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by S. M. Stirling

Considered by many to be the natural heir to Harry Turtledove’s title of King of the Alternate History novel, fast-rising science fiction star S. M. Stirling is the bestselling author of the Island in the Sea of Time series (Island in the Sea of Time, Against the Tide of Years, On the Ocean of Eternity), in which Nantucket comes unstuck in time and is cast back to the year 1250; and the Draka series (including Marching Through Georgia, Under the Yoke, The Stone Dogs, and Drakon, plus an anthology of Draka stories by other hands edited by Stirling, Drakas!), in which Tories fleeing the American Revolution set up a militant society in South Africa and eventually end up conquering most of the Earth. He’s also produced the Dies the Fire series (Dies the Fire, The Protector’s War, A Meeting at Corvallis), plus the five-volume Fifth Millennium series, and the seven-volume General series (with David Drake), as well as stand-alone novels such as Conquistador, The Peshawar Lancers, and The Sky People. Stirling has also written novels in collaboration with Raymond E. Feist, Jerry Pournelle, Holly Lisle, Shirley Meier, Karen Wehrstein, and Star Trek actor James Doohan, and contributed to the Babylon 5, T2, Brainship, War World, and Man-Kzin War series. His short fiction has been collected in Ice, Iron and Gold. Stirling’s newest series include the Change works, consisting of The Sunrise Lands, The Scourge of God, The Sword of the Lady, and The High King of Montival, and the Lords of Creation series, consisting of The Sky People and In the Courts of the Crimson Kings. His most recent books are the first two volumes in the new Shadowspawn series, A Taint in the Blood and The Council of Shadows, and a new volume in the Change series, The Tears of the Sun. Born in France and raised in Europe, Africa, and Canada, he now lives with his family in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Poul Anderson’s stories of the Time Patrol were among the most popular and longest-running of his series, with almost a dozen Time Patrol stories and novels being published from 1955 to within a few years of his death. In most of them, Time Patrolman Manse Everard and his compatriots ride off to keep unscrupulous time-travelers from destroying the proper timeline by changing historic events in the past. In the suspenseful story by S. M. Stirling that follows, though, we encounter a situation so grim that Manse Everard himself might end up needing a spot of rescuing.

Prologue: Sarajevo, Bosnia

Austro-Hungarian Empire

June 28th, 1914 AD

The short, skinny young man was sweating as he touched the pistol. Part of it was fear, part a savage joy. Only moments now until he drew it and struck his blow for the South Slav cause.

Mehmedbašić had lost his courage at the last instant, Čabrinović’s bomb had failed, then the cars had swept by so fast, so fast that there was nothing he could do. It had been as bad as the day the guerillas had rejected him as too small, too weak, to serve Serbia in the struggle against the Turks. But now the cars were here again, and stopped before him. The beefy Austrian in the light-blue uniform and plumed hat with his Czech whore by his side . . .

The hand about to draw the pistol fell to his side. A vast peace filled him, and he swayed, smiling, as if to the music of the angels his mother had believed in. Uniformed guards bustled about, the stalled engine coughed, backfired, and growled to life. The cars swept away as the crowd waved and cheered.

Gavrilo Princip slumped quietly to the ground.

There was a good deal of celebration that day, in honor of the Archduke’s visit; it was nearly an hour before someone noticed that he had quietly stopped breathing. The Belgian automatic pistol had vanished from his pocket with his meager cash and the picture of his mother long before official notice was taken.

An appendix to the police report on the attempted assassination mentioned him as a possible member of the Black Hand, but the heir to the Royal and Imperial throne never bothered to read it.



2332 AD

“Mach’ ma uns auf nach Wien!” Wanda Everard said gaily. “Off to Vienna! Music, sinful pastries, architecture, nineteen twenty-six!”

She spoke in German and with a trace of the slurred lilting Viennese dialect you’d expect from a woman of that city’s upper middle classes. One of the perks of membership in the Time Patrol was a system which could teach you a language in an hour or so.

“You look good as a flapper,” Manse grinned.

She did, with a comely blond handsomeness that was wholly of her native late-twentieth-century California but would not be at all outré in Jazz Age Vienna. The skirt a thumb’s- width above the knee and bobbed hair and cloche hat were one reason that they were taking their vacation in that decade, being a lot more comfortable than the corsets and long skirts that would be de rigueur in the halcyon days of the Belle Epoque. His own rather stiff collar and tie were probably more confining, but he’d fit in just as well, looking like exactly what he was: a Midwestern farmboy of German descent who’d grown into a big battered thirtyish man with a roadmap of experience on his face. Their covers would be as American tourists, whose dollars would be welcome in a capital still not recovered from the fall of the empire it had ruled.

