Cover of first edition
|Cover artist||Yukio Tashiro|
|Published||1965 (The Viking Press)|
|Pages||253 (Hardback edition)|
|Preceded by||The Crossroads of Time|
While visiting with her sister a version of Earth on which life never began, Marva Rogan has gone missing. Her sister Marfy is certain that she is still alive, but is equally certain that she is no longer on that timetrack. Blake Walker, on his first solo mission as an Apt Wardsman, picks up Marfy to take her back to Vroom, succeeding in spite of someone having sabotaged his crosstime shuttle.
Based on clues found in Marva's personal possessions, Com Varlt decides to take a search team into a world in which the Nation of New Britain and the Toltec Empire glare at each other across the Mississippi River. Varlt, Walker, Marfy, Pague Lo Sige, and several other agents disguise themselves as a team of licensed traders and make their way to the trade town of Xomatl.
Marfy locates Marva on the estate of a minor lord and she, Walker, and Lo Sige extract Marva from that estate, carrying her, wrapped in vines covered with fragrant flowers, off the estate during a ceremony in which guests are expected to ravish and plunder the estate's formal garden. The person driving the getaway van then takes the four of them to an isolated house, where they are rendered unconscious. When they wake up they discover that they have been taken to the lifeless Earth and abandoned to starve to death.
Using components salvaged from the ruined communications system, Lo Sige builds a device that will amplify the telepathic signals that he and the Rogan twins transmit and, he hopes, will send them to alternate timetracks. The device succeeds in attracting a rescuer, who takes the four strandees to a world where other wardsmen have come with their shuttles to avoid being captured by forces loyal to Saur To'Kekrops, the would-be dictator of Vroom.
With time running out, Walker goes to Vroom alone, allegedly to join To'Kekrops. He offers to lead a capture team to pick up Erc Rogan, To'Kekrops' most dangerous nemesis. Once back on the refuge world, Walker betrays To'Kekrops' men and leads his own team back to Vroom to confront To'Kekrops, the spider at the center of the web of treason. With a more powerful teledynamic amplifier, Lo Sige, Erc Rogan, his daughters, and another wardsman confront To'Kekrops and neutralize him. All that is left to do is to pick up the pieces and put the crosstime trading system back together again.