Year 19
"

Chapter 6
Welcome to 2016.

by E.Escher - 22nd Dec 2016
'United Kingdom,' murmured the machine voice in her ear. 'Manchester. Local atomic time register confirms year is two thousand and sixteen. Local time is three forty-six.'

The machine's intonation was carefully designed to be genderless and without accent, so when it emphasised the 'and' she knew it was a reminder of the local dialect. If she walked around saying 'two thousand sixteen' she'd be immediately marked as an outsider. Or worse, an American.

The vortex engineers had deposited her onto a wide open area of grassland, atop a small hill. She experienced a slight drop to the ground, no more than twenty-five centimetres, easily her best translation. She'd be sure to thank the team when she got back. The days of dropping several metres into a busy shopping centre were thankfully long gone.

Looking around to confirm she was unobserved, she tore off her protective coveralls and rolled them into a bundle. That done, she unsnapped her bag from its magnetic mount on her hip and examined the contents for damage. The computer looked fine, and quickly reconnected to her own internal electronics.

'Agent status: undamaged. Clear to proceed with mission.'

Lacking a social implant, Revs were forced to rely on old-school technologies for machine communication, and Carmen's computer spoke to her via a cochlear implant. It saw what she saw via a pair of enhanced contact lenses, and could overlay onto her vision like the old-fashioned augmented reality masks they were just now beginning to develop.

'Commencing preliminary testing.' She fished a silver coin from a side pocket and tossed it into the air. 'Heads,' she guessed, slapping her hand over it as it landed in her palm. She uncovered the coin to reveal an embossed image of the local monarch. 'Heads it is. Three more should do it.'

She flipped the coin three more times, calling heads each time. The coin landed heads, heads again, and then tails. 'Three heads in a row. Unlikely, but not conclusive, suggesting target isn't in the immediate area.' She dropped the coin back into her bag, and tossed a combustion pellet onto the bundled-up coverall. The treated plastic burned without much smoke or light, reducing to ash in under a minute.

That done, she hefted her backpack of period-appropriate clothing, scuffed the ash pile away with her boot, and set off to rent some accomodation.

It always stuck her as odd that she was a time traveller, and yet she didn't have a time machine of her own. The university's machine was a fixed point, from which it could reach out into the past and either deposit a traveller, or bring one back, to or from any point on earth. Or at least, they hadn't found any points the machine couldn't reach.

For safety reasons, however, they had never tried opening the vortex underwater, or in the high atmosphere, or underground, or over a volcano. In fact, on reflection, the university had been quite timid when if came to exploring the machine's capabilities. Travellers were generally dropped into quiet, open spaces away from buildings or people, and that was just the way it was done.

It was reasoned that time travel offered enough opportunities already, without the risk of sucking earth's atmosphere into space, or some other calamitous accident. Scientists in the 24th century had pretty much learned their lesson, and were extremely wary when tampering with forces beyond mortal comprehension.

Alert for danger, she tromped across the grass, down the hill and along a stony path until she encountered a road. There wasn't much traffic, and she couldn't see any pedestrians. That was fine. She subvocalised an instruction to her computer, speaking in the barest murmur only detectable to the implant in her jawbone:

'Navigation to site of proposed accommodation.'

The computer processed the directive and murmured in response. 'Global Positioning System online, connecting to known mapping solutions.' She waited several seconds, rocking on her heels and wondering how people in this age managed to do anything when the simplest tasks took so long. Eventually, finally, a glowing orange marker appeared in her lens, superimposed over her vision.

'About time.'

She supposed she must look at least a little odd, if anybody bothered to give her a second glance. Her jacket was large and padded, ideally suited for a cold night's walk, but she had only chosen it for the roomy pockets, so she wore it open, revealing her more fashionable outfit: a pair of dark pinstripe shorts, a pale grey blouse and a black waistcoat embroidered with minute golden flowers. The jacket was a dull mustard yellow with opalescent blue/green trim. Her boots were strictly utilitarian, as well, bulky dark-red Doctor Martin replicas that she'd requisitioned especially. Her proper shoes were in the backpack, with her dresses and other outfits.

Her legs were bare. Revenants weren't bothered by the cold, and she saw no reason to cover up. 21st century England wasn't as prudish as some of her other destinations, so the worst she could expect would be an appraising glance. According to historical records people in this decade regularly walked around in one-piece sleepwear, or pyjamas. On reflection, bare legs on a cold night probably wouldn't even register.

