4812 words (19 minute read)

New Chapter

Episode 1 Scene 14

The Past

When I came to, it was night. I’d no idea how long I’d been out but it must've been a while. The constellations in the night sky were crystal clear, not a hint of sun anywhere. I sat up and almost threw up. My head was pounding and I could feel sticky blood matted in the hair at the back of my head. I didn't touch it; I didn't want to know how badly I was injured. An ounce of denial was worth a pound of truth. A woman came over to me. I recognized her. This was a good sign: at least my brain wasn't completely wrecked.

The woman, one of the agricultural elders, looked worried, and rightly so. At ground level the smoldering glow of the buildings provided enough light to see the damage and the stink of smoke brought back to me what’d happened. What the hell had attacked us? The elder told me nothing and instead grabbed me by the arm and guided me to the communal hut. Inside were the rest of the elders and they looked grim.

I sat down and someone gave me a drink. It was the local version of alcohol, a rough moonshine. It tasted great. I coughed my appreciation and got down to business. I was no longer an extra mouth to feed. With the death of Leon, their warrior leader, I was the next best option. They were a practical people and adapted to the circumstances. I respected that.

The meeting was short, my favorite kind, and the result was simple. No one had seen what I’d seen, but they knew they were under attack. The ‘why’ wasn't important, but the ‘what to do about it’ was. As I said, they were a practical people. In the end they gave me the keys to the armory and put me in charge of compound defense. An excellent decision.

I got the warriors together for our first pow-wow. I guess I didn't have the only keys to the armory because one of the youngsters gave me an enormous 50 caliber sniper rifle. I was touched, but as gifts go, it was useless. I can hit the side of a barn with a sniper rifle but then I can hit the side of a barn with most things. The purpose of such a weapon is not to hit the barn, but rather project beyond the barn, to damage your enemy before the barn even becomes threatened.

The problem with sniper rifles is they’re a highly specialized tool – one that takes years and millions of dollars of training to become adept with. Something I didn’t have. Still, the kid had the right idea; we had to project our force. Lying in wait and focusing our firepower just outside the compound walls worked on the Clans, but whatever this was had hurt us from a distance.

The second attack occurred the following day and it followed exactly the same MO. The damage was much less, as there was less to damage, and the people in the compound just took cover and waited it out. The white-dressed figure sat off at the same distance, in the same place, and took pot shots at the same burnt out buildings. It then mounted its future bike and took off.

Right. Got it. Doing something twice is not enough to be a pattern, but I'm not the patient type. I snagged the kid who gave me the sniper rifle and he showed me exactly where he found it. Sniper rifles are usually accompanied by spotting scopes, compasses and, most importantly, kickass Ghillie suits. I was going to project myself out there and hope the white-clad figure repeated its actions.

Episode 1 Scene 15

The Present

We've been making decent time through Saskatoon. Saskatoon, or Sync City as it’s become known, is a tricky place. This is where The Blink Event happened. This is where humanity took our timeline and threw it in the temporal blender.

We’re moving through the outer edges of the city to the north of downtown. We need to swing by the university, or the giant temporal sink that exists where the university used to be, to make it through before nightfall. The time eddies in this area are rough and unpredictable. If I didn't have my ride with me, I wouldn't even bother trying. But why have great uber-tech if you can't make dangerous and stupid decisions every once in a while? Besides, the detour around the time sink takes forever and Mikey’s already pissing me off.

"Come on," she says. "You've got to tell me."

"It's classified."

"Classified from who? There's no one else around. 'Classified' was bullshit even before The Blink, grandpa."

"I'm younger than Dwayne," I counter.

"Shit, everyone's younger than Dwayne. He's got to be over 40."

The temptation to lay rubber and get out of here’s overwhelming, and it isn’t helped by the fact that my ride’s enjoying my discomfort. The latest upgrade to my machine included a 'personality adjustment’ for the vehicle interface, one that’s supposedly 'compatible with my primary mode of thinking'. Obviously then I'm a complete prick and I hate myself. The Deacons tell us that the bikes are not sentient and that you, the Keeper, are in charge, but try telling that to the two-wheeled bastards. They never listen. Getting my ride to go faster currently wasn’t an option.

"Right, change of subject," I order. "Time eddies. What do you know about them?"

