Episode 1 Scene 9
As the War Clans continued their merry, marauding ways and as humanity began to dig in and fight back, the need for a coherent cop force became redundant. We were protecting the broader community, looking after everyone. It's what we were trained for. This became less relevant as time went by. People no longer walked the streets, they hunkered down in enclaves, compounds, depots or whatever offered the most protection.
We, the cops, were left on the outside. It's not that we didn't belong. Actually, fuck it, we didn't belong. Years, if not decades, of abusing public trust had caught up with us. Those traffic tickets we issued when not necessary, those drunks we slung in the tank when we could have dropped them off home, those times when it was easier to be a prick behind reflective sunglasses than it was to help a citizen out; well, it was payback time.
The people didn't outright reject us but we were definitely not welcomed. If there was a crisis, sure, they'd let us step in and help, then after that it was ‘see you later, close the door on your way out.’ The cops began to notice this. Beneath our thick layer of insensitivity and dickness beat the heart of a former human being. We talked about organizing ourselves, building our own community, but guess what? It turns out we couldn't stand ourselves either.
The upshot of this was the development of a mercenary class of former law enforcement officers, modern day ronin, the samurai without a leader. And it worked. Most of us passed ourselves off as ex-military. The army had a far more positive reputation than the cops, and many of us had served previously. It wasn't a huge jump. The Blink had also resulted in the federal government releasing large caches of arms throughout the country, so obtaining weaponry wasn't a big issue. As lifestyles went, well, if you kept moving and you helped people out, they’d feed and shelter you.
I'd been doing this for years, sometimes with a partner or small crew, sometimes without. To be honest, backup wasn't always a necessity. If an enclave was having problems with the Clans, it was more about organization that outright numbers or weaponry. The average citizen alive at this time was more than capable with a range of arms. They had to be or they’d already be dead. What they didn't have were the tactical skills. This was something I could provide.
I had a relatively comfortable existence. I'd roam the countryside looking for groups in trouble and offer to help. These small groups were of critical importance to humanity. They provided the food. These good folk were the farmers, the fishers; the people of the land. In return for feeding the cities, they received regular airdrops of guns and ammo from the Feds. This was the strategy the government had come up with. Keep the farmers armed, keep the farmers alive and keep the food coming.
The community I’d approached at this time had been on the receiving end of two nasty Clan skirmishes. The Clans at this stage were less front-on and more tactical. They’d been getting their asses kicked when adopting the full frontal charge so their approach now was to send in a smaller group and see what the defenses were like. Sound thinking. It was at this stage I turned up.
The group in question was happy to see me, happy being a relative term in those war-like days. I sat down with the elders. They said to go talk to the kids. This was normal. The agricultural skills lay with the elders, that being anyone over 30. Defense was handled by anyone younger. I sat down with the warriors, they hated been called kids, and hashed out a plan. It was a solid plan; everyone was on the same page and so we waited. We didn't wait long. The War Clans moved quickly once they had the defensive weaknesses mapped out. There were no committees in War Clans, no paperwork and definitely no double-checking with the bosses upstairs. Clean, clear lines of communication. I was jealous.
The bulk of the clan massed at the head of the valley. It was an obvious move. They knew it, we knew it, so there was something else going on. I grabbed a pair of binoculars and checked out the mass of warriors. Oh shit. They looked like Goths. These guys were always a handful, extremely well organized and well led.
I signaled our defensive leader to check out the high points, to see what our watchers above could see. But the watchers were already frantically racing towards the compound. And right behind them was a pack of Goths. This was bad.
We laid down covering fire to get the watchers back in, that worked at least, but it was having minimal impact on the screaming masses running at us from two directions. To our group's credit, they didn't panic, they mechanically fired, reloaded, fired until the barrels of their weapons got too hot. They then picked up the next weapon and repeated. The Goths were paying a heavy price for this attack, but the Goths were also going to win. I’d never seen such a huge Clan before.
I looked around at the young warriors defending their homestead from a group out of time and place. They were calm and determined, but it wasn't making any difference. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but looking at this lot, I'd disagree. They were living for the here and now; there wasn't a lot of praying going on.
The Goths stormed across the flat kill-zone encircling the compound. The chatter of the heavy 50 cal machine gun opened up. Swathes of Goth warriors were mowed down but momentum’s a bitch and those bastards just kept on coming.
The combined mass hit the wall of the compound from two sides, beautiful tactical coordination. We were stretched thin and we were as good as dead; those walls would only last a minute. The walls creaked and groaned under the weight of Goth warriors; the structure wasn’t designed for this type of pressure. We formed a defensive circle in the center of the compound and kept on firing. It wasn’t going to be enough. There’s no way we were going to survive this.
Then the Clan vanished.
Episode 1 Scene 10
I move into the work shop. Dwayne has his arms elbow deep in a large projectile weapon. Cases of ammo are stacked up behind him. They’re probably a match for the gun turret out front, but maybe not. Fuel depots are strange places, a cross between past, present and future, and those in charge collect anything they deem valuable.
