Temporal Field Agent Conner McCoy makes a chilling discovery in 1066.
approximately 2400 words
A Twist in Time
The Saga of Justin Hisakawa
September 25, 1066
Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire, Kingdom of England
Temporal Special Agent Conner McCoy squatted behind the still-warm body of an English knight’s dead battle horse. A Viking warrior, panic glinting in his eyes and blood drooling from his battle axe, raced past him, chased by a trio of howling English yeoman. A dozen meters away, the victorious English King Harold stood astride the corpse of the Viking pretender, Hardrada, who lay with an arrow through his windpipe. Harold impaled the Norse King’s torso with a broadsword, over and over again.
With their leader dead, the Viking invasion was over. The flat, coppery smell of blood mixed with the fetid aromas of excrement and urine. Englishmen and Vikings alike writhed and screamed on the bloodied winter wheat, made equal by suffering and death. The survivors either fled in panic or exulted in victory, but for the dead and dying it was all the same.
Conner had observed what he’d come here to confirm. Despite the dangers the temporal simulators warned of back at Wisconsin Control, the battle had come off without a hitch. No Deviation appeared to erase the future and replace it with Bog knew what. Praise Saint Peter’s toes. Conner could join the fleeing Vikings, disappear into the woods and back to the future--a future still safe from Deviation.
A muscular warrior collapsed next to Conner, panting, his wild eyes scanning the carnage. “’Tis an evil day, my brother.”
Despite the chaos around them, relief flooded Conner’s heart at the sound of Knut’s voice. He shouted, “Praise be to old One-Eye that you still live.” He clasped the other’s wrist. “Freya will get her fill of warrior souls, today, for sure.”
Conner pulled off his battle helmet. Maybe he could persuade Knut not to waste his life in a pointless last stand. “Come with me, my friend. The battle is lost.” He nodded to a copse of trees on a nearby hillock. “Once we enter yon woods, we can give these English fools the dodge.”
"Aye, we should rally to Prince Olaf and the fleet at Riccall. Maybe all is not yet lost.” He returned Conner’s grip. "We will again drink together and spit in death's face."
A battle horn sounded and mounted horsemen appeared from over a hill north of the killing field. The black Raven's banner of Hardrada's house flapped in the wind.
Knut's grip tightened on Conner's wrist and he rose to a crouch. "Look at that. It's Eyestein Orre and the warriors guarding the fleet. We could win this day yet." He gripped his battle axe and started to rise.
Conner pulled him back down. "Knut. Look about you."
The English thanes, twice in number to the newly arrived Vikings, already formed a battle line to charge Orre's forces. The only foot soldiers still standing were English. All of Hardrada's original army was dead or in flight. Nearby, a dog snarled and sniffed at a dead Viking. An English housecarl stripped the hauberk off another Viking who had a mortal wound to his gut. The man shrieked in agony and his arms flapped at the English scavenger. In turn, the Englishman cursed him for bleeding and then slit his throat.
Conner whispered, "It's over, Knut. Orre's cause is noble, but 'tis death's folly. The English will rip them like a dog rending a rat. Don't be part of that slaughter. 'Tis time to save yourself and return to Norway to live and fight another day."
Knut's chest heaved and his nostrils flared, but then the English charged and Orre fell. Knut's head drooped. "You're right, my friend. I think--"
Hot blood splattered across Conner’s face, and an arrow grew from Knut’s throat. Conner pulled Knut to him and crooned, “No, no, no, not you my brother.”
Knut's eyes bulged. His breath wheezed and his wound sprayed blood.
Grief raged and tears smeared Conner's vision. Five years they'd been bondsmen and more. Much more. Conner always knew it would end. That was the way of life for Timekeeper agents: a lover's embrace was ever fleeting no matter how sweet. But he'd imagined it differently with Knut, that it would be a glorious parting: a fight for love and glory and then Time calls and heroes part. But not like this, not agony and death in mud.
Conner knew he could help. Maybe even save Knut, despite his wound. He chewed the side of his mouth. It was against the rules. It might cause a Deviation. He fingered the hasp of his broadsword. He had one and only one nanodoc injector on this mission, and it was to save himself, not a temporal. But he couldn't let Knut die, not like this, in agony.