The first car drove by, slowly. The side window opened, and the driver leaned over to shout a question.

'Are you a hooker, or a hitch hiker?'

'Neither. I'm walking.'

'I can give you a lift. Where are you going?'

She didn't feel inclined to tell anybody where she was staying, so she simply pointed down the road, toward the city. 'That way.'

'Into town? That's miles, you'll freeze to death. Come on, I've got the heater on full blast in here. Could be there in five minutes. Where did you say you were going, again?'

'Home.' She let out a long sigh, and shrugged. 'Fine, whatever.' She stopped, and the car did likewise. The driver leaned over and shoved the door open with inelegant haste. Carmen caught it with her foot before it could swing shut. She leaned down, swung her pack off her shoulder. 'Can I put this on the back seat?'

'Sure. It's open.'

She opened the rear door and shoved her pack onto the seat, taking the opportunity to look around. She didn't see anything suspicious, so she slammed the door and dropped herself into the passenger seat. 'Okay. You convinced me.'

He looked her up and down. 'Uh, seatbelt?'

'Huh? Oh.' She checked both sides and quickly located the plastic lug that went, hmm, ah, on the other side, into a little plastic clip. Stupid primitive security measures.

She gave the driver a little smile, hoping she hadn't taken unusually long to figure the thing out. He smiled back.

'Ready?'

'Sure.'

'Then let's go.' He revved the engine, glanced around for other vehicles, and raced off down the road. The roads were mostly empty, and he was apparently keen to show off his piloting prowess.

Hopefully that was the only prowess he wanted to show off. Not that Carmen wasn't up for some casual fun, but not on the first day of a new mission. Interaction with the locals should be kept to a minimum. It wouldn't do to create some kind of emotional attachment. She didn't want people looking for her after she left. A little bit of research could easily turn up photos in unlikely places, and that would start rumours. Many an agent's career had been terminated when they'd been found in too many recordings. There was a critical mass beyond which somebody was sure to notice.

The agents had a notice board of historical mistakes, ancient images and newspaper clippings where they'd inadvertently been caught on film at some famous incident or other. The current favourite picture featured a now-retired agent helping carry the shrapnel-torn corpse of Caractacus Zane out of his burning mansion, amid a backdrop of dead and dying cultists. It was a famous image at the time; without his power suit and signature hairpiece the would-be dictator looked vulnerable, almost human.

For decades afterward, every child in school would see that image as part of their education. The role of every person in the picture would be scrutinised, especially the agent, who mysteriously vanished without giving a statement. Nobody knew who he was, or why he was there, and they never would.

Carmen had found herself at a few famous historical events, but as far as she knew she'd never been photographed (or at least, she hadn't been noticed). The internet of the early 2000's was full of conspiracy stories, however, and who knew how many people were using facial recognition to find matching faces in images separated by impossible spans of time?

The UK was the most monitored country in the world at this point in history; the city centres were especially dense with manned and unmanned video cameras watching every hotspot, every traffic junction, every patch of road designated for public transport. Travelling here directly was impossible, hence the policy of dropping into open spaces in the dead of night.

If anybody saw her arrive, or worse, recorded it, it could be laughed off as a hoax. Tests had found that openings to the time vortex did not photograph well, either by older film or the newer digital sensors.

She watched the scenery blur past, changing from suburbs to outer-city, then to inner-city. The effect was like archaeology, changing styles and levels of visible human misery. From the comparatively open spaces of the suburbs, to the cramped sprawl of the city edges, where people strove to be close to the centre but couldn't quite afford it. Buildings crushed up against one another in a haphazard clan-tagged mass until you reached the centre, where the buildings were larger, grander, and sense of scale entirely different. This was civilisation, of sorts, where control belonged to the early corporations.

The streets got more cramped and angular, causing the car to sway on its suspension. The driver reluctantly slowed down. If he'd been trying to impress her with his speed, he would have cried to see the automated vehicles of her time.

The icon in her eye suggested she was within a much more reasonable walking distance.

'This is fine for me, thanks.'

The driver narrowed his eyes, but didn't look her way. 'Just let me find a good place to stop.'

She saw nothing wrong with their current location. This was probably where he planned to make his move, whatever that was.