“See you for dinner, Manse,” Piet Van Sarawak said, grinning. “Deirdre says the rijsttafel is coming along nicely. She’s finally learned you can’t scold a robot. Enjoy your week. Damn, but time travel helps with scheduling!”

Manse’s friend was an Unattached Time Patrol agent as well, but he’d been born in this time and place, the terraformed Venus of the twenty-fourth century; he was slim and dark and dressed in a sarong.

Behind him, the open fretwork of the house walls showed a long stretch of lawn and garden, then slopes planted in vines down to the borders of a canal. The air was full of the scents of flowers and rock and an almost-eucalyptus tang that was not quite like anything on earth, and a rainbow of passing birds sang the intricate melodies men had designed them for. His wife Deirdre was pushing a three-year-old boy in a swing that hung from the branches of a great tree, her rust-red hair flying in the warm breeze as she laughed at the crowing child.

Good, Manse thought. I was right to avoid Piet and her for a couple of years of their own duration-sense. She’s had time to heal . . . not just from losing her world, but from learning that now it never existed at all.

Their own ten-month Monica was in a playpen not far from the trunk, with the van Sarawak family manaq—a bioengineered hybrid of cat, dog, and chimp genes designed as a companion-nurse—curled up watchfully nearby. Manse felt a little bemused at the sight; as an Unattached agent of the Time Patrol he’d never really expected to be a father. He found he liked it.

“Yum!” Wanda said. “I’ bring dann de Sachatoatn von Demel mit.

Piet laughed and replied in English: “I didn’t have that hypno, Wanda. What the hell did that mean?”

“I’ll bring back some sachertorte from the Hofzuckerbäckerei Demel,” Wanda said. “It’s supposed to be legendary.”

Manse smiled a little. Wanda was a Specialist, and in glacial ecologies at that; she’d had a lot less exposure to travel through human history than he had and it was fresher for her. Sometimes that made him feel like a bit of a cradle robber, but it also gave him some of the first excitement back. They mounted the timecycle, a smooth shape of not-quite-metal that resembled a wheel-less motorcycle as much as anything. He touched the control panel.



Austro-Hungarian Empire

June 1st, 1926 AD

“What the hell?” Manse said.

He felt Wanda’s arms stiffen around his waist, and the little sonic stunner flew into his hand. The cycle was set for emergence in a warehouse owned by a Patrol front-organization, bought quietly in a half-abandoned suburb in the hungry year of nineteen-nineteen. There should have been someone to meet them.

Instead the timecycle thumped down on the stone pavement of a new-looking square, with buildings that were Art Deco-neoclassical-something-else-entirely all around it. People were streaming across the pedestrian parts, and the circular roadway was thick with automobiles and a few horse-drawn landaus. The air smelled of coal-smoke and exhausts and a little of dung. Not far away a flatbed truck carried a huge, clumsy-looking movie camera on a heavy tripod, grinding away with its lens pointed to the sky.

The screams and scrambling rush to get away from the machine that had appeared in their midst started immediately. The alarm spread a little more slowly than it might have, because everyone else was looking up. Involuntarily, Manse did the same. A dirigible was floating by about a thousand yards above his head, the rasp of the engines mounted in pods along its sides throbbing through the air. It was huge; his trained eye estimated the length as at least nine hundred feet and the maximum diameter at around two hundred, bigger than the Hindenburg. Fraktur-Gothic letters bore the name Graf Zeppelin, and the colors of Imperial Germany, black and white and red with the crowned eagle across it.

This is eight years after the end of World War One! his mind gibbered, even as his left hand dove for the emergency-departure switch.

And froze, for a single fatal second; a cold sweat broke out on his face and flanks. It was set to return them to the point of departure—and if what his subconscious had grasped was true, that would have put them both into a sulfuric-acid hell hot enough to boil lead, what Venus would have been if the world-shapers of the First Scientific Renaissance had never turned it into a second Earth.

A man in a uniform that included a tall shako-style leather hat ran towards him, blowing a whistle and fumbling at his waist for a pistol. Manse’s snapped off a short silent pulse from the stunner. The cop went sprawling, bonelessly limp as the vibration-beam short-circuited his cortex; he’d wake up in fifteen minutes with a headache and some bruises. You could use it with a clear conscience. He shot again and again, at anyone who seemed to be coming towards them, while his left hand fumbled at the controls to change the setting to something on earth. Other uniforms were pressing through the crowd, gray cloth and rifles, the military. No need to be subtle, just get them up and out—


The bullet ripped the stunner out of his right hand, taking skin with it. A few yards away a soldier in a pike-gray uniform blinked in surprise as he started to pull at the bolt of his Mannlicher rifle.

