Authors: Simon Hawke
THE TIMEKEEPER CONSPIRACY
Time Wars: Book Two
by Simon Hawke
Garvin's life was leaking out of him in a dozen different places. He didn't think that it was possible to lose so much blood and still be alive. He knew that he had only moments left to live, probably less.
Lodged beside a nerve behind his right ear was a micro-circuit that, when activated, sent out a coded signal to the agency. They would find him by homing in on his implant signal, but they wouldn't be in time.
He would be dead in moments, at which point another signal would be sent. It would be the termination signal and it would let them know that agent Richard Garvin, code name: Ferret, had bought the farm.
He had made a mess of it. Garvin had no idea how they had caught on to him. He would never learn how his cover had been blown, but that was of no consequence. He didn't matter anymore. What mattered was that they hadn't finished the job.
They had left him for dead, but he wasn't dead yet. He had to hang on just a little while longer, just long enough to transmit his information. If he could do that, then it wouldn't be in vain. He would have died for something, something that mattered. And he'd be able to get back at them, even from the grave.
He no longer felt any pain. All he felt was a deep and numb-ing cold. His breath came in burbling gasps and he was shivering, even though it was a warm spring day. Springtime in Paris, he thought. A lovely time to die. He chuckled and started coughing up blood.
He reached behind his left ear, only to discover that that side of his face was nothing but raw meat.
So much for the transmitter. The subcutaneous implants were very fragile. They had known just where to cut. They hadn't bothered with his cerebral implant. They knew his fellow agents would never get to him in time. And time was running out. He had to let them know, he had to leave a message.
He dragged himself slowly across the floor, leaving a wide trail of blood behind him. With each movement, more of his intestines tumbled out onto the floor. He didn't bother trying to push them back in.
What was the point? It didn't matter. He was a dead man. Nothing mattered except what he had learned.
After what seemed like an eternity, he had dragged himself over to lean against the chalky white wall of the tiny apart-ment on the Rue de Seine. Time. If only there would be enough time.... His vision was blurred. He felt very dizzy.
He had never thought that it would be like this. He had always known that he could die and that his death could be unpleasant. It was something every agent knew and lived with. But he had never thought that the end would be so damned un-dignified. They would find him vivisected in a puddle on the floor, his entrails torn out as though he had been the victim of an augury. Read my entrails, tell the future. Or, in this case, the past.
He dipped his finger in his own blood. There was a plentiful supply. Please, God, he thought, just let me live a little longer. Just long enough to write my epitaph.
He closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. It brought on another coughing spasm.
Fighting the encroaching blackness, Garvin used every ounce of will and strength that he could muster to keep his finger from shaking. He began to write his last words in his own blood.
Time. In the last analysis, it always came down to time. And Garvin's time had run out. They found him slumped against the wall, his eyes wide open in an unseeing stare.
Outside, it was morning and the birds were singing songs of spring.
What goes around, comes around, thought Lucas Priest. Life was turning into a series of repetitive experiences. Floating on a cushion of air, the ground shuttle threaded its way across the plaza that formed the center of the giant atrium that was the Departure Station at Pendleton Base. Lucas bummed a smoke from the driver. He rubbed the cigarette against the side of the pack, igniting it, then breathed in a deep lungful of smoke and leaned back against the padded seat. The administration buildings towered overhead, surrounding the plaza on all sides. Skycabs and cargo ferries filled the air above him as they followed the traffic patterns, barely avoiding the numer-ous pedestrian cross ways that connected the buildings.
They passed groups of soldiers who snapped to attention and saluted as the shuttle went by. Lucas was fairly certain that it wasn't he they were saluting, as much as the staff shut-tle. He saw men and women dressed in the silver uniforms of Belt Commandos gathered before banks of vending machines.
They were loading up on snacks, cigarettes, and coffee. Sol-diers of J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate cavalry conversed in animated tones with Persian Immortals about to clock out to fight under the command of Xerxes. Knights in the armor of Crusaders sat cross-legged on the floor by their equipment, a position that would have been impossible for them had not their armor been constructed out of flexible nysteel, an advantage the real Crusaders never had. He saw Spartans in bronze chest armor and red cloaks playing cards with the black-garbed members of a German Panzer unit. A mixed group of British redcoats, World War I doughboys, and Japa-nese samurai compared war stories as they passed a bottle back and forth and listened to the computer-generated voice announcing departure codes and grid designations over the public address system. One Departure Station looked much like any other and the ride across the plaza reminded Lucas of Quantico, where it all began.
Things had been different then. He hadn't known what to expect. He had quit his job at Westerly Antiagathics to enlist in the Temporal Corps because he had been bored. He had fallen for the recruiter's pitch and he had joined up with grand visions of adventure and romance filling him with delightful anticipation. That first day, that first sight of a Temporal Departure Station, had been much like this. The only dif-ference was that now his heart wasn't pumping at what seemed like twice the normal rate and his breath didn't catch at the sight of soldiers dressed in period, waiting to clock out to their assignments. It was a familiar sight now. He had been here before.
He remembered, with a sense of wry amusement, that the fascination with his new career had been incredibly short--lived. It had worn off on his very first mission, when he had learned for the first time in his life what it meant to be afraid.
