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  1. Dear lord do I sound like a pompus academic! Words are fun!! The flashy title aside, I just got the full content of the second draft of "Worthless", the/a key storyline for a multi-game project I have been embarking on for about a year with some people in suits. And looking back is giving me panic attacks! The 63 chapter draft (which, again, is free to read online) details the beginning of a fairly sprawling time travel universe, meant to be the bedrock for games on he drawing board, most of them smaller indie titles over the coming years. Plus comics and more stories and all that good stuff, but I digress. The idea is tha familiarity not only breeds greater interest, but will also allow for some games that stand out more from the crowd, because players will either know or have the option of learning the backsory before a game even begins. Kind of like game franchises, but in reverse. Kind of. A year ago, this was jus some collection of thoughts and notes, and a lo of noncommittal talk with people who knew/know little to nothing about writing, game design, etc. Now, with the second draft out there, it has become very real, and i am thinking thoughts I never had before. I have 300-500+ views on each chapter, but no comments, so I have no idea if anyone is really reading any of it (if you are, please let me know in the comments!), and in these days, game backstories seem to be in a weird place. Back in the 80s and 90s, story sometimes made up 50% or more of the gaming experence, because games themselves were limited. Now, people brush right by the story in games like Mass Effect or Mirror's Edge and just play the game. So I can't help but wonder, what is the role of a story at this point, on a deeper player interaction level? Is the existence of a deeper connection between games something that people react to, or is it jus somehing they skate by in a WhatCulture video? I am a huuuge fan of the storytelling in Dark Souls, but part of it might be because I respect how it doesn' really matter to the game, so it makes me wonder how much it really matters to players. And would the modern player enjoy the fact that there exists significant sory content outside the game, which can enhance or elaborae the story in the game? I'm still in a weird place after finishing that second draft (and not just due to the 300K+ wordcount...), and there are waaay too many weird questions in my head right now. But if any of this made sense, please let me know your stand on the value of stories in, and beyond, the games you enjoy!
  2. Embassy of Time

    Anyone read any online ongoing sci-fi/fantasy?

    I had been looking for something like that for ages, too. Never found anything that survived more than a few pages. So I suggested to some people in suits that they pay me for creating something like it. And I recently uploaded the second draft of the core novel meant to birth that into the world! It's a free to read, 63 chapter story, set in a time travel universe, essentially all the Time War stuff other stories just dance around, put center stage. Far future, cyberpunk, post apocalyptic, modern horror, historical mystery, fantasy adventure, and more, all part of the same story. Once the full novel is done, it's time for regular installments, much like what you describe.
  3. Embassy of Time

    Where is your place within games development?

    Originally: Trippy mathemativs, all kinds of equation visualization and emergent game behavior, duuuude! Now: Business meetings on financing, presentation development of game concepts and backstory.
  4. Embassy of Time

    What are you working on?

    I am...oh god... what am I even? What is life?! It's complicated, let's start there. I have been poked to do a set of presentations of a large fictional universe as a basis of games, novels, comics, and if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, an animated movie. I have worked on it for months, and I recently got the second draft of the first novel done, and am now working on, in no particular order: - The third and hopefully final draft of the main novel, before full publication. - 10-20 short form suggestions for small-scale games set in the fictional universe (NOT all to be made, just suggestions). - 1 or 2 detailed suggestions for large scale games utilizing the universe created. - Semi-open participation platform for outside writers, game developers, comics artists, and more to easily adopt the universe for third party creations. - Not having an aneurism. - Getting my bloody washing machine fixed, Okay, so the last two were perhaps not part of the original question, but I have never done so much work for so much future (hopeful) payoff and so little immediate payoff. I love it, I've rarely had so many creative juices flowing through me, but it is a MINDHUMP of epic proportions!
  5. Interesting... uhm, not sure how to say this, but.... did you copy most of my disclaimer? I mean, you can have it, it's just a disclaimer, no hard feelings. Just feels very deja vu....! Good luck with the story!
  6. Embassy of Time

    Planet Generation Plans

    Not sure I get your chain of logic here, but I am trying. I think the issue you worry about is, in essence, CPU capacity. The core information about a landscape needs perhaps to be made in CPU, since it has a more flexible math (I don't know how GPUs differ from CPUs in this regard, so I'm going from what you described as best as I can). The issue becomes how to translate raw landscape information into actual graphics. But I think that's less of a bottleneck than you suggest. The CPU would end up with a polygon landscape with some added data to enhance details, just like using graphics shaders to build upon basic graphics data. While it requires some careful math, I doubt it would make or break the process. But I have no definitive evidence for that.
  7. Embassy of Time

    A new way to give your game a story!

    Do you know who is the most listened to musician on Youtube, perhaps the whole internet? No, not Bieber, Beyonce or that catchy Dispacito thing. No, it's Kevin Macleod. You may not know the name, but go to his website incompetech.com and you will find nearly every background tune from every vlog or amateur video, and plenty of professional ads, too. Very simply, Kevin lets people use his vast library of compositions for their projects, royalty free, and that may have made him one of the biggest assets to amateur creatives since, well, Youtube. My thought was, could that be extended to other things? We have royalty free models and code floating around, and game engines and graphics software are moving into open source or amateur-friendly EULAs bit by bit. I want to try to provide something similar for the story side of things. Plenty creative people seem to look for writers to write stories for their games, comics, whathaveyou. Why not do it like Macleod and create a story universe for people to freely use? So I created Embassy of Time... a few years ago. Yeah, life ain't easy, and things take time. But I recently finished the second draft of the first (free) big story, one that stretches across time and space, and across genres, from spy thriller to occult cyberpunk to historical intrigue and more. Hint: It's about time travel. While I work on the next major draft, the second one is currently here. It's a story about how a young girl in a small town gets entangled in a war across time and space, and the second draft is close enough to the final story that I feel like reaching out to other creatives about it. Need a background story for your historical RTS? Have Embassy factions duke it out and focus on your programming rather than scouting for affordable writers. Got a space horror FPS style you want, but need a backdrop for it? The first chapter is set at the destruction of Earth as dark forces descend on the galaxy. Need a story setting for spies to chase a McGuffin in a mystery game? There's... well, you get the idea. This is something I have never seen really attempted before. Shared writing universes, yes, but I am designing this universe and its stories specifically to help new creatives have something to build on (which, btw, includes writers; people can write stories based on this, if they want). If you want a free and deep background story for your game or other project, one that ties it subtly (or not so subtly!) to a bigger, (hopefully soon) recognizable story universe, let me know, I will work with you and learn what I can do to suit the third draft even better to people's needs. Sincerely, Henry. View full story
  8. Embassy of Time

    A new way to give your game a story!

    Do you know who is the most listened to musician on Youtube, perhaps the whole internet? No, not Bieber, Beyonce or that catchy Dispacito thing. No, it's Kevin Macleod. You may not know the name, but go to his website incompetech.com and you will find nearly every background tune from every vlog or amateur video, and plenty of professional ads, too. Very simply, Kevin lets people use his vast library of compositions for their projects, royalty free, and that may have made him one of the biggest assets to amateur creatives since, well, Youtube. My thought was, could that be extended to other things? We have royalty free models and code floating around, and game engines and graphics software are moving into open source or amateur-friendly EULAs bit by bit. I want to try to provide something similar for the story side of things. Plenty creative people seem to look for writers to write stories for their games, comics, whathaveyou. Why not do it like Macleod and create a story universe for people to freely use? So I created Embassy of Time... a few years ago. Yeah, life ain't easy, and things take time. But I recently finished the second draft of the first (free) big story, one that stretches across time and space, and across genres, from spy thriller to occult cyberpunk to historical intrigue and more. Hint: It's about time travel. While I work on the next major draft, the second one is currently here. It's a story about how a young girl in a small town gets entangled in a war across time and space, and the second draft is close enough to the final story that I feel like reaching out to other creatives about it. Need a background story for your historical RTS? Have Embassy factions duke it out and focus on your programming rather than scouting for affordable writers. Got a space horror FPS style you want, but need a backdrop for it? The first chapter is set at the destruction of Earth as dark forces descend on the galaxy. Need a story setting for spies to chase a McGuffin in a mystery game? There's... well, you get the idea. This is something I have never seen really attempted before. Shared writing universes, yes, but I am designing this universe and its stories specifically to help new creatives have something to build on (which, btw, includes writers; people can write stories based on this, if they want). If you want a free and deep background story for your game or other project, one that ties it subtly (or not so subtly!) to a bigger, (hopefully soon) recognizable story universe, let me know, I will work with you and learn what I can do to suit the third draft even better to people's needs. Sincerely, Henry.
  9. Embassy of Time

    Worthless, Chapter 63

    (This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look) Chapter 63 Fields as far as the eye could see. The old school building wasn't that far away. Mischa and I had worked with the local refugees and some of their friends to clean it, scrubbing away all the black dust. The more we removed of it, the more of the time travelers could enter without getting hurt. In the end, everybody had a chance to be part of it, and many were. The Embassy. Our very own Embassy of Time. Just a building, for now. Potential. "I'm freezing my #*@!ing tits off, Id... Sorry, Marie," complained Mischa, slapping himself in a rather dumb-looking way to keep a little warm. "Are we even in the right place?" "Yeah, should be," I answered, looking at my new phone. The copy had my own, sligtly less new one. It felt weird, not being me, but I was adjusting. At least, I felt that I was. "Walther said this was the spot. Should be right about now." We were a crew of five. One trained medic, four to just help. We had stood there for about half an hour, and Mischa wasn't wrong about the temperature. "How do they even know this shit? I mean, how do they know the time and place someone arrives?" he grumbled, looking over and waving to Mikael, the medic. Like so many others, Mikael was just someone that someone knew, a guy that had been in Nakskov for about a decade, but trained to be a medic in some future war against crazy machines. It all sounded a bit silly, but who was I to disagree. "I think they sent someone a bit farther back to tell them. You know, send back the strong and capable to make sure the weaker ones have someone waiting for them, that kind of stuff." "Huh," Mischa replied, mulling it over. "So, doesn't that, like, change history or something? If they send someone back to before The Embassy is created to make sure The Embassy... Christ, I got a #*@!ing headache just from saying that." "Yeah," I mumbled back at him. "We need to figure all that out, too. Lots of stuff to be done." He was thinking of something he wanted to say, but as he raised his finger to ask what he clearly felt was an important and very poignant question, a loud boom rushed across the fields. Everyone reacted immediately, running across the tilled soiled to the best of their abilities. Somehow, I got there first. A boy lay on the ground. Ten, maybe eleven years old, dressed in flimsy clothes that simmered, turning the humid air to thin steam. I stepped over to check his pulse, and he immediately flinched, curling into a bal and then toppling over, somehow ending up in a sitting position. "Who are you?" he asked with a very thick accent, his eyes darting bout, trying to take in everything. His arms fumbled their way out of the weird clothes, enough to see a nasty scar down his left arm. It looked old, not something connected to his trip. "I'm...." The whole secret identity thing was more of a challenge than expected. "I'm Marie. I run The Embassy. What's your name?" "Where are my parents?" I looked over my shoulder. The others had arrived, and Mikael was already sizing up the boy, looking for any obvious injuries, at first. "We don't know. They'll probably come along later." "When?" The boy was slowly beginning to worry. Fact was, there was no guarantee that they would ever arrive. Some simply sent their children to have a better life, unable to also send themselves along. "We have to wait a bit and see. But I'm sure they'd want to know you're safe. Would you like to go with us back to The Embassy?" He nodded, silently, his eyes still darting all over the place. Finally, they calmed down a little, and he looked at me. "I'm Daniel. My name is Daniel." "Nice to meet you, Daniel," I told him with a genuine smile. "Welcome to The Embassy."
  10. Embassy of Time