“Nein, ihr Cretins! Ich hab’ g’sagt: lebendig festnehmen!” a voice screamed in nasal schönbrunner Deutsch, upper-class Austrian German. “No, you imbeciles, take him alive!”

Something hit him with stunning force and he toppled to land on the pavement; he’d been clouted in the back of the head with the butt-end of a rifle. Blinking, his vision contracting to a dimming tunnel, he saw Wanda stiff-arm a man away and slam her hand down on the control panel. The cycle vanished, instantly elsewhere in time and space. Behind it he could see the filming team, still cranking their camera, but now it was pointed straight at him.

The world went away.



Wanda Everard hovered ten thousand feet in the air and two centuries future-ward. Vienna sprawled beneath her, the neo-Baroque splendors of the Ringstrasse familiar, but enigmatic low-slung buildings stretching out beyond. A boomerang-shaped flying . . . something . . . curved silently towards her and she slapped the controls again.

Two centuries more, and a frantic sweep of her hand as a bubble of iridescent force started to close around the machine like time-lapse photography.

A jump, and she was over Vienna’s ancestor, Roman Vindobona, in about the year the Emperor Marcus Aurelius died there. The Danube glittered a cold blue-gray beneath her, and she shivered; beyond it the wild Marcomanni laired in wolf-haunted forests. Legionnaires might see a glimmer, if they looked skyward at precisely the right angle.

Part of that quivering was shock. She turned up the protective field and the heater, and ate an energy-bar from the emergency supplies. That and systematic deep-breathing brought calmness back swiftly, buried rage and grief; besides Patrol training at the Academy she’d been in danger before, from animals and from men.

I’ve even been in something like this situation before, she thought mordantly. Then it was San Francisco that wasn’t the way it should have been.

No more than a handful of Agents in the vast, labyrinthine organization that guarded a million years of history from homo erectus to the post-human Danellians had seen an alteration, an actual divergence in the time-stream. She was one; Manse Everard was another. Now she’d seen two, and equaled his record. Nobody had seen more than that. It was an honor she could have done without, and horror clawed at the edge of vision like things scuttling in the corners of her eyes.

“I will not think about Monica,” she told herself.

Monica who now would never have existed, future-ward of that Vienna.

She could call the Patrol here; the standing-wave beacons were registering on the timecycle’s control screens when she queried them.

Everything pastward of the moment of change would still exist. There were agents in every milieu, clandestine headquarters in cities, bases on the moon, spaceships inconspicuously orbiting, the Academy in the Oligocene, places like the resort in the Old Stone Age Pyrenees where she’d gone on her first long date with Manse. Tourists and traders and scientists . . . There was virtually no year since the emergence of the human race when the Patrol wasn’t more-or-less active, and there were researchers farther back than that.

“Every step you take, I’ll be watching you,” she murmured, from the lyrics of a golden oldie she remembered from her childhood. “I never understood why anyone considered that a romantic song.”

But I’m not a police type, she thought, as her hand halted on its way to call for help. I’m a scientist, a Specialist and not even a Specialist in a period of history; I study ancient ecologies and the only humans I deal with are Pleistocene primitives. I’ll be cut out of the loop, stashed somewhere safe—last time Manse had me involved only because he was in charge of the rescue project. They may decide that it’s too risky to go after him, they may write him off. Monica needs her father too! Manse will be furious, but to be furious, he’ll have to be rescued.

Decision firmed, and she shoved emotion aside with an effort like hauling herself up a rock-face; the Patrol had its regulations, but you could get around them . . . if your insubordination worked. Then you were a hero. If it didn’t . . . you were the goat.

“I’ll be a dead goat if I can’t pull it off,” she told the bright spring morning of 180 AD. “Or never have existed. No need to worry about the exile planet!”

Which is full of Neldorian bandits and Exaltationists and similar low-lifes.

Patrol Court was the least of her problems. Other agents would be heading futurward “now”, for a value of “now” that only the Temporal language could express, across the wave-front of actuating upheaval. They’d see the altered future; some of them would flit straight back downtime. They’d gather, assess the situation, and then they’d act. They might or might not spare crucial effort and personnel on rescuing those stranded here. Their first duty was to the timestream that led to the Danellians, after all. You didn’t age in the Patrol and you never got sick, but you were most assuredly expendable.

