August 18th, 2362
by E.Escher - 15th Dec 2016
'You are approved for clearance level four'.
It was neither a question nor a statement, and Carmen kept her mouth shut as the Project Director led her through the secure archives.
'How much do you know about the Special Projects department?' he asked.
'I know very little. Aside from the fact that the department was shuttered a few years back, I'd say very little is known, at all, by anyone outside the program.'
'And you'd be right, and that's as it should be.' The director was a deliberately nondescript man, sporting a blandly forgettable face that was all the rage fifteen years ago. The only memorable thing about the director was his insistence on wearing a face so out of fashion, when he could have changed it during any of his recent visits to the rejuvenation clinics.
Carmen wore her own face. Since waking as a Revenant she'd kept the same look and style. It suited her personality, and she saw no reason to change it. She raised a delicate brow and waited. The director would get to the point in his own time. Having complete authority over the only functioning time machine gave him a curious outlook on the nature of time, and he refused to be rushed.
Most of the department staff could afford China's costly rejuvenation treatments these days, and all the travellers, being Revs, were functionally immortal. They didn't experience a lot of staff turnover.
'The paradox cannon,' he began, 'should not exist.' He turned and regarded her careful, watching her reaction. She gave him nothing. No living human could match a Rev's poker face.
'It should not exist,' he repeated, 'because there is no record of it ever being created.'
'Is that how it got the name?'
'No. The cannon is a temporal weapon, designed to excise a person from the timestream. If the weapon works as intended, the victim would be effectively erased, as though they'd never existed. Nobody would remember them, all records would be removed, and yet the timestream would endure.'
Carmen pulled a face. 'But that's impossible. Erase a man and you erase his legacy, his offspring, his every future interaction. The ripples from such a change would be uncontrollable, unmappable.'
'The universe adapts. You know as well as anybody that the time stream is resilient. The ripples move in both directions. Erase Genghis Khan, somebody else would step up in his place. Variations would be minor, and eventually everything would be as expected.'
'This is only theoretical, of course. I mean, the thing doesn't work, surely.'
Carmen had never seen the Director shrug. She didn't like it. He smiled at her discomfort. 'Of course it does not work. Such a thing would be impossible, and furthermore, the creation of such a weapon would never be permitted. Why, create a temporal weapon? Here in our own laboratory? Unthinkable!'
'So, you're saying it doesn't exist? It's just a design? A theory?' At times like this she sorely missed her network implant. The Director doubtless had a dozen digital overtones running alongside his facial expressions, subtle signifiers that she could no longer detect.
The Director resumed walking, and Carmen fell in beside him. She kept her expression carefully neutral, but her mind was racing. They said nothing more until they reached his office. He sat behind his desk, and motioned her to a chair opposite.
'The weapon exists, and worse, we believe it has been used.' He watched her over steepled fingers. 'We do not know when, or why, or how many times. By its nature, it seems, we have no way of knowing what it has done.'
'You are shocked. This is natural. This flies in the face of everything we know about temporal engineering.'
She nodded, vigorously. 'Flies in the face of simple cause and effect, more like. Please tell me this is a bad joke.'
The director frowned. 'I do not joke. You know this.'
'So, do we have any idea how this machine works?'
'We know there are two parts. The smaller part is a man-portable target designator. This can be taken through the vortex to mark a target at any point in history. The larger part remains here in the present.'
'Can it be reverse-engineered?'
'It cannot. The designator device is missing. Logically, we must assume that whoever built the device was erased from the timestream, by his own device. This may have been an accident, or it may have been foul play.'
Carmen groaned. 'Let me guess: there's no way to be sure, either way.'
'Exactly. But we have our suspicions.'
A terrible concern was starting to gnaw at Carmen. 'Why are you telling me this? This has to be way over level four clearance.'
'It is. You will be provided will full clearance regarding this project.'
'You want me to investigate? You're sending me back?'