    Worthless, Chapter 62

    (This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look) Chapter 62 The slush in the cup tasted horrible. It was supposed to taste like strawberries, but it mostly tasted like the cardboard things that strawberries usually came in. And sugar. It definitely tasted like sugar. "Do you have any idea how lucky you are, that we have access to future medical knowhow here?" asked Kris as he and Daniel sat down around the table. The Embassy medical department was disturbingly large, having taken over thehospital left behind in the colony, and then expanded to a few nearby buildings. Half the future medical knowhow had been left behind, too, and the woman in white had never gotten around to remove it. Or maybe she had just made use of it, like we now did. "Yeah, I should have been dead, I know," I answered back calmly, much to the restrained frustration of Kris. "But then again, we use time machines. I didn't just cut myself on the kitchen knife, right?" Daniel found the remark amusing. Kris, if he did, showed no signs of it. "You actually took that bitch down with the original blast you took her down with back all those years ago," Daniel mused. "That's balls. You got, like, girl balls." I smiled and nodded at what was clearly his attempt at a very high praise. I tried to put the weird strawberry slush away, but Kris took the cup from me and placed it right back in front of me with a resolute gesture. "Drink up," he grumbled. "The crap they put in it wasn't all easy to come by. It's not for your enjoyment, it's to keep you bleeding your organs out of your ass, for #*@!'s sake." A few defiant glances went back and forth between us, before I reluctantly picked the cup up for another horrible sip. "And you're not going back on the road for a long while, either," he added, looking away to avoid more eye battle. "I'm almost insulted you actually survived this round. Guess I need to revise my guidelines." "Oh, please don't!" I laughed, instantly buckling over with a grunt as my sides felt like everything inside was ripping open. For a moment, I feared it might, but my medical bracelet ran an instant scan and showed only a few minor bleeds that the staff would handle once my nutrient session was over. Calling it eating would be a bit too flamboyant. "I need one last trip," I managed to say, ignoring the sore side. Both Daniel and Kris looked at me like I had screamed about spiders in my eyes. "No, you really d...." "Not now," I interrupted. "I'll heal up, then I'll go. And then I'll stay around here for a good long while, out of trouble, like a nice girl. Maybe go visit some family." The two looked at each other, then over their shoulders, before they leaned in. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" asked Daniel. Kris looked like he already had an answer to that, but I nodded quite casually. "I visit now and then. I'm starting to look too old to play myself, so the copy gets to do that. But I'm quite the friend of the family at this point." With a sigh of surrender, I took another sip at the gross slush, then dug my spoon into the cookie dough-like food that was going to, hopefully, be very good for me. Somehow. "Meanwhile, I have a job for the both of you," I added, staring at the brown dough goop. It was almost as I remembered it. The chaos, the yelling, the stench of burned materials in the air. The house was there, looking much like it still did back home. The Embassy was cautious about using it, fearing that local connections of the woman in white might still be keeping an eye on it, but it had turned out to be a great place to put half a dozen refugees and a few extras while they settled in to 2019. I watched as my younger self appeared, all full of fire and faith. Part of me missed it, missed her, missed the innocent will to fight for what was good and right. The Embassy still did that, still saved refugees by the thousands, in Nakskov alone. But age brought nuance, and no good intention remained pure. She still had them, and it was a marvel to behold! The spectacle played out as I remembered it. Elmer and Lisa being their usual hardass selves, just like they had been ever since, every time we ran into them. They were tacit allies, but they had never really accepted The Embassy and its work, still wanting a full ally in their little war. I had seen Karen since, too. She had mixed feelings. Looking at the whole thing unfold here in 2015, I started to remember how I had basically played her, using her knowledge to further my own agenda. I had never been entirely proud of that, but pride was not the priority that results were, sadly. And then, it finally got to the point I had been waiting for! The dots had already started swarming her when I snuck up through the tall, wild grass by the side of the road. At this point, nobody was coming back for her, not even my younger self. She had been abandoned, a casualty of war, not unlike the many refugees that had come through The Embassy over the years. Time traveler or not, she was fair game! "Hi Vera," I whispered as I slapped the circular device onto her that it had taken me a month to reconstruct in this time. It had been a bitch to construct, but half the parts would never have made it even the few years back in time from The Embassy. "Who are.." she gargled, twitching as the pains of return travel set in, but I shushed her as I dragged her away through the grass. We were basically in someone's back yard before I threw the cheap fireworks I had acquired from some shady bordershop, via the people we now had in 2015. People that would have been nice to have the first time around, but things had to play out the way they always had. We waited, silently, on someone's lawn, behind assorted garden equipment and things I knew far too little about. The Embassy had gardens, as did the many hideouts we placed refugees and agents in, both in and around this time and in many other ages. But garden work was calming, and usually part of refugee therapy, so few of the rest of us ever had a garden to tend. "What is this?" asked Vera, throat dry and raspy, as she tapped the circular thing on her stomach, without getting up from the damp grass. "Emergency anchor. Some refugees from the 3400s figured it out by reverse engineering some scraps we took from... You know what, #*@! it. It's a time travel life preserve, how about that?" She nodded with some effort. "Yeah, I'll take that." Morning came as we waited for everything to be safe, and for her to regain her strength. By noon, we were sitting on a bench by the sports fields, both with a pita kebab and a soda in our hands. "So, what's with the bag?" she asked innocuously, through another bite of meat, bread and assorted veggies. "You get who I am, right?" I asked back, and she nodded very casually. "You're Ida. Or Marie, if you want. You're the girl we got into this mess. Except you clearly got a taste for it. How old are you at this point?" I chuckled over my meal, my brain again starting to try and calculate age by the way of constant time travel. "Technically 17, but probably closer to 19, biologically." Vera just nodded, looking at her pita kebab before taking a small bite, like a tiny predator carefully devouring its prey. "So," she said again, "what's in the bag?" The bag was a rather bulky thing, one that I had only picked up right before we went to eat at the bench. A courier from a small local office of The Embassy had held onto it while I pulled Vera out of the fight. "Mission reports," I answered, my mind flashing through years of missions. "For you." "Why?" I sighed, a deep sigh, fearful of how she would react to the plan I had for her. At that moment, for the first time ever, I wondered how she had felt about lying to me about being special. "The woman in white is going to lose Nakskov. Like, completely. It's going to be a haven for refugees in that war you have with her. And since you died in that war out there, you're no longer going to be a part of the fight." "You're recruiting me? For real?" "Yeah," I chuckled, "I guess I am." Kids were running out into two of the football fields. School kids, most of them just wanting to mess around in the fresh air before going back to classrooms. Their teacher was desperately trying to enact his own plans for what had to be gym class. "At some point, she'll get the upper hand, and I need to take that away from her," I continued, my voice suddenly very solemn, surprising even myself. "I need you to go back before all this mess even happened and start The Embassy all over again. A full copy, so that the bitch can't just swoop in and blow my younger self's brains out and replace her, thus stopping The Embassy from ever existing." She had stopped eating, chewing the one bite in her mouth slowly before swallowing, all while looking right at me. "I'm going to recreate what you created as, what, the time travel version of a backup copy?" I nodded. "Yeah, it was the b..." "That's #*@!ing brilliant," she whispered, her eyes turning to gaze aimlessly out across the sports area. "Uhm, well, thank you. Yeah, we had our best minds on it and everything," I quickly lied. She finally started eating again, although her brain was clearly crunching the numbers and connecting the dots on what I had just told her. "So I go back and reenact the whole creation of The Embassy, do all the missions as written, and so on, until it becomes inseparable from your own version of The Embassy. What then? I mean, if you want to timelines to merge, the two of us are still the one thing that keeps it apart. And won't people react differently to me than to you? I mean, you're Inuit, I'm Asian, so they..." She stopped when I started giggling girlishly. "Vera, nobody can tell the difference. Most of my life, everybody kept thinking I was Cambodian, and I have no idea why." She sat silently for a moment, chewing on both what was left of hermeal and on that thought. "Okay, but how am I going to prevent the past version of you from making the original Embassy? There can be only one, you know. Right?" "I'm going back with you. Let me handle that." "The moment you do, you'll no longer be able to exist here," she said quite casually. "If the timeline can't become what yours is, you'll fall out and back to your own." I nodded, knowing that there would be no way for me to follow up, once I made it so that I would never start The Embassy here. It boggled the mind, but I understood the consequences. The next few minutes were spent in contemplative silence, her trying to create the first pieces of a mental model of the ssignment, me just enjoying the sights of what Nakskov had looked like back before it had all started. Not so different, when all was said and done. The air was dry. I had shared Vera's ride back to the days before my younger self ever got involved in any of the madness that had unfolded. The mission journals had been packed tight, so tight that there was no air to set the pages ablaze, and crammed into a fireproof box just as tightly. It was a clumsy way to get a lot of information through the time machine, but it worked, and had become the operating standard for many things. Paper and wood burned, but handled right, it only ruined the outside of a crate. Plastics, metals and electronics were still a problem that had no solution. Vera was now at a house we had picked simply from the fact that it would be for sale for many years to come, and eventually bought by an ally of The Embassy. She had time to prepare there, time to figure out how to make sure her version of The Embassy would go through the exact same steps as ours. We would meet again, as she progressed, to sync up our results, by both going to meeting spots in the past in a complicated dance of aligning timelines that I still had trouble understanding. They, the original time travelers, used similar methods, and Karen had at some point sat down with me to explain them. Not because we were close friends, because that was never going to happen! But along the way, they had figured out that The Embassy was there to stay, so teaching us how to not make a complete mess of time travel was in everybody's best interest. I had not protested to that. And now I stood on a Nakskov street, breathing in the dry air of the drought that had been plaguing farmers and the like at that point in time. And as I stood there, I saw her. Me. The younger me, from before any of it happened. She was walking along, minding her own business, ignorant about the secrets of the world. And she had to remain that way. A life that didn't matter. Born, lived, died, without making much of an impact, just like the woman in white had described it. I imagined living that life, never having gotten entangled in wars across time, never having been thrown through millenia to hunt down this and recruit that. Never having the responsibility for a flood of refugees that the younger me walking towards me knew nothing about. Part of me envied her. Part of me regrhetted nothing. I saw the car this time. Some young person behind the wheel, distracted by something, seemingly talking on a hands free phone. He wasn't being overly reckless. Just some random person not completely aware of every bit of his surroundings. The kind of people who, whether they wanted to or not, were destined to be the source of a million sorrows. And when I heard the slight mew, I quickly stepped over and reached down. As I lifted the kitten up in my arms, the car swung by, the guy inside shouting some obscenity at me as he passed, nearly clipping a bus that he failed to break for at the end of the street! "Hello, little kitty," I whispered, as I stroked its fur. A little dirty, a little malnourished. Homeless, just a big kid prowling the streets for something to eat. "Hi," I heard nearby. "Cute cat. Can I pet it?" I looked up, looking into my own eyes. She stood there, on the sidewalk, smiling at the cat, her eyes looking at me like none of it had changed the entire world forever. "Are you Ida?" I asked, and she nodded, looking a bit uneasy at this stranger asking her questions. Some part deep inside my brain remembered this cautious spirit. "Well, I heard from someone at work that you were thinking about having a kitten. Maybe you could give this little one a loving home?" The young me looked wary, but she softened up the moment she held the cat. "I think something's burning," she said, looking at the colored dots that had been gathering for the last minute or so, ever since I picked up the cat. "What's its name?" "Jamie," I said, on the spur of the moment. "Will you keep her really safe?" The pain was setting in. I could feel points on my body like tiny fires. "Okay, yeah. Hi, Jamie," she said, holding the cat. "I need to go," I sighed, petting Jamie's head for one last time. "Okay. Take care," she answered back as she walked away, a little confused. I walked around the corner of the nearest house. I just barely got to a small yard before I fell out of a timeline that I no longer belonged in.
  11. Embassy of Time