She examined her mount. About four-tenths charge on the cells, which used a principle she didn’t even begin to understand and which made nuclear fusion look like a water-clock. Hopping interplanetary distances as well as through time had drained them a bit, but they would be ample as long as she didn’t go off-planet again. Her hand touched the controls, summoning menus, then tapped the actuator. This time she was over Vienna again, and in nineteen twenty-six once more, but at fifteen thousand feet and near sundown of the same day.

The city of the Habsburg emperors spread out below, the river gray, a haze of industrial smog merely giving it a blur. The machine detected a surprising amount of air traffic for this year, but most of it was well below her. Her optics cut through the gritty air, and the machine’s memory showed . . .

About an eighty-six percent correspondence between what Vienna should have been and what’s below me now. Most of that difference is additional buildings on greenfield sites, and some redevelopment closer in.

This city was bigger than it should have been. She’d uploaded information as part of her preparation for the week-long vacation they’d planned, before flitting back to Venus and Monica and returning on home to the Bay Area of the 1990s after dinner. Vienna had plunged from over two million people and rising in 1914 to about one and a half million after the end of the war, when it went from the capital of an Empire larger than France to an absurdly overdeveloped head on a minor Alpine republic’s Heidiesque yodeling-and-goat-milk body. It had stayed around that number for the rest of the twentieth century and most of the twenty-first.

So that shrinkage didn’t happen. This city has something like two and a quarter, two and a half million people; and it’s growing fast at the edges, flourishing, new factories and apartment buildings and suburbs. And there are five or six big dirigbles within detector range and that huge airport-hanger thingie there with a tramcar line running out to it. That’s more airships than were ever in operation at the same time. Count Zeppelin would be over the moon. Something . . . I’d say something prevented the First World War. Either that or the Central Powers won it, and fast.

She remembered a picture she’d seen once, of a mule belly-deep in the mud of the Western Front, its eyes full of the same weary terror and despair as the man who tried to haul it forward. A rotting body lay not far away in a shell-hole, and the cratered, corpse-saturated mud stretched away on every side, broken only by the occasional skeleton of a tree. And another picture, of a noisy crowd in Munich celebrating the outbreak of war, with a blurred but unmistakable Adolf Hitler waving his straw boater and cheering.

But that’s the history that produced my parents and sister and me, and Manse, and our daughter. And the Danellians and the Patrol and everyone I’ve ever known and loved or liked or even detested.

She couldn’t just scan and find where Manse was, though there were instruments that could. This was a scooter like countless thousands that plied the timelanes, not a special-operations reconnaissance vehicle. She had nothing but the modest sensors on it and another sonic stunner in the compartment that held the emergency medical kit and field rations.

But . . .

Yes. If they store his gear in the same location he’s in . . . that’s a big if but the impulse of whoever got their hands on him would be to keep everything safe and secret . . .



Austro-Hungarian Empire

June 3rd, 1926 AD

“Come with us!”

A voice speaking German, but with a melodic Magyar accent.

The guards were sweating-nervous, and they clutched ugly bulky machine pistols with side-mounted drums. The muzzles in their perforated barrel-shrouds never wavered. Rumors about him must be circulating, but these were brave men and well-trained. More waited in the corridor outside, carefully not getting in each other’s line of fire. Those weapons could chew him into hamburger in seconds and there were a couple of rifles with fixed bayonets just in case.

Manse Everard felt like groaning as he came to his feet. His neatly bandaged hand was still throbbing, but he could use it if he had to. They’d locked him in this cell that was like a room in a not-too-bad 20’s hotel, and he’d seen nobody but a doctor who ignored everything but his injury, and silent orderlies who brought in good if rather heavy meals.

Now they went down corridors that were either unoccupied or cleared so that nobody would see him pass, and into an interrogation room that had the dingy beige ambience that bureaucracies seemed to prefer. Only one barred window showed, small and overlooking a paved courtyard; the lights were electric and harsh. One of them shone in his eyes as he approached the table where the officers sat, probably by no coincidence whatsoever.

“We will keep two of the guards,” the man sitting in the center seat across the table said. “That is a dangerous man, if I’ve ever seen one. Agád, Lajos, guard.”

He was about Manse’s age, in an Austrian colonel’s undress uniform; not quite the same as Manse knew from past missions in the early twentieth century, but still elaborate with braid and medals; all three of the officers had sword and pistol at their belts. Tall and slim, hazel eyes, a small brown mustache, sleek hair, an air of ironic detachment.

