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Authors: Mark Morris

The Wraiths of War

BOOK: The Wraiths of War
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Contents

Cover

Also by Mark Morris

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

One: God

Two: Your Country Needs You!

Three: Cosmic Balance

Four: Changing History

Five: Basic Training

Six: The Witch

Seven: No Man’s Land

Eight: Trench Warfare

Nine: Heidrich and the Heart

Ten: Home is Where…

Eleven: In Limbo

Twelve: Big Moment

Thirteen: Nightcap

Fourteen: Find Him

Fifteen: Punch and Judy

Sixteen: A Screech of Rage

Seventeen: The Crossroads

Eighteen: A House of Nightmares

Nineteen: Into the Future

Twenty: The Missing

Twenty-One: The Great Barnaby

Twenty-Two: Wonder Woman

Twenty-Three: Moving On

Twenty-Four: Friday 10 December 1948

Twenty-Five: Visiting Hours

Twenty-Six: All Our Yesterdays

Twenty-Seven: The Same Rain

Twenty-Eight: The Belly of the Beast

Epilogue: Tuesday 2 October 2012

Acknowledgements

About the Author

ALSO AVAILABLE FROM MARK MORRIS AND TITAN BOOKS
OBSIDIAN HEART

Book One: The Wolves of London

Book Two: The Society of Blood

Obsidian Heart Book Three: The Wraiths of War

Print edition ISBN: 9781781168745

E-book edition ISBN: 9781781168776

Published by Titan Books

A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd

144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

First edition: October 2016

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Mark Morris asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Morris

Visit our website:

www.titanbooks.com

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

To Gary and Emily McMahon, with love.
“I got some bad ideas in my head.”

ONE
GOD

As soon as I opened my eyes, I thought:
I’m dead.

Around me I could see only white. I could hear no sound. When I took a breath the air smelled of nothing at all.

Is this what death is?
I thought.
A white nothingness? No pain? No sensation?

Or maybe I was in limbo. Maybe I was awaiting sentencing, poised between one direction or the other.

I didn’t know whether to panic or just lie there. I didn’t know whether I was even
capable
of panicking – or of any emotion, for that matter.

I felt… empty. Did I even still
have
a physical body? I could
see
, and I could
breathe
, but was that only a memory? Were my senses the equivalent of phantom limbs? And if so, how did I feel about that – assuming I
could
still feel, of course?

Nothingness was better than pain, wasn’t it? Well, wasn’t it? My last memory was of excruciating agony, of vomiting blood as my body turned inside out.

Anything had to be better than that. I’d suffered enough in my life to know that when it came to a choice between suffering and death, death was preferable.

But that was when I’d thought of death as oblivion, not awareness. Maybe, though, this was what death truly was? Eternal awareness. But awareness of nothing.

The thought was terrifying. Or at least it would have been if I’d thought myself capable of terror.

I decided to close my eyes, and was thankful to find I could do so.

When I opened them again, God was sitting next to me.

He was smiling. He had white hair and a white beard. Blue eyes in a wrinkled face.

‘Hi,’ I said, only mildly surprised to find I could speak. ‘Is it good news or bad?’

‘Good,’ God said. He was wearing a nice suit. It fitted him really well. It was a pale blue-grey colour that made me feel calm.

I sighed in relief – or at least in my head I did. ‘Thank fuck,’ I muttered, and then realised I’d sworn in front of God. I clenched my teeth in apology.

‘Sorry. That just came out. It’s just that I’m glad I’m not going…
down there
. I mean, I’ll admit I’ve done some dodgy things in my time, but overall I think—’

‘I’m not who you think I am, Alex,’ he said. ‘I’m not God.’

My mind felt like thick soup stirred slowly in a pot. I tried to think about what God had said. Was he trying to catch me out? I smiled – in my head, I smiled.

‘You must be God,’ I said, trying my hardest to remain respectful. ‘If you’re not him, how did you know that was who I thought—’

‘You’re still woozy from the procedure. Look again.’

Procedure? What procedure?
I stared at him. His face looked familiar. But maybe that was because God looked like someone we all knew when we finally met him. Aren’t we all supposed to be created in his image, after all? Aren’t we—

Then the clouds parted and a shaft of light beamed straight down, and everything became clear.

‘Fuck,’ I said again.

God shrugged as if to say:
Sorry to disappoint you.

‘When do I grow that beard?’ I asked.

The older me, who I’d mistaken for God, shrugged. ‘A few decades down the line.’

‘Bloody hell,’ I said, ‘you’re old. You’re the oldest I’ve ever seen you.’

‘Why do you think I left it so many years before coming back to this moment?’ said my future self. ‘It was to delay these insults for as long as possible.’

But he was smiling. He wasn’t really hurt by my comments, he’d been expecting them. After all, he must have spoken them himself years back, when he was me.

