Episode 1 Scene 19
The pulsing Scyther icon comes and goes. My bike’s doing its best to keep a bead on it, but the temporal sink and the curtain surrounding it make it tough. We’re on the move, trying to gain an advantage in this constantly changing environment, trying to give me a clean first shot. My weapon tubes twitch every time the Scyther appears on the display. They’re looking forward to the action. It’s been a while.
"Is it always like this?" whispers Mikey.
She's been good so far, nice and quiet and following instructions, but the ATV-sidecar combo she's riding is another story. It works OK in the open. It can churn through the rough patches, but in a game of hide-and-kill it's a liability.
I shrug. "It's never always like this. It’s always different."
And this is basically the truth. Keepers operate across time and space, protecting their charges and hunting down Scythers. The consequence of this is an ever-evolving battleground, a constant changing of weapons and tactics. Right now, the fact that I have light shards and DUCs available as weaponry surprises me. I thought I was further back in time.
Light shards don't come online until post-2050. I thought I was around 2015, maybe 2020 at a pinch. Access to this ammo shouldn't happen until 20 years up the line, around 2035 or so. Usually, our weapons are only one or two generations from where we find ourselves. Perhaps the time sink’s influencing the rules.
The black Scyther icon blinks back in. My weapons twitch again, trying to get a lock. The tubes are an extension of my exo-armor and like my ride are semi-autonomous, which means they listen to me. Most of the time.
"Why don't you just pull the trigger? You know, take a shot at it?" questions Mikey.
"We're not in a fuel depot. When I take a shot, all hell’s going to break loose."
"So, my bike will protect me from the worst of it, but you'll be outside its defensive parameters."
"What the hell does that mean?" "If I shoot first and miss, you die."
This gets me silence. We continue to curve around the edge of the curtain. The time eddies are denser here and are a major pain in the ass. Mikey no longer informs me of their locations. Fair enough. I wouldn't either in her position.
We pull up next to a building. It was a restaurant or bar. Mikey pops her head around the corner for a quick glance. No harm in that. My display has the Scyther at a safe distance away, and the time eddies between me and it make a decent shot improbable. There's also no way it can see me. We’re going to have to get closer.
"What the hell’s that?" yells Mikey.
She jerks her head back and presses herself against the wall. I lift my primary display. The echo of its image plays across my retina. If the Scyther gets too close, I should know about it. Whatever Mikey’s spotted it's not tech-heavy enough to register with the bike. Good old- fashioned eyesight’s going to have to do the trick.
I slide down the wall and belly along to the corner. Mikey has seen a lot of shit in her short time on earth, so if something surprises her, it's best to be cautious. I peer around the corner. Twenty yards away is a good-sized time eddy, and it’s just ejected a still-dazed War Clan Battle Master. I can tell what she is by the number of human bones woven into her hair. The more bones, the higher up you are, and this warrior’s right at the top of her game.
"Battle Master," I mutter.
"What’s a Battle Master doing here? Where the hell’s her Clan?"
"Really? You're bitching about the fact she hasn't got another hundred killers with her?"
"Right, I guess not. It’s just that ..."
"You've never seen a Battle Master before,” I say.
This is far from unusual. For a normal citizen, the first time you see a Battle Master up close is the last time you see a Battle Master. The War Clans are a vicious and bloodthirsty lot and to be an overachiever in this group means you know how to kill. The bigger anomaly here is, what’s a Battle Master doing in this zone when there’s a Scyther present? I’ve never heard of the two groups mixing.
"What are we going to do?"
"You’re going to do nothing. Let me take care of it."
I yanked down my visor and the full heads-up display cycles back in. The Scyther’s still over by the curtain, only one time eddy between it and me. That's not good. I need to be quick. The Battle Master barely registers on the display. This is normal. Knives and swords don't carry enough of the heavy metals the bike’s currently geared up to detect.
The woman’s still lying on the ground, the eddy twisting and winking before her. She’s slowly sitting up and taking in her surroundings. She's making noises that tell me she's not a happy Battle Master. A time eddy does that to you. She gets herself up on one knee and is about to stand when I scoot up behind her, grab her under the armpits and heave her back into the eddy. There's a small sucking sound and she's gone. Job done.
"Why didn't you kill her?" asks Mikey.
"What do you think two quick trips in a time eddy does?"
"You mean, that can kill you?"
"Beats me, but problem solved."
"But…," starts Mikey.