"What's there to know? You get sucked into one and hope you have enough breath to survive until you get spat out."

"You ever get caught in one, Mikey?"

She shrugs, playing the cool card. She clearly hasn’t. Getting caught inside a time eddy’s not something to be cool about. The amount of shit you see as you swirl through the past and future is unnerving. There are only so many times you want to see yourself die. Did I mention that time eddies are personal? Well, they are, a twisting, turning microcosm of your possible pasts and futures: a total mind screw.

"So, you haven't spent much time outside of the fuel depot, right?”

Again she gives a cool shrug.

"Listen, time eddies are crap,” I continue. “They mess with your brain. They can kill you."

"Yeah. So? This is old news."

"But," I carry on over the teenage attitude, "they’re better than being killed or captured by a Scyther."

"What?" says a more interested Mikey.

She maneuvers her ATV/sidecar combo closer. My bike baulks and judders sideways. I throw my ride a mental smirk. For my bike, Mikey's ATV’s like having a distant mountain relative visit.

"You never want to be captured by a Scyther, especially you. If the Deacons know who you are, so do the Scythers."

"So the Scythers have a plan?"

Right now I need to make a decision. How much do I tell her? The Deacons sending me off to  chase the Scyther was probably only part of my mission. Finding Mikey and bringing her back for training was undoubtedly the primary goal. It has to be, though why they didn't tell me about her is unknown. They’d just give the standard excuse of 'knowing events which are occurring in the time-web can lead to catastrophic temporal shifts'. Sounds a lot like 'classified' or 'need to know'. I make my decision.

"Scythers don’t plan. Scythers are soldiers. They’re the equivalent of Keepers."

"So they’re like you," she says.

"Kind of. Though with less autonomy."

"I don't get it. I thought they just killed us."

"Yeah, well they do that, but it's under direction."

"Someone’s telling them what to do?"

"Someone or something. We don't know, but they’re being coordinated."

I shake my head. There’s a lot we don't know about Scythers, and their tendency to explode instead of being captured has left us with nothing to study.

"So what's that got to do with me being captured? Why’s a time eddy better?"

My smile’s grim. "What we do know is Scythers were originally human." "So…”

"DNA shows that some of the destroyed Scythers were us."

"Us? People?"

"Yeah, but not that," I respond. "A lot of them were former Keepers. Ones we thought were dead."

"Oh," Mikey says. "So if I get caught..."

"You get a whole lot of wet-ware jammed in your head and you go off and kill a ton of innocent people."

She continues to bump alongside me. The going’s rough but her ride’s doing OK. She’s deep in thought. It’s not a look that suits her. She pulls herself back to reality and grimaces.

"You’d better tell me more about time eddies, Keeper."

Episode 1 Scene 16

The Past

I'd forgotten how much Ghillie suits itch and how much bugs like to get into sweaty crevasses. I'd been out in the sun for 5 or 6 hours and needed the cool of the evening. I didn't know when the white-clad dude would be back, but I wanted it to be soon. I’m too old for this shit.

My weapons were basic: two grenades, a handgun and a Ka-Bar. As far as knives go, the Ka- Bar’s my favorite, and as far as close-quarter weapons go, it comes out on top again. It doesn't jam, it doesn't run out of ammo, and when you stick it in someone they become deeply unhappy.

The daylight and heat bled out of the sky and the temperature got cooler. I was confident the pattern would be repeated. I needed to be. The two previous attacks reminded me of the initial War Clan skirmishes, only from a distance. The first Clan clashes were limited affairs: they turn up, attack the front door, and kill or get killed. Nothing in the way of a game plan. The creature in white has repeated itself twice. Third strike and it’s out.

The moon had swung half way up into the night sky when he arrived. He was much later than the first two times, but that made no difference. I was now close enough to see the figure and it was definitely more male than female. He stopped in the same spot and dismounted. He opened a compartment on the side of the vehicle and pulled out the mechanism I'd seen previously.

He followed the same routine. He placed the mechanism to his eyes, found a target and lowered the device. I could’ve lobbed a grenade then and there but I wanted to see how it fired. He reached forward and pressed an icon on the screen. A hole puckered open in the rear of his vehicle, there was a quiet 'whoosh' and a projectile spat out. It looked like a gob of silly putty and 10 seconds later there was a large explosion in the compound, right where the generator had been. Again with the repetition.