Determination tightened his mouth. He unscrewed the hasp of his broadsword and pulled out a metal tube the size of a ball-point pen. When he held it against the side of Knut's neck and pressed, it gave a little chuff and left a red spot on the skin.
He lay Knut flat and murmured, "My friend, don't try to talk." He used his shield as a pillow for Knut's head and stroked his brow.
It was probably hopeless. The nanodocs could handle almost any infection. They could even handle most trauma, but severe wounds usually took multiple injections, and Conner had only one. Knut's wound…well, at the least, the 'docs would ease his pain and make his last moments more bearable. If they saved his life, so much the better. Conner would know in a few minutes.
Another volley of English arrows thudded about them. Two struck the dead horse, three more buried their points in the ground. But one vibrated in Knut's eye socket and exited the back of his skull. Dark blood pooled onto the shield and puddled on the ground.
Conner squeezed his eyes shut. "Farewell, my friend." He touched two fingers to his lips, then to Knut's.
Time to go. He stood and scrambled toward the woods. English war whoops sounded behind him, and he redoubled his pace. Fifty meters. Thirty. Ten. He was going to make it.
Then it happened. A Viking knight emerged from the woods, foam frothing his mount's lips. Horse hooves thundered and the knight's charge bore down on Conner, who spun about to avoid being trampled. Another volley of arrows buzzed through the air, and agony flamed in his side. He stumbled to his knees and clutched where pain flared. An English arrow had penetrated his hauberk and his lower-right abdomen. Gut shot.
The knight reigned in his horse and lifted his broadsword in silent salute before galloping off toward Orre's already doomed warriors. The knight's silver-gray helmet glowed in a sudden sunbeam that highlighted the sigil emblazoned on its side.
Electric tingles zinged down Conner's back.
He was wrong. That sigil screamed this was a Deviation of unthinkable proportions. He had to report in, at all costs. The future, the world, depended on it.
His English pursuers shouted again. He gasped and struggled to his feet. They were still fifty yards away, lumbering toward him. First things first. He had to reach the woods.
He stumbled into the shadowed woodland. He clutched his side where a trail of blood streamed from where the arrow that penetrated his hauberk. His throat burned and his heart raged in his chest. The unseasonably warm fall weather sent sweat cascading down face and burning into his eyes. The English yeomen chasing him whooped and more arrows thudded into the trees around him.
Conner halted and leaned against an ancient aspen, trusting that its nearly two meter girth would shield him. A red deer hid in the underbrush nearby, shivering in fear, its eyes wide upon him. His fingers fumbled with his Timepiece, disguised to look like an iron cross. Hurry. He had to hurry. Good thing he'd preset the damned thing.
An arrow whizzed by his ear and slammed into a nearby tree trunk. The deer bolted in flurry of branches and leaves. God's nails, that was close.
He stroked the cross and a brilliant hologram erupted out of its center. The safe house in 1942 Chicago would have to do. There would be a medkit there with more nanodoc injectors, and Control was a couple of hours away by train.
He gestured inside the hologram, and the light twisted and flowed over him. Nausea gripped his stomach. He gagged and vomit spewed forth, only to be frozen mid-flight in the swirling glow of the time field. God, jump jeebies hadn't made him hurl since he was a newbie, decades ago. Another arrow thudded, this time into the temporal field, making it pulse and hum before the cold light trapped the projectile, along with the ejecta from his stomach. His skin prickled with a thousand electric needles, and the field shrieked in escalating octaves.
Then it was over. The medieval forest disappeared and a dingy efficiency apartment formed about him.
The suspended vomit splattered to a hardwood floor beneath his boots. To his right, partly-shuttered blinds hanging at the windows created bands of sunlight and shadow that marched across room. The arrow clattered at his feet and rolled away. He howled in pain and collapsed to his knees, still gripping his side. His blood flowed more freely now. The building shook as an elevated train rattled by.
