I sat down on a rock and looked around at the others in the caravan. Like them, I was dressed in a flowing white robe to ward off the days heat. Unlike them, I kept my face covered and I was wearing heavy leather boots made from 33rd Century materials. So far, no one had commented on my footwear, though I noticed most of the caravan had looked them over at least once.
I glanced around to see if anyone was paying me any attention. They weren’t and I checked my wrist computer. It was an old 24th Century model, but it still worked for what I needed it to do. My computer implants had stopped working, not just for the lack of networks to connect to in this Bronze Age world, but I was getting no information from them at all, a sure sign on damage suffered from the temporal jump. The wrist computer at least let me keep track of where I was, the time of day, the temperature, and so forth.
Concealed under my arm was a snub-nosed submachine gun. I only had three 60-round magazines for it, so I had used it sparingly since I arrived three weeks ago. I kept it well concealed from the others. I also had a .25 caliber pistol with two magazines and two K-Bar knives for close in work. So far, I hadn’t needed to use any of the knives or the pistol.
It was nearing midday and, according to my map, there should be an oasis not far from here. Maybe another three hours to go before we arrived there. I surveyed the landscape ahead of us using my goggles’ built in telescopic lenses and saw nothing of any note. I briefly considered switching to infrared to spot any concealed threats, but gave it up as a bad idea since it was nearing midday and everything would be warm.
It was habit for me to check all spectra since my job as a Ranger was to find and destroy enemy units. Old habits are hard to break, as the old saying goes. Well, old to me, anyway. I’m not sure its even been invented yet, considering where, and when, I am.
A soft buzzing noise altered me to a possible problem. A communications signal! I looked around to make sure not of the locals heard the sound, then quickly checked my computer. Sure enough, there was a tracking signal coming from the east about two miles from my present location. I scanned the route ahead and carefully chose a location where I could quietly break away from the caravan to go check it out.
A few seconds later, another buzzing caught my attention, this one internal, as my implanted computer suddenly came to life. It immediately interfaced with my wrist computer, and after three long seconds of handshaking, beeped that it had updated itself with the new information the wrist computer collected after my implants had shut down.
I breathed a little easier since with the implants, I could access information quicker and quieter than with the wrist model. I put the wrist model into standby, which activated its passive sensors. This would automatically feed information to my implants and wold kick back into full “awake mode” if my implants failed again.
I stood up as the caravan began to move forward again. I hung back automatically dropping into the tail end Charlie position out of habit, but also necessity. I needed to be able to slip away and this would be the simplest way to do that once I reached the optimal distance from the signal’s source.
A short walk later and I slipped away from the caravan unnoticed, as I risked using a few percentage points of power in my combat harness to slip into chameleon mode, temporarily taking the coloration of the surrounding desert.
Once I was far enough away from the others, I turned the device off to conserve power. I had 83 per cent power left to power a full suite of combat and survival gear and the chameleon circuits drained power faster than any other system, save rocket jumping.
The signal lead me to a small range of hills and I approached them cautiously. No telling what, or who, was behind the signal, though I was hoping beyond hope it was a beacon to get me back to the 33rd Century.
I climbed a small hill and when I neared the top, I dropped to my stomach to get a better view and to not present a tempting target for anyone who happened to be watching in my direction. I peered over the summit and saw a large crate. Or, at least, that’s the first thing I thought of when I saw it.
It was box-like, deep blue in color, and appeared to be marked with a series of numbers: 144B-5571.
The numbers were meaningless to me. I was more concerned with the signal coming from it, which was strong. It was an Alliance distress signal. This signal would penetrate deep into the space/time continuum and could be heard by all Alliance member states, as well as our own Protectorate forces.
I scanned for life forms and found none. With any luck, I could alter the signal and get rescued by Protectorate forces before any Alliance goons showed up to harass me or claim this prize. Running a life form scan a second time, paranoia is a way of life these days, and finding nothing, I slowly made my way down the hill towards the blue crate marked 144B-5571.
* * * * *
A short while later, I had managed to alter the signal enough to send it to a Protectorate frequency. Now I just needed to wait until someone showed up to get me. I didn’t bother to try to open the crate, since I probably couldn’t get into the actual crate itself. The best I could do was to get to the electronics outside to alter the signal, so I didn’t even try.
I dd notice that the crate had a recharging port, so I used it to recharge my suit to full power. Once that was done, I concealed myself in the foothills not far from the crate and waiting until the rescue party showed up.
I hadn’t long to wait, it turned out, but the people who arrived to “help” weren’t the ones I wanted help from.
Harjiniar. A minor faction involved in the temporal conflict, though not an insignificant one. Harjiniar are a race of humanoid serpents who are mean, xenophobic, and utterly without compassion. They generally wear heavy metal armor constructed of layers of titanium alloy mixed with several other elements no one has identified as yet. The armor was tough. Tough enough to withstand my own rounds, which were depleted uranium armor piercing rounds. They simply flatten against their armor, though the kinetic energy isn’t dissipated, which means I could knock them around for as long as my ammo lasted, but unless I hit a weak spot in one of the joints, or the face shield, body shots were out.
There were five of the creatures in the squad. Three of them, I could see, were low ranking enlisted, probably equivalent to privates or private first class in our own system of ranks. One was a corporal and one a sergeant. The sergeant rasped out a sibilant noise and the others quickly moved to obey.
