head hanging limply, he stared at the dirt road.

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