Episode 1 Scene 17
“There,” whispers Mikey. “The 7-Eleven.”
I follow the direction of her arm, and sure enough, behind a preserved convenience store, there’s another one: a time eddy. This one’s the size of a green garbage bin, the kind they used to collect recycling. 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 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 they 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, they’re 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. The past 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. Second, 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?”
“Not sure. Four, five years ago, something like that.”
Her brother’s probably a Keeper then, fully trained. Either that or dead.
“So 2040’s as far as you’ve been?”
“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 farther up and down than your average fuel-depot citizen, and 2100 is likely as far as someone of Mikey’s era would go. Other groups and communities get cascaded much farther 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 at the edge of the university. There are plenty of potholes 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 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. When depleted uranium comes up, that 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 peacekeepers; we’re battle platforms. We’re supposed to scare the shit out of people.
“The temporal sink messes up sensors. I can only see up to 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, 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.”
“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. It’s better in some areas, and ours is 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 to 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 carries a long-handled reaping device. A Scyther: this is what passes for humor in my bike’s so-called nonsentient brain. Very funny.