‘So I’m not dead then?’ I said, and realised that although I was pleased, I also felt wearied at the prospect of more life, more struggle.

‘Not now,’ my future self said. ‘You were, though. Technically. For about thirty-two minutes.’

‘Thirty-two minutes?’

‘Give or take.’

Fuck. I’d been dead. Another thing to tick off the bucket list. The thought struck me as funny, and I sniggered.

‘So where am I now?’

‘A better question would be when.’ He paused, as if giving me the opportunity to brace myself. ‘You’re in the future, Alex. 2097.’

Whoa
. I wanted to say it, but the information hit me like a punch between the eyes, making my thoughts spin.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d known that with the heart I could travel through time. I’d used it to go back into the past, so it was only natural that it could also be used to go the other way, into the future.

Even so. The future. The great unknown. It seemed more impressive than the past, somehow, and more frightening. From the perspective of the present the future didn’t exist, whereas the past did. You could read about the past; there were records, artefacts, photographs, graveyards full of people who had lived and died…

The future, though, had no bones to make it real.

‘2097,’ I said, as if testing whether, by speaking the date, I could make it
seem
more real. I couldn’t.

My future self looked sympathetic. ‘I know exactly how you feel. Give yourself a minute. Let it sink in.’

I looked up at the white ceiling. I was becoming more physically aware of myself now, but I still felt disconnected. I thought about raising my left arm, and then, with a slight mental effort that was normally so natural I didn’t even
have
to think about it, I turned the thought into a command, at the same time tilting my head to look down the length of my body.

I was covered with a pristine white sheet, making me think of a body in a morgue. I watched as my arm rose into view. I looked at my hand and flexed my fingers, then curled them into a fist.

I felt okay. Despite my last memory before waking up here – the pain, the vomiting – I appeared to have suffered no lasting ill effects from my use of the heart.

Unless I was partially paralysed. Or under heavy sedation to allay the pain.

‘What’s the damage?’ I asked.

My future self spread his hands, as if to say:
See for yourself
.

‘It
was
extensive,’ he said. ‘But you’re fine now.’

‘Fine? How can I be fine? I thought I was dead?’

‘You were. But future technology is a wonderful thing. Death is no longer fatal – or not always anyway.’

I tried to process what I was hearing.

‘So what are you saying? That I’m… bionic? Like Steve Austin in
The Six Million Dollar Man
?’

‘Nothing so crude. I seem to remember that when I was your age, I’d at least heard of nanotechnology; I knew the basic principles. Am I right?’

I nodded. ‘Technology on a tiny scale, yeah?’

‘Not just tiny,’ he said. ‘Atomic. Molecular. We’re talking quantum-realm mechanics here.’

I shrugged, irritated at my future self’s slightly patronising attitude. Had I always been like this? ‘Whatever. I was never much good at science, as you know. But long story short, I’m guessing it was nanotechnology which saved my life?’

My future self confirmed it with a slight raising of his wiry white eyebrows. Then he lifted his hand, in which he was clutching something I recognised.

My notebook.

The one in which I jotted down all the dates and times a future version of myself had appeared, so that I’d know what I needed to do when the time came. It also contained other, less specific details of things I knew I needed to do, like set myself up in Victorian London so that everything would be in place when I arrived, and pay off my older daughter Candice’s boyfriend’s debt to the drug dealer who might otherwise endanger Candice’s life.

‘I’ve written it all down,’ he said. ‘Dates and times, both yours and mine; the details of this place; everything you’ll need when you get to where I am. It’s an important one, this, Alex. Forget it and we won’t be here.’

‘All right,’ I said – snapped, in fact. ‘I know. You don’t have to spell it out.’

Unexpectedly he laughed. ‘I know exactly what you’re thinking. And you’re right. I
am
a condescending twat. It comes with age. And experience.’ He gave me a meaningful look, though whether it was laden with pity or envy I couldn’t tell. ‘You’ve got such times ahead of you, Alex.
Such
times. That’s if you play your cards right, of course.’

‘Any pointers?’ I asked. ‘Any advice?’

He drew in his lips so tightly I couldn’t see them through his beard. His shoulders hunched in apology.

‘Can’t say a word. I mean, who knows where we’ll be if I do, eh? Or rather, where
I’ll
be.’

I rolled my eyes. ‘No surprises there. All right, at least tell me about this nano stuff. Where are we, by the way?’

‘Stuttgart.’

‘In Germany?’

‘Do you know of another one?’

His retort was more teasing than sarcastic. I said, ‘But why here in particular?’

‘Because it’s the global centre of excellence for the application of medical nanotech.’ He winked. ‘Nothing but the best for us, old son.’

‘So what is it, this nanotech? Does it mean I’ve now got millions of tiny robots running around inside me?’

‘We,’ he said, tapping his chest. ‘They’re still in here.’

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