A medium-sized communication device warbles and glows alternately green and red next to the ammo. My bike pricks up at this and gives my brain a tweak; it’s the inter-temporal communicator, critical equipment for any depot. I pretend not to notice it. Dwayne ignores my pretenses.
"It is what it is, Keeper, don't sweat it," he says.
I shake my head. I know what it is. An inter-temporal communicator, an ITC, is at the heart of any Keeper's vehicle, it's how we communicate with home base. It’s the basis for our time travel. For this to be here means the vehicle is destroyed. If the vehicle’s destroyed, most likely a Keeper’s dead.
Every fuel depot has an ITC, but they are reluctant to say where they get them from. They use them to hunt down fuel supplies in the near past and future. By rights I should commandeer it and take it back to the Deacons. But if I did that, I'd be stupid. Where would the fuel come from then? How would I get fuel? And a walking Keeper’s a dead Keeper.
"We've got to talk," I say. "Mikey?" he guesses
"You taking her, too? You taking my other kid?" he sighs. "You Keepers are a bunch of pricks." "Kids like Mikey, they're the future," I respond.
It's the standard reply and I get the standard response.
"The future. Who’s fucking future? I've been there, and guess what, it ain’t that great."
The man has a point. The Deacons are supposedly protecting us and guiding us to a rosy
paradise. A place where people live in peace and there’s hot and cold running water on demand. I've been to this place. It's called the past. And this particular past doesn't exist anymore; The Blink kicked us off that particular timeline. A whole species voted off the island.
"She'll be safer," I counter. "From the Scyther?"
Papa Dwayne isn’t stupid. He knows something’s up. A Scyther chasing a fuel depot through
time; well, it's not after the tech.
I nod. "She must be something special."
"Did you come for her, specifically for her?"
I shake my head. It's warm in the shop and I can feel my scars glowing. "Nope, I was chasing a Scyther, probably the same one."
"They didn't tell you about Mikey."
Truth time. "No Dwayne, they didn't. I just worked it out."
He gives a bitter laugh. "Christ, inter-dimensional time travel and the people in charge still don't tell the boots on the ground the full story."
"I can see where she gets her brains from."
He doesn't smile and instead sighs. "She’s a great rig-rat."
He knows the story. Having a Scyther chasing you through time and space only ends one way. The Keepers offer Mikey a chance. If she gets trained up, she'll be on equal footing.
"At least let me have a drink with her before you haul her off."
I nod. I can respect that.
Episode 1 Scene 11
When the dust had settled, and there was plenty of it from the Goth charge, we took a look around. Our attackers had vanished, completely vanished. There wasn’t a single sign of them. Sure the walls were damaged, but other than that there was no indication that we’d just about been on the business end of a massacre.
We exited the compound and headed into the kill zone. There should’ve been dozens of dead bodies. A 50 cal machine gun doesn't do nice and it alone should’ve taken care of that many. But there was nothing. Instead what we found was a heavy sprinkling of slugs in the area the bodies had fallen. The slugs were malformed and twisted, the result of caroming off Goth bone and armor, but there was nothing else, not even blood.
We sent heavily armed watchers to the top of the nearby hills and their reports came back negative; nothing to be seen. Everything was wrong. Humanity had long grown used to the concept of fighting other groups of humans from completely different time periods. It was part of the background noise of day-to-day living. It was something worse than having to put
up with rush hour traffic, but probably better than having to watch daytime TV. It was normal. But large groups of people simply disappearing, well, that was something else altogether.
We stood around, stunned. People began to look at me, not strangely, but with a certain amount of respect. I was the only difference in this group; therefore, I must’ve had something to do with the Goths’ disappearance. Then the community got back to business. Those with agricultural skills got their tools and equipment while the warriors made sure their weapons were clean and loaded. Then both groups headed out into the fields, each farmer with an armed escort; like nothing had happened.
I returned to the compound; my work here was done. I gathered up my gear and went over to my beat up old bike. It was dirty and dusty and could've done with an oil change but it ran OK. I was about to kick start it when an elder approached me. She placed her hand on my arm and asked me to stay for the evening. I looked up at the sky. I was somewhere near the old Canadian/American border and it was summer. I still had light left in the evening, but I’d no real place to go. So I stayed.
And I continued to stay. I later learned the elders and the warriors had had a vote. They wanted to keep me around for a while; their pragmatic side told them it was handy to have someone to organize their defenses, to teach the kids how to deal with attacks. Their less pragmatic side told them I was a good luck charm. Religion had long since been put on the back burner; the various Good Books had no explanation for what was happening to us, but superstition hadn’t gone anywhere.
The next air drop of weapons gave us more information. Our situation wasn't unique. The War Clans had disappeared and there’d been no reports of attacks for weeks. People looked at me with less respect. I wasn't a good luck charm. It was happening everywhere. I’d just turned into a useless mouth to feed. Time to boogie.
My bedroll and gear were still packed up. I grabbed them and walked out to my ride. I'd scrounged oil from the air drop and once I'd dealt with that, I'd be on my way. I'd got my bike up on the main stand and was waiting for the oil to drain when Leon turned up.
