Chapter Four is up! You can catch up on the previous chapter here:
When Carthage returned with the rest of his gear, Siobhan was still in her bedroom, trying to decide what to bring with her on the trip. She bid him to come in, so he stood at the doorway. She did a double-take when she saw his rifle, then went back to staging items on her bed.
“No problems out there?” she asked.
Carthage shook his head. “If Ludain went for help, there’s no indication yet. You’re not planning on trying to take all that stuff, are you?”
“No, I can only reasonably carry twenty-five pounds, so I’m choosing which things to take. Your rifle is a SCAR, right?”
“Yup. FN SCAR-H, seven-six-two. My pistol is a Beretta PX4, in forty-five, and I grabbed a spare from the ship. Have you worked on them before?”
“I’ve only seen them in my manuals. There are a wide variety of guns in Romanby, but neither of those ever made it here. How much water should I bring?”
“Whatever you can comfortably carry. I have iodine tablets with me if we need to get some in the field. I take it the original colonists were allowed to take whatever they wanted?”
Siobhan nodded. “Self-defense was enshrined within our constitution before we ever set foot on Skye. I don’t think we ever intended to use them for war, though.”
“Let me guess. After the Wave hit, splinter political factions saw the opportunity to take power.”
“The loftiest of goals are always subject to the machinations of human nature, Carthage. But Skye was never meant to be a Utopia, just a free planet for each of us to make their own way.”
“You’ll have to tell me all about on our stroll through the countryside. Anyway, you’re welcome to carry my spare Beretta if you like.”
“I may do just that. I only have thirty-seven rounds left for my CZ, and I doubt anyone else on Skye brought a weapon in that caliber. I’m also bringing my Vintorez, since I assume you don’t have another SCAR crammed into your backpack.”
Carthage raised his eyebrows. “You have a VSS Vintorez? Those are rare, even on Earth. How much ammo do you have for it?”
Siobhan began shoving items into her rucksack. “I have a hundred rounds, all loaded into five mags. My mom was from Belarus, and my dad met her while there on business. He had an affinity for Eastern Bloc weapons. He brought her and two guns back to Scotland.”
“Wasn’t the rifle turbo-illegal in Scotland?”
Siobhan chuckled. “Of course. I don’t think it ever saw the light of Earth’s sun once my dad got it. On Skye, anything goes, which was part of the reason they came out here.”
“Well, I suggest you choose your shots carefully from either weapon. Though, if you survive after firing all your rounds, chances are you’ll be able to pick up a replacement. Whether or not we’ll be firing at anyone at all is something I want you to tell me once we hit the road.”
Nodding in agreement, Siobhan tightened the straps on her rucksack. She reached under her bed and pulled out a locked plastic case. Opening it revealed her rifle, and she checked the chamber before holding it out toward Carthage.
“Trade you for a minute.”
Carthage smiled, cleared his rifle, and the two swapped weapons. “Nice. It’s lighter than I would have thought. We did Soviet weapons familiarization during training but I’ve never had my hands on one of these.”
Siobhan grinned at the SCAR. “You sure you want this back?”
Carthage looked out of the window through the scope on the Vintorez. “Yes please. You know, this scope looks like it’s meant for the old thirty caliber round. Can you hit anything with it?”
The pair traded rifles again. “My dad told me you basically have to double the holdover for the heavier bullet. The furthest I’ve ever fired was one hundred meters, but I found that if you aim for the head at that distance, you’ll strike center mass. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that much ammo to spare on target practice. My dad kept the cases but we never had the ability to cast new rounds, and our supply of smokeless powder and primers is long gone anyway.”
She loaded her rifle, and clipped a belt of magazine pouches around her waist. She picked up her rucksack, and she and Carthage returned to the workshop. He handed her a PDA, and she began to glue the front sight from Ludain’s Glock onto it.
“Do you think this will actually work?” she asked, blowing softly on the glue.
“No clue. I hope, for our sake, that the anomaly Ludain marked on the map is still there. Otherwise we may be flying blind. When you’re done with that, I’ll go over the basic operation of the PDA.”
“Okay, go for it.”
“I apologize in advance if I insult your intelligence. I mean well.”
Carthage spent several minutes showing Siobhan how to use the device. It quickly became obvious to him that she wouldn’t have any problem with the technology. Once that was done, he pulled up the mapping program and synchronized the PDAs.
“All right,” he began. “Here’s Abernathy, and here’s the supposed location of the anomaly. It’s right at the halfway point, five miles north. We have about five hours of daylight left, so we shouldn’t have any problem getting there before dark, even if we take it slow. Now, if we skirt around the east side of town, what are the chances we’ll hit the north road before anyone spots us?”
Siobhan pondered that. “It depends on whether or not Farnham is out tending to his corn. If he is, and he freaks out, we’ll be out of town before he can raise an alarm. The odds of running into anyone else randomly on our way out is minimal.”
“In that case, I’m ready to go. You?”