My ear piece shrieks and I fling myself forward, cannoning into the rig-rat. My ride fires up a shield, its defenses on max. There’s a roar and shudder and the building above erupts into shattered fragments of masonry. Shit. The other time eddy must’ve shifted. The Scyther spotted us and got the first shot off. My heads-up display’s now showing a misty orange overlay. This is not good.
Episode 1 Scene 20
Christ, my head hurt, the parts I could feel. The first person I saw after the explosion was the person who stitched me back together. She was a vet, the animal type, not the war type, which was good because pieces of me had been flapping all over the place.
When the Scyther blew, shards of shrapnel whizzed all over the place. My body armor was enough to protect my torso, but my head and lower limbs brutally copped it. Slices of scalp had peeled away and there were large and anatomically interesting gashes in both my legs. According to the animal doc I was lucky. I didn't feel lucky.
The people inside the compound had been reluctant to come out and see what’d happened. I can't say I blamed them. The Scyther had been taking shots at them and, well, they probably weren't as invested in me as I’d thought.
Eventually, a few brave souls ventured out and found me not far from the still smoking bike and Scyther. Whatever explosive he’d used, it was effective. There was little they could salvage. They were, however, nice enough to grab me and the rest was all about recuperation.
I lay in the cot for about two weeks eating, sleeping, and getting fed little pieces of information. We weren't the only group to encounter this new force, but we were one of the few to survive. A large number of compounds had either been completely destroyed or split into smaller groups and disappeared as best they could.
On day 16 of recovery I was allowed to get up and move about. The Doc admonished me not to move too vigorously. Little chance of that happening, but I nodded anyway and staggered to the common room where I knew I’d find something real to drink.
Life was improving, I had my hand wrapped around a mug of clear liquid and was vacantly focusing into the middle distance. The guy serving as bartender didn't question my need for booze, even looking how I did. This was something I appreciated about this quasi-post-apocalyptic chaos that we found ourselves in. The holier-than-thou nonsmoking, non- drinking, gluten-free human sheep that were appearing in increasing numbers when The Blink happened largely didn't make it. Smarter people than me have debated the significance of this occurrence, but not me. Good riddance.
The middle distance I was locked on to was losing clarity, so I had another swig and refocused on something closer. It was then the common room door swung open. The bartender stopped cleaning glasses and stared towards the two strangers. It wasn't a pleasant look. The men silhouetted in the doorway were wearing uniforms but I didn’t recognize what type. They looked more army than police, but who can tell? The amount of military-grade equipment the police had access to prior to The Blink ostensibly made them a paramilitary force anyway, and times had only gotten worse.
The two hitched up whatever crap they had hanging from their oversized belts and ball- walked over to my table. You know the walk: the one where the cop, manager, guy-in-charge walks around his nuts to show everyone how truly large he is. Well, I now had a pair of them swaying their way towards me. This was supposed to be intimidating. They stood directly in front of me and turned up the threat level. I took another swig of the clear brew and waited. Put a drink in front of me and I can be the most patient bastard on earth. They didn’t know this.
They continued to stand in front of me, trying to bully me into speaking first. They'd probably read the book that said this was the best way to get people to reveal their true intentions. That was funny. In my experience, it was the last words said that carried the most weight. I continued playing their childish game. I'd been lying in a cot for two weeks, so for me this was high-class entertainment. Then I finished my drink. So I ordered another.
This got a sigh from the junior of the two. "Trevayne," he stated.
What? Again, with my name. How come everyone knows me all of a sudden? I’d told no one in the compound about the bizarre conversation I'd had with the Scyther, and I've told no one since. Some shit’s best left untold until you’ve worked out what the hell it means. And the only name people know me by here is Jack.
"Jacques Trevayne," Junior tried again.
The full name now, and pronounced correctly. It was time to be polite.
"Jack or Trevayne. No one calls me Jacques."
Junior pulled open a khaki bike-messenger-type bag and grabbed a clipboard. He deftly made a note of this riveting piece of information. I glanced at his counterpart and raised an eyebrow. The older guy gave a barely noticeable shrug. This was the one I should be talking to.
"What can I do for you?" I offered.
"We need to talk," said Junior.
"Fine. Take a seat. Have a drink," I raised my glass. "It does the job."
"That’s inappropriate behavior for us while we..." Junior got cut off by a firm grip to the arm.
"Sounds like a good idea," said the senior of the two, "for me. Go wait in the truck."