    Worthless, Chapter 61

    (This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look) Chapter 61 The early morning wind was cold. The fields out north of Nakskov had very little tall vegetation to speak of, most of it being trees to mark the edges of the individual fields, so there was nothing to really catch the faint winds that blew about. Colliding and merging, those faint winds became stronger. "I dont get it," Alex said, sounding calmly frustrated. "You don't get what" He didn't look at me, his gaze scanning the horizon in a desperate attempt to find the answers he felt he needed. He wasn't succesful. "I don't get it, this, whatever this is," he restated, this time adding a few waving gestures at the empty fields. "You said you had a plan, fine, but don't you need something to use that plan on?" Less than half an hour later, I was sprawled out on the ground, the woman in white looming over me and above her, the black canopy of the veil that hid the buildings behind her from the rest of the world. The colony that the time travelers had talked about. A fallen colony, now in her hands. "You're history. Literally," she hissed. "You, this, all the past. It all happened a long time ago, and nothing you do will change even a footnote in the archives about this age." All of a sudden, she seemed to have a trembling in her voice, an anger or frustration mixing itself into the restrained chuckle. "You are all already dead," she added, her voice turning into a sneer. "You did nothing with your life and then, you died. Your friends, your family, the people you see when you walk the street, all dead, all gone. None of this exists any more. It's all past. It's all history." As she spoke, her tone climbed from soft mockery to a scolding snarl, until she was hissing at me so close that I felt the warmth of her breath in the cool morning air. "Get the #*@! out of my face," I growled, trying to hide the fear building up in my chest. She stood for a moment, motionless, and then she backed off, taking a few steps back to leave some room between us again. My school bag was not that far away, thrown in the dry dirt that covered much of the ground under the canopy of whatever that invisibility field around the colony was. Sunlight never got in, the veil bending all light around the place so that it just passed on, making it seem like there was nothing there. The dead ground was a result of that lack of sunlight. Eternal night. Inside the bag, things were suddenly different. The main room of the bag had been filled with tennis balls rolled in the black dust, a quick and literally dirty weapon against her time traveling minions. But in the smaller front pocket was the cartridge I had grabbed from beneath the old school buildings. Just a random cartridge, one that I would know to grab again later. I would put a tiny bit of it into the time machine and use it as a destination. And then I would go back. That was the energy about to rip both it and the bag apart. And as I gave the bag a hidden glance, I saw the colored dots begin to swarm it. "Get out of my face," I repeated, my voice suddenly finding new strength. "Get out of my life," I added, noting a slight shift in her expression, as if she was wondering where my newfound energy was coming from. "And get out of my town." The blast was in two parts. The first part was an explosion in reverse, the impact of a time traveler sending the blast back in time. Karen had never told me that, but somehow, it just made sense as I saw it. The second blast was forward in time, a regular explosion. The time traveler had arrived. The cartridge had been ripped apart, its bits scattered across the field. "What the..." she growled, dropping her menacing lean over me and standing up straight. She had clearly not even noticed that the colored dots had started to surround her. "Who the #*@! just arrived?!" In her confusion and anger, she looked down at me on the ground. And I looked over at where the bag had been a moment ago. "Me," I answered with a scowling grin. I looked like shit. The colored dots were already swarming me, as soon as I arrived. And from my spot on the ground, I stared with a smile at my kneeling body where the explosion had centered. I looked as I raised my head, bruises and all, and looked myself in the eyes. "You little #*@!, you're going to destroy the..." "No," I said, my voice insultingly calm. "The shattered cartridge is all over this place now. It's poisoned. Scorched earth." For the first time, her eyes lit up with a fear as she shrugged and twitched, the colored dots burning her like sparks on her skin. She screamed something incoherent, something in a language I did not understand. I could hear screams elsewhere, too, knowing that our people were back in the vans, out of reach. It was just me and her. And the other me. She looked strange, not at all like a mirror image. I didn't even see myself, looking at her. I saw a tired girl, burns and bruises, clothes a mess, hair charred and in places melted together. The colored dots were swarming her, but with a tear in her eye, she smiled. At me. The screams filled the air, like the cries of birds fighting over scraps of food. At the last possible second, I closed my eyes, and let the blast wash over me as the woman in white was ripped out of my time, torn away by the dust of the shattered cartridge that was no doubt fast mixing into the ground, poisoning it for her for a very long time. "It worked. It #*@!ing worked," I whispered, and as my future self began to buckle from the pain of time ripping her away, too, she nodded. "It worked," she said in a tired voice, distorted by the energies surrounding her. Maybe it was because she had traveled across far less time than the woman in white, maybe not, but she seemed to linger almost as if by will alone, looking me in the eyes. And I could swear that I saw the same pride for me that my eyes hopefully showed for her. Proud of what she had accomplished, while she was proud of what I hopefully still would. And then, a soft pop. Not a loud blast, just a gentle pop and a wash of warm wind as she was torn away, going back to whenever she had come from. The field was quiet. The dark canopy of the invisibility veil still hung over me, a few sounds of something breaking inside the buildings. This was not a blast on the scale of the one that had happened those days ago. It was smaller, I knew that. But for the time being, the woman in white had lost this ground, lost this battle. I thumped back on the ground, feeling the cold soil chill my jacket, and I laughed. First a giggle, then a roaring laughter. The last thing I saw was myself on the ground, looking back at me as the woman in white disappeared, screaming, in a cloud of dots. Then the energies of time overwhelmed me, too, and I felt how they ripped me out, ripped me away from the spot in the field, back through time to where Mischa had sent me from. It hurt like hell. My veins burned, my mouth tasted like copper, and I fought for breath. It took a moment before I realized that the steam around me was my own sweat, boiling right off my skin, leaving it pink and sore like a sunburn. "Did I do something wrong" asked Mischa. I smiled, then shook my head. "No, all is good now." He looked at me, completely baffled. I wanted to explain everything to him, but I felt myself slipping. The energies from the ruptured cartridge in the field were still affecting me, or maybe their effects just were. I only knew that I had seconds left here, in this time. "Misch, whatever happens, you need to forget this. You need to pretend it never happened. "Why?" he asked, surprisingly calm. "Just... nothing can change. We both did this before, and it needs to go the same way this time around." His baffled look became a tad more panicked. The explanation clearly wasn't doing it for him. "Just pretend none of this happened. Especially when dealing with me, okay?" "With you?" "Mischa," I said calmly, looking him straight in the eyes, "I'm from a different time, not that far into the future. But my old self is out there. And she's going to need you, very much, in the next few days." He just nodded. Then his gaze danced around, as it followed the dancing dots of color that formed around me. "I'll see you around, Misch," I said with a smile as I got pulled out of time. I arrived back in the basement cave as if slammed into the floor from a great height. Everything hurt. But I looked up and saw Mischa there, by the machine. Emilie sat at the top of the stairs, only just visible from my awkward angle, laid on the platform inside the machine. "Holy #*@!ing Christ!" I heard Mischa yell, through the loud buzz and sounds like jet engines that filled the inside of my ears. "Are you okay?!" I lay curled up on the same platform as when I left. My body was shivering, even when I tried to stay still. The smoldering fabrics of my clothes hurt, like hot needles stuck in my skin, but I could do nothing about it. My limbs refused to work, instead obsessively curling me up into a fetal position as I gasped for air. "Something's wrong outside," I heard Emilie yell down the stairs. Forcing control over at the very least my own head, I bent my neck back to look up at her. She was covering her eyes. "D-d-did it... wwwork?" I asked nobody in particular, the scolding heat in my body suddenly switching to a jarring cold. "Ida, we need to get you..." "Did it work?" I whispered, interrupting him rudely. He had great difficulty in looking away from me, but ended up calling something out to Emilie. He then turned with a strange expression on his face, a mix between confusion and, it seemed, joy. "They're gone," he said. Then he broke into a laugh. "They're gone. The time people just screamed and disappeared right when the machine flashed. The robots then turned and ran." He broke into an almost frenzied laughter. "We did it. We did it, Ida!" He then looked at the machine as it finally died down and went silent. "Uhm, Ida?" "Yeah?" "What exactly did we do?" My every muscle burned as I forced myself first up on my knees, then unto my feet. Mischa immediately stepped in to support me, but I found myself a bit distracted. A thought lingered in my mind. "Misch, the numbers. What were the numbers?" He stopped in his track, then turned, still carrying me and thus accidentally swinging me around like some lifesized ragdoll as he stared over at the time machine. "They're still counting down," he said, sounding understandably worried. "That's usually not good, is it?" I asked, fighting for every breath. "Nope." "Leave?" "Yup." As he dragged me up the stairs, up to and through the wrecked school, debris cluttering every hall and making every step a science in its own right, I saw Emilie stumble along the wall, her legs looking like novelty drinking straws at this point. Neither of us said anything, Mischa saving his breath for hauling me and I myself focusing on getting my body to work again to lighten his load. Emilie did speak, but most of all, she muttered very foul words under her breath. Out of the school, across the road and well into a nearby field, we finally stopped. The air felt cool against the skin, soothing and kind. The soil was wet, but somehow, sitting down in it felt warm and welcoming. "Did we maybe overreact?" panted Emilie as she plunked down in a patch of grass on the edge of the field. "I just went back in time and returned to flashing numbers in a secret underground cave," I panted back at her. "I don't think it's even possible to overreact to...." A loud rumble ripped through the air, followed by a powerful tremor through the ground, both of them coming from the direction of the school. The sound mixed with that of a few dozen windows shattering, as a puff of smoke billowed out from several places in the building. "Yeah, I think we reacted appropriately," Mischa said, completely deadpan on his delivery. He then, too, plunked down onto the soft, damp soil. It was early evening. The day had gone by in a haze, but I remembered that someone Emilie knew had taken care of my injuries, rather than risk strange questions at the clinic. They were real doctors, she had said, refugees from the future, just like her. Part of a network usually restricted to other refugees, but my contributions had softened them up to me. All I knew was that I woke up in a house somewhere on the edge of town, before Emilie and a large man who never told me his name drove me home. Mischa was there, waiting. He immediately reached out to support me, fearing I would fall, but I calmed him down. I could see a handful of the others, in various states of healing, wait at the edge of the newly lit streetlights. Nobody said anything, not out loud. There was a whisper here and there, briefly, but they restrained themselves. Even Alex and the two other agents were there, though the two others waited a bit farther down the street, by what seemed to be their car. "Are you ready for this?" asked Mischa, full of concern. "I mean, are you sure this is what you want to do?" I nodded silently, ironically now feeling even more worried about my decision. None of the others spoke. The moment I walked up the tile path to the front door, the hedges covered them all, and I could neither hear them, nor see them when I briefly turned my head for a glance back. That was pretty much the idea, but it suddenly felt awfully lonely. A warmth did run through me when Mischa casually stepped out from behind the hedge and gave me a nervous wave from the sidewalk. He stayed there, though. As it was intended. I never even touched the door. It just flew open, my mom standing inside with tears in her eyes. "Ida?! Oh god, Ida, where have you been?!" she all but yelled, breaking down crying as she grab me and held me tight. I slowly put my arms around her, squeezing with all my might. "I'm so sorry, mom. I had to do something, I had to..." I started crying back. "It's okay, panik," she sobbed, holding me close. "It's okay, we'll figure it out. Just... Just don't go away like that again, okay?" I silently nodded, unintentionally wiping my tears off on the shoulder of her blouse. "I love you, mom. You know that, right?" She fell silent a bit, just holding me. I could almost feel her worry about what I was thinking. "Of course, panik. I love you too, more than anything." We stood there for a few seconds, just holding onto each other in the cool evening air. Finally, I let go, and she hesitantly did the same. "I'll just go say bye to Mischa, and I'll be right back, okay?" She nodded. She was smiling through the tears, but I could see her eyes, face, even entire body scream with worry. Turning the corner by the hedge, I saw the rest standing there, still waiting silently. Mischa looked at me but said nothing. I simply gave him a nod. Then I nodded at the others. My mom waved at Mischa. She was trying to hold it together, but everything about her screamed that she could not do that alone. Inside the house, through what I could see of the hallway, Peter was holding Beebee, who was not surprisingly curious and nervous about what was going on. "Did Mischa help you get here?" my mom asked. "Yeah. He mostly just, you know, helped me through a few things." "Like what?" "Can we talk about it over dinner? It's not a big deal, don't worry. And I'm getting a bit hungry, feels like I've barely eaten in, like forever." "Sure thing, sweetheart." And then the door shut. I heard the sound behind me. I didn't look. "You think she'll be okay?" asked Mischa as we walked away. Alex and the agents had returned to their car and driven off, never saying anything. They didn't have to, really. We had all said what needed to be said, and the looks they gave me told all that remained. "Yeah. She just needs some feeling of normalcy. She worries. Moms do that." "Oh, yeah, your mom," he said, sounding a bit surprised. "Yeah, I guess she just needs to believe that you're not, like, selling drugs or something." "Oh, you meant the copy? Yeah, she's lived my life before, maybe even better than I do. She'll fit in, no problem." For the first time since watching the copy walk up to the door and into the house, almost symbolically taking over a part of my life, I turned around, looking back at Lavender Street. "It looks so quiet," I mumbled. "They don't even know what's out there, what's going on." "That's how they need it to be," Mischa calmly replied. "They need to feel that everything is in its place, that they're safe. That the world isn't, you know, #*@!ing weird." "Yeah. Weird." I turned back again, and we walked on. The main road that Lavender Street branched out from was slowly approaching. A car waited for us nearby. "We agree that the time machine is, like, gone, right?" asked Mischa, and I nodded with a grunt. "So what is there even left to do?" At the corner, I stopped. It was fast getting truly dark, the lights of houses and streetlamps being all that there was to see. "She can never come back here," I started, then smiled a bit at my own words. "Well, not for a long time, anyway. Her base of operations is contaminated, completely off limits to time travelers, and I have a feeling that anything else she has is not that close by." The car drove up, parking so silently that it almost screamed that it was not a gas engine. Both doors, front and back, by the sidewalk opened. Inside, Camilla and her mom waved us in. "We are a safe zone, now," I continued as I walked slowly to the car, Mischa taking the back seat beside Camilla. "There'll be others out there who need that. We will do what we can to help them get out of that #*@!ing war." "What, like a refugee camp?" Mischa asked as he sat down inside the car. "No," I answered with a sigh as a thousand half-finished plans ran through my mind. "There are others out there who can help. We just need somewhere that can, you know, connect them all up. We'll take in refugees, but they should not have to be refugees for long." "Oh, like an embassy of some kind. An embassy for time travelers?" "Yeah something like that," I nodded as the doors shut and the car started moving. "Well, Madam Ambassador, I look forward to help you," said Camilla's mom with a smile that hid more gratitude than I could even compute. "Jesus, please don't call me that," I chuckled, finding some relief in the jovial tone. "Well, the copy is Ida now, we need to call you something," Mischa intervened. "I'll make up some identity I can use," I just replied. "What, like some superhero?" asked Camilla from the back. "Time Girl!" proclaimed Mischa with enthusiasm! "Or... wait... no, that's the only one I can think of." "No thank you," I chuckled back at him. "Just another name. Something normal." "Maria is a very normal name," Camilla added. "Maybe. Yeah, something like that," I nodded. "Maybe just Marie. How does that sound?" There were calm agreements throughout the car. "Yeah, Time Girl would require you to time travel, I guess. Not gonna happen now, machine gone and all." I could hear a sadness breaking through in his voice. His mind was slipping to his brother, Paul. "No. There is another," I said, my voice almost a whisper as I thought about what lay ahead. "She abandoned the colony. I think there is a time machine there." Suddenly, everybody was looking at me. I ignored it.
  12. Embassy of Time