The figure stood and watched; I waited. I was betting on him going for the grain storage shed again. He lifted the device to his eyes. He targeted and pressed the icon. Bet won. Time for action.

I exploded from the camouflage and sprinted towards him. Shit, laying on the ground all that time had done me no favors. Any stealth was out the window. At the noise the figure spun elegantly around and, as he did so, I caught sight of the screen. On it was an infrared image of a man wearing a Ghillie suit stumbling across a dark background. I'd been played.

I reached for my gun and started firing before I took accurate aim. I was hoping to shock him into doing something stupid; I needn’t have bothered. The bullets didn't even make it halfway to him before they dropped to the ground. I tossed the gun at him; same result. I jinked sideways and went into a roll. I'd seen a deepish depression in the earth off to my left. I tumbled into the depression, unclipped a grenade, ripped out the safety pin and lobbed it in his general direction. An explosion shattered the night. Take that and die.

I slowly raised myself from the shallow ditch. He was nowhere to be seen.

Episode 1 Scene 17

The Present

"There," whispers Mikey. "The 7-11."

I follow the direction of her arm and sure enough, behind a strangely preserved convenience store, there's another one: a time eddy. This one’s the size of one of those green garbage bins they used to collect recycling in. Huh, recycling, saving the planet. Not so important now.

Being this close to the university gives me the shits. It also doesn't help that the evening’s closing in. The number of eddies we’ve run into is far more than usual and it’s slowing us down. We're going to get caught outside for the night and that’s a bad plan.

We jig our vehicles away from the time eddy. It wobbles slightly towards us as if detecting our movements. The Deacons say the eddies are simply a result of the freaky physics that exist around the temporal sink and are in no way alive. But from my experience, and from what other Keepers have said, they have a tendency to latch on to your presence and tag along if you don't move away quickly.

We ease on the gas and pick up speed. The eddy wobbles faster, and then breaks off. It can't keep up. I check the heads-up display in my helmet. It’s not following us. I’ve neglected to mention the detection capabilities of my helmet to Mikey, and have instead appointed her chief time-eddy watcher. It's good practice for her, I rationalize, and it keeps her conversation to a minimum. At least, it did.

"What the hell happened here?" she asks.

Mikey’s looking at the edge of the temporal sink. Behind the mostly opaque curtain shimmering not too far ahead of us we can see the form and shape of buildings. The buildings pulse with a rhythm similar to that of a human heart. Sometimes they beat in a coordinated manner, like right now; other times it’s all over the place.

"Ground zero," I say. "The Blink Event happened here."

She looks around and spots more time eddies in the distance. They’re no threat so she doesn't bother mentioning them. I can live with that.

"I‘m too young," she says.

"Too young for what?"

"I don’t remember The Blink. I don’t know what it was like before. I’ve spent my life cascading all over the place. Old doesn’t seem important."

"Where have you been?" I ask, referencing the cascades.

I don't like to think too hard about life before The Blink. First of all, it's not relevant and secondly, I was a prick back then. I'm still a prick, but back then it wasn’t completely necessary. Though, if I'm totally honest with myself, being a prick gave me the emotional makeup to become a Keeper. Once again I justify my own personality shortcomings. Now that's an underappreciated life skill.

"I've been up and down, though mainly up," she replies.

"How far up? I know I met your old man around 2040."

"Yeah, I was a kid then, learning the rig. My brother was teaching me."

"When did we take him?"

She shrugs. "My brother? Four, five years ago, something like that."

Her brother’s probably a Keeper then, fully trained. Either that or dead.

"2040’s as far as you've been?" I ask.

"Nope, got to somewhere around 2100. There's weird shit happening around then."

"Ain't that the truth?"

As a Keeper, I've been a lot further up and down than your average fuel depot citizen, and 2100’s likely as far as someone of Mikey's era would go. Other groups and communities get cascaded much further away. The larger the grouping, the more likely they are to end up somewhere completely outside their own era. We think it's a question of survivability: bigger groups supposedly have a greater chance of living. But no one really knows. Or at least, no one’s telling.

"So what happened here?" she repeats, looking around at the shimmering curtain.

