PAULI BUILDING – CHESAPEAKE UNIVERSITY
“My name is Huma Redmond.”
Moore sat up from his cot. The woman was dressed very conservatively. It didn’t help much. He found her a storm of pouting sexual topography. His 21st century morals reasserted themselves. He had been in the 1700s for too long. He forced himself to stare at the the clinical tiles of the holding room.
“You know mine, I’m guessing.”
She straightened her navy pants suit and took a seat on the opposite cot. She had sat on the corner of the blanket at the bottom of the neatly folded stack of bedclothes. She lifted her bottom sideways and pushed the cloth cube aside.
Her mouth rose in a look of amused dismissal.
“I’m not much interested in your name. It’s prosaic, to be honest. And, your background is interesting but also one I’ve heard many times. Special Forces guy who goes into the past to live out fantasies. Almost cliché as the failed musician selling everything they own to go back and become a star passing off other people’s covers as their own songs.”
She didn’t mince words. That was cool. He didn’t like bullshitters.
“I don’t know your background.”
She set her hands on her knees and nodded.
“History degree. Working on a master’s in the same. This is my thesis.”
He slapped his hands on his knees.
“I don’t know what this is, either. I just know I’m expected to go along with it.”
Again with that high frown-smile and an acknowledging nod. She was a fair negotiator.
“I’m also just expected to go along with it. And I’m trying to ferret out what, or whom, I’m expecting to go along with.”
“They’ve assigned you to me.”
“To do what?”
Her eyebrows lifted and she took a moment to decide how to explain.
“To help you navigate the timeline they want us to—” She nodded back and forth. “Infiltrate.”
He liked that word. He leaned back.
“You’re trying to talk my language.”
“It’s what I do. I’m on this team because I speak fluent Latin.”
“So, now at least I know where we’re going. I’m guessing your thesis is about the Romans.”
“No,” she said, “but that’s a good guess. My thesis is about disruption.”
“Someone’s pissed because the guy who went back to Rome is acting like he’s in the Roman Empire instead of modern America.”
She shook her head and stood up, glancing back at the cot.
“Not exactly. We’ve figured something out about the sibling timelines. They’re parasitic.”
That had his attention. The Brit, Captain Ladd, had told him that there were greater things at stake.
She shrugged and walked to the window. Her hands rested on the bars and she flicked at the glass with her fingernails.
“You’d have to talk to the physicists about that. Apparently, the sibling timelines pull energy from the core timeline and from each other. Just a little, to maintain the disruptions. The causal differences that the adventurers create when they—”
She turned to him over her shoulder.
“When you do what you do.”
He took it in. He didn’t understand the physics, but he understood logistics. Drawing resources between efforts made sense to him.
“Okay, that does sound bad.”
He wondered about the consequences of his own adventuring. If something could be done to undo it.
She turned and put her hands and ass on the window sill. He ran a hand over the close-cropped hair on his head.
“So, it can be undone. Or else, there’s no point in dragging us out of our timelines.”
“The sibling timelines naturally start to revert to normal once the disruptive elements are removed. The universe struggled to erase the effects.”
“Revert to the mean.” He shook his head. “So, what’s happening here? How’d they figure it out?”
She walked back over to the cot and sat down.
“The sun is dimming. All the nearby stars are. Mechanical failures. Crop failures.”
She nodded, sad. “Some are drawing links to disease and psychological disorders. Animals are acting strange. Mutations, cancers.”
“Fuck.” His elbows and knees came together through a conspiracy of gravity. “So, what do you want from me?”
“Well, what the bosses want from you is your Special Forces experience.”
He nodded, staring at her navy pumps.
“What I want from you is some idea of how difficult you’re going to be.”
He laughed. She was more straightforward than most of the guys in group.
“I can be trouble.”
“I know the territory. I know the people. I know the language.”
He looked up into her eyes. They were brown. They were suspicious.
“Have you actually been there?”
She nodded, pushing against her lower lips with her tongue. “Not the heavily disrupted timeline, but pristine parallel timelines to measure my schooling against reality.”
He liked that. Either she or her bosses were taking this seriously enough to put academic knowledge to the test.
“That’s something I trust.”
“I need you to trust me.” She stared him down. “I respect your experience. I need to know you respect mine.”
He sniffed. He nodded. He tried to find the right words.
“I don’t know how I feel about being abducted into a mission I haven’t agreed to.”
She brushed nothing from her pants thighs.
“You’re a soldier.”
He cleared his throat. “A sailor.”
She grinned and nodded.
“Okay, a sailor. You’ve been through this before. You’ll need to talk to the bosses about the mission.”
“I’d hope you would. All I can say is that I want the mission to succeed. I want to help keep you alive, and I want you to help keep me alive.”
He took a deep breath. This was stuff he could understand.
“It’s a rough timeline. This guy has really mixed things up.”
“He took about a dozen people with him. They’ve mixed things up more than any other sibling timeline. You’ll see.”
He sighed and nodded. She leaned forward and waited until he looked her in the eye.
“I pulled a lot of strings to talk to you first. I need to know you’re at least somewhat on board.”
She cocked her eyebrows and tilted her head solicitously.
“Do you get me?”
“I do. I do.” He slapped his knees and stood up. “That’s good with me.”
He extended a hand. She looked at it cynically. But, she stood up and stepped into the handshake.
“I’m suspicious about our bosses, too, I should tell you. I need an ally.”
He blinked and forced himself to grin.
“You got one.”