    Worthless, Chapter 60

    (This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look) Chapter 60 "The safe route?" Standing amidst frail-looking floating panels and wispy glowing symbols hovering in the air, Adric seemed honestly a little concerned. The arrival had to have been his first hint of something out of the ordinary. No dramatic slam into the invisible safety fields that surrounded the arrival point, no massive discharge of errant energies. Quiet, mild. Safe. "Everybody has their limits, Aldric. Even..." "You?" he finished skeptically. "I never knew you to have much caution in you. Why now?" For a moment, he stood with a slight smile on his face, clearly taking it all as mostly a quirk. But when a lack of response filled the air, the smile began to slowly fade. "Did something go wrong?" he asked, now showing his more concerned, nervous colors. "Not in the usual sense of it." He lifted his brow, then his chin, looking a bit down his nose. "Well, the usual sense of it was never that... usual, was it?" he rhetorically replied. The activity was minimal in the captured old station. Through gaps and hallways, there were fragments of the spectacular view given of the surrounding cosmos, the Earth silently dangling in the black below, and the unbridled force of the unshielded sun casting straight and sharp shadows at an angle that told the star itself was just out of view, perhaps a few degrees around a corner somewhere. "We need a final interrogation of the time agent. Can you set that up?" "Sure," said Aldric casually. "I've been running a few diagnostic mod... Wait, what?" He fell silent for a few seconds, looking up from something that the paper-thin panels around him seemed to hide from anyone else. But that was not what caught his attention, which was no real surprise. "Did you say a final interrogation? As in, there will be no more when this is done?" "Yes." It was difficult to find the right pose, the right moves, the right words, to convey when stepping out of the arrival area. This was Aldric's prime field of expertise, a thing he not only excelled in but devoted nearly all his time to, and this particular agent had been the most fertile source of information The Embassy had ever had. To him, the agent was the culmination of half a lifetime of work, the key to everything he had worked with and for in ages. Finality had likely never really crossed his mind. Snapping more or less out of his fixation on that one word, he made a few light gestures and some symbols changed. He was adept in reading the room, quite literally, and took the sudden cascading change in them with little more than a slight tilt of the head. To anyone else, it might have looked like something... important. "Your prisoner is activated," he casually confirmed, looking over the many altered symbols. "Seems reactive, though. I need to adjust some settings to keep the mind open but docile." "Why? Its usually perfectly calm, isn't it?" "True," he sighed, making gentle gestures to adjust a few symbols in ways only he seemed to understand, "but we've been hammering away at this one quite a bit, remember? The constant scans and all the poking at neurons has caused it to be a bit more aware that someone has been talking to it." He made a slight gestures, and an image of a brain, presumably the agent brain, appeared in mid air. "We copy how the brain, this brain, works, but we need constant updates to get everything. And your prisoner here is starting to get a bit annoyed by it." "Aldric, the prisoner is not even conscious. You're just looking and copying. We're interrogating a copy in the computer. Right?" Another sigh, one sounding half like worry and half like a lack of sleep. "This is not a book, Marie. Even a sedated brain has some activity, and this one seems to have been altered to spot someone poking around, even if just to copy it." "Will it cause problems?" "Not really, I just need to reset a few things," he remarked absent-mindedly. "The best thing would be to put the entire body back together. A lot of it is just the brain freaking out about not sensing its body. Give it a brief..." "No." With a frown, he finally took his eyes off the colorful reenactment of brain activity that the floating image of the brain was displaying. "I'm not going to wake her up, Marie. It's all subconscious." "No, no assembly. I don't want a fully functional agent in this place, not even for a moment, not even deeply unconscious." The frown turned to some rapid blinking and a confused look back and forth, mostly at the brain model for no sensible reason. "What can an agent do that scares you so?" he asked, sounding like a concerned parent asking a child about the monster under the bed in hopes of debunking it. "I don't want anyone here to get any ideas." And finally, the rapid blinking and confused look turned back into a frown, though this one was more of the angry sort, or perhaps just very hurt. "This is a secure..." "Not that secure." Aldric seemed genuinely insulted by the notion. He was the lead neurosimulation expert, but many looked to him almost as the manager of the entire operation there. This was his baby. Questioning it was personal to him, that much was obvious. "Fine, we'll see how much we can get from it this way. But you should give me about a thousand hours before your next visit then, if you want me to fine tune this one." He froze a bit at the gaze he found looking back at him. "There is no more after this, Aldric. We shut the operation down and destroy this one once I have what I need here." The finality still had not quite sunk in, that much was clear. But he was trustworthy, always had been. He nodded reluctantly, but not offended. Then he raised his palm politely at the passage leading to the actual room where the brain, and the rest of the captured agent, were stored. It seemed like a waste. The station had been a hellish challenge to set up, from the precision needed to target time machines at the arrival point to the unnoticed movement of crew into the place. It was a derelict orbital station, true, but this far future was closely monitored, especially when orbiting the Earth itself. Secrecy came at a cost, one that was hard to pay. But the operation would soon be over. Walls that looked flimsy from the perspective of someone versed in wooden, stone or steel structures unfolded like precision tapestries, shifting corridors and rooms to fit needs. The agent floated unconsciously in a socalled foxed room, one that was not allowed to change, and the entire place was trying to work around that as smoothly as possible. Other people in other rooms were moved aside to make way for what had to end up around the agent's body, barely a single one in all the rooms paying much attention to it. Like clockwork, the world molded itself to fit the needs. Of course, it was in these moments that the outer cosmos was even more laid visible. As rooms slid in and out around the station, they would briefly expose the outer canopy, letting in the vista that had only been visible in gaps from the arrival platform. The massive Earth beneath the station, clouds swirling across lush blue, green and a thousand shades of brown. And the sun, a filter in the canopy keeping it from being just an utterly blinding disk. It hung silently, a fleet of tiny specks about it like moths by a bulb, each speck a part of the monumental project to inspect the large artifacts in low solar orbit near the sun's surface. The people of this time knew nothing about the horrors to come, the devastation that those alien artifacts were closely tied to, and telling them, warning them, would be to meddle in time on a possibly disasterous scale. Destruction in waiting, beautiful to behold. The room with the agent assembled itself quickly around the actual agent body. Floating in the middle, the body looked like it always did, an unassembled mess, like a car carefully taken apart to clean every piece and part. No blood, thanks to the technologies in use. Clean and ordered. But the damage showed, the broad patches of skin burned black, the bruises and fractures. The machines not only served to interrogate an unconscious brain, but also to keep it and its disassembled body alive. The face alone was so damaged and disassmbled that it looked more like a cloud of delicate machinery tinted pale red than anything remotely human. "The latest models we ran on it traced several thousand new paths into its limbic system," Aldric began to explain in an unusually disinterested tone. He was always so obsessed by his work, making this experience of him just going through the motions seem oddly out of character for him. "At this point, we should be able to not only recapture visual and auditory memories for display, but also attach most main primal responses and..." He finally looked over, and seemed a bit disappointed at the slightly vacant stare that met him. "Okay, we can not just see and hear what this agent experienced, but also what feelings it caused. Like, was the agent scared when you.." "Yeah, I got it." Daniel and Kris back at The Embassy had both had wildly different opinions when they heard this interrogation method described, but they agreed on what it essentially was: Interrogating the dead. Daniel had marveled, Kris was disgusted at the notion, but saw the practical uses. "Can we access it?" With a flick of his wrist, Aldric called forth a set of complicated wispy panels that immediately gathered by his hands and face. He said nothing, but gave a look that silently asked to continue. "Ask it about dragons." His stare became a little disconcerting, suddenly filled with a surprised distrust. "Just... trust me on this one, Aldric. Ask it about dragons." Whatever he did, a large field of dots appeared, the shape of a brain. A series of dots lit up, then the whole thing spread, racing through the misty image like matchheads igniting one another. "We have some images," Aldric calmly declared, and the room filled with images about the size of a human head. Some were meaningless and easily discarded. Some were actual images of dragons. There were several that were drawings or paintings, of which a fraction seemed to be the prisoner actually drawing or painting it, looking at them all the while. But some looked like actual, real creatures. Aldric was clearly unnerved by that. "This one." On command, he picked out one image. It was the one from the encampment back over twelve thousand years ago. The exact same dragon. "Put a pin and that, and ask it about this symbol." Drawing the symbol in the air was harder than expected. Whatever controlled Aldric's flimsy panels immediately reacted and made the drawn lines look real as they formed the four arms of the completely circular alternate swastika. Again, dots fired up and triggered a chain reaction, until Aldric could call forth images. They looked desceptively like Nazies at first, but there were differences. Most of all, though, the chain reaction seemed to go on a lot longer, drawing in a strange assortment of things. Things like soldiers marching in uniforms centuries before the Nazi war. Or things that looked like other worlds, deep in space. A planet similar to Saturn, with rings around it, and something moving in those rings. "Marie..." "Ask it about beasts falling from the sky." "Marie, we need to stop." The images disappeared, the mist of dots portraying activity in the brain faded. "What? Why? Bring it back up, this is essential!" Frantic symbols, flashing in weird stop-motion ways, hung above Aldric's floating panels. Gauges measuring god knew what filled most of his field of vision, and he seemed highly displeased by what they showed him. "The brain is reacting too much. I already switched off access to the amygdala in the simulation, so it's not just a knee-jerk response." He made a gesture that caused all panels to shrink, making his nervous face easy to see amongst them. "Whatever you're digging for, it's essential to the brain, too. You're touching on something deeply embedded in not just memories, but the brain's sense of self." "In plain terms?" "Plain terms?" he asked, sounding like a movie character cliche. "The brain is pissed and doesn't like what you're asking about." It hung there, motionless. The body was largely one object, even though it was held in the bloodless, opened condition the machines needed to access everything. The brain was unfolded, the skull carefully opened and the folds, the gyres, of the pink and squishy brain carefully unfolded just slightly, just enough to expand access. It was barely anything, but it made the brain look like stretched bubbles gum. And the gum was refusing to cooperate. "Can you bring it back up?" Breaking from his usual delicate motion, Aldric had the panels go dormant as he called a set of circles out of thin air, walking over to the brain itself. Although he stood at an angle, it was clear to see that the circles functioned as some kind of magnification and detailed information tool, scanning the actual, physical brain "I need to assemble the brain fully for this, Marie," he said apologetically. "It knows something is wrong, and it needs to feel less manhandled." "How much?" "I need to assemble the head and most of the upper body. And the hands. The fake inputs are not doing the trick any longer, it needs to believe that it has its body, at least those parts." "No face." He stpped what he was doing, turning and looking bewildered. "No face?" "Exactly." He looked back at the disassembled body floating in the middle of the room, clearly baffled. "Alright. The face doesn't seem essential to its sense of self, so no face. If that's what you want." "It is." He made some gestures and the machines took over. A ballet of tiny strings and what looked disgustingly like delicate hooks began to reassemble the pieces and get much of the floating body back together, before Aldric called the previous panels back up. "Okay, beasts from the sky," he mumbled, and the images appeared. As expected, the iron foxes were in there, as were many that looked like what Jonathan's unit had been up against. There were even plenty glimpses that seemed pulled from the archives back at their base, the kind of images Mehmet had gone through by the dozens. "Right. Take the dragons, the round swastika, the old soldier uniforms, the Saturn planet things and the beasts from the sky and combine them all with one concept." Aldric flipped through the images like someone going through the latest releases at a vinyl record store, lining up a complex but in the end compact collage. He did what looked like a quick test, and several gauges popped up, looking a bit ominous. "What is the concept?" he asked, his teeth locked together like those of a man expecting to soon regret something. "Error." Looking over to check that he had heard right, he picked a symbol through a quick sorting process that he somehow knew to navigate. The symbol stacked on the collage, and he looked over again before activating the whole thing on his flashy simulation of the agent's brain. Everything lit up. The simulation sent traces between the tiny dots by the dozens, and they multiplied into hundreds, then thousands! Suddenly, the same warning signs came up as before, only more of them! "The simulation needs to tap into the brain to follow this. You've hit some kind of motherlode, here!" proclaimed Aldric, speaking much louder than he needed to, a mix of fear and excitement having crept into his voice. "Let it access whatever it needs, Aldric! This is what we've been looking for all this time!" He waved his hand through several warning signs, and new paths began appearing between the little dots that symbolized the brain. Then, new symbols also appeared. Aldric's panels vanished, and a flood of what looked like symbol messages showed up. "What the hell is going on, Aldric?!" He was standing still, mesmerized, eyes wide and jaw dropping slightly. He had never before looked out of his depths, but this was a man seeing the center of his world fall apart, from the looks of him. "Someone else is in the system," he simply said. "Someone else?" Symbols suddenly disappeared. The tiny machines holding the agent's body sprang to life and started handling the body. Started putting it together. "Marie, we need to..." "What the hell are you doing?!" "Nothing!" he yelled, his voice tearing through the soft rush of sounds from the machines as they attached bone and tissue. "Whatever you hit, the system recognized it. The #*@!ing station system saw what you were asking and intervened!" "How the hell is that possible?!" Aldric stared at the body as misty beams from tiny, snake-like hooks closed up skin seamlessly, and others cleaned the burns to apply new flesh. "Someone on the station must have hidden this reaction in it long ago," he tried to explain, his voice starting to crack. And then, everything stopped. The agent's body slowly turned around in the air, everything but hair back as it had been. Repaired, whole. "Her?!" Aldric erupted! "You said it was just an agent! You never told me you #*@!ing captured her!" The woman in white, naked and bald, floated gently down on the floor, landing with barely a sound on her feet. "Kill her, Aldric!" "How?!" he shouted back. "This isn't a prison, it's a #*@!ing neuro lab!" "You must have weapons! We have guards here, right?!" "You have shitty recruitment standards." The last sentence wasn't spoken by Aldric. The voice sounded soft as velvet, calm as a whisper. It was her. The place seemed to freeze, becoming oddly paralyzed. Any panel seen disappeared, anything displayed lost along with it. The room suddenly felt naked, stripped of anything but the walls and basic lighting. The woman in the middle of it, equally naked, was all that there really was to focus on. She looked like a doll. Bald, every part of her body hairless, her eyes looking bulgy without brows or lashes. But it was her. The cheekbones would have given it away to anyone in doubt, but there were only three people in the now sealed room, and not one doubted. "It took forever to find this place," she mumbled, sounding almost as bored as she did bitter. "Once we did, though, your people were laughably easy to infiltrate." Behaving like some common guest at a stale dinner party, she took slow steps away from the platform she had floated over mere moments ago. When she wasted a moment looking at anyone, her eyes were filled with casual disdain, as if anyone daring to expect her attention was actively offending her. "Clothes," she said in an equally bored, yet a bit more firm voice. A mist of tiny machines like those that had kept her body alive and, in the end, revived her, swarmed her and weaved fabrics right onto her body. Rather than the white coat she was known for, however, the weavers stuck to a very plain skintight one-piece, not that different from a quality gymnastics outfit, at least in appearance. "Gun," she added, making Aldric crack a smile. "Thats restricted," he remarked, sounding very sure of himself. He looked less sure when the machine mist swarmed her raised hand and a shape with the hint of a short barrel began to take shape. "Station, cancel gun," he said out loud, but nothing happened. "Station, unseal room!" "You're not in control," she snarled at him, seeming more annoyed than threatened by his growing desperation. "The second your little trooper here brought me in, the station recognized me and gave me full control over everything." She looked over, with a smirk on her lips. "Except I wasn't really in a state to use it, was I?" There was nowhere to run. The room was now reduced to a circular box, sealed tight and emptied out. Details inside of it seemed to continuously fade by the second, as if she was actively having the station erase anything inside. "Wasn't I?!" she suddenly yelled, pointing the gun aggressively. It had an odd design, looking more like a handheld model jetpack, with sharp angles and short double barrels with no holes in them, no muzzles for bullets. It had to be a particle accelerator of some kind. "You picked the fight. We just won it." She smiled, or rather grinned, at that comment. "I hope you enjo..." She was talking. It required a snap move, just a punch to the chest at the right angle. And as the small container cracked and spilled the black dust, the anchor to Aldric's age fell apart. Dots danced briefly, time enough to send poor Aldric a look that screamed for forgiveness for leaving him behind. Then, painfully, time ripped open. She had less than a second to react, and the gun wasn't charged, the perfect oversight on her part. But as the age dissolved, it left no feeling of victory. 