Junior didn't even blink. He followed orders and left. I waved over at the bartender for more drinks. He nodded and brought them across to the bench. Senior reached into his bag and pulled out a handful of batteries and placed them on the table. The bartender looked pleased and grabbed a couple. Senior had skills.
Batteries were a de facto currency in many compounds. Everyone outside major cities was off the grid. Most had generators for community electricity, but these were often shut down overnight. Batteries to power small devices were valuable and the companies that produced them were extremely well-guarded. Most people living in still-viable major population centers didn't know this or didn't care. This guy was better-informed.
I took a slug of the drink. Shit, it was water. I glanced at the bartender. He looked me in the eye and shook his head. I'd been cut off. The man opposite me took a mouthful of his brew. His eyes watered and bulged. He was on the real stuff. Damn, the bartender was looking after me.
"What do they call you?" I asked.
"The name's Rhiel," he stated and offered his hand. We shook. It’d been a while since I’d done that.
"What do you want?"
"Back in the day, you'd have called it a consult."
"Yeah, you know, we ask you questions and you give us the benefit of your,” he paused and searched for the word, “expertise.”
"My expertise," I echoed. "And what exactly am I an expert in?"
Rhiel waved his hand in the air. It took in much of the room. "Compound defense, tactics, weaponry."
I coughed in disbelief. I was good, but there were plenty out there equally skilled. It had to be something else. And, as far as I knew, there was only one thing unique about me.
"Scythers," I guessed. "You really want to know about Scythers."
The man leaned forward, both forearms on the table, his hands wrapped around his drink. He nodded.
"Ahh, now there we have it."
"Oh, that's easy," he smiled. "You’re the only one who has survived a direct encounter."
Episode 1 Scene 21
"Why the hell aren't we dead?" asks Mikey.
"Give it time. We’ve half a building on top of us."
"But, we should be crushed."
"The bike’s protecting us. It’s got a field up."
"And the Scyther?" the rig-rat asks.
"Probably cueing up for the kill-shot,"
"So what's stopping it?"
"The same half a building that's on us," I say. "That and the bike’s running interference."
The heads-up display’s still overlaid in orange, so we’re still not good. But at least we're not at the red stage. You see red and you'd better be re-familiarizing yourself with your deity of choice. The bike's shield is solid. It can hold for a while, especially since it's been fueled up recently. But we don't want to start taking direct hits from the Scyther.
"What can you see from where you are?" I ask the rig-rat.
The helmet display shows a small tunnel heading off into the guts of the building. It’s possible Mikey could squeeze through.
"It's pretty dusty, but, I don't know, a gap maybe?"
"Can you get in there, squeeze through?"
"Yeah, maybe, probably. You want me to try?"
I give this scenario a quick think. With her out of the way more proactive options open up. The n-comm bleeps and the bike beams the icon for the DUCs into my neural pathway. The depleted-uranium pellets would get most of the building off us and possibly make a dent or two in the Scyther, but Mikey would have to be somewhere else.
"Yeah, do it. My display says you've got a tunnel, maybe all the way through. Head forward and down, not left or right."
"Forward or down, got it."
Mikey shuffles around and gets oriented. She, she's got balls. She didn't even question the decision.
"When you hit the basement find a cool room, or freezer, something like that. Get in and shut the door."
"Yep, got it," she confirms. "And, Keeper..."
"Don't die on me or I'll come back and kick your dead ass."
I laugh. "I'll give you sixty seconds before I shoot."
There’s a distant boom and a shudder and small pebbles and debris fall around the edges of the force field. The Scyther must be trying to clear its way in.
"I'm going to turn the shielding off. You head for the gap."
My bike complies and the shielding goes down. The small, secure area that formed around the shield remains solid and Mikey crawls off.
My n-comm goes into active mode and I consider my options. They all involve setting off heavy ordnance and hoping I can ride it out. Between the bike's shielding and with my armor set on maximum, this should be doable.
I switch across to infra-red and check the display. Mikey’s off screen and probably somewhere more secure than here. There's no point waiting around. I brace myself against the bike; my semi-autonomous weaponry has calculated the rough trajectory to fire up through the mass of rubble. We don’t need to hit the Scyther, just get close.
I set off a light shard and the compressed photon packet sears its way through the stone and rebar. A light shard’s essentially a laser in a bottle. It cuts through anything solid and explodes on impact. It won’t get through a frequency modulating Scyther shield but that’s fine, I’m just using it to clear a path for the DUCs.
