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On time

©1999 Jari Komppa

Warning: includes some coarse language.

Lt Crayford waited anxiously for the elevator to arrive. Today would be his first real mission after months of training, and although he had gone through all the training material for several times he still knew he couldn't possibly know what to expect. Soft bell announced the lift's arrival and doors silently opened. With a sigh Crayford stepped inside, leaving his past behind.

Once inside, the elevator started to process his identification. Security here was, out of necessity, as high as efficiently possible. He had first heard of this special wing of military operations two years ago, and even then mostly by accident, but he had managed to get himself transferred nevertheless. The lift started its descent.

The breakthrough on temporal manipulation had done little to change the world. Sure, people preferred stasis-field fridges over the normal cooling ones - except for drinks and stuff - and trips to some outer colonies were typically done under stasis, but little else had changed. While it naturally occurred to many people that if you can practically stop time you might be able to move in it as well, it was by official theories impossible. Some obscure theories made it possible, but to even experiment on those theories would require excessive amount of data processing power and energy. The lift finally started to decelerate. Problem with time travel was the fact that time never stayed constant.. and you could only jump to certain time zones at certain times.. and predicting these tides of temporal zones required some very eccentric algorithms.

With a ding, the lift doors opened, breaking Crayford's line of thought.

"Lieutenant Crayford, I assume? I'm lieutenant Hill. Our shift starts in about half an hour - coffee?"

"Uh - sure. I was to meet captain Dickson-"

"Yeah, he's here."

Hill led the way couple corridors down and into a typical briefing room with a table, around which sat two men in military clothing.

"At ease, lieutenant", Dickson said before Crayford could even act, placing his coffee mug on the table while Hill sat down and helped himself a fresh mug.

"Let's go through some rules. As long as you're under my command we don't use all that 'sir' crap. Still, whatever I tell, you do. As you know, each of us should do about twenty jumps and then we're out of here. I've done twelve. Best ones I've seen have managed to do eighteen. Most survive six or so. Almost one in five jumps never come back. One in sixteen come back in pieces. We can't afford any authority problems, but we also must work together more efficiently than the normal rules allow. Sit down."

"I trust you met Hill earlier, he's our science specialist. He knows languages and stuff. Mallarch here", nodding towards an older man with eyeglasses, "is our time specialist. He knows history and he claims he has some kind of idea how all this works, although I'm not too sure myself. I'm the lead man, and you should be the one whose primary responsibility is to clean up any mess we come up with. Any questions?"

"No s.. no."

"Good. I've got to use the bathroom."

After a moment of uncomfortable silence Hill said, "You're going to ask about it sooner or later anyways, so I've done four jumps and Mal's done seven."

Mallarch grunted and turned a page in the newspaper he was reading.

"He doesn't speak too much", Hill whispered, giving Crayford a mug, "which sort of makes me wonder what happened to my predecessor".

"Okay, let's move out, they're already running analysis on some sudden anomaly, so we're jumping real soon.", Dickson shouted from the door.

Getting to the timewarp was a rush. They ran down to operation room, strapped into warp pods with the help of pair of technicians for each, countdown booming from unseen speakers. Pods closed, technicians ran for their lives. With a flash everything was.. gone.

"Welcome to the void" said a voice Crayford hadn't heard before.

"I'm Mallarch. I'm supposed to explain these things to you, you being on your first jump and all. We're currently traveling in the void between time. That's why you can't see, feel or.. well, really hear anything either. I can.. 'talk' to you but you can't talk back. It's all rather complicated so I'm not wasting any time on that. As for our mission we've been sent after some unknown entity who caused some sort of anomaly in time. We don't know who or what it is. All we know is that we can track its genetic code which seems human enough. And we know that it's warped real close to the time tide so we had to aim our warp practically on it, so stay sharp as we drop back into time. We may have to warp back within min-"

With another flash Crayford fell half a meter down, rolled and quickly scanned his surroundings, rifle ready and safety off. It seemed to him to be late morning on a farm or something. The weather was fine and the air was warm. There was nobody in sight, apart from the team, who were also scanning the surroundings.

"I think we must have misjumped" Mallarch said, digging up controls on his rewarp gear.

"No, the genetic signature is still here.. somewhere..", Hill said, taking some gadget and tapping on it. He walked couple steps, and pulled a clear plastic bag full of blood from the ground.

"Here's our signal..".

"Shit, it's a trap. Get us out of here, Mal!", Dickson shouted.

