In Every Generation
(21 Years After the Cadence Affair)
Mark Edwards had eyes everywhere.
Through his helmet's tactical eyepiece he shuffled between perimeter cameras, drone footage, and other infantry eyepieces linked in the network. With his natural eyes, he could see the dust plume rising over the southern California desert. And with his Foresight, he could see the vortex threads of causal energy shifting around the anchor point. It was a lot to filter into his brain, but his chronometrics augmented his natural senses, granting him omniscience only few would ever experience.
He clicked his tongue, opening S.G. battlenet comms. "It's a full hardened causal anchor. Good news is their Anchor chronometric is staying close to the epicenter. We knock her out, the whole thing goes down."
"That's not going to be easy," said Carter. "I'm counting dozens more slipping through the loop. Desert's gettin' crowded out there."
"Yeah, and the Guard is calling in every major squadron in the region," said Katie. "Wish we had two more days to get shit figured out."
Mark bit back his words. His Mom used to tell him an old saying about wishes and fishes or some such thing. It got annoying and he wasn't about to let her words haunt their comm traffic. She wouldn't let him live it down; especially since she used to be a Ganger once on these same channels. The youngest of their group. But that was a long time ago, back when the Second Time War was new as dirt.
Instead, he said, "We did the best we could on short notice. The Guard and regional defenses will have to make up the difference."
He watched as their forces converged on enemy tangos washing through the artificial causality loop. Twentynine Palms would get a beating before this was over. Civilians were in the process of evacuation and defense grids were going up around town. There were few bystanders close to the fighting. Being a small town in the middle of the desert was awfully convenient. There weren't any critical targets to defend. It would be a far cry from the Seattle attack five years back.
They were still mopping up after that mess.
"Let's corral the enemy in town," said Amelia. She always sounded a little out of place on the comms. Ten years senior to their oldest members. This was probably one of her last fights. "Most folks are almost out, anyway. The Guard can take care of the fighting there while we hit the Anchor."
The rest of the Gang replied in the affirmative. On their battlenet, S.G. signal locs displayed simultaneous transportation around the desert. Mark was done watching from a distance. Time to get in on the action as well.
He teleported via Remote to a rocky outcropping on the north end of the battlefield. From here, Mark watched Epochal troops teleport en masse in formation lines, advancing with drawn weapons on the flurry of dust around the anchor point. It looked like a desert hurricane; a solid brown column of dirt and grime spiraling across several square kilometers. From within, pulses of red and blue light tore through the obscurity, flashing in the dimness.
Tessa Donahue appeared beside him in amber waves of light. She crouched low, grabbing his shoulder to steady herself on the outcropping. "Looks like a mess out there. Remind you of the woodland fighting?"
"Yeah," said Mark. A dozen night raids in the Olympic National Forest flashed through his mind. He remembered the same pulses of weapons light from a far distant future. It was a wonder they ever tangled with and survived these interlopers. It was a wonder they kept coming back.
Tessa grinned. "Time to do what we do best." She vanished from his side. On a single thread through time, he watched her blitz back into space in the center of the mess. She appeared beside a regal woman dressed in flowing silver combat wears. The enemy soldier never stood a chance.
Mark leapt from the rocky outcropping, hitting the desert floor and pounding across the dirt. He probed out with his Foresight, watching probability threads wink in and out of existence. The chronometric warriors slipping in from the future were probing their lines—looking for ways to press the attack. They were working on obviously bad information; perhaps hoping to find Salem's forces at work in this decade in Real Space. If they were smart, they'd pull back and close the causal loop. It took a certain kind of stupid to make these skirmishes into the past.
One thread solidified. Mark pulled left, his boots kicking up dust as he zeroed on the impact point. A single warrior materialized, their gear flashing translucent in the brilliant desert sunlight. Some kind of active camo? Before it took full effect, Mark fired a salvo of rounds. The first bullets took out the warrior's shields and active gear. The last one drilled home through his forehead.