The depleted-uranium pellets inside the canisters I have in my other threat tube violate all of the international arms agreements from my time period, but that type of useless legislation hasn't been enforceable for years. Besides, when you’re up against a Scyther, you want any edge you can get.
The shard does its job: a pathway’s cleared. But that’s strange. Through the narrow channel my ride scans the Scyther more clearly. The shard missed the target. Not a problem. We were just making it easier for the DUC to get through. What’s strange is the Scyther. It has no shielding up. It’s completely exposed. Whatever, it’s not like I’m paid to play fair.
The threat tube spits out the DUC, my armor’s at maximum and the bike's shield flares to full power. I wait. Nothing happens. No explosion. Shit. I n-comm my ride. It drops the shield for an instant, pulses the collapsed building around us and shoots back confirmation. The DUC ’s out there; it just didn’t detonate. Christ, unexploded ordnance is a pain in the ass in any era.
I cycle through my options. I don’t want to send another DUC up the pipe, the risk of a sympathetic detonation’s too great. I’m not sure my shielding can handle two DUCs going off simultaneously.
There’s another thump as the Scyther chips away at the rubble. Something’s not making sense. The Scyther’s taking a softly, softly approach, removing the barriers between us a layer at a time. Why the hell would it do that? Sure, it doesn’t know precisely where we are, but that's what you've got the big bombs for. They take the guesswork out of killing. And why no shield?
Another thump and more slippage of rocks outside the protective dome. My display shows the narrow opening Mikey crawled through has now collapsed. Good. That’ll make it more difficult for the Scyther to detect her. There's a strong chance she’ll get out of this. I think more and consult with my ride. I get it to run a diagnostic on the dud DUC. Crap. The DUC isn’t a dud: the Scyther’s running a suppression algorithm to prevent the explosion. That’s why there’s no shielding. This tech’s way up the line, so far ahead of this era I didn't even contemplate it as a possibility. Somebody’s messing with the rules.
The bike fires me a short warble and flicks across to the tracking display. Enough of the surface rubble has gone for us to get a full scan of the Scyther. This is good for two reasons. First, we can see it, but it can't see us - our tracking technology advantage. We can now target the Scyther without it immediately realizing; a second chance at a first shot. But how useful is that given the suppression algorithm?
Second, we get to see exactly what we’re dealing with. My ride gives a shrill whistle; it's not a happy vehicle. It’s getting conflicting readings, but the Scyther’s at least a generation beyond us. I've dealt with something like this type before, but then we were more appropriately equipped. Perhaps this explains the light shards and DUCs I have available – someone on our side’s also not playing by the rules.
I give myself a couple more seconds. I see a way out of this now, but my concern’s longer term. The only difference in this deadly dance of Keeper vs. Scyther is the personnel involved. Not us, not me and the Scyther. Variations of that ballet have played out across time and space for a while now. The only new player’s Mikey. She must be the only reason the Scyther hasn't gone ballistic on me. It doesn't want her dead. Interesting. But I save it for later. Now it’s action time.
My threat tube jerks alive. My ride drops the shield for a micro-second and a light shard streaks off. One big advantage light shards have over more kinetic ammo is the speed that you can get one off. They also cause a hell of a dent even if they don’t explode. And a suppression algorithm won’t physically stop them. It’ll need to be dealt with. My shield blinks back up and events begin to unwind.
The Scyther instantly detects our shield reduction and the trajectory of the light shard and its own defensive system swipes up. Man, they’re quick. I detect a note of envy from my bike. As the automated defensive maneuver’s completed, the Scyther’s shield cuts the command signal to the suppression algorithm. I smile.
Boom goes the DUC.
Depleted uranium pellets cause a hell of a mess and the comparative lack of rubble between the blast cone and the Scyther makes for an excellent impromptu kill-zone. The Scyther’s shielding gets shredded, but it and the vehicle remain relatively intact. My shield drops and another light shard arrows through the debris and strikes the Scyther bike. Kill the bike and the self-destruct automatically triggers.
Boom goes the Scyther.
I share an n-comm high five with my ride and chalk this particular fuck-up to experience: don't take your eyes off a Scyther while chucking a War Clan Battle Master through a time eddy. Hell, that shit's so wise, you could make a t-shirt out of it. All I had to do now was find Mikey.