'A deep audit discovered tangential evidence of a power surge in the wing where the weapon is housed. No other projects were active at the time.'
'When was it?'
'Two years ago.'
She blinked. 'Two years? I can't jump back two years, I'm twenty-four years old. There's no telling what damage I'd do, that close to my former self. Not to mention, that's before I was Revived.'
'You make several very good points, though you forgot the principle issue, that we cannot risk a disruptive traveller at any point close to the machine itself, lest the effect be magnified further.'
That was a relief. If Carmen had known then that she was going to become a Rev, she'd have done something drastic. Before her death she'd been flighty and emotional, given to outbursts and bad decisions. At least, that's what her old psyche profiles said. She wasn't sure she could trust her own memories of those days. Without a functioning social implant there was a lot of impressions that she simply couldn't process.
The director raised a brow, his expression uncharacteristically gentle. 'One other thing, Agent Zhu: you are twenty-eight years old. You were Revived four years ago.'
Four years! Of course she was twenty-eight. How did she keep forgetting? It was like her human memories had priority over her years as a Revenant. 'My apologies, Director. I shall try to remember in future.'
He shook his head, a mournful expression on his forgettable face. 'I read of a man, infected on the day of his son's birth. It was the greatest day of his life. After his revival, he could not move on from that day. In his mind, every day would be the greatest day of his life, even as he failed to recognise his wife and son. Sometimes something goes wrong. If you must believe you are twenty-four years old, it is no great hardship. I shall not correct you in future.'
Carmen stared, absorbing the story. After a moment she gave a wry smile. 'It's not as though I'm going to get any older, right? What is it they used to say about the Sobek virus? Die young, be a beautiful corpse?'
'I might have heard something like that. I found it rather tasteless.'
She swallowed. How had she ended up discussing frivolous stuff with the Project Director? She decided to steer the conversation back to safer territory.
'So, my mission?'
'We will send you back to two thousand sixteen. We believe a rogue traveller is living in the former United Kingdom. We have dispatched novices to carry out probability examinations, and we have determined a likely vector for you to force a coincidental encounter.'
Carmen had been a novice herself once, and the probability kits were simple mechanical devices designed to detect the presence of another traveller. A computer would watch while you flipped handfuls of coins, or rolled dozens of dice, again and again, until the machine detected something too unlikely to ignore, or decided the region was safe. It was boring work, but the results were surprisingly reliable.
In a fit of idle curiosity, she'd once queried the computer to find out how many coins she'd flipped while on duty. She couldn't even remember the number, but she knew it was something ridiculous.
Why couldn't she remember the number?
No matter. She had a mission.
'Force an encounter with a rogue traveller. Yes sir. And then?'
'Evaluate, initially. It's theoretically possible that this traveller is a victim of the Paradox weapon. We have no record of any traveller being sent to that space/time region. It's possible he is the creator of the device. If so, you must secure as much information as possible.'
'And bring him back?'
'Is that even possible? Can the recall stream handle an unexpected traveller?'
'Once you locate the traveller, we will send you a designator device.'
She nodded. Designators could be used in emergencies, if the machine suffered a failure and lost track of the traveller. She'd never had to use one, but the system for requesting one was simple enough: leave a coded message where the Project staff would find it.
'What if he doesn't want to come? What if he's hostile?'
'The protocol regarding rogue travellers is clear. If he will not return to the present you are instructed to terminate.'
'Terminate? But he's a Rev.' she blinked. 'That's not a moral issue, I just mean, how am I supposed to kill a hostile Revenant?'
The Director shrugged. 'Any way you choose. You are immortal, not indestructible. Destroy the brain, remove the head. I would suggest you incinerate the entire body, as a precautionary measure.'
'You will be issued a chronologically appropriate weapon. I suggest you familiarise yourself before embarking.'
'When's the launch date?'
'Three days. Although time is on our side, a-heh, every moment we delay may be too late to undo something terrible.'
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