Part One - How did it come to this?
Earlier that day
by E.Escher - 5th Dec 2016
Carmen's morning was on-track, and everything was going smoothly.
Today was a Wednesday, and she had purchased some lottery tickets to build up some funds. The University had set her up with some cache (or as they called it in this time, "money") so she could get established, but there wasn't much, and she'd be expected to hand over an equivalent amount to the See'um when she went back.
The UK National Lottery kept very detailed records in hardened locations, so it was a simple matter for travellers to scan the upcoming numbers prior to arrival. There was no database access once you arrived, but Carmen had a good memory - as good as could be expected without 'tronic implants, at least. It was one of the things that made her such a good agent.
She hadn't picked jackpot-winning numbers, of course. That was off-policy, and also kinda rude. Jackpot winners attracted attention. Carmen was going to win about twelve thousand units of the local currency, called pounds, which were also apparently a measurement of weight. She figured the currency was derived from the weight, but it could easily have been the other way around. Maybe a pound of weight was originally a pound's-worth, but got contracted. She'd have to inload the etymology sometime, it was sometimes difficult to keep track of which words belonged in which century, and knowing the origins helped keep it all in line. Some things were complex enough as it was.
For example, her winnings would be in the form of a cheque, which would be delivered to the address of her choosing. A human would be required to physically travel to her location to give her a hardcopy document, and then she would have to take this document to a bank (again, physically travel from place to place with it) in order to add the funds to her account. She was accustomed to banks, of course, but they were background services, facilitating cache transfers. In this time, banks as a physical place were being phased out, but physical currency was the norm and meant a physical interface was required in order to make a cache deposit.
It felt like a horrible parody of the way a bank should work, but they were getting there. Slowly.
It would apparently take a day or two for the cheque to arrive, and then once she made the deposit she would have to wait another few days for the funds to be processed. Historians claimed the bank would spend several days verifying that the funds were available, even when the cheque was issued by vast financial organisations, or even by the country's own government, no matter how small the value in question.
Everything would improve when they removed the human element completely. Humans were outmoded.
Still, here she was, standing in line at the bank, having selected a branch office close to her rented lodgings. After purchasing the lottery tickets her next priority was the creation of a bank account, which was ably handled by the computer in her handbag. The university had issued her with a era-compatible plastic card, which should now grant her access to the account. It was just a theory, and required a practical application to verify that all had gone smoothly. Decades before the evolution of malignant AI, computers in this century still could not be entirely trusted.
'Good morning, miss.' A pretty blonde girl with a tacked-on smile hovered behind a blue fabric barrier, earnestly projecting an air of determined helpfulness. 'Are you making a deposit today?' She brandished a handful of paper envelopes.
Carmen matched the girl's fake smile with one of her own. 'Not today. I just want to check my balance.'
The girl faltered a little. 'Oh. You… you know you can do that with the machine? Right?'
Carmen glanced toward the row of windows, but none of the staff appeared to be robotic. She quirked a questioning brow at the girl, who instead pointed to the door.
'Outside?' She made the suggestion sound like an enquiry, a silent 'didn't you know?'. 'On the right. Cash machine.'
Carmen nodded, as though she'd known about this so-called cache machine all along. 'Of course. Thanks.'
She turned toward the exit, but pulled herself up short as two armed men chose that moment to burst in. They wore black masks, plain knitted bags with holes for the eyes and mouth. The taller man had an unzipped sports bag dangling from one hand, and a sleek black handgun in the other. He made a show of looking directly at the customers first, showing them the business end of his weapon before turning his attention to the blond assistant.
'We're not here to hurt anybody. We don't need the vault, we don't want your phones or watches. Put some money in the bag and we'll go'. He flung the bag at the blonde, who yelped but managed to catch hold. Paper envelopes exploded out of her grasp.
The other masked man had a larger weapon, most likely some kind of rapid-fire thing, but he didn't look keen to use it. His hesitant body language made the taller man's professional behaviour seem all the more chilling by comparison.
In a situation like this, Carmen would normally expect to be tense, alert, ready for action. Her pulse would race, and she'd disarm the smaller man in an instant. She'd probably break his wrist in the process, and then shoot him with his own gun. Shots to the head were safest, but a couple of holes in the chest would usually keep an attacker out of commission for a while.
Instead of hot deadly rage, however, she felt the chill of shock, of connection. She felt a pull toward the smaller man, a gentle insistence in her heart that she had to meet this man. She half-closed her eyes, squinting until the man lit up with a tell-tale colourless glow that only she could see.
She'd never seen it before, and honestly never expected to. She certainly never expected to see it here, of all places. Of all times.
It wasn't possible.
Or rather, she hastily revised, it was technically possible, but only on the extreme edges of the probability curve. Time travellers often submitted reports redolent with extraordinary coincidences, and it was now a recognised fact that temporal intruders found themselves bounced from one focal event to another.
So, if another time traveller were operating in the same area, at the same time, they could expect to run into each other. Usually with disastrous results – university policy forbade multiple incursions to the same region for a reason.
But if this masked man had the glow, then he was from her time, and he had a working computer implant with a favourable genetic profile.