One of the Harjiniar placed a flat box about four inches on a side with three large buttons on it on the blue box and pushed the central button. It glowed and angry red and I could just make out the sibilant tones of a countdown in progress. My implants helpfully translated the Harjiniar language into English. I had about two minutes until the box, a beacon for a retrieval unit, whisked the blue box back into the future.
I activated my chameleon circuits since the Harjiniar sensors have trouble picking up our combat suits if the chameleon circuits are active. The sergeant of the squad barked out a series of orders in quick succession quickly and effectively organizing his squad in a defensive perimeter around the box.
I switched my fire selector switch to semi-automatic and took careful aim after checking my power readings. I was already down to 92 per cent power. I had to end this quickly or I would be vulnerable. And I needed that box.
Unfortunately, the sergeant, easily the most dangerous of the five, had placed himself out of my immediate line of fire. So, I settled my reticule on the closest Harjiniar soldier. I controlled my breathing, let my targeting computer steady my aim, and squeezed the trigger.
I expended a round.
The submachine gun coughed once, a sound barely louder than someone quietly clearing their throat, and the depleted uranium round bore through the hardened glass visor of the soldier closest to me with a barely audible “plink.”
A moment later, nor more than a millisecond, the explosive round detonated inside the skull of the Harjiniar soldier forcing the shattered skull, his ruined brain, and bile out the only way it could exit: the ruined face plate. His body hit the ground with a soft thump and a rattle of heavy armor.
The remaining soldiers, alarmed that one of their own was slain, started shouting and the sergeant quickly got his troops under control. I was impressed. This Harjiniar knew how to command his troops quite well.
As I moved away, still under chameleon cover, I checked my power levels: 88 per cent. The sergeant, not willing to risk another quick kill shot, ordered what the military on Earth in the 20th Century called a “Mad Minute.” The principal was to fire at anything and everything in a one minute span that looked questionable, suspicious, or threatening.
The Harjiniar took full advantage of the opportunity to spray down the surrounding area with jacketed anti-protons, the energy weapon of choice of the Harjiniar military.
This was bad for me for three reasons: one, the energy beams could destroy whatever conver I had rapidly; two, the anti-proton emissions interfered with the chameleon circuits, which means I would be detectable to their sensors, and three, if they managed to hit me, I’d be vaporized in less time that it would take to explain it.
As predicted, I started getting failure alerts from the computer about my chameleon circuit, so I made the choice to conserve power and simply shut it off. If I didn’t, it would probably back feed into the rest of the suit and cause life support failure or catastrophic systems failure. Either would be bad, especially the life support, since I was vulnerable to various pathogens and illnesses of the era while I carried the potential for disease the likes of which Earth wouldn’t recover from for a long time to come should they get out.
I snuck a quick look at my power readings: 82 per cent and holding steady after the chameleon circuit was disabled. The mad minute ceased and I popped up, fixed a target in my sights, and squeezed the trigger.
I expended another round.
As before, the targets head was demolished when the round struck the target. I quickly ducked back down behind cover and slide down two hundred feet as the large boulder I was hiding behind ceased to exist above me.
I moved laterally trying to find another boulder to pop up from to take another shot when I heard more orders from the sergeant below. The retrieval beacon was nearly ready and the two remaining soldiers were to cover the sergeant while he entered the final code to steal the crate, and them, back to their own time.
More firing from the remaining Harjiniar as I wound my way to another boulder. I risked a short hop, no more than fifty feet up to the ridge line and, thankfully undetected, took careful aim, this time on the sergeants faceplate.
Unfortunately, the sergeants head was turned away from me so I had no clear shot. Instead, I took careful aim at his hand as he reached out to enter the final code. I quickly controlled my breathing, checked my sight picture, engaged the targeting computer, and squeezed the trigger.
I expended another round.
The outside, or the back of the hand, of the sergeants glove was as tough as any other part of his armor. The inner side, the palm of the glove, had to be more flexible, and thus more vulnerable to my bullets.
His had exploded. Severed to the wrist as he reached out for the controls. He screamed obscenities while clutching his bloody stump to his chest, doubling over in pain and shock. The corporal, seeing his leader was stricken, made the fatal error of running to his side and looking back up towards where he thought the round came from.
I expended another round.
The corporals faceplate exploded outward and his body slumped to the desert floor. The remaining unwounded Harjiniar frantically started firing into the surrounding area. Thankfully, he seemed to be in a panic and was firing well wide of where I was. I took careful aim.
I expended another round.
The private fell to the ground with a ruined face and skull, his frantic firing stopped permanently.
As I was about to finish off the sergeant, another group of Harjiniar arrived at the same instant a squad of Alliance troops arrived. The two groups starred at each other in shock for a moment, then started firing frantically at each other.
The Alliance weapons were on par with the Harjiniar and both sides were quickly cut to ribbons. I didn’t see what happened to the sergeant who’s hand I had ruined, but a quick scan with my sensors told me there were no life forms in the small valley below.
I cautiously made my way down to the blue box, none the worse for the wear despite taking several stray shots from both Alliance and Harjiniar weapons, and recharged my suit.
I fiddled with the Harjiniar homing beacon and managed to set it to the 33rd Century. After a careful clean up of the battlefield, using a series of RFID tags, I activated the beacon and felt the pull of the temporal vortex whisk me back home.