Time is persistent.
And often cranky.
Ashe had learned these immutable truths during her relatively short stint in the Time Service--okay so almost everything was relative in the Service--but inside the stream, with sparks striking off her protective gear, cranky felt like an understatement. Lurch kept her stomach in place through the turbulent spots--one of the benefits of hosting a nanite--but she was glad they were closing on the base. She slowed, preparing for reintegration into base time, then gave a kick that would land her just off square.
Didn't like arriving where expected.
She sensed Lurch's mental sigh over her sideslip. He preferred precision to surprise, though he wouldn't admit it--or concede the wisdom in retaining a small measure of paranoia.
She softened her knees for the coming jolt against terra firma, but nothing prepared her for a landing on terra that wasn't firma. She skidded a few feet, even managed to stay upright for several of those feet, before tumbling to a stop against a large tree.
While she deployed a random selection of the billion or so swear words she'd learned from Lurch, he sent repair nanites into areas of her body impacted by the messy landing. When she'd caught her breath, she crawled out from under the tree--not easy with multiple tremors wrenching the terra in several directions at once--and stared up at the multiple, explosive impacts slamming into the protective shields. That explained the tremors, but not the reason for the impacts.
The outpost is under attack.
Really? I hadn't noticed. When he failed to respond to her completely justified sarcasm, she started to clear her mental throat for round two--outpost? The island on the Kikk Ocean hadn't been called "outpost" in two, maybe three hundred years. Are you having a senior moment? He was passing his five hundredth Earth year. He didn't like it when she started adding his age up in Garradian seasons, so she only added those up when he'd seriously annoyed her. And she felt like doing the math, which wasn't that often, since he declined to assist in that particular process.
We aren't on the base.
Guess he didn't like the "senior moment" dig. Well, she didn't like the implication she'd landed in the wrong time, though she had to concede it was the wrong place. This wasn't the landing square, or even its close cousin. But, other than the under-attack part, this looked like the base and smelled like the base. I did not miss the mark by several hundred years.
I suspect the mark missed you.
Not helping. No matter what one called it, this island was a fixed point on the planet of Kikk. It's not like the base had changed that much since its rediscovery--or the many seasons of Garradian time that had passed. It had been timeless before it became the Time Service base. It had even recovered from the battle damage incurred during the conflict with the Dusan five hundred Earth years ago.
Take a closer look.
Overhead, red and gold highlighted the area the shields protected--she frowned, as her brain processed the visual recording. Only the center section of the island appeared to be under attack, which should not be possible.
Ashe started--and quickly stalled--on what to ask. Lurch's pause was both over long and unusual. In her experience he tended to provide answers before she could think the questions. It wasn't easy sharing her brain with the venerable nanite and she had to assume it wasn't easy being in her less-than-venerable head, though he'd never thought it where she could hear it. He'd acquired a lot of tact in the years since he'd achieved sentience. While she didn't know exactly when it was, she did know it was a tiny fraction of the time behind her, and that she had a ways to go with tact development--and some other stuff.
He tapped into the base's resources. She felt the connection through him and saw what he saw as he spiked into the tracking screens in the command center--in what had been the command center long before her time. It was a bit like watching a very old news vid, seeing the old style uniforms--the Earth uniforms. Neither the arrangement of ships, nor did their appearance, matched her data-memory of any battle from that time.
They are from Keltinar.
There weren't any battles with Keltinar. Keltinar was an ally, well sort of, had been for the passing of many seasons. They'd threatened and postured a few times--a stereotypical patriarchal society back then--but in the end made peace. They'd come to this galaxy to solve a resource problem, she recalled, pulling the specifics out of her data memory bank, a female shortage issue because all the guys wanted boy babies. They'd almost taken too long to figure out they required girls to get guys. Time and a trading agreement with an Earth entity called mailorderbrides.com, created just to fill the need, had improved the ratio, then tipped it the other way. Now their world was heavily matriarchal.
They'd found out what the Garradians knew all too well: Earth girls weren't that easy. She paused, surprised when Lurch failed to follow up on the opening.
The battle is bleeding through a tear in time.
Again, did not know what to ask. It should be impossible, shouldn't it? Staring at it didn't help it feel possible when it looked so wrong, but since she was staring at it, it must be possible. She felt Lurch wince. Kind of echoed that wince.
This battle took place a long time ago. In an alternate time line.
He tacked this last on with such obvious reluctance, it suggested he thought she needed to know about a battle that hadn't happened, but wasn't happy telling her about it. She could ask him what else he knew, but he already hadn't told her, so he probably wouldn't share any more.
You need to move ten meters up island to clear the breach.
No, did not plan to share more. Easy to say she should move, not that easy to do. She longed to jump back into the stream, but what if she got stuck in the alternate time line? Was that possible? No surprise time felt off, the stream out of synch once she got the shock and awe under control enough to notice.
I'm going to have to run for it.
First she'd have to get up off her knees, also easier thought than done. Lurch flowed drones into her muscles and boosted her adrenal function. He also heightened visual acuity, helping her map the best route. She managed upright, found her balance and darted forward.
Are you sure we can pass through the edge of the breach? It was something she should have asked before committing to the run. Lurch's lack of answer was an answer of sorts. Great.