The body toppled backward, crimson blood pooling on the parched soil. Mark leapt over the body, pressing in towards the frontline. He followed two other probability threads, eliminating the warriors slipping through. On the S.G. battlenet, he watched Katie and Felicity tidying up the other fronts around the anchor; keeping other probability threads from breaching the frontlines.
Amelia's play at the edge of Twentynine Palms was working. Nearly all combatants rushing through the causal loop pushed the urban front, avoiding the frontlines on the desert side. With Epochal forces ushering civilians out of the way, it was the obvious weak point surrounding the anchor. It also left openings on the rear for the Gang to press in. There was no shortage of Guard soldiers here as well.
Mark slowed his inward run when he saw two familiar faces low near the rear of the attack. Tom Jacobson lie on his back, Chris Moore over him tending to a chest wound. These two were down here?
Mark diverted towards them, lowering his weapon and crouching beside Chris. "How bad is he?"
"I'm not dying, if that's what you're implying," said Tom. He winced. "Watch it on the pressure, Chris."
Chris pressed a med-kit portable regenerator against Tom's abdomen. He had it slapped on their pretty tight to staunch the bleeding. "Quit your whining and suck it up, little soldier."
Mark looked between the two of them. "Why in God's name are you two here on the scene?"
Tom shot eye-daggers at Chris. "Ask the bozo who got us stationed here."
That was surprising. Mark knew Chris was a Foresight and Empath chronometric, but he hadn't expected the guy to use that edge to bring them towards trouble. Besides, the duo were usually far from this kind of work. Seeing them here in full battle gear was beyond surprising. It was ridiculous.
Then something clicked into place. "You've been talking with Arianna."
Chris' face remained a mask, his eyes focused on the task of the regenerator. "You haven't heard from her, have you?"
Mark shook his head. It wasn't a topic he wanted to get into, least of why because these two weren't cleared to know. Mark didn't like members of the Gang slipping off unaccounted for. He liked it even less when they disappeared into the timeline, lost anywhere in all of time and space on a predetermined errand. The fact that Cartonius only told them that she was 'where she was supposed to be' didn't ease anyone's fears.
So Arianna was far away from present battles, and these two losers were here in the middle of it.
"She's probably fighting a group just like this one," said Tom. He grimaced as the regenerator whined, pulsing blue through his exposed flesh. "Maybe not here—maybe not this decade. But she's fighting them all the same."
Chris met Mark's gaze. "Is it true?"
He wasn't breaking secrecy giving an honest answer. "Probably, but I don't know. It's not like she sent a postcard."
Tom chuckled, his voice slurred by painkillers. "You'd think these people from the future would get a clue. Salem's war is in the past. Not here."
"We're moving into an age where that's almost irrelevant," said Mark. He may not have been born anywhere near the actual opening and concluding battles of the Second Time War, but war wasn't limited to singular events anymore. War was wherever there were loose threads stretched thin across the timeline with connections to the central event.
On the S.G. battlenet, Mark watched the anchor collapse. Carter immediately chimed in on the comm: "We got her. Anchor is dead. The loop is collapsing."
The rest of the battlenet responded in kind. Fighting around Twentynine Palms practically evaporating. A few of the enemy soldiers simply ceased to exist—their connection to this present point in time severed. Others were easy to mop up with their support lines cut.
The cloud of dust began to settle over the desert, leaving nothing but blue skies and hot sunshine. The regenerator on Tom's side chirped, popping loose with a hiss of air.
"What's it look like doc?" Tom teased.
"You'll live," said Chris. "Unfortunately."
Tom grinned. "Oh, come on. Who'd be your wingman if I were gone? You know you'd miss me. Especially the next time we have to fight these bastards."
Mark arched an eyebrow. "You're actually renewing your contract with the Guard?"
"Hell, I might apply to join the Seminary Gang if you'll let me." He smiled, his eyes locking on someone far distant.
Mark glanced over his shoulder. Katie approached them from across the desert. Of course.
"You're delirious," said Chris.
"Nah, I'm a realist," said Tom. "Besides, there will always be battles to come. It's inevitable, ain't it? Might as well fight them with people you like."