3379 unfolded like paper crumbled in reverse, but everything seemed jittery and out of focus! Someone immediately sounded an alarm for some reason, people and hovering drones rushing in. Talking to them seemed in vain, either because they were ignoring every word, or because no words were coming out, it was hard to tell. But something smelled like blood. Something tasted like blood. "... had a bad return," someone managed to yell through the incessant hum that seemed to fill everything. They all kept trying to do things, in one big, messy wave of activity. Suddenly, there was a brief blue glow and the taste of blood disappeared. Sound rushed in like a tidal wave! "Marie, can you hear me?" someone kept repeating. "Yes, yes, yes. I hear you. What happened?!" "You broke your anchor. You ended your jump badly, and your body couldn't..." There was some noise nearby, in a room obstructed by the walls. "Your body couldn't handle it. You need to get back to..." Another loud sound echoed through the hallway outside, distracting everyone. "Did my return cause something through the building?" Nobody seemed capable of answering. A disembodied screen appeared near the now crowded platform, but the moment it did, it just showed a brief glimpse of a wrecked room and then disappeared. "What the hell is happening?!" Again, no answer seemed to be coming. Half the people and drones in the room left through the door as it widened automatically to let them pass through, and in the briefly wider doorway, the hallways outside became visible. Yellow flashes ripped through the air nearby, causing everything to flicker briefly. Screams could be heard. "Don't get up," someone warned, but it was too late. A bit hesitantly, everyone parted to make way, but walking felt hard, like dragging something heavy. The door had shrunk down again, but with a quick command gesture, it moved along the wall and widened again to show the carnage unfolding outside. Defense drones had been summoned, the air thick with small machines swooping in to attack whatever was there. A series of flashes shredded them, clearing the air of obstacles. "I know you're here!" roared a voice through the hallways. Her voice. The woman in white. "Get everyone out of here." The man who took the order nodded, then darted off. "I can #*@!ing smell you, you insolent cunt!" she screamed, her anger filling the place more than her actual words. "I know you were in my brain, I can still feel the trenches where you dug!" With remarkable efficiency, everyone had already mostly cleared out, leaving the place eerily empty and smelling of charcoal. The yellow flashes had subsided, but hasty, angry footsteps could be heard somewhere. "There," she hissed quickly as she turned a corner, and a yellow flash ripped through the air! It split into a hundred smaller flashes and fizzled out along nearby walls, with her staring at the results with an annoyed scowl. "Your defensive systems aren't gonna protect you for long," she yelled down the hallway as she dug in her naked heels and picked up speed. She was wearing a simple grey coat and nothing under it, something she had likely grabbed from a room or her first victim. And yellow sparks were zipping along it like fireflies on tiny leashes. "How the hell did you..." "You're not going anywhere," she growled, reaching a good running speed down the hallway. With a roar, she let loose another flurry of yellow bolts, but they all merged with the walls harmlessly. She was five seconds from physical impact, though. She hit like a freight train, the yellow sparks now digging directly into the flesh that she touched! Tilting backwards on purpose made it possible to guide her in a soft arc, a trajectory going over and past. With a hollow thud, she slammed into the time machine platform inside the room. "How did you track me here? What happened to Aldric?" She scrambled to get on her feet again, but her odd flailing and unfocused eyes signalled that she was far from in control of her body. Time jump side-effects. She had also just arrived. "Oh, you think you're so clever, little girl, do you?" she hissed as she struggled to regain her footing. "You take my base of operations, use my time machines. Did you honestly think there was nothing of me left in them?" She was talking about The Embassy, about the main buildings back in Nakskov, in 2019. The time machines that had been captured from her, all those years ago. "Yeah, feeling a bit less clever now, aren't you?" she growled as the yellow light began to manifest along her arms again. This time, however, the defensive systems went on the offensive, and small drones shot at her from every angle, covering her arms and seizing her legs and body. With an angry roar, she lit up in yellow like a short circuit, and the air again smelled burned. Breathing heavily, she locked eyes, barely even blinking. "You want to know where your little creatures from the sky originated, girl?" she asked, trying to stop panting while her yellow sparks regained their strength. "Then let's get out of this place." The room seemed to suddenly comply with her, reacting on nothing but thoughts. The time machine came alive at her mere touch, calibrating a jump that was very much not inserted into it. "What do you say, little girl? All your questions ans..." Bolting for the door in the middle of her sentence seemed the best choice at first, but her yellow lightning flashed through the air and struck the doorway with enough power to overload it, making the entire wall shut down, becoming a flat, dark blue surface. A fog filled the room. The security system, preventing a fire it thought had damaged the wall. "You're not going anywhere, girl," she growled as the time machine began to unfold its devil fingers. "You're coming with me." The fingers turned into the usual cloud of smaller parts, adjusting and controlling the many energies within their sphere to rip a hole through time. "You're insane if you think I'm stepping into that with you." "Not exactly my plan," she answered with a frighteningly calm smile as the time machine began to give off an unfamiliar glow and what sounded like a busy tone on an old phone connection. The woman barely touched a spot on a small panel attached to the machine, and the fingers opened wider. The place became filled with a powerful vibration, a trembling in the air, before it sent out a powerful pulse that make the security fog slam against the walls of the room as a blast of light shot upward, ripping away the ceiling and exposing the sky through a glowing hot hole. Everything became silent again. The machine simply stopped, the fingers never even reassembling, parts just falling to the floor as if it had all died from the effort. She stood on the far side of the room, now peering up through the hole with an unnervingly calm smile. As the security fog scattered out through the hole in the ceiling and the air cleared, she grabbed a random piece of former furniture smashed against the wall and casually threw it onto the time machine's platform, right beneath the hole in the ceiling. Without breaking eye contact, she stepped onto the piece and jumped up, grabbing the edge of the hole and pulling herself out with disturbing ease. It would be stupid to follow. She had all the advantages and... There was no point in dragging it out. The wall with the exit was still glitched and firmly shut. The small patch on the jumpsuit that held the vial with enough black dust to be pulled another jump backwards felt tempting under the rough fabric, but she was doing something, something devious, tracking the jump back, destroying everything in her path. It seemed futile, like postponing the inevitable, but maybe this age had something out there that could deal with her, when nothing inside the now badly broken Embassy base could not. It took another piece of broken furniture, stacked on the first, to make it even humanly possible to grab the edge of the hole and pull through it by strength alone. She wasn't there, waiting. The roof of the base, a half buried military installation, looked like an unusually bizarre rock formation, parallel ridges running along it for quite some distance. But beyond it, nature could be seen. Trees far away, rock closer by. The place had been deserted early in the war that now raged far away, the Earth now mainly a memorial to fallen civilizations. In decades, new structures would spring up, and by the time of Aldric's age, the planet would be a wildlife preserve, the one place in this part of the galaxy that allowed evolution to run rampant and create new species to study and seed on other worlds, if worth it. Huge, black monolith would be built, housing offworlders in sealed habitats to protect them against the organisms outside, and vice versa. Right now, it was an abandoned battlefield. "Where are you?!" The shout echoed freely a few times between the hard roof and the rising cliff walls nearby, before fading into the noise of thriving nature. It was answered by a clap in the distance, far too distant for her to have simply walked there. She had always been formidable, but this was not right. She had never been this strong, this empowered. Something wasn't entirely right. "Curiousity killed the cat," a voice said out of nowhere. "I'm not a cat." "No, you definitely are not," the voice answered with a hint of glee. It was her. The voice had no distinct sound to it, but it was clearly her, from the way she spoke, the vicious undertone, like the voice a viper might have if it could talk. The outline of her started to appear at the end of the roof, nothing but a shady blur. There was no sign of... The feel of a powerful force came out of nothing, the sensation of it grabbing arms and legs being like the wind itself attacking! It pulled, pulled hard, towards her, making everything seem to zip by. And it ended in her hand, the squueze of her fingers around the throat. "But maybe you're cat enough for me," she hissed through her shut teeth. Being flung through the air by her felt like a child throwing away a candy wrapper, and the pebbles that lined the nearby river delivered a painful landing. "You've been stalking me like a lost puppy for so long," she grumbled, walking menacingly across the the rocks, "I thought you'd be more enthusiastic about my evil reveal!" The kick came like a dumptruck to the stomach, lifting everything up enough to float above the rocks for a second. It felt like both lungs had to reset themselves before working again, and while they did, her fingers got a hold of hair, pulling it back so hard it could be felt in every muscle of the neck. "See the shapes at the edge of the trees?" she asked, whispering like a snake's hiss. "They are the ancestors of iron foxes." There were indeed animals by the trees, pacing back and forth like walking vultures. Beneath the shade of the trees, they were nothing but dark shapes, but whenever one peeked out from beneath that thick canopy, the long maws stood out clearly as it growled, wanting to attack but biding its time for perhaps an easier kill. Strange ridges, like low spikes or teeth, lined the outside of its mouth, and its fur looked scaly. "You #*@!ed up, didn't you?" From the harder pull on the hair it was clear that she disliked the question. "You #*@!ed up, all the way back then, all the way back in that dragon and magic age." Another kick to the gut, another explosion of pain. But this one was her letting out frustration, not taking control. "Someone got away, and thrived. Someone built a future. And that future went up there." Rolling over, the sky came into view. Yellow streaks among pale blue, a whimsical cloud here and there, but not many. Up there. She disliked the laugh that followed so naturally. "The big, tough lady from the future #*@!ed up, and now, she's trying to, what, play tough? What do you expect..." Completely without warning, she backed away in an inhuman jump! As she landed across the shallow river, she casually looked towards the trees. The animals had seen her leave, and now all they saw was a wounded person on her back. They immediately flew into a ravenous sprint! Suddenly, the jumpsuit felt like a labyrinth! The small vial with black dust was somewhere in it, but in the panic, it became hard to remember where! Finally, a soft crack could be heard beneath the fabric, and as the colored dots and the burning pain rushed in, it was neck-a-neck with the rows of teeth and scales that smelled weakness! 3120 returned as a blinding white light, the long bridges and open space around the time machine's platform looking as if they glowed. "She's coming. She is tracking me." There was nobody to talk to, but someone was listening. Someone was always listening. "There are no registered arrivals other than..." It stopped, the room falling silent. "There is one other return arrival. The source is not registered." Of course not. Whatever she was using to track the return jumps, it was not a part os any Embassy system. "Employ defenses. Stop her." The next little vial was a tiny bump underneath the jumpsuit. It tempted badly, but the pain from just this one return still rushed through every vein and artery. Going to interrogate her had been risk enough, rushing back was a dangerous gamble. Back. Why did she want to track the jumps back? "System? What's happening?" The voice had fallen silent. A faint tremble ran through the entire place, like something big closing in. "Unidentified vessels approaching," the voice finally said, completely stoic. She was taking out Embassy bases. Calling in reinforcements and taking them out, somehow! The next small vial broke with some effort, the snap as it cracked disappearing into the sound of the colored dots rushing in. 2851 appeared, but nobody even had time to react. Each vial of black dust had been custom designed for just one trip backward, not the full jump back to 2019. It was ironic, this tactic being emplyed as a safety measure, a way to not die from the massive energy released by such a trip. It had almost been fatal when returning from the distant past, and nobody got two chances in a row. Now, however, one vial at a time meant a risk to everything The Embassy had built in the bases used. The next vial cracked quickly, hopefully quick enough to not give her time enough to call in an attack on that one base. But it came at a cost. "Marie, are you injured?" said a slightly artificial voice. The vaguly humanoid robot mimicked a look of concern, although its face was not entirely built for that. "Activate all defenses. We are going to be under attack!" The robot looked with dead, mechanical eyes, as if it was thinking about it, hesitating. The lights soon shifted to a thick yellow, rotating along all walls as a pulsating sound rang out. "Marie, are you injured?" the robot asked calmly again. "Do you need medical assistance?" "If you have something that only takes a few minutes, sure..." Thin pillars reached up around the platform that the time machine was seated on, switching on with a sound that was reminiscient of a wind with constantly changing strength. A glow flowed from them, creating a soothing sensation in every limb and organ. Veins and arteries could be felt as they tightened and closed up their ruptures. Bone felt like it vibrated, like the humming sound of changing winds went directly into them and gently shook tiny fractures until they fit together. Then, moments later, a warm intensity as a new set of vibrations made blood rush in where it was needed. A scent of oranges and rust filled the nostrils, feeding something inside and helping the healing along. Before the soothing wave could even end, the sounds from outside penetrated the walls. Dull thuds at first, then worse. A crunshing crack could be heard as something broke. Sirens of some kind blared not far outside the big room. "I need to move on." "You just got here. Your body should not..." "I know. I know." A rumbling spread into the room, sending a faint shiver through the very floor. "My body will deal with it. Just break the anchor and have me return one step back." The devil fingers flared up, but not like they did before sending someone out through time. They were activating to cut the anchor that had been planted in order to get here. This was still not a trip. It was a return. The pull back through time felt like someone yanking every atom, every cell, in the body, all at once. But there was no pain, nothing serious, just the feeling of getting the wind knocked out of the lungs. And then, everything was a dusty brown. "2613, welcome back, Marie," said one of the military clad people in the room. "Thanks. Prepare the base for complete lockdown, quickly." The man, looking to be in his twenties based on physique but fourties in his eyes, made a confused and rapid salute as a sign that he had gotten the message, but was stopped before he could rush off. "They... they're already preparing," he said, looking into the air as he listened to a report coming in over an earpiece or something similar. "There's movement to the north. Rogue machine unit, hunting a woman headed this way." Clever girl. "If you can, take out the woman!" The man looked completely flustered at that request. He stuttered a few sounds, then relayed the command through the same earpiece. "Ma'am, why did I just order fire on a human?" The machine war had passed. The world was rebuilding. Human life was still seen as precious. "She's not human. She's a top of the line infiltration u..." The pulsating beam of faint purple ripped through the wall like it was cheap paper. Screams flooded in, along with thick plumes of dust. Shots rang out somewhere, and things could be heard falling over or slamming into other things, or walls. Two small arial drones zipped in through the hole left by the beam, but thin wires followed and plunged into them like whaling harpoons, and they were yanked out the same way, slamming into damned near everything in their path. "Run." "What?" asked the soldier a bit skeptically. "Run. Join the fight or run away, your choice. But don't be here when..." Too late. The woman in white, now covered in dust and grime and blood, though it looked like someone else's, stepped over the wall, through the hole in it. With the calmest of expressions, she dropped to the floor, landing toes first and barely even needing to bend her legs to absorb the impact. "How long do you think you can keep this up, little girl?" she asked with a voice that sounded more bored than angry. "You look damaged. Maybe just sit this one out, eh?" The blast came out of nowhere. The soldier had snuck his way to a beam weapon that looked far too heavy for a single man to carry, and the recoil from the blast rocked him back on his feet. Beam weapons had very little recoil. The blast had to have been powerful! Whether it truly was never came into play, though. It slammed the woman, sending her flying through the rubble and into a wall on the far side of the room, but it did not cut through her as it was likely meant to. It lingered, a cloud of sparks and static hanging around her like debris of a meteor clinging to a moon it had struck. As she stood up, it all faded away slowly. "She told you to run," she sighed. As she stretched out a hand towards the soldier, he looked up from the sights of the huge weapon as it recharged. There was a strange mix of wondering and acceptance in his eyes as the cloudof sparks flared up around the woman and slid along her body, converging at the pointed hand. The bolt of energy made the room feel like the inside of a furnace. The soldier wasn't dead afterwards. He was simply gone. "Now, you and me, little girl," she said softly, a faint wall of steam rising from her body. "Stop calling me that, old lady." Frustratingly, all she did as a response was to smile. "What, you don't think I know who you are, Marie? You don't think I recognize you?" Screams kept sounding outside, large machines briefly visible as they passed by the hole in the wall. Inside the room, there was a clenching silence. "Oh, sweet, innocent, naive little girl. I recognized you the moment I caught your trail stalking mine," she said in a mockingly kind voice, like someone making fun of a child. "And I am going to ride your wave all the way back to your little consulate of misfits, tearing everything down along the way." With needlessly slow, calm steps, she scaled a bit of rubble in the middle of the room. There was something mesmerizing about her as she moved, like watching a predator trying to walk calmly enough by its prey to not spook it, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. And when she struck, the small bolt of energy hit through kidney and into the bone. Not enough to kill, or even break the skin, but enough to fold like a cheap doll. "Now break the anchor. Show me your next return point," she hissed. As she moved in close enough, all the little vials began heating up, almost wriggling as if in fear. There was no choice. 2482 unfolded like an old television being turned on. With it came the taste of blood, cells rupturing in mouth and throat. As the small splatter of coughed up blood hit the floor, a thin vapor rose from it, like water being slowly brought to a boil. "Are you..." "Sorry, no time for chat." The two men and one woman in badly worn clothes could do nothing but look on as the next vial was broken and the cloud of colored dots swarmed in. 2309 looked red, but not because of how it was designed. The warm sensation in the eyes told the story. Bleeding, the more sensitive cells in there having buckled under the pressure. There was no time to waste. The voices of the people rushing in disappeared in the thundering roar of the next vial breaking and time disappearing. 2146. Someone immediately rushed in, carrying a jurryrigged piece of machinery with a core of old world tech stolen from some heavenfall wreckage out there in the world. It would heal wounds. It would give back energy, stamina, the will and ability to fight her. But even with blood swelling in the skin and spilling through every orifice, there was no time. It was hard to find and break the final vial with trembling hands, as bloodloss slowly began setting in. But somewhere beyond the surrounding walls, the pop of a muffled arrival could be heard. She was already here. As 2019 rushed in like waves crashing on the shore, the first thing that came into view was Daniel's face. His concern from when the time machine was originally activated was still the same. For him, it had been a quick flash, and the entire trip through time had been done. Now, all he saw was... "For #*@!'s sake, Marie! We need to get you to..." "No." The single word came with accompanying blood, the droplets scattering over the time machine platform. "No, 2015, September 17th, 11.25am, the small patch of forest just south of The Embassy." He paused, looking horrified, not sure what to do with himself. Kris was already calling in medical personnel. The first thing they were trained to do was get the traveler out of the time machine, away from any lingering energies. "Daniel, please. She's coming." A whisper was all that came out, that and a bit of blood trickling down the lower lip. Daniel was pale as a corpse. But he nodded. And as Kris could be heard screaming at him in rage, he flicked in the destination with one hand on a nearby panel screen. The machine sent a command through its many, many complicated systems, systems that nobody at The Embassy truly understood, systems that had been studied ever since taking over the old time travel colony. They had the destination stored in there, in some hidden cartridge that was permanently hooked into the machines. No manual exchanging of cartridges before every trip. On an average day, a nice convenience. On this day, the chance to jump before Kris had time to swoop in and rescue anyone. 2015 hit like a sledgehammer. The destination was close, only a few years out, but it still meant arriving without a platform on the receiving end. Shot out of a cannon and through time and space itself. The cool ground felt almost gentle against the jumpsuit, as blood began to seap out slowly. The air was cool, just as it had been on that day. Not far away, the sounds of struggle could be heard. Distant figures ran across the open field, while something invisible kept being slightly visible. The Embassy. The colony that would house it, all in good time. And the figures were pressing forward, flashes and dust flying back and forth. Soon, they would break through the veil and set foot, for a brief moment, on the grounds of the colony. The slam of air from her arrival interrupted the brief moment of peace that watching that old fight from afar had so kindly brought. "So, this is where you want your final stand," she said. Not a question, her voice made that perfectly clear. "Not much left in you now, huh, little girl?" Rolling over felt like turning in a warm bath, the blood running through every cavity inside the jumpsuit, warm and sticky. The sky looked pretty. A few featherlike clouds, and sunlight. "I hoped you would..." "You talk too much, Sidney." She fell silent for a moment. "That's not my name," she hissed as she leaned in. Her long, slender fingers wrapped around throat and jaw like boney worms, and her grip tightened. "You're no use to me dead," she said softly. "I know your corpse will just snap all the way back when your anchor expires. But this, this is a precious moment." At first, her tightening fingers made the air taste metallic, as blood tried to fill the shrinking airways. Then, there was no taste. Her hands, however, did not prevent tilting back the head to look at the struggle in the distance. "Yeah, relive old memories, little girl. While you slowly..." She stopped all on her own. The second that her hand released a bit of its grip was enough. A quick, sloppy smash with a weakened forearm knocked her hand away, allowing a deep gasp of air to rush through mouth, airways, and into the lungs. "Yeah, they're your memories too, bitch." The struggle in the distance was culminating, and as the woman in white looked at her own minions beat back the attack of a bunch of kids, she remembered what was happening inside the veil. She remembered when the flash of an arrival made everything flicker, showing the colony briefly. And the pain of the shockwave from it all washed over the land surrounding it like a glorious torrent of pain.
  13. Embassy of Time

