Episode 2 Scene 9
“Jesus Christ, Sling. What the hell are you doing here?”
Oh great. “Sling.” My Keeper training nickname. A corruption of “Gunslinger.” I must’ve been drunk when I let that story out.
“Good to see you too, Vic.”
My threat tubes whir down. Now that I have a visual, they realize there’s no direct threat, at least not from weapons. My exo-armor, however, remains solid. This is good. Vic’s not afraid to have a go at someone if she feels she’s not being listened to. I know this firsthand: she’s my partner.
“Is your ride up?” she demands.
She’s not much for small talk, either, something for which I’m normally grateful. But right now I’d like a heads-up on where we are.
“Spooling up. Give it a few minutes.”
“My piece of shit’s as dumb as dirt. Can’t even access the ITC.”
Whoa, no ITC access. The intertemporal communicator is a robust piece of hardware. The Deacons designed them to survive anything the Scythers throw at us. For hers not to be working is completely out of line. An ITC’s also essential for a cascade to be attained. No ITC, no temporal travel. Then how did she get here?
“You treat your ride like crap. No wonder it’s down,” I tell her.
“Yeah, whatever, but the ITC has always worked.”
“Shit, any idea where we are? Beyond the 25?” I ask.
A partner, as far as Keepers are concerned, is a loose term. We usually ride solo anything south of the 26th century. Our weaponry and protection below this timeline’s more than a match for most of the nasties out there. Up beyond AD 2500, or the “25” as we call it, shit gets freaky, and you need someone to watch your back.
It’s not just Scythers you have to worry about in the quarantine zone. There’s other weaponry lurking around that has breathtaking firepower. This is where the Deacons and the Scythers dump their failed experiments. The ones they can’t destroy. Whenever you’re north of the 25, there needs to be two of you.
Vic shakes her head. “Beyond the 25, no idea. Never been here before.”
“Are you on default?” I ask about her idle threat tubes.
She nods but offers nothing in response, a standard conversational tactic for her.
“What do you have?” I ask.
We need to take stock of the situation, and weapons are a good place to start.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m good.”
“Come on, Vic, you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine,” I tease.
“OK, OK. Forty-four Magnums in this one.” She raises her right shoulder.
“A pissy water cannon in the other.”
She has the decency to look embarrassed.
“We make a great team.” I dribble sarcasm into my tone. “I’ve got decent shotgun slugs on this side.”
“And we can use that water cannon of yours to put out the tiny fires I light with this one,” I say, raising my left shoulder.
“Laser?” Vic says. “I’ve never understood the whole default-protocol thing.”
I’m about to explain, then I decide to shut up. Vic knows why the weapons are set like they are. We can’t have intertemporal weapons pollution. If something too advanced gets into the hands of, say, a Goth War Clan, that can have an impact up and down the line. Munitions that go bang, like bullets, are now widespread, so their introduction would be minimal. The water cannon and laser would be largely ignored by these groups as well, because they’d recognize them as the piece-of-shit weaponry they are. At least that’s my theory.
“OK, what about defense? You got shielding?”
“Sort of,” she replies, banging herself on the chest with her fist. The exo-armor makes a dull thudding noise. Sounds solid, but not active.
“And it’s fully charged, right?”
“I know,” she says. “Ain’t that weird? I was nowhere near full last I checked.”
“When was that?”
I want to find out where she was before she got jerked here. Perhaps we can find a connection and figure out what to do.
“Somewhere in the early 1700s. Running protection.”
Running protection. A standard assignment. She would’ve been the defensive anchor for a community from our mutual time era, making sure they weren’t taking too much flak from the local War Clans. And making sure that our lot weren’t getting out and making too much of a dickhead of themselves. The whole protection game’s a two-way street. According to the Deacons, it’s all about keeping the timelines clean. I don’t know what the hell it’s about, as there has already been so much temporal mixing. Still, it means I get to ride around and shoot bad guys.
“What about you?” she asks.
I look around at the shifting landscape around me. “Babysitting. Taking a rig-rat back for training.”
Shit. Did Mikey make it through? Was she caught up in whatever had dragged me here? The fact I ran into my partner in the middle of nowhere sounds like someone has their hand on the joystick. Coincidences become a lot less coincidental when you can play around with time. This has Deacon stink all over it.
My partner has arrived at the same conclusion. “We’re getting jerked around here, Sling.”
“When’s that not the case?”
But she’s right. Keeper chatter over the years has developed an idea, a conspiracy to the less sophisticated, that the Deacons aren’t one big happy post-human family. That there are factions and rivalries within their group. I buy into this completely. Of course there are divisions. The Deacons are post-human, not nonhuman. Petty jealousies and political infighting are a genetic trait shared by all of our species, I don’t care how enlightened they pretend to be.
“So what now? Any bright ideas?” she asks.
I’m about to admit I’m clueless, something I’m loath to do, when there’s a sharp beep. My ride’s online. The reboot has finished. Excellent timing. As I head back to the bike, there’s a deep-throated roar as it self-starts. This is followed by a chunky burble as it settles into idle. I glance across at my partner. Beneath her raised visor she doesn’t look happy.
“Mine didn’t do that,” she complains. “I had to kick-start the damn thing.”
“What’d I tell you? You’ve got to look after your ride. Let’s see what it can tell us.”