She gave him an easy smile, and placed a hand on his left wrist. 'I said this is fine, so be a gentleman and stop the car.' She waited a couple of beats, then gave a squeeze. 'Now.'

He winced, and tried his pull his arm away. She let him, and was glad to see him reach for the manual gears, bringing the car to a gradual halt. 'What the fuck? You trying to get us both killed?'

'If you're afraid of crashing, maybe you should drive a little slower.' She unclipped her seatbelt and reached back between the seats for her backpack. She figured if she got out he could drive away with it, which wouldn't do. She dragged it through the gap and gave him one last smile. 'Thanks for the lift. I hope I didn't hurt your arm.'

'Uh, no. It's fine.'

'Goodnight, then.' She exited the vehicle and gave him a little wave. 'Drive safe.' She wasn't sure what he'd been trying to do, if finding a better spot to stop was normal behaviour, but either way she was glad to be out of the vehicle without having to resort to violence. A fight would have led to him crashing the car, which was no real threat to her health, but she didn't need the hassle.

She heard rather than saw him pull the door shut, she was already walking away by that time. The car gave a growl of engine noise, the tyres squealing loudly as the driver overcompensated for his bruised ego. She paid him no further attention. The hotel was nearby. She walked on.

That was stupid, she berated herself. The university psyches had her pegged as a risk-taker, and she'd sworn she could prove them wrong, be as reasonable and rational as any other agent.

Later that day she'd broken into the facility and lifted a copy of the psyche profile for her own perusal. It was scary how well they knew her; judging by the timestamp on the report they'd known how she'd react to the challenge before she'd even walked into the room. The questions they'd asked her were just supplemental, to fine-tune their data.

She had freaked out a little, and then she'd become angry. They had manipulated her, and were planning to continue manipulating her for as long as she worked for them (and as a Rev, that could be a really, really long time). Well, the game didn't work if she knew what they were up to, and she doubted their precious data told them she was going to steal her own profile, and rebel.

Forget what she'd promised. So she was risk-taker? Big deal. If that's who she was, that was the way she was going to be. They told her travellers could expect to witness miraculous coincidences, surviving disasters by the slimmest margins thanks to luck as much as skill. Temporal science had struggled for decades, first to explain the phenomenon, then to accurately predict it, then to quantify the extent of its influence.

None of the scientists, however, were Revenants. None of them could actually step through and witness causality in action as it flexed and stretched beneath their feet.

Carmen could, and she would. She would learn to harness these inexplicable flukes for her own gain, and damn them all, she'd have fun doing it.

She arrived at the hotel, a 'Travel Lodge', which appealed to her sense of irony. The rooms were cheap, and the price included a smattering of food in the morning. She didn't technically need to eat food on a regularly basis, but she enjoyed the taste, and whatever remained of her organic processes seemed to benefit from having a bit of fuel. It certainly did no harm.

She booked one of the most expensive rooms, for four days, which cleared out most of her local funds. It was poor planning, but she was sure everything would be sorted out by then, one way or another. That was the thing with playing the long odds, you had to go all in at every opportunity. In her mind, lady luck hated cowards.

She went to sleep wondering these quaint island folk considered a continental breakfast, and which continent it was supposed to represent.
Chapters...
The curious tale of Colin Campbell
Part One - How did it come to this?, Chapter 1, Earlier that day
Chapter 2, Earlier still
Chapter 3, Making a withdrawal
Chapter 4, August 18th, 2362
Chapter 5, Angel of Death
Chapter 6, Welcome to 2016.
Chapter 7, Denmark, July 2358
Chapter 8, After the crash
Chapter 9, Music of the Spheres
Chapter 10, Denmark, July 2358
Chapter 11, Harbinger FM
Chapter 12, Denmark, July 2358
Chapter 13, Excuses and lies
Part Two - So here we are, Chapter 14
Chapter 15, Quite a ride
Chapter 16, Talking the talk
Chapter 17, Leisurely pursuit
Chapter 18, Dinner Date with Destiny
Chapter 19, Chips with everything
Chapter 20, Harbinger
Chapter 21, Time to leave
Chapter 22, Manchester
Chapter 23, Colin's House
Chapter 24, On the road
Chapter 25, Chateau Harbinger
Chapter 26, Showdown
Epilogue, Debriefing
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