She stood stock still in the centre of the room and watched the pair as they quickly and efficiently robbed the bank. The tall thief stuffed handfuls of loose notes into the sports bag, offering reassuring words of friendly encouragement that left his stunned victims more then a little confused, while the other man held his weapon like a dead fish, keeping the customers in line with half-hearted shooing motions. Glowing all the while.
The glow, printed onto her augmented contact lenses, suggested he would be an ideal father for her children. That is, if she were able to have children, which of course she couldn't. Modern medicine could work miracles, but there was no way a woman in her condition could carry a child to term.
Carmen was a Rev, and revs didn't get pregnant.
The Sobek virus, accidentally unleashed in 2243, was a devastating nano-machine infection that immediately earned the media-grabbing label of 'zombie virus'. Victims turned into savage, mindless killers.
Luckily, in this case, a counter-agent was already in development, and while there were many millions of fatalities, the outbreak was eventually halted. The infected were destroyed, and for years people wore monitor devices, typically a collar that would explode if the wearer's heartbeat stopped for 30 seconds. The world reeled and struggled to adapt. Geopolitical borders shifted, peoples united against this non-human threat.
Many years later, isolated Sobek infections still occur, especially in areas where the cleanup operations were less effective. Science does have a cure, or more accurately a repair. Victims can be restored to a semblance of life, withered limbs and digits can be replaced with bionics, but there are side-effects.
Known as Revenants, or Revs, these former-zombies are irreversibly changed. They will not age, and while they heal slowly, they can shrug off most injuries. Worst of all, the Sobek virus reconfigures the victim's network implants, leaving them without the cyber-network connection that all modern humans enjoy. Attempts to remove or repair the implants were complete failures, resulting in madness or death. Implanting a secondary device was also found to be impossible, with similar results.
Thus, revs were technically alive, but unable to interface with modern society in any meaningful way. Archaic external devices can be used to interface with the society, but it's difficult to maintain the dataflow required to sustain an active presence, and many revs find themselves drifting away from their families and loved ones. Depression set in, and human medication was ineffective.
Revenant suicide is far from simple, however, and newsfeeds erupted with videos of revs' increasingly violent attempts to end their lives, and it was one such attempt that led to the accidental rediscovery of time travel.
The raging energies of China's temporal probe were (and still are) utterly inimical to complex organic life, and the lack of any progress on the problem had led to the possibility that the project might be indefinitely mothballed. Put simply, any living creature larger or more complex than pond slime would immediately, painfully and messily stop being alive.
Automated probes could be sent through the vortex, but the risk of discovery was deemed too great, and so any exploratory missions were limited to a few minutes, and the probes had to remain physically tethered through the vortex.
It was during a routine test-run of the system that a suicidal revenant, dressed as a janitor, leapt into the vortex and tumbled into 18th century Sweden. He was as surprised as anybody to discover that he was still alive, and with that the revenants had discovered a new and unique benefit to their condition - they, and only they, could travel through time.
So who was this masked man, and how was she seeing a match marker? The match system didn't work for revs, their genetic profile barely registered as human, let alone healthy. He hadn't given her a second glance so far, which suggested that he either wasn't wearing an interface lens, or her own profile wasn't acceptable. She suspected the latter, and found herself vaguely insulted.
Finally the taller man noticed her, and stuck his gun in her face. 'What's in the bag?' he demanded. 'Money?'
She opened the bag, revealing a few documents, her lottery tickets, and the plastic card. He scowled, shrugged, and gave her a hard shove. 'Out the way, then, love.'
He beckoned to his colleague. 'Come on. This'll do for now.'
The pair ducked out through the door. The whole ordeal was surprisingly quick, but then, she'd never witnessed a physical robbery before so she didn't know what else to expect.
She could hear sirens in the distance. Presumably the staff had access to a silent panic button that summoned the authorities. Police would soon surround the building and round up everybody within. They'd want to question everybody and take statements.
She had no intention of getting caught up in that, she had a man to find. One man in a city of 2.5 million people. Bad odds, but that was the kind of coincidence experienced travellers learned to depend on, and it wasn't like she'd had any difficulty recognising him.
Whoever he was, and whatever he looked like beneath the mask, he couldn't hide from Carmen.
The curious tale of Colin CampbellPart One - How did it come to this?, Chapter 1, Earlier that dayChapter 2, Earlier stillChapter 3, Making a withdrawalChapter 4, August 18th, 2362Chapter 5, Angel of DeathChapter 6, Welcome to 2016.Chapter 7, Denmark, July 2358Chapter 8, After the crashChapter 9, Music of the SpheresChapter 10, Denmark, July 2358Chapter 11, Harbinger FMChapter 12, Denmark, July 2358Chapter 13, Excuses and liesPart Two - So here we are, Chapter 14Chapter 15, Quite a rideChapter 16, Talking the talkChapter 17, Leisurely pursuitChapter 18, Dinner Date with DestinyChapter 19, Chips with everythingChapter 20, HarbingerChapter 21, Time to leaveChapter 22, ManchesterChapter 23, Colin's HouseChapter 24, On the roadChapter 25, Chateau HarbingerChapter 26, ShowdownEpilogue, Debriefing