Where was the blasted medkit? He'd stayed here before, a decade ago in personal time and three years later in local time. He dredged up memories. There. It would be in the bathroom. No more than four meters away. He winced and chewed his lower lip. When you can't walk, you crawl. He could do this. He knew he could.
He had no choice. He had to report in.
An eternity later, minutes later, he reached the loo. A mirrored cabinet hung over the sink, along with the promise of treatment. All he had to do now was stand up and open it. The medkit would be inside.
He drew a shuddering breath and leveraged himself first to a sitting position on the toilet, then to a wavering stance before the sink. His head throbbed and his vision clouded. Each breath was like a new sword in his belly.
The room spun about him. Why was he here, again? God, he looked awful. Sunken cheeks and eyes, three-day stubble, and lanky strings of sweaty, twisted black hair hanging to his shoulders. He almost looked his age, for a change.
His wound sent another knot of pain flaring up his side. Right. The medkit. He tugged the mirrored door open and breathed a sigh of relief. He grasped the kit and collapsed back to a sitting position on the stool. Despite trembling fingers, he managed to flip the little metal box open and pull out a nanodoc injector, just like the one he'd used on Knut. When he held it against his forearm and pushed, it gave a little chuff. Warmth immediately surged up his arm and suffused his body.
Next he had to shed his hauberk. Despite the painkillers now flooding his system, it was the purest of torture to strip off the heavy chain mail and let it clink to the floor.
God's bones, the wound was worse than he'd thought. The end of the arrow, complete with fletching, protruded from his abdomen. The skin was hot to the touch, red, and inflamed. He applied another nanodoc injector a couple of centimeters away.
It would have been almost better if the arrow had gone all the way through. Then he could have broken off the point and pulled it out cleanly. Just his luck, on this unlucky day, that the point was still buried in his belly.
The nanodocs could usually force the body to eject bullets, but arrows were beyond their abilities. He was going to have to pull it out. Not good. Not good at all. At least there were almost certainly other Timekeepers around, what with events about to transpire at the handball court at the University a few blocks away. That's why he'd chosen this preset, after all. But he couldn't rely on them to just show up, and he didn't have a way to contact them. Not in this era. They'd doubtless arrive eventually, but he had to do this himself.
First things first, then. Take care of this cursed wound.
He pulled another pair of injectors from the first aid kit along with sterile gauze. He was already strong enough to walk to the threadbare sofa in the other room where he sat and panted, catching his breath. The pain was more a dull ache now. Bearable. Not for long, though.
He had to pull the damned arrow out.
Conner gritted his teeth, gripped the end of the arrow, and tugged. It took two tries, but he managed. The barbed point lacerated the flesh coming out, and he screamed. He couldn't help it. Maybe the neighbors would ignore him. He hoped.
Next stanch the blood, and give himself another nanodoc injection. The little beggars would take a toll later, but for now he had to rely on their curative powers. The room whirled in a dizzying spin, and his fingers turned to lead. A crimson stain spread on the gauze he held against the wound and flowed through his fingers. The nanodoc injector sprayed blood as it puffed against his skin.
Done. The docs would either work, or not. It was out of his control. He leaned back, closed his eyes to misery and contemplated what he'd seen back in 1066.
Knut, poor Knut, was gone. Tears leaked from his eyes, and he silently cursed his weakness. His comrades--all of them--were nearly a thousand years dead in this era, and alive only in Conner's memory.
There was something else...what was it?
Then he remembered, and shock jerked his body. He winced and groaned, but the memory wouldn't go away.
Maybe it had been a trick of light. Maybe there was nothing unusual about the knight's helmet. After all, in that age everything was hand made. Maybe it was just a coincidence.
But he was sure it wasn't chance.
He had recognized the sigil on the man's helmet: a shield, crossed swords, and a pirate's face with an eyepatch. The word "Raiders," in modern typeface, was scribed under the shield and screamed its origin. The knight wore a twentieth-century football helmet for the Oakland Raiders. It even had a face mask.
Not a bad choice for a battle helmet. No one from the era would think twice about unusual equipment--no one's battle gear was standardized. It was even kind of clever, in an ironic way.
Screw the irony.
It just proved someone was mucking with time.