Leon was fuming. He was the eldest of the warriors and therefore in charge of defenses. He didn't want me to leave; he thought I had more to offer. Leon was also moving on. After the next harvest he’d move into the agricultural grouping to reap food instead of people. He wanted his successor to be fully trained so his own ass would be protected. I liked Leon. He was practical. He stood in front of me, hands on hips. He opened his mouth to persuade me to stay and then all hell broke loose.
Episode 1 Scene 12
I’m sitting out front of the fuel depot; my bike’s rumbling gently between my legs. One of the mechanics has gun-turret duty. He's clearly familiar with the gun-rig, but he doesn't look happy; he's too old. Slower reflexes and a conscience are a hindrance. No doubt the rig-rat’s inside saying good bye to papa; having a drink, maybe shedding a tear.
The outer door of the compound squeals open and Mikey rides out. No evidence of tears. She originally wanted to ride two up on the back of my beast. Not a good idea. Unless you're gene-coded into the bike's system, you'll get fried, slowly fried at that; my ride thinks this is funny. However, my ride, like me, doesn’t think what Mikey is riding is funny.
"What the hell do you call that?" I ask.
The machine she’s sitting on has four wheels and a side car. It’s a mechanical nightmare. "What do I call what?" she says folding her arms across her chest.
"I mean what the hell is it?"
"It's an ATV with a sidecar, old-timer. Never seen one before?"
Good Christ. What a mess. The original machine looks like a standard four-wheeled all- terrain vehicle with big multi-purpose tires and a large comfortable seat. But attached is a modified sidecar that someone’s torn from the side of a World War Two era motorcycle. The vehicle has five wheels. How the hell does it go around corners?
"Does it go? We’ve got a long ride."
She twists the throttle. The ATV roars. Holy shit, that sounds good. I'm impressed. But I don’t tell her. She clambers off the bike and pulls back the sidecar’s tonneau cover. I get a magician's sweep of the arm.
"Look at this."
I peer into the sidecar: fuel, weapons and food. That’s one nice set of priorities. Again, I'm impressed. Again I don't tell her. She pulls up the cover and climbs back on her ride. Now that I've seen her set up, I’m marginally happier.
"You say goodbye to Dwayne?" She nods and says nothing.
"Let's get going. Sooner we start the sooner we finish," I order. She gives a sarcastic laugh. "Oh boy, that's a gem of advice."
Told you I was no good with kids. I could hear the guy in the gun-turret laughing. This is just
"Put your helmet on. Let's make tracks."
"Wait," she says. "What do I call you?"
"What do I call you?" she repeats. "I can't call you Keeper all the time."
I think about this. It's a long ride to where we’re going. There’s going to be problems along
the way. And she’s only a teenager. Decision made.
"Keeper sounds just fine to me."
Episode 1 Scene 13
The piece of shrapnel that sliced through my cheek hurt. They say chicks dig scars, but no one was going to dig Leon's scar. The same wedge of metal that gouged past me ripped a large chunk out of his throat, not large enough to kill him instantly but definitely large enough to kill him. I've seen a lot of people die but watching someone's throat foam with blood and bubbles is no fun at all. I'm guessing it wasn't pleasant for Leon either.
I staggered out from behind the bike and surveyed the scene. Oily smoke was pouring out of the generator building and billowing towards the front of the compound. People had already formed a bucket chain and were dealing with the flames. They knew what they were doing; there was a sense of controlled urgency but no panic. But something didn't feel right; generators don't simply blow up on their own.
I retrieved my binoculars from my saddle bag and scanned the ridge line above the compound. They always had a watcher up there, keeping an eye out for the War Clans. Nothing had been seen for weeks, but no one was slacking off. I twisted the dial and got the watcher into clear focus. She was jumping up and down and vigorously waving towards the front of the compound, out beyond where the generator was burning.
I was about to swing the binoculars around to focus on what she was pointing at when her head exploded. One second she was a human semaphore and the next there was a crimson bloom of blood and bone. What the hell had done that? There was no echo of gunshot. No nothing. I might’ve missed it above the crackling of the burning generator, but I didn't think so. Something was definitely not right.
The next explosion was as big as the first and took out the grain storage shed. Smoldering red hot wheat was flung through the air, setting fire to any flammable surfaces. My travel gear protected me from most of it, but the others weren't as lucky. The bucket chain disintegrated as people started rolling on the ground to douse their burning clothes. Something was seriously wrong.
I ran along the side of the still-burning generator shed and moved down the compound wall. I considered scrambling up the watch tower, but sanity prevailed. Something was taking precise shots at the compound and I didn't want to become another victim.
A small set of stairs lead to an earthen ramp behind the wall. I climbed these and popped my head up to take a look. Something glinted in the sun: it looked small and far off. I risked the binoculars. What the hell was that?
The vehicle was low and sleek, a future interpretation of a motorbike maybe. There was a figure standing off to the right of the vehicle. It was dressed in an off white garment that rippled in the still air. The figure lifted a device to its face and looked directly at me. How could I be sure of this? Because it fucking waved at me. The figure lowered the device and studied its surface. Then with a long finger it pressed something. I know a targeting mechanism when I see one, and I’d just become the target. I got the hell out of Dodge.