Mallarch shook his head and answered, "If it's a trap we're trapped. The tide's gone. I think we just misjumped. That bag could have been here for years."

"So when can we get out of here?"

"I don't know, we have to know the exact time to make a guess."

"Crayford, make a camp. We'll have to wait for the night."

Crayford scanned the surroundings for a suitable camp place, and decided to set the tent up behind a hill. While he was setting things up, Hill came to give him a hand.

"Mal says we may have to wait for some time here. We were once stranded for a month. Almost made Dickson go nuts. Drove his wife nuts at least, being away for a month."

"So where are we exactly?"

"I don't know, nor do I care really.. what I saw of the surroundings it seems pretty medieval to me.. somewhere in Europe probably.. Wait.."

Hill placed his hand on his ear and listened for a while.

"Dickson just told me someone's coming.. I'll go see what I can find out."

After getting the tent up and hidden Crayford ascended the hill.

"I don't care. Just ask him the date.", said Dickson's annoyed voice.

Hill had a short conversation with a scrubby-looking peasant and then talked with Mal for a while. Crayford sat down and dug some snack from his pocket.

"What?", Dickson shouted.

Hill tried to calm him down, yelling, "Hey, the peasant could be wrong. By years. You know how badly they kept track of time. He's not really a scholar or anything!"

Dickson seemed to calm down, glanced at Mallarch, who slowly shook his head. Suddenly Dickson drew a gun and shot the smiling peasant in the head, his lifeless body collapsing.

"Why the fuck did you do that for?!", Hill shouted.

"What difference does it make? Get to camp. Make your frigging calculations. I'll scout."

Hill came to talk to Crayford while he was making firewood.

"We'll have the exact time calculated by midnight or so. We need the stars. Mal said the time zone we aimed at was just a month wide, but it.. shifted somehow. We don't have the equipment to calculate the time zones here ourselves and our gear is only capable of one jump back so we can't take any chances. It's more probable to end between times than in some time. We have a snapshot of the time data we were aiming at so if we misjumped we'll know the jump parameters of about month back and forward of where we aimed.. I'm starting to be afraid of Dickson though.."

"Why did he do that?"

Hill sighed.

"I think he's started to believe the Malcrow's Heresy."

"What's that?"

"Well, naturally you haven't heard of it. Malcrow was the one who disappeared on his eighteenth jump. Dickson jumped with him a couple of times. His belief was that.. how was it again.. 'You cannot go back and change history because you already have been going to have done it'. Means that whatever you do you've actually already done in your past. He said Malcrow never wanted to get back. Liked the era they jumped to. Or something."

As they came back to the camp Dickson was sitting on a rock and Mallarch was furiously typing on his PDA. Crayford dropped the small pile of firewood next to the tent while Hill sat down.

"Yes. We misjumped. By.. about seventeen days."

"When do we get out?"

"That's.. the tide is.. well, it's complicated.. it's low for.. um.. about two.. hundred.."

"No way. We can't stay hidden for two hundred friggin days. Impossible."

Mallarch backed away, putting his PDA away.

"No, two hundred.. years. I've never seen such a time gap."

Dickson opened his eyes and tilted his head.

"Two.. hundred.. YEARS?! Fuck it, I'm gone."

"Let him go.", Hill said, grabbing Crayford's sleeve.

Mallarch turned his PDA off and threw another stick in the fire. The three of them sat there for some time, listening to the cracking of the fire.

"So what are we supposed to do?", Crayford asked.

"We have orders not to change history. Or actually to prevent the change of history. We could blow ourselves up but the noise and the marks we'd leave in the landscape would be enough to change it. Not to count the dead farmer and whatever Dickson manages to do within a week."

"Maybe.." Mallarch said, "Maybe they'll understand what went wrong and send us some stasis pods so we can sleep for a couple of hundred years."

"Yeah, but if that were true the pods would be here already. The tide has passed."

"Yeah. Which means we should find them. If they exist."

"On the other hand we could think like Dickson does. We're here, in the middle of nowhere.. middle ages I'd guess, with practically unlimited firepower, twice the lifespan of normal people, and we're giants compared to them. We're friggin gods here!"

Mallarch and Hill both stared at Crayford, who shut up.

"I'm starting to have a bad feeling I know what caused the anomaly.", Mallarch said.

Afterword

Couple months without writing and it shows. Writing this was almost painful. I really, really, really should write more often.. this one was written on a laptop within one hour at about 1am on christmas morning, although I had played with the idea for some time.

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Possibly modified around: April 25 2010