    Worthless, Chapter 59

    (This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look) Chapter 59 The damp streets of Nakskov glistened softly with those last bits of early autumn rain still clinging to the pavement. The hum of school children from the multiple schools that lay shoulder to shoulder near the town train station was a droning sound, mixing with the hush of low afternoon traffic. At the edge of the sidewalk, barely noticing the cars occassionally passing in the street, sat a small figure, poorly dyed black hair covering its face, eyes fixed on fingers. Farther away, a figure looking just like her was running as fast as possible. I had at that point run for the better part of half an hour, feeling my legs pounding like I was sitting on the speakers at a rock concert. I had managed to hide along the way, but only briefly. Only to regain my strength. I was never the long distance runner in gym class, more the brief sprinter and then downsitter at the nearest bench. I didn't mind that phones were not allowed in gym, I was typically too preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself for any and all physical exhaustion. They werent that hard to spot. Turning the corner, they came into sight very easily. The fact that I had run there was more perplexing, actually, and as I became aware of what I was doing, on a deeper time travel level, panic began to set in. Maybe I was attracted to familiar places, maybe I had just followed the road to its inevitable conclusion, I had no idea. But she, the robot copy of me, was not the one I knew. She would be later, once several things happened to pull her out of her current mindset. Right now, she was just a machine mimicking a girl. Not even alive, really. Easily repaired or replaced if she got damaged. Thoughts like those made me feel far less crappy as I raised the knuckle gun and fired off several shots. It was hard to see the finer details while running at full speed, not to even mention feeling ready to faint at a moments notice, but it did look pretty when she exploded into robot confetti from a precise hit! Mischa, who had been talking to her while her head exploded into robot components, was less thrilled. "RUN!" I screamed, approaching him with rapid steps. But he barely even noticed. "Run, dammit, run!" He finally snapped out of it, pulling his eyes away from the twitching piece of headless machinery beside him and looking down the street at me as I came closer. "Ida?" he asked in disbelief. I noticed his gaze briefly pass over my left hand as I flicked the small weapon into my palm and pocketed it. Even I was surprised at the damage it had done to the fake body double. Misha, needless to say, was still even more surprised. "Run. Now!" I yelled, now seconds from him. He pulled away from the sputtering machine and got to his feet, hitting running speed almost the instant I passed him. I still grabbed his hand, making sure he would keep pace. He did. "What the... what was..." "Not now," I interrupted, but I could feel the confusion slowing him down. "You exploded!" he finally half-yelled, and I felt him starting to slow down badly. "Not me," I hissed, sending his eyes a quick, intense glance. "A double." "Why?" His speed picked up a bit at finally getting some answers, in spite of the new questions they clearly raised. "They want to replace me," I snarled between quick breaths. "Why?" he added again. "I stole a time machine. Pissed them off a bit." Misha slowed for a second, then picked up pace even more than before. I smiled as I continued to try to plot the best course in my head. "You what a what?" The inner streets of town were not that crowded at that time of day, as far as I could remember. With my legs burning, I forced him to speed across the crosswalk diagonally, then head towards some of the more windy streets that Nakskov had to offer. One came up pretty quickly, doubling a bit back on my current route, but it seemed troublesome enough to follow us down. Mischa did nothing but keep up with me, his terrified chatter having quickly died down as his panic and challenged breath needed his attention. A vague, unclear sound stumbled its way out of his mouth here and there, but nothing of any consequence, or even sensible meaning. That ended when we took a very narrow path between two buildings and, contrary to every instinct in my body, stopped. "Ida, what the hell is going on?!" I wasn't answering him. The footsteps of about half a dozen of the time travelers from the house came through astoundingly clear between the many small streets. They sounded lost. Nakskov had that effect on a lot of people. "Keep an open mind, okay?" I asked, waiting longer than I liked for his eventual, and inevitable, nod of acceptance. "Time travelers are hiding out in Nakskov, because nobody really gets a bug up their ass about what weird people do down here. Oh, and they seem to believe that not a lot of people from around here will matter, like, historically. A bit insulting, if you ask me." He just looked at me, eyes like a lost puppy, at first. Then he peeked into the street, pulling back quickly. "Look, whoever you got mad, just tell me, we can fix it." Feeling a bit insulted, I found myself taking a disheartened step back. "I told you, dammit," I complained, making him only look more tired. "People from the future want to kidnap me and replace me with a copy." It was a bit freaky to hear him spontaneously start laughing, honestly. "So, time travelers want to replace you with lifelike copies? What the hell did you watch last nnnnnnn....." His voice didn't exactly fade out as much as it shortcircuited rather abruptly. "You're thinking about the me that blew up in your head, aren't you?" He nodded. "Okay, so clearly, some bizarre replica of you, I can live with that." "Oh, it gets much weirder," I said, almost sounding like it was the second phase of a surprise party. Mischa seemed less confident in the whole situation. "So were running from, what, time traveling robots?!" he said, his voice getting steadily louder and shriller. "No, that's stupid. They just send humans. Some do weird stuff, but still human!" I tried to explain, seeing the pieces move around in his head when I looked at his eyes. "But if they..." "Metal conducts the energy used to time travel. Like tinfoil in a microwave. I think. And plastics melt. Living beings get some burns but they can heal." He took one look up and down me, something I was not used to from him! "Is that why you..." "Yes, and I had to change, my clothes were basically glow in the dark. The bad kind." It was quiet. There had been no signs of my pursuers for a while. Something relaxed inside of me, loosened up, and I took slow steps towards the mouth of the narrow path, where we had entered. The streets were empty. A single car was parked on the curb, but nothing moved. No sounds. "I think it's clear," I whispered. All of a sudden, I felt kind of silly. "I think it's clear," I repeated, in a more regular voice. Mischa, apparently not entirely convinced, also peeked out. "So you..." He seemed to honestly be looking for words to say. "You stole a... You stole a time machine. From evil time travelers." "I, well. Not, not really. I think." "Then explain it to m... run!" He darted off without waiting, but at this point, running away had become a reflex. I was on his tail in seconds, not even looking back at what I was running from. He finally stopped a bit farther down the street. "What the hell did you see?" He had a weird look on his face, like a small child trying to explain an awkward experience. "Not sure. I may have overreacted," he sheepishly grumbled. "Look, I'm not used to this shit after..." He looked at his wristwatch. "... after 14 minutes, okay?" "Yeah, yeah, I've been there," I managed to get out between deep breaths. "So why did you come to me?" I completely forgot about breathing deeper to replenish my oxygen, instead looking at him with my mouth still somewhat open. "We're... I mean... we deal with, like, shit. Together. Right?" "I guess," he sighed, also trying to regain full breath and stop looking like someone trying to actually eat the air around him. "I mean, I had this plan, you know, and it was kinda... I mean, it was like #*@!ing beautiful. Clever and shit," I rambled, feeling my brain shut down unimportant parts to conserve energy. Like the parts that made me think about things before saying them. "What plan? Was I part of it?" he asked, sounding like he would be horrified to know the answer. "Sort of. Your future version was. This is all, like, improvised, right now." Some part deep inside my brain screamed for me to just shut up, before it became too dumb, or worse yet, revealed too much! "So what is it?" "Contact the good time travelers, have them help me destroy the bad." "Really? How?" he replied, suddenly standing up straight, seemingly ignoring any strained breathing. "Doesn't matter. They're not as good as I thought." "Oh great!" he burst out, loud enough that I tried discretely shushing him and looking nervously around the street. "Now we have bad time travelers, and not so good time travelers. Sounds like solid company you're stuck in, Ida." Feeling the disappointment of my journey into the past wash over me, I sank down against the old house behind me, face in my hands, struggling not to cry. "It's all #*@!ed, Misch. They told me I was special and everything, and I listened. Now it's just, it's just all #*@!ed." He stood very quietly for a moment, looking for anyone threatening walking the streets. "Do you need them for it. Like, for real?" The question ran through my head, multiple times. Karen's explanation of how time travel worked, or at least some interesting basics. The fight with the woman in white out in the fields north of town. The old school buildings to the south. Something was hiding in there, an idea. And when it finally clicked, I felt a soothing sensation wash over me from the inside. "No, we don't need them," I answered in an uncharicteristically confident manner. Footsteps could be heard at that exact moment, almost as if my answer had called them into existence! We had been so deep in the conversation that neither of us had been watching our surroundings, and now that had snuck up on us! There was a loud crash, and even before I could turn and look, Mischa had glanced over my shoulder. "Holy shit, are there other robot things out there?!" he said as he backed away. As he ran, so did I, never getting a full look at the source of the sound. "Yes, why?" "Because I am pretty sure those guys are robots!" "What? Who? Why?" "Behind us. Just run! One of them smashed right through a set of storefront windows to get to us!" "People might do that!" "There was a #*@!ing open door right there! That's robot beha..." He made a choking sound when something grabbed him from around a corner we passed, and I turned instinctively and fired the knuckle gun. Bits and parts exploded everywhere, and somehow, Mischa still managed to land on his feet. Clumsily, but on his feet. "They're catching up!" "Who is?!" he asked frantically as he gained speed and caught up with me. "The #*@!ing robots. Or the time travelers. I don't #*@!ing know any more!" "What? Are there werewolves and ghosts out there, too? What the hell is..." "The harbor," I suddenly yelled, cutting him off. "We need to go there, they can't hang out there." "Why?!" "Some wacky energies from a school down south. I'll explain later!" Everything ached as we sprinted through town. Mischa still had his strength, but I was running on fumes and a spreading sense of pain free numbness. The shifting street pavement, going from asphalt to cobblestone to tiles in just seconds, was killing my feet, but I blocked out the pain as best as I could. Finally, the harbor showed up ahead of us. I smiled, tired, at the smell of saltwater and light industry, the sight of light reflecting in water as we came near. And a strange sense in the pit of my stomach. Hope. That sense was quickly drowned out by another, a sense of pain! I said nothing, just gritted my teethand sucked it up, hoping it would not get much worse. It did. "What's wrong?" asked Mischa, slowing down as I grew slowly weaker. "Nothing. A cramp. It's okay," I managed to say, clutching any part of me I could. "Here, take this!" Struggling a bit to get it off my hand, I threw one of the two knuckle guns to him. He caught it, still while running, but just gave it a puzzled look. "It's a gun. Kinda," I explained, poorly. "Put it on and use the thumb trigger." He looked at me with horror in his eyes, glancing at the device a few times, still running at an okay speed. "I'm not gonna kill people!" he proclaimed, sounding and looking gravely offended. "Don't worry," I said calmly, "it only harms robots!" Looking at the device with a slight amazement in his eyes, Mischa nearly ran into poles and whatnot standing in his path, but he evaded each one at the last second. Suddenly and without warning, he made a spin to a full stop, aiming the knuckle gun directly behind us. I came to a halt a bit farther away, but turned to watch him fire at the figures we could see in pursuit of us. One stumbled, his arm going slack, the other was slowed massively down. But Mischa kept firing. Until suddenly a car on the road sparked visibly, wavered a bit, and simply came to a dead stop. With a look of confused fright on his face, he looked back at me. "Huh. I guess it's anti all machines or something," I answered to his unasked question, as if it was about nothing but a fancy remote control. The pain felt like small creatures gnawing at my innards at this point. I kept telling myself silently to just endure it, but it was becoming more a steady drag on my energy than some form of injury. It was perfectly clear that Mischa saw this when looking at me, his eyes filled with impotent worry, knowing both that we could not stop, and that even if we could, I had my mind set on something, and he was not going to back out of anything. "The green park thingie," I half gasped through what felt like the worst running stitch of my life at this point. Mischa did not skip a beat, and continued to follow the harbor, only sending a slight glance back from time to time to check on the pursuers. The green park thingie was not quite a park, but it kind of had the ambitions to be one. A few cleared paths ran through a thinly wooded space between the roads, looking like you walked through a tranquil forest. If you ignored the constant sound of traffic right outside the treeline, that was. The lights were on our side, more or less. Mischa got ahead of me, my legs feeling more like lead by the second! He timed it perfectly to cross at green along the one crossing point, while I was two steps out when it turned yellow, but with too much momentum to do much about it. I got across just as it turned red, noting that there were actually a few cars out and about at that time. Not many for most places, but a fair number for Nakskov. Reaching the green path, I turned to see a few of our pursuers stumble their way across to avoid cars, while others held impotently back. But more than that, I saw how several were grabbing their stomach, one his chest. The energy from the blown timemachine was affecting the ones amongst them that were time travelers and not robots. I was feeling it too, though, and keeping up with Mischa was becoming impossible. "Misch, I need... we need to stop... for a moment..." He stopped and turned, looking on edge, constantly glancing over my shoulder. "I need to... tell you something," I panted, fighting for oxygen. I was about to continue when he bolted off to the right! Everything felt like I was being electricuted, or burned from the inside, as I followed suit. Energies ran rampant in me, not enough to really do anything but be felt. Unable to hold a pace with Mischa, I slowed a bit more and looked back. Five were in full pursuit, getting close. The rest were stumbling more and more, looking tormented as they tried to endure the same energies. For a brief moment, I hoped dearly that being only a few days in the past gave me some kind of advantage. As we made our way into the open green field near the path, a splash of pure green hidden from the streets by only the thinnest of treelines, dizziness began setting in, making my vision blur and setting the world slowly spinning. When I felt the numbing jolt in the back of my leg, hitting like a thrown electric shock, I cried out, collapsing on the grass. Forcing myself to look ahead, I saw Mischa kneel and fire off a stream of faint bolts from the knuckle gun. Then, things got really quiet. Even the sounds of traffic seemed to fade away a little. I rolled over on my back, my leg feeling burned but looking only a bit red as I gazed down. Past the tips of my toes I could see the trees by the green path like a conga line of fuzzy green and brown. I could also see blurry figures either writhing or dancing manically, falling over and forcing themselves back up. A barely visible bolt went through the air, leaving a humming sound in its wake, like a crisp static. Even though it passed safely over me, I felt the strange hum in my body, like I had in my leg. "Get up!" hissed Mischa not far away from me. I struggled, trying to make my legs work, but they kept failing me. "Get up, I got the robot ones, apparently. The others are..." He looked towards the treeline. "I dont know what the hell they're doing, really. But they're not coming for us!" I saw the glee in his eyes, the rush of adrenaline that he would never, ever admit to. Then I tried to stand, but it felt like phone signals going through my head, noises like voices, a screaming from far away and right beside me at the same time! Clutching my ears, I fell to the ground again. "What the hell is wrong with you," I heard him ask from behind the noise. Rolling onto my back again, Mischa kneeling over me with his knuckle gun pointed at the time travelers that would never feel it, I concentrated with all my might on that one moment. All my strength, focused on making that single moment work. "You know the school building down south, right? The big one?" The old school buildings were quiet. The bus disappeared down the long, empty road that continued onwards to some of the small coastal hamlets. It had been hell, traveling towards the source of the nausea and pain, but it made it seem worthwhile to know that any of the woman in white's stooges would suffer even more if they tried to follow. And I had Mischa. Unaffected and utterly confused, he never took his eyes off of me during the entire ride, even telling the bus driver that I had food poisoning, complete with a story about a made up food challenge at a made up friend's place, all without ever letting his eyes off me. And when we got to the stop by the old school, he practically carried me out. Sweat ran from my brow like a broken water main, and I was shaking like a fever victim before the last breath. The driver had called back as we got closer and it got worse, asking if we should go to the clinic instead, but Mischa politely declined every time. I couldn't fit the notion in my head. Going there, being in places in my own past. A string of movies warning of dire consequences when meddling with the past ran in my head, all at the same time. Around the school, things were different. The fields were quiet, and the one main street was devoid of people. Wanting to argue but failing at it, he supported, nearly dragged, me to the old bike sheds nearby. They looked horrible, rust already set in throughout the metal roof and its supports, weeds and vines fighting to grow over the low wall first. The racks themselves were old fashioned iron ones, and nearly all had been vandalised enough to now be bent out of shape. As he sat me down in their shade, I felt like I would soon become some bizarre new part of the living mass that was the bike racks. "Seriously, Ida, what the #*@! are we doing here? You look like a three days old corpse, and there's #*@! all here but... Shit, I don't even know what's here. Windmills and existential despair?" My arm flopped about a bit. I wanted it to point at the school buildings, but it had clearly checked out for the day and was not about to cooperate. "In the... bliding..." "In the building?" he less than confidently corrected me. I smiled and gave him a sloppy thumbs up. "Is masine in basmin. Go in foo boken windo," was all I managed to rattle off. He nodded, but it was obvious to anyone that it was mostly out of courtesy. "Peat," I demanded. "Peat wasad." It took him a few seconds, then his eyes lit up like candles. "Repeat?" I nodded. "Uhm, sounded like there is a mason in the basement, and you want me to go in through a broken window?" "Mash. Mashen." "There's a machine in the basement?" I nodded again, feeling like my head could drop of like a ripe pear at any moment. "Go bind, poo aw dingie, tack carsash. Cartish. Fuuuu...." It felt like the worst possible fever. My organs were clearly trying to kill me, either by cooking me or by swelling till I popped. Somehow, I thought that was funny as hell. Realizing that made me worry what the time energy radiation stuff might be doing to my brain! "Go bind? Blind?" I shook my head, feeling about to vomit from seasickness. "Go behind? Oh, go behind the building? The machine? Go behind the machine, pull the... thingie? Okay, good. Pull that and take.... cash?" I made a box with my hands and pretended to insert it into something. It looked fine in my head, but it came out like a spastic seizure. "Cartridge?" I had never been so happy to hear a word. "Broken window, machine in basement, go behind, pop out a cartridge and bring it to you, got it." "Nooo.... out, put away." "Put it away, got it. Where in the basement is it?" "Art suppie. Hidden folo. Seckit button in door fame." "Art supplies, hidden floor, secret button in door frame." I gave him the best thumbs up my muscles could perform, and he stood up to walk, then walked away with strides full of fake confidence. I had seen him walk like that before, but it tended to be as a joke of some kind. Part of me was worried, but the rest of me was too tired to care. I watched him disappear around the back of the school, stretching my neck to look over the low bike rack wall. It took a few minutes. There was no real warning, it just felt like the world suddenly switched on again. Light became the right brightness, edges were crisp and clear, sounds and smells made sense, and my thoughts became coherent. With some trepidation, I tried moving my limbs, finding each of them to be perfectly functional. It felt like being dealt a fresh new body, straight off the factory line! Walking, or perhaps more strutting, across the parking lot, I marveled at the limberness of my legs, unable to take any of it for granted! Not stopping to worry whether everything was really back online, I skipped a small fence to get behind the school building from this opposite end of it. In no time flat, I was at the broken window, still flapping gently in the soft wind. "Hi!" I said, loudly, seeing Mischa inside the room. He freaked completely, having a sudden fullbody flinch that looked more like a bad dance move. "Jesus F. Christ, Ida, you scared the... Hey, you're walking!" "Yeah, miracle cure, first come first served!" "Okay, a bit too chipper, Hermoine" he said, walking to the window with a look of suspicion on his face. "What now? What's the master plan?" The moment I opened the loose window, the nausea and pain came flooding back. It was a split second, just until my fingers lost control of the window and it smacked halfway shut again, but it was unmistable. I suddenly remembered to look at the floor. "Shit. I cant go near that black stuff, or even breathe it," I muttered a bit out loud, and we exchanged glances for a bit. "You're going to ask for a piggyback ride, aren't you?" growled Mischa, defeated look in his eyes. I slowly nodded. Standing in the presence of the time machine again was a strange feeling, a strange thought to wrap one's head around. I would use that in the future. I would go into my recent past with it, and there, here, now, I would attempt to use it once more. I felt like either I would remain confused by that concept, or I would understand time travel and just go mad from it. "This is... This is a time machine?" asked Mischa. I had half expected him to. "Yes," I answered, rushing over to the crates full of cartridges. It took me no time to find the right one. Even with their simple shape, each had its own elaborate design, like abstract posters in a dorm room I had once seen. "We could... We could do anything. Kill Hitler, stop 9-11, play the lottery...." His voice dragged on the last idea. I already knew why. I already knew what his brain was about to think, before it even did. "Paul..." he muttered in a low voice, right before I grabbed his face in my hands and stared him directly into his eyes. "We will try to save your brother, but right now, we need to stop the people coming for us." "But we ditched them already. Didn't we?" I made a low growling sound as I walked over to the many screens and panels on the machine, made from tablets and phones and anything they could find when they built it. Whoever they were. "Those were a small handful of goons she could spare. She should have sensed that the machine is fixed and the energy leak is gone." I breathed deep, the fight at the school building flashing before my eyes. "Theyll be here soon. Unless we mess it all up for them." Without giving Mischa any kind of explanation or even warning, I whacked the cartridge I had pulled from a crate against the rough stone floor. To my dismay, nothing happened. "What are you trying to do?" asked Mischa, sounding far too level-headed for someone who had just seen his first time machine. "Trying to break a piece off," I answered, quickly regretting how angry my voice sounded. Without asking, he grabbed the cartridge from my hand, then put it on the ground. When he pulled the damaged cartridge from a spot in the corner, I instantly felt the unsecured energies reach out and grab my body. But before I could react, he smashed the broken cartridge on the one I had picked. With quite some pride, he held up the tiny bit that came off the corner. "Same material, equal strength," he chirped, and I made a sarcastic grin right back at him. Karen had explained more than she needed to when instructing me on fixing the time machine, far more. The empty cartridges were exactly where she had said they would be, and after sticking the broken piece in one, I inserted it into the slot that the broken cartridge had been in. It pulled the cartridge into the machine, and I could feel a pulse go through the entire place. When I looked at Mischa, he seemed completely oblivious. "This piece is my path through time," I said in a pompous voice, pointing at the now shut cartridge slot. "The machine will track where it is in my destination time and have me arrive at its exact location." "How exact?" asked Mischa, oddly casual about the whole thing. "Perfectly exact," I replied, noting how excilerated I sounded! "I will arrive at its location, shattering it in the destination time. But really it's already shattered all up and down the timeline. It's a bit hard to understand," I ranted, going through options on the screens, all of them in pictograms that still required me to think carefully. "Try me," said Mischa, and I turned to look at him. "Its hard to understand, meaning I don't understand it, Misch." "Ohhh..." he responded, giving me the old nod, click and a pointed finger. "Why do you.." "Im going to break a cartridge all over the place," I answered before he could finish. "So, uhm... Didn't you already break it?" I suddenly stopped and looked at the damaged cartridge on the floor. I would be there in a few days, my original, un-time travel self, picking up the cartridge and putting it in my backpack before Alex drove me to the fight. What had I put in my bag? Had I just changed the future? I never finished the train of thought. Mischa simply pickedup the damaged cartridge, polished it with his sleeve, and neither of us could even see that the corner was missing. The elaborate surface design was like an abstract painting with one color stroke missing. My future self would never know. "Did we do this in the p..." I grabbed the cartridge from him and looked him right in the eyes. "Do not go down that rabbit hole. This is mind#*@! country," I sighed at him while putting the cartridge back. I then stepped over to the main screen, if one could call it that, and activated the machine. The devil's fingers sprang to life and exposed the platform. I didn't even hesitate before stepping onto it. "The flashing red button on the screen," I told Mischa as I knelt down on the platform, turning my overall shape into a ball, feet and hands supporting me like a runner at starting base. "Flashing red sounds bad," he said in a weird, slightly distant voice. Then our eyes met and he hurried over to push it. Within seconds, the large fingers were dissolving into their tiny components, and I felt the energies of past and future rush through me. Or just a damned lot of electricity! Everything went blindingly bright.
  14. Embassy of Time