He had learned the hard way that the past was nowhere near being as glamorous and romantic as he had supposed. He had gone on forced marches with Scipio's Roman legions. He had gone on mounted raids with Attila and his Huns and he had flown aerial sorties with the "flying circus" of Baron Manfred von Richthofen. He had seen squalor, disease, death, and devastation. He had learned that life in the Temporal Corps was far more violent and primitive than he could ever have imagined. Far more ephemeral, too. He had lived for only one thing then—to beat the odds and to survive, to com-plete his tour of duty and get out. He had, but along the way, something inside of him had changed.
He had returned to civilian life, to a laboratory job where he worked in pleasant, sterile, safe surroundings. Nothing had changed. At least, it had seemed so at first. On the surface, it felt as though he had never left, as though his experiences in the service had been a part of some particularly vivid dream.
Yet, it was a dream that wouldn't quite let go. Like the dis-orientating traces of a nightmare that linger on into the morn-ing, the memories of bygone battles clung to him, leaving their mark. It had not taken him long to discover a hard truth about the soldiers of the time wars. They leave pieces of themselves scattered throughout all of time. They can't go home again.
He had fallen victim to the restlessness, the boredom, the feeling out of place. He had continued fighting deep inside, even though the battles had been left behind. He had become a dog of war, unsuited to a life of domesticity.
He felt uncomfortable with the way civilians reacted when they learned that he was a veteran of the time wars. They wanted to know what it was like, but somehow, he couldn't tell them. He would try, but the answers he gave were never those which they expected. What he tried to tell them, they didn't really want to hear. He was not a soldier anymore, but
The decision to re-enlist had not been an easy one to make. It had been like standing on a very high diving board over a pool filled with ice cold water. It was difficult to summon up the courage to dive in, but once he had committed himself, all the tension simply went away. Things had come full circle, only now it felt a little different.
It all felt pleasingly familiar. He had always thought that he hated army life and it came as something of a shock to him when he discovered just how comfortable it felt to be back in.
He had re-enlisted with the rank of captain. The promotion had come as a result of his last assignment, an historical ad-justment in 12th-century England. When it was all over, he had vowed that he would never go through anything like that again.
An adjustment was nothing like a standard mission. It wasn't like being infiltrated into the ranks of soldiers of the past, fighting side by side with them to help determine the out-come of a war being fought on paper in the 27th century. In an adjustment, temporal continuity had been disturbed. What Dr.
Albrecht Mensinger had referred to as a "ripple" had been set into motion and there was a threat of serious tem-poral contamination. The timeflow was endangered and the timestream could be split. That, the greatest of all possible temporal disasters, had to be prevented at all costs.
The timestream split, Mensinger's solution to the grand-father paradox, had been the focus of the Temporal SALT talks of 2515, when the treaty that governed the fighting of the time wars had been hammered out and all power given to the extranational Referee Corps, who acted as the managers and final arbiters of all temporal conflicts.
The past was absolute. It had happened, it had been ex-perienced, it could not be changed. Prior to the treaty, it had been believed that the inertia of the timeflow would prevent all but the most limited and insignificant temporal disruptions. Dr. Mensinger had proved otherwise, using the grandfather paradox for his model.
The riddle posed the question of what would happen if a man were to travel back into the past, to a point in time before his grandfather procreated a son. If that time traveler then killed his own grandfather, then his father would not be born, which meant that he would not be born. Hence, the grand-father paradox. If the time traveler had never been born, then how could he have traveled back through time to kill his grandfather?
Mensinger had shown how the inertia of the timeflow would compensate for such a paradox. At the instant of the grand-father's demise, the timestream would be split, creating two timelines running parallel to one another. In one timeline, the absolute past of the time traveler would be preserved. In the other, his action would be taken into account. Since there had to be an absolute past for the time traveler in which he had not yet interfered with the continuity of time, he would find himself in that second timeline, which he had created by his action.
The split would result in a universal duplication of matter. Everything that had existed in the past, prior to the split, would now exist in that second timeline, as well. Events in that timeline would proceed, affected by the action taken by the time traveler. Mensinger had stated that it might be possible to deal with a split timestream by sending someone back into the past to a point in time prior to the split. Then, theoretically, the time traveler could be prevented from murdering his grandfather. However, in the event of such a split, the split would have had to have occurred before it could be prevented from occurring.
Anyone going back in time to prevent the time traveler from murdering his grandfather could be coming from a future in which that grandfather had already been murdered by his grandson.
Mensinger had discovered, to his chagrin, that split time-lines would eventually rejoin. If the timelines had already rejoined at the point that those going back into the past to pre-vent the murder of the grandfather departed, then their actions in preventing the split would not, in fact, be preven-tative. Rather, they would be in the nature of
some-thing which had already occurred
it occurred. This raised the possibility of yet another split. If not, then it meant the eradication of an entire timeline, which raised equally frightening possibilities. It would mean the genocide of every-one who existed in that timeline created by the murder of the grandfather. Not only would this be mass murder on an un-imaginable scale, it would also mean dire consequences for the future, the events of which could have been dictated by actions taken in that second timeline.
Mensinger had been awarded the coveted Benford Prize for his research, but he had frightened himself so badly that he had discontinued his experiments. He had called for an imme-diate cessation of temporal warfare and for the strictest moni-toring of time travel. He claimed that the dubious advantages of waging war within the conflicts of the past in order to spare the present from the grim realities of warfare were far out-weighed by the dangers inherent in the system. No one had dis-agreed with him, yet the time wars continued. In order for temporal warfare to become a thing of the past, someone would have to stop it
And not one nation had been will-ing to refrain from time travel out of fear that other nations would continue the practice, using time as a weapon against them.