The edge of the breach shimmered a bit, as if lit by flares of the weapons from the bombardment. Lurch sent another surge through her muscles--trying to increase her physical capabilities as a warning blasted through her mind. She raced toward what could be a wall, while the display inside her head showed a section of the upper shields giving way--the part just above her.
It's going to be close.
A whistle of something incoming lent wings to her final effort. They were both fully committed as she launched herself at the edge of the breach...and passed through it. Felt the explosion hit against it, but for whatever reason, the wall contained the blast, even though it failed to contain her.
Possibly because the battle belongs in that reality and we don't.
Ashe rolled several times, bumping against a pair of legs.
Not that much better than a tree.
"Cadet." The word sounded more sigh than anything.
Council Head Carig had resisted letting her into the service, despite indications women had been wardens at some point either in the past or the future--another one of those relative effects one had to wrap one's brain around in the Time Service. Not that she wanted to wrap her brain around him. He was a fossil in looks and attitude. And he had a serious hate for her family, even though he was supposed to have left it behind when he became a member of the governing Council.
Of course, she shouldn't know his name--no one wanted those traversing time to know who they were or when they were--but Lurch never forgot a face or a name.
She scrambled up, grateful to Lurch for erasing the aches and pains yet again. Her protective headgear retracted automatically as she came to attention. A pity he couldn't remove the signs of the various impacts from her outer person. Carig's gaze found and paused to note each violation of the uniform code. It didn't help to know her uniform was silver, shiny, fitted--like some perverse, centuries old Earth science fiction movie creature. It would have horrified the Council had any of them bothered to watch one of those old vids though possibly not enough to alter the uniform design. No surprise that change was slower than time in the Time Service.
"Do I want to know the reason for that rookie arrival?" He sneered down his nose at her, even though they were almost the same height. If he was looking at her chest, he had to be disappointed. Her uniform flattened her chest to just shy of concave.
She opened her mouth, a tart response about the breach making it to the tip of her tongue, before Lurch yanked it back. A good move, since tart could get her kicked out. She might not like the cut of her uniform, but she was proud to have earned the right to wear it. She tried to frame a less tart response about the tear. Lurch yanked that back, too.
He doesn't know about the tear. He can't see it.
Actually, she couldn't see it anymore either. That left her nothing but a pseudo-respectful silence.
She wasn't--and how could she be late when they were out of time's flow--but one didn't argue with the Head of the Time Council. Besides, they had worse problems than a tardy cadet. Now that she was back in base time tremors--not weapon's fire--slammed into the time shields that hid them from the larger universe and protected them from changes. In theory, the shields also enabled them to ensure time's continued integrity. Ashe hoped they held better than the shields in the time tear.
Do you know what's happening?
Rather than answer the question, Lurch began to feed her data he could access now that they were free of the breach. She didn't know everything Lurch could do--a successful hosting was only possible if both sides respected the other's privacy--but she knew that if he wanted to know something, there was no one within the Council hierarchy who could stop him from finding it out. The data was interesting and disturbing, and it boiled down to one simple conclusion: time was seriously out of whack.
Just in case she hadn't noticed.
Look at this. Lurch brought the tracker log to her attention.
That can't be right. No way that many trackers would be overdue all at the same time.
It sounds less threatening than "missing." Lurch sounded as if he were still searching through data streams. The missing are all top-tier trackers. Some mid-level, too. There are some not yet overdue but if they show, I'll be surprised.
Lurch, as she well knew, was rarely surprised.
Ashe had only recently left rookie status, so no one knew how good she was at tracking--in large part thanks to Lurch--so it wasn't a shock she hadn't been targeted. It's always better to be underestimated was another family axiom.
It's not all me, he told her, a touch dryly. You're a natural.
The rare compliment left her mentally speechless.
Could you try to focus?
Lurch felt about as not happy as Ashe had ever felt him feel before. It was a lot of unhappy. She felt another shock wave hit the perimeter, harder than the last one, but Carig seemed unaware of it. Unclear if he was oblivious or bluffing.
He can't see or feel time. In all my existence, I've never been hosted by someone who processes time the way you do. Who sees time the way you do. Still the base sensors should be detecting something.
She didn't ask the obvious question, because if he knew he'd tell her unless he didn't want to tell her, which he wasn't or couldn't.
Sometimes you make my circuits hurt.
"Report to the Chamber immediately." Carig barked the command. Since barking was his usual tone, it was hard to tell if he was worried.
She left Carig, with a half-hearted attempt to hide her relief, turning toward the main building. It was inside what had been the breach, but whatever had caused the problem seemed resolved. She crossed the boundary with no problems. The sky above stayed clear and calm. No more shooting-at-them-ships.
Any ideas? Theories? Wild guesses?
That Lurch hesitated yet again was troubling. Based on known theory, this level of turbulence can have two causes. Someone is messing with time.
The missing trackers appeared to support that thesis. And the other?
Time could be repairing itself. It is...persistent.
I had heard that. Only three million or so times since she entered the Service, but who was counting.
I have experienced time repairing itself. It was...challenging.
And nearly life extinguishing.
Which could also explain the missing trackers, she realized. Ashe knew a lot of ways to express worry verbally, thanks to Lurch, but only one Earth word seemed right for the moment.