We bump along the mainly paved street that runs along the edge of the university. There are plenty of pot-holes around, but then there always have been. We’re closer to the curtain now, but that doesn't help in seeing more detail behind it.  The street has an abandoned feel to it. It's highly unlikely we’ll encounter anyone around here. The constant presence of time eddies sees to that.

I sigh. "Someone fucked around with something and everything time-shifted."

"What? They teach you that in Keeper school? That's not even close to an explanation."

I sigh again. "It was the synchrotron. At the university. A scientist developed a theory that smashing certain exotic particles together at near light speeds would open up a time window."

"A synchrotron?" she says, trying out the word.

"It's a machine, a giant donut-shaped machine that accelerates particles. It's used to study shit."

"And they used this to mess with time."

This is out of my league. The shit they spoon fed us when The Blink happened could fill a lake. Wave after wave of technical explanations, followed by fervent promises that this would never happen again and finally soothing platitudes that everything was OK. Crock. Of. Shit. Especially when the War Clans arrived and started massacring people.

"Yeah, listen, ask one of the Deacons. They'll give you the full nine yards,” I pause. “And you’ll still know nothing."

This gets me a moment of silence. My eyes flick to the heads up display. My n-comm tingles and my bike notches its defensive posture up a level. The two time eddies are still registering on the outer edge of the display. But this is not enough to concern my ride, not by a long shot.

My armor begins to harden and my shoulder mounted threat tubes twitch as ordnance gets pumped in. I check the display to see what ammo I have access to in this time zone. Light shards. Sexy. I love light shards. And depleted-uranium cluster units. Shit. DUCs. That’s heavy duty. Any time depleted uranium comes up it means Scyther-time.

"What the hell’s going on, Keeper?" demands Mikey.

She’s seen what's happening to my armor and weapons and she’s a little nervous. It’s hard not to be. Seeing a Keeper getting their groove on is intimidating. We’re not peace keepers: we’re battle platforms. We’re supposed to scare the shit out of people.

"Scyther, probably.”

"Probably?"

"Temporal sink messes up sensors. I can only see up to the curtain."

"The curtain?"

"Yeah, up to where the time eddies are."

There’s a moment of silence. "You can see the time eddies?”

Oops. I no longer have a time-eddy-watcher-in-chief. Change of subject.

"We've got to move."

"Higher ground? A building?" she suggests.

At least she’s not pissed at me.

"Higher ground?" I echo, raising my eyebrows.

"Yeah,” she replies, “tactics, strategy, you know."

I shake my head. With Scythers, anything less than a small hill and your 'higher ground' gets exploded right out from underneath you. Scythers have excellent heavy duty munitions and standing still, especially on higher ground like a building, makes you a juicy target. Most surviving compounds and fuel depots have substantial lower walls to stop this tactic. Regular buildings from around the old 20th century do not.

"We move and we keep low," I tell her.

"Can you track it on your helmet?"

"Yeah, soon. The bike’s working on cutting interference."

"Does it know we’re here?"

Excellent question. Scyther technology, from what we can work out, is similar to our own. They’re better in some areas and we’re better in others. Currently, we have the edge in tracking tech. They’re slightly more durable in a firefight and it's usually a wash when it comes to weaponry. Keepers need to hit first and hit hard. If you come in late to a Scyther-fight, you’ll likely end up dead. Like us, they’re also limited by the rule that prevents Keepers from using technology too far ahead of the era they find themselves in.

"Chances are it doesn't," I reply. "The temporal sink messes with their tech, too."

I get a warble from my ride and the display switches over tracking. An icon pulses in the top left-hand corner of the screen. The icon shows a tall figure with a skull for a face and black flowing robes. The skull’s grinning and its right hand it carries a long-handled reaping device. A Scyther: this is what passes for humor in my bike's so-called non-sentient brain. Very funny.

Episode 1 Scene 18

The Past

I rolled out of the shallow depression and struggled to my feet. My burst across the prairies had wrenched some usually dormant muscles, but I'd got the job done. Whatever he was, he was down. There's nothing like a grenade to put a guy on his ass. Except, I couldn't see the body. I was getting concerned about this when the figure clambered up from behind his bike. The bastard was still alive and mobile.