    Worthless, Chapter 58

    (This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look) Chapter 58 "Are you okay for this" asked Daniel with some skepticism in his voice. "Are you #*@!ing insane?!" followed Kris, his skepticism sounding a lot more like frustration or even anger. "You're barely alive at this point. You wanna go to the future as a chunky paste of former human body?" He was clearly being serious, very much so, in spite of the odd delivery. He looked ready to punch someone in the face, though it was a bit unclear whom. "I can handle th..." "No, Marie. No, you #*@!ing cant," he insisted. "You've beaten your body to a bloody pulp over the years, but even for you, this is pushi..." "I get it!" Both of them were taken a bit aback by the sudden outburst, judging from their faces. "Look, I get it, I am, after all, the one living in this body." In spite of their obvious impulses to object, they were quiet. "I know the risks, I know I'm technically still on medical, but..." It was hard to defend, in so many ways. Especially as someone who had actually trained new recruits and emphasized, nay threatened, that there were only so many things the human body could handle when it came to time travel. And those recruits had not been bouncing around time like a bunny on crack for a good while! "Look, everything is right there before us. We just need to put the pieces together." Oddly enough, they seemed to almost be calming down. Relative to the situation, of course. For Kris in particular, going to throw pipe bombs at a schoolyard could be considered calming down, if the look on his face was any indication. "Something happened. Something actually split time at some point, probably somewhere in the 1700s. I just need to..." There it was again. The doubt. The nagging sensation that things like motives were getting muddled. A subconscious agenda bubbling up. "I need to know. I need to know what we built all of this for." It wasn't a lie. The need to know was like a ferocious monster, clawing its way through flesh and bone, wanting to burst out and devour everyone. "If we don't understand what that woman in white did all this for, then we are still back there. Back in the mud, just fighting to hang on." The melodrama was sneaking in, so thick it felt like sirup oozing from some deep, internal demon. Pathos. Playing on their fears, their emotions. The pure need to know was not enough, it needed drama. "This way, we flip the script. Turn the tables, get out in front of her." The words were doing their thing, massaging their way into their minds and causing their emotions to switch around. It wasn't just about the need to know now, it was about survival, about the greater cause. It was about The Embassy, and not just a burning question that needed to be put out. "You're going through the boosters, right?" It was Daniel asking, while Kris simply threw his hands in the air and made muffled, vaguely cursing sounds. "Every last one. Not gonna risk anything that isn't absolutely necessary." "Yeah, right, you're the epitome of cau..." He never got to finish. Daniel had already started the devil fingers, and before the old man could finish his words, the world lit up into a blinding flash. As the blinding part cleared and the pain subsided, the room was a different place. It looked like the inside of a large container. Mostly because, technically, it was. "2146, May 4th, 15:18" The information was on the wall, literally, in fairly large lightboards. Still, the young woman in the reconfigured hazmat suit felt a need to say it out loud. "I'm just..." The damned of it was, Kris was absolutely right. Of course he was, he knew the physics of time travel and the effects on the human body better than anyone else at The Embassy. He knew that the damage from all those trips was collecting in every joint and tendon, that being ripped in and out of time had changed enough molecules to rival toxic exposure. "Sorry, a bit dizzy..." "That's okay," the woman explained politely. She had to be new at this branch. She had no idea who she was talking to. "Its a very normal side effect of time travel. We have some tonics that can..." "Yup, load me up!" Interrupting her that crudely spooked the polite smile off her face, and she nervously rushed into an adjacent room. 2146. Not long after Heavenfall. Sections of orbital stations should still be dropping from the skies, most never burning up more than badly scorched and twisted exteriors, their valuable technologies often making it to the surface, and some even suviving the impact. That could not be said for things in their way during the fall. The place looked like the remains of some fancy shopping mall, rounded walls and no windows, likely a floor beneath the ground. Many architects never knew how much their creations were like the bunkers of more warring times. There had been modifications, of course, with plenty of tech being brought in. And in the center, the time travel platform, the rest of the machine around it. Built from parts acquired in shady deals with time travel renegades and their often impressive organizations. "Here, drink slo..." She had no idea how to react, and the contents of the bottle were gone before she could think of anything. "I'm good to go." She wasn't moving. Recruits in future or past offices were almost always natives, unlike many at the main office in 2019, who were refugees recruited back into time travel, often with a desperate need to understand the role of themselves and their situation in the greater scheme of things. A need for answers. Not an unfamiliar concept, honestly. "I think I should call the..." "Gerhan, is that you by the controls?" A short man, slightly balding and a bit too thin, perked up. "Gerhan, start this thing up." He looked around a bit uneasily, but then nodded. "Yes, Marie," he casually called out. Hearing the name, something shifted in the eyes of the young woman, as if some great secret had been revealed to her. Before anything could come of it, she was gone, along with the room, the bulding, and the world around it. 2309. A sleek display surrounding the time machine said so. It said date, time and location, too, instantly informing an arriving time traveler, lessening the impact and likely confusion. But the details were unimportant. "You, the... what are you, arrival guide?" The man in the blue and grey lab coat kind of outfit looked up from a screen that only he could see. Implants, very handy, but it took only a bit of experience to notice them, and that quickly made the whole thing seem tacky, like a cell phone at a funeral. "The guide is coming, miss," said the man, his eyes shifting between spots that he seemed convinced that would occur from. "Time tech? Logistics? Come on, give a girl a hint." He cracked a nervous smile. He looked 30-something, but this was an age of quality surgery and rejuvenating technologies. He could be any age. Few time travelers actually thought about the fact that the rooms around a time machine were often designed to display the age. It was a subtle idea, to always put a sense of their new world in the minds of the less trained, and to let the veterans keep better track of complicated jumps. "Medical. Are you f..." "Oh #*@!ing great!" Standing up was an effort. It felt like defying some natural law of either physics or biology, or both. Everything felt heavy and limp. "Medical, throw me in the nearest cocoon!" He acted fast, likely experienced with people more or less falling out of the time machine, likely in much worse shape. That thought made it less awkward to be dragged by him into an adjacent room and placed into what looked like a large pill capsule. Shutting with a meaty snap, it felt like a casket, like a coffin. Unlike a coffin, it seemed to come alive within moments of being shut. Little bits zipped along hair-thin rails inside, with larger things visible moving on the outside, through the semi-transparent material the entire thing seemed made of. Then, waking! The canopy of the coffin split and opened like someone cracking a large egg, making air circulate and changing the smell from stale sweat to ionized and static air. Neither air was bad, but the massive difference between the two was like a wall hitting the nose. "We've cleaned up your..." "I know what the thing does." The man standing at a physical screen held by a thin metal arm looked up, then looked at the medical expert from earlier, who was standing beside him. That man nodded softly, looking a bit perplexed himself. "I can walk, you don't need to..." The medical expert stopped his attempt at support, silently walking out the room. There was no hallway, no grand network of rooms. Just a door leading right back to the time machine. This time, there were several more people in there. "Are you back?" asked an older woman, standing by a small wall of screens. "We barely had time to set it up!" "Yeah, sorry, in a bit of a rush, here." She didn't like that remark, not one bit. But she made no protest. The machine started up with the familiar hum. 2482, according to the screen on the slightly dusty wall. The soft curves of the shopping mall, or whatever it was, were gone, as were the flashy screens and lights. Angles, straight lines, corners and dull colors. Military base. "You okay in there?" asked a man in plain combat fatigues. He didn't sound worried, seeming more like it was a standard question of some kind. "Yeah, I'm actually surprisingly fine!" He smiled. "I can see, coming from the early 2300s. Good time. Good tech," he mused, in that casually stern military tone. "2482? That's machine country, right?" He nodded, standing straight as a flagpole. "It is. But don't worry, we're pretty buried here, mines all over the place upstairs." "Easy, soldier, just getting my bearings. Are you clocking me out?" He shook his head, nodding at someone inside a tinted glass cage. "Great, let it rip!" The room seemed to shake and dissolve, and the blinding light returned. It somehow felt less intense, though. A large, well-lit room. Quiet, but with a touch of nature sounds. 2613. Large text on the softly lit, slightly green wall. Thin lines made the text seem crisp and sharp. "Hello? Anyone there?" There was a hum. Not a mechanical sound that resembled a hum, but an actual voice that made a quick hum, as if very pleased with something technically insignificant. "Hello? I need to move on." "Do you need access to the air or spaceport?" asked a disembodied voice, sounding very pleasant. "No, time travel. I have a set schedule, you should have it." "Yes, I do. Sorry about that, well get you right on your way, shall we!" "Yes, we, uhm, shall. Please." Post-war artificial intelligence. Always a bit weird to deal with, having evolved themselves to mimic humans a bit too much. To the right of the room, there was a window, twisting spires and odd architectures mixing in with more practical designs. This age was rather infamous for its weird influences from alliance with the machines, honestly. Blinding light. It felt slightly like a punch to the gut. The cocoon's restoration was not handling things as nicely any longer. Soon, the pain would be coming back. 2851, a slightly more daring jump than the others. The number was just one of many hovering along the walls, a deep red grading into a lighter nuance all across the room. The time machine podium, however, was a dull white, like standing atop a wide marble pillar. "Being directed," said a man whose age was impossible to tell, mainly because of his strong teal tint. It distracted and confused the brain. But the blinding light took those worries away. 3120. The time machine operators were getting more daring, extending the jumps. Jumping from platform to platform did provide far, far more safety, but it still felt like someone sneaking up on you, the growing risk they ran. The trip was largely Daniel's design, with Kris adding some tricks in, begrudgingly. Everything was very bright. The time machine was at the end of a narrow, brilliantly white bridge, lined by a delicate, yellow light. Somehow, it seemed decorative, not functional. Decadent. "Getting ready for relay," said a soft voice from nowhere in particular. "No, wait!" "Waiting," the voice confirmed. "I need... I need medical. I need some minor medical resto.... restoration." A wave seemed to roll along the surface of a bridge, before it burst through its surface and was actually two big, white caterpillars. It felt very strange to have them wrap themselves around every limb, but the uneasy was somehow never more than that. They stayed attached for maybe half a minute, then burrowed into the bridge again and disappeared. "Medical restoration applied," said the voice. "Yeah, thanks." A gentle force seemed to push and pull around the open room around the bridge, and suddenly, the time machine had what it needed. The blinding light was very sharp, this time. 3379. A time of war. More correctly, another time of war. This one had a greater scope, spanning stars, but war nonetheless. It raged somewhere outside the large room that held the time machine. No voice, just an odd feeling inside the head, as if someone was flipping through brain cells. Then, one more blinding light.
  15. Embassy of Time