She gestured toward the door. “Lead the way, soldier.”
It was a beautiful afternoon, the weather sunny and mild, and Carthage and Siobhan couldn’t have asked for better conditions for a hike. The north road out of Romanby went steadily downhill toward the coast, moving them out of deciduous forest and into rolling plains. They passed by a few abandoned homes and some fallow farmland, but so far hadn’t encountered anything other than birds and a few disinterested rodents. For Siobhan, the experience was a mixture of elation and terror; she had never ventured this far out of town, but the possibility of encountering something horrible was impossible to ignore.
She was having a hard time keeping one eye on her PDA, although Carthage seemed to be picking up her slack. They had detected elevated radiation levels compared to inside the safety of the town, but it wasn’t yet any concern. They had filled the time with a mostly one-sided conversation about splinter factions on Skye, the most prominent of which was an oligarchical regime that called themselves the Knights of Aberdeen. A social organization with plutocratic ideals prior to the Wave, they had seized power in many areas around the planet, in an attempt to supplant the constitutional republic originally founded. As Siobhan understood it, their movement gained in popularity because of the power vacuum created by the decentralization of Skye’s government, and the perception that city-states would be necessary to sustain life in the new environment.
Siobhan had few opinions on whether or not this system was better than the old one, and if Carthage did, he hadn’t yet shared them. Since her latest information was five years old, anything could have happened, though it seemed likely to her that the Knights were still very much in power. Romanby was too isolated to have ever fallen under their influence, and Abernathy was at the extreme edge of their sphere. Siobhan warned Carthage that the closer he got to Edinburgh, the more careful he would have to be about revealing his true allegiances.
About a mile away from the location Ludain had marked for them, they slowed their pace considerably and kept their eyes mostly fixed on their PDAs. The bright sunshine had rendered the tritium pistol sights useless, but they still had their active scans. A sudden change in their readings caused the pair to stop dead in their tracks, and Siobhan’s adrenaline spiked.
“You see it, too?” asked Carthage.
“Yes,” she replied, almost whispering.
He had told her what to expect, and it was happening right before her eyes. Ambient radiation levels had spiked to 0.5 mSv, an increase of a factor of a thousand. Her PDA was also showing a drop in elevation of 20 meters, which obviously hadn’t happened. It was also noticeably colder than a moment ago. She cupped her hand over the top of the PDA and the tritium sight seemed to be brighter.
Carthage motioned for her to move to her right, and he moved to the left, toward the curbs of the road. As Siobhan moved, the readings dropped.
“It’s right in front of us,” began Carthage. “Grab your balls.”
Siobhan had brought a tube of three tennis balls, so she unlimbered her rucksack to retrieve them. She tossed one down the road, and it came to a rest about ten meters ahead. The pair nodded to each other, and moved forward slowly. When they got to the ball, she threw it again. They repeated this process a few times until something odd happened.
About halfway through the arc of Siobhan’s leisurely throw, the ball seemed to triple in speed and shot to the ground. It landed where they expected, but in a fraction of the time. She threw another ball and the same thing happened.
“Time is moving faster there,” said Carthage. “Check your readings.”
Siobhan replied, “Zero point six milliSeiverts. Elevation two hundred forty meters above sea level. Ambient temperature ten Celsius. My tritium is glowing like brand new.”
“Okay, let’s back off, nice and slow. Those readings will be our point of no return. Let’s see if we can navigate around it.”
Carefully, the pair flanked the anomaly on both sides until they met again in the road. The anomaly was about ten meters in diameter. They walked down the road several steps, and readings returned to normal.
Siobhan sighed in relief. “That wasn’t so bad. We should try to mark it so nobody wanders in.”
“I don’t have anything to mark it with, do you?”
Carthage shrugged. “We could grab some smallish boulders and create a ring around it. Then I can put some duct tape on either side and write a warning with my marker. I think that’s the best we can do for now. But if we encounter more anomalies that shit is going to get old, fast. We can’t waste too much time playing combat engineers out here.”
“We should at least mark this one, it’s in the middle of the road.”
“Fine, but we should really get to Abernathy before dark.”
It took the pair about twenty minutes to arrange a circle of twelve boulders around the anomaly. Carthage chose a couple of larger rocks for each side, and put a couple of strips of duct tape on each. With a permanent marker, he wrote, WARNING: TEMPORAL ANOMALY – DO NOT ENTER CIRCLE.
“There,” he said, wiping his hands on his trousers. “If they can’t read, then they deserve whatever happens to them.”
Siobhan drank from her canteen, then said, “Thank you for doing this, Carthage. I know this is just another mission to you, but Skye is my home. If we can eventually catalog anomalies on popular routes of travel, then maybe life can start to improve. If we can’t repair the damage done by the Wave, then we can at least resume safe travel and trade.”
“Perhaps, but you’re gonna need a lot more functional PDAs and willing scouts. Grab your rucksack, we should get moving. If you think it’s eerie out here now, wait until the sun goes down.”