He looked rough in the pale light, but, let's face it, he looked damn good for someone who’d just copped the full blast of a grenade. Sections of clothing were torn away and black oily blood was weeping from deep cuts. His left arm was askew at the elbow. He fixed this by giving it a solid tug and pooping it back into place. This really got my attention. That must've hurt and he didn’t make a sound.

He searched around for the mechanism that controlled his weapons system. He found it. It was all busted up. Thank Christ his equipment wasn't as tough as him. I did a quick gear check of my own: gun, gone; grenade, useless at close quarters and Ka-Bar. I tugged the knife out of its sheath and held it by my side. It made me feel better.

He stopped his search and spent time considering me. A shredded hood covered most of his face, but what I could see glinted in the moonlight. He was human. Well, mainly human, but he’d been augmented and metal was melded into his skin. This, unlike my knife, didn't make me feel better.

Now that he'd looked me over, he turned away. Apparently I wasn't considered a worthy threat. This pissed me off. I thought I’d introduced myself sufficiently when I tossed the grenade at him. Clearly he had an attention span issue. The guy then pulled up the sleeve of his garment. He focused on his forearm and tapped at a panel fused into his flesh. There was a spark from his arm and he jumped back. Something wasn't working properly. I needed to make contact.

"Hey!" I yelled. "What do you want?"

The figure's head swiveled towards me. Eyes peered at me from beneath the hood and the voice, when he finally answered, had a metallic edge to it.

"You, Jack. I want you dead."

I've got to admit he got me. Not the dead bit, that was par for the course these past few years, but how the hell did he know my name?

"What, how?" I spluttered. "Do I know you?"

He gave a hollow laugh. "We know you. That's why I'm here to kill you."

What the hell was going on? I shifted onto the balls of my feet. I needed to be alert. The guy looked weaponless. All his toys were either blown up or on the fritz, but he’d already survived a grenade blast and I’d no idea what he was.

"How about we chat, you know, get to know each other?" I suggested.

"Not an option, Jack." He gave a frustrated look at the smoking panel in his arm and a sharp shake of his head. "We're going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.”

The figure grabbed his left hand with his right and twisted. The hand pulled away from his forearm dragging with it a whole mass of bio-electric shit: wires, blood, fiber optic cables… you know, the normal crap you see inside a tech-infused human.

He then raised his left arm and cracked it like a whip. The hand zipped past my face, but the trailing wires didn't. They latched on to the side of my head, wrapped around the top of my dome and cut deep. The wires sliced through the thin skin and blood erupted. I screamed and instinctively jerked the Ka-Bar up and cut through the wire and other crap. I heard the sound of the hand fall behind me and the pain dialed back a fraction. Head injuries are bleeders but there are no major arteries up there to kill you quick. I gave my eyes a hasty wipe to clear the blood and I saw the guy looking at his handless arm in disbelief. How fucked up was that? It was OK for him to disconnect his bionic hand and throw it at me, but when I cut it off, he couldn’t believe it.

I then played offense. The evening was light and my gun was feet away. I took two quick paces and grabbed it. Judging by the weight, there were still a few rounds in the mag. I pulled back the slide and the snicking noise of an engaged weapon got the guy’s attention.

I pointed the gun at the figure in white and he smiled. He raised his remaining hand in the universal stop gesture. Fuck that. I pulled the trigger and shot him three times. It was an excellent grouping, but best of all, the prick stopped smiling. Whatever force field had protected him before was no longer working. Black blood oozed from the wounds and the guy started to twitch. I'd hit something major.

I moved in closer and took a hack at him with the knife. He tried to leap away, but something inside him was broken. The blade slid across his ribs. More black blood flowed. It looked like old engine oil. My own blood continued to leak into my eyes. I gave them another wipe. The figure continued to stand there. He was jittery and his limbs kept twitching. He wasn't fully in control of his own body.

"What are you?" I demanded.

The man laughed. It wasn't pleasant. It wasn’t supposed to be. "I'm your future, Jack." he said.

With a defeated sigh, he reached under his tattered garment and gave a twist. A panel on his chest lit up. It was circular and the light within was clicking down. It got smaller, segment by segment. Oh shit. A timer. The guy was in self-destruct mode. I turned and ran. Torn muscles protested. I tried to get away.

I wasn't quick enough.

Next Chapter: New Chapter