    Worthless, Chapter 57

    (This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look) Chapter 57 Daylight began to break. I was never that obsessive about Nakskov's nature, to be honest. I appreciated it, taking a few minutes now and then to stop and look at the landscape when I was outside the inner parts of the town, but I never really sought it out. For years, the beauty of the thing was just a plesant biproduct of everyday life. The last few days had started to significantly change that, making me step out of my plans, out of my routines, to enjoy the sight, sound, and overall feel of the wide open. Of course, taking it in while trying to dry from an escape through a brook, hiding in an unsupervised shed on the outskirts of town was not the way I really wanted it to unfold. I stayed near the house, not wanting to spend the night walking by the roadside in drenched clothing. There were plenty of these sheds to be found, if one knew where to look. Farmers, and even people just owning homes bigger than what they needed on a daily basis, would leave an old wooden shed unattended for long periods at a time, except for the occassional stop by to put something in or take something out of storage. This night I had spent behind garden equipment, except for when I moved about or dared take off some clothing to try manually drying it. By the time the sky began to show the first streaks of sunlight, I was fairly dry, even if far from warm. I did take a few walks, though. The house was close enough to keep tabs on the situation, even if all I could do was watch from afar. Whether or not they had noticed my absence was hard to say, the activity seeming fairly regular even without a prison escape added to it. A few cars made frequent runs to the place, staying for a few minutes before speeding off along the main road out of town, far away from Nakskov. As the night progressed, the cars stayed longer and came back later. They were driving fewer things farther away. The house was being emptied, but not to a single destination. They were spreading things out, even if knowing exactly where to was impossible. And then, with dawn about to break, it all died down. No cars returned. Every car loaded a handful of people along with whatever items they carried. They were abandoning it. And as I stood at the curb, looking at the dark house with its curtains drawn, part of me felt a kind of sympathy with the place. Or maybe not sympathy. Maybe more a kinship, the feeling of being left behind steadily becoming far too familiar. It was a stupid risk. However empty the place looked, all it took was one person, one sentry left behind, to grab me and condemn me to being bound and gagged in that place again, or worse. But the place drew me in. At least, that's what I told myself. Everything was not gone. A few crates could be seen through the windows, and I recalled the woman I had seen on the bed inside, hooked up to medical equipment, unconscious and badly damaged. I had always assumed she had been hurt by the event, by the time machine being blown and sending out this strange wave of whatever. But through the curtains, through the cuts and tears in the old fabric, I could see the bed inside, empty. She would be there, soon, but she was not there yet. And as I stood there, I had to marvel a bit at how calmly my brain accepted that. My recent past was now my near future. I was remembering things yet to come, and it felt perfectly natural. It took very little to get in. The house was fairly solid, built back in an age of thick brick walls and heavy wood, not the sleek plastics that many other houses had been upgraded to. But wood meant rot, and especially around the back, the covered terrace was an easy victim. I rattled at a door that looked like its best days were behind it, and after about a minute or two, something clicked as the wood bent, though it never splintered. Inside, everything looked just as bad. They had not been all too careful in their moving, and scrapes had marked every part of the house. Some had ripped shallow scars in wood and walls, others had left streaks on the same walls, like scoff marks of a wallrunner. It looked like the place had been a warehouse that was robbed, with clearly a lot of things removed rather forcefully. Odds were, that was not that far from the truth. Something told me not all of the things had belonged to these rebels, although they were likely stolen from... My train of thought came to a halt as I peeked at the upper floor. The door to the small room they had thrown me into was still closed, with a lock on the outside that told me I was not the first to be thrown in there. Or perhaps it had simply been a saferoom for some items, considering how they had completely ignored the window as an escape route. It did actually worry me how quickly my brain was distracted, thinking up escape plans for various scenarios as I stood at the top of the stairs. It was not a habit I had ever expected to develop. In the end, the distraction was not enough, and my eyes turned back to the crate in the corner. It stood next to an old sofa, looking a bit like a small table, and something told me that was by intent. It was barely a quarter the size of the crates we had found in the school down south, but of a similar design. And as I walked over to it, it turned out to function much the same. A quick slide of a small handle, and a biggerh one popped up, which made the top part of the crate unfold almost without a sound. The silence of the whole thing was lucky, as it turned out! The size of the house made sound travel poorly, and the design of rooms and walls made it even worse. Part of me could imagine many knocks on the door going unheard, the sound disappearing into the hallway wall or the one separating one large room from another. But in the silence of early morning, that familiar clunk of an old door being opened came through crisp and clear. In spite of my best efforts, panic began to set in, and quickly! The sound of the door was followed by more than one set of footsteps echoing throughout the empty house, clacking first against the vinyl kitchen floor and moments later the wooden steps from living room to dining room. They were not rushed, not the same busy footsteps as the ones that had filled the house earlier. But they were moving closer. My brain suddenly and without warning skipped back to thinking in escape routes. I wanted to dash for the room that I knew, but the lock on the door ruled that out. The two windows had nothing but a drop outside, into the garden a full floor below. Had it just been soft earth beneath, I would have taken the chance, but even from upstairs and through the closed windows, the brambles and semi-wild growth beneath was painfully obvious! That left the balcony. The moment I opened the door to the old, wooden balcony, the cold air rushing in made me slide it shut again. I listened, fearing that voices and rushed steps would ring out as those on the floor below rushed to find me, but nothing happened. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door again, slipped out quickly, and shut it, gently but quickly! Then I knelt below the large window that overlooked the balcony and the field on the opposite side of the stream below. The wind slipping by crept in enough to cover me in cool air, but I still held my breath as much as possible. I expected to hear voices, hear them coordinate their search, hear them talk about the whole escape action that had just been going on. But nothing. I even could have imagined them chatting about this and that, nothing important to say. But there were no voices, just an eerie silence. A silence that quickly became more eerie when I actually did hear their footsteps up the wooden, slightly creaky staircase. They sounded in a rush, the footsteps. Looking over the window sill was tempting, but the risk held me back. I could hear scraping, thinking for a moment that they had come to finally remove that one last crate by the sofa. But that wasn't it. The scraping came closer to me, moving away from the staircase. They were moving things in, not out. And it continued. Things were moved about again and again, and new things were moved up the stairs several times. I tried to think back to when we had held out in the house, when I had gone upstairs to this very balcony to scout for anyone approaching. All I could recall was an empty... The sounds had changed. In my efforts to recall the part of the future that was in a way my past, I had momentarily ignored the sounds. But now, I no longer could. The scraping of heavy things being moved about had been replaced with a series of snaps both soft and hard, and various brief mechanical hums. I knew that sound, or something like it, but I had a difficult time remembering from where. With a deep sigh, I shut my eyes to build up a moment of courage. Then, subconsciously holding my breath, I peeked over the sill. That was definitely not there before! Or later, depending on the angle one looked at time travel from. Looking like a steel circle digging its symmetrical claws into the floorboards, there was something very military about the thing. It was about as wide as the couch, ignoring the very angular claw things that had attached themselves to the floor, and it looked fairly incomplete. That observation was backed up by parts being carried to it. By Karen and Vera. While Lisa and Elmer assembled them. The team was all there. Apparently! Being the most silent human being I possibly could, I slid back down, hiding behind the low bit of wall beneath the window between the inside and the balcony. The clanks and ckicks from inside continued, but for a moment, my gaze fell across the now late morning, early noon sky. The dark blues and purples were all but gone, and the ruby red barrier band was giving way to bright blue and yellow, but what caught my eye were some strange glitches. In the sky. Colors that seemed to shift around, just briefly. "Fuuuuuck....." It was a low sound that escaped from my lips, not even really a word. Little more than a whisper, little less than a sigh. And yet, the sounds from inside stopped. Sadly, I noticed too late. "You!" came the voice from over my shoulder, and I turned my eyes to see Lisa standing there! "Them!" I replied, not really sure why I used such simple phrasing, as I pointed towards the glitches in the sky. She turned immediately, shouting some incoherent phrase very quickly into the house! As I watched, my suspicions were confirmed, the glitches getting worse and human shapes then dropping from them and into the nearby fields. For some reason, the way they moved did not seem robotic to me. Time travelers. The woman in white's key minions. It made sense, really! The ones inside couldn't just use our trick with the black dust stuff, or they would be affected, too. That put them all on equal grounds. Except for the sheer numbers... Lisa disappeared into the house quickly, to absolutely no surprise. I could hear hectic noises from in there, the clanks and whirs of before coming faster than they had. Whatever they were assembling either had to be something to use against an onslaught, or before the onslaught! I, on the other hand, had a different plan! It clicked in bits and pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle assembling itself inside my head. First, the impulse to run. Then, the feeling of cowardice, the sense that I was leaving the small team of time rebels behind just to save my own hide. And finally, the realization that all this had happened before. I was from the future now, all this was my past. It had happened, and somehow, they had clearly survived. The only meaningful conclusion was that they would suvive again. In fact, I was most likely to be in the way and cause harm. They had managed before without me, they would manage best now under those same circumstances. At least, that was where my rapid train of thought led me to. I should run. The second I stepped through the door on the balcony, everything seemed to tense up and move in slow motion. Everyone looked at me, pausing, but only briefly. They had, ironically, no time for me. Practically clutching the wall, I walked around the entire menagerie, watching everyone closely as they watched me, even while they seemed to be expertly assembling the thing on the floor. As I took my first steps down the stairs, it still looked like a metal ring with claws dug into the floor, except now, it had a band of green lights following the ring. It still looked like nothing I knew, and I had no time to care. Downstairs, out of sight of the four of them, everything looked different from earlier! Stacks of small crates lined the walls, larger crates stood in the middle of the floor. It looked like a small warehouse. Whatever they had emptied out, it was not removed because they were simply abandoning the place. As I stepped from the dining room and back into the indoor terrace, the feeling followed me. Crates, stacked. One large crate on the floor was open, and I rushed to peek inside, hoping for some clever weapon. I found a batch of the knuckle guns. With a sigh, I took out two and put them on, like slipping on large rings. I balled my fists and watched the thin line of blue dots turn on. There could still be robots out there. Time travelers, yes, definitely, but maybe also robots. It was tempting to check other boxes, but as the entire house trembled slightly from something passing over it, I threw away that particular plan. Time to run. The back door to the overgrown garden cracked open with a crunchy sound, the old wood somehow seeming worse than it did during our own assault. Which was later, with me now in the past. I shook my head, clearing it of weird grammatical thoughts and a desperate search for chronology. The bushes gave way easily, but as I entered the actual garden, green lights, tiny dots on the ground, began to dance at my feet. I somehow thought to look up, just in time! Throwing myself wildly backwards onto the narrow dirt path, I was barely away before a figure landed heavy where I had just stood. Dry branches from the tall trees around the yard shattered and sprayed about like a quick torrent of toothpicks, and I found myself shielding my eyes from both that and the green lights that were apparently made by something hovering above, clipping the tops of the trees ever so slightly! Perhaps by instinct, I fired the knuckle gun at the figure, more than once! The figure, a man of rather impressive size, turned slowly and glared at me, while another landed behind him. As he turned, there was an odd sound from the house, like a million buzzing bees going through a metal pipe. It distracted the man for a second, which was enough to let me get out of his path and away. What followed was a cascade of tiny dots, appearing in the air like physical static. They reminded me of the dots around the woman that had disappeared, but they seemed to float freely, like the air had caught on very fabulous fire. And it burned. I could feel it on my skin, in my throat, ripping through me. But the men, now four of them, felt it much worse, sinking to their knees, clutching chests and limbs as the pain clearly ran through their bodies. Something told me that the device upstairs was finished, or close enough to be activated! Fighting the pain, I slipped in between plants and assorted garden fixtures. Their eyes were no longer on me, instead turning to the house. One of them stabbed a large spear-like thing into the ground, letting it unfold into... something. They, like I, were fighting the immense pain emanating from the house, but they had work here. I had only escape on my mind. That worked to my advantage. A mad dash, letting out tormented sounds as the pain seemed to shred my very brain and, to a lesser extent, my body, got me through the driveway and into the street. Figures, people, time travelers were being airdropped there, too, and my immediate impulse was to sprint away from them, deeper into the neighbourhood. I felt caught, trapped, the main road cut off from me by people falling from the sky! But far more, I felt like there was a sword hanging above my head, like imminent danger was still upon me. The pain was pulsing in my skull and in my blood, although less now. Distance. Flailing my arms ahead of me in fear of my painful distraction making me bump into things, I made my way away from the unfolding chaos. Sounds like ripping cardboard, but louder and more vicious, filled the night air, but with distance, the pain began to lift. Reaching the bend in the road about three houses down, it lifted enough for me to turn and look. Strange lights lit up the night, although not intensely. They looked nothing like the lasers or gun flashes I would have expected, but more like swirling colors, bordering on pretty! What really caught my eye, though, was a few of the people somehow causing them. "I know you..." I for some reason whispered into the night, to nobody but myself. I did. I had seen them before. And as I felt the pain touch me again, even at the distance, I recognized them as the ones we had also fought. And I stared at them as a wave of sparks in the air seemed to rip them apart.
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