“They might hear things they shouldn’t,” the one to his left said, with a Mecklenberger rasp to his German.

Plain feldgrau Imperial German uniform with General Staff tabs, a captain by rank; massive pear-shaped head shaved bald above a bull neck, hands that could probably bend horseshoes, a monocle, an old saber-scar and one more recent that looked like the result of a shell-fragment. Those gorilla hands fondled a riding crop that had a steel core from the way it flexed.

The Austrian shrugged. “They speak only Magyar, apart from the words of command,” he said. “As useful as mutes, in their way.”

“We are wasting time,” the third man said, his German fluent but with a harsh choppy accent that said it wasn’t his native language. “This matter will be taken out of our hands soon. And probably lost for months if not years in quarrels over jurisdiction, and the incredulity of idiots who will try to fit this . . . extraordinary occurrence . . . into something they can understand. We have waited days as it is.”

He was a square-faced blond with very cold light eyes, older than the other two and looking as much like a Balkan Slav as anything; the unadorned brown Ottoman uniform said Turkish, and a brimless Astrakhan hat was on the table before him. The face had a teasing familiarity.

“Very acute, my dear Mustafa,” the Austrian said. “Das is ein Murks, aber gottseidank sind wir ja net in Berlin.

Which meant It’s a screwup, but we’re not in Berlin, thank God.

From the way the Mecklenberger snorted he was thinking the same thing, in a fashion much less complementary to his hosts. His lips formed something like Schlamperei silently.

The Austrian went on to Manse: “I can just see trying to explain this to the All-Highest . . . Do sit, Herr Everard. I understand you speak German?”

“Yes, I do,” Manse said.

Absolutely no percentage in backing down before this bunch, he thought. Central European heavies straight from Central Casting. But the genuine article off the Ruritanian Express, the thing all the books and movies were imitating or mocking.

A slight eeriness gripped him as he looked at the hard, intelligent faces. If what he suspected . . . was virtually certain of . . . had happened, he was looking at men who had no right to be alive.

The German would probably have died sometime in 1916, hammered into the mud of the Somme or vanished without trace in Falkenhayn’s corpse-factory around Verdun, where two whole nations had bled to death; the Austrian would have led his hussars into machine-gun fire trying to break the siege of Przemyśl or sweated and shivered to death with typhus in the mountains of Serbia; the Turk would have taken an Australian bayonet in the gut in the hills above Suba Bay or frozen rock-hard in the Caucasus snows or been bombed into bleeding fragments in the retreat from Meddigo.

I’m talking to ghosts that haven’t died.

“Why have you detained me in this lawless manner?” he went on, doing his best to register starchy indignation.

The Austrian smiled. “Not only good German, but excellent Viennese!” he said, flicking a monogrammed lighter and extending a slim gold cigarette case to either side and then—surprisingly—to Everard. The Patrol agent took it; Turkish tobacco, and very high quality, soothing as he dragged the smoke in. Plus the Danellian-era longevity treatment made you immune to cancer, heart disease, and pretty well everything else.

Then the Austrian gave a little tuck of the head that was the seated equivalent of a bow and heel-click before he blew a cloud of fragrant smoke:

“Permit me; I am Colonel Freiherr—” Baron, roughly “—Rudolf von Starnberg of the Imperial and Royal Army. My colleagues are Hauptman Ritter Horst von Stumm of the German Reich, and Binbaşı Mustafa Kemal of the Ottoman Empire. All from the Intelligence sections of our respective services, of course, and here for the Three Emperors conference to keep watch for foreign agents, domestic anarchists, Serbs, and similar vermin.”

“Why have I been detained?” Everard demanded again.

I should have taken the hypno for standard German, he thought; complete fluency in the idiosyncratic local version looked suspicious now. But this was supposed to be a vacation, not a mission!

Sie brauchen mi echt net für an Trottel halten, Herr Everard,” Von Starnberg said, and held up a hand.

“Please don’t insult my intelligence. Before we waste time with a tiresome protestation of how you are an innocent tourist from . . . Wisconsin, is it called? Please examine these.”

He slid a folder across the table with one finger. Manse opened it and sighed. The stills were a little blurred, taken from the reel of a movie camera, doubtless the one on the flatbed. They were clear enough to show him and Wanda: him using the stunner, Wanda leaning forward and her hand streaking towards the controls; the timecycle there and then not there.

Girl, get back to the Academy soonest, he thought, in what he knew was probably a futile hope.

That made his heart race until he used Patrol technique to calm it. Either a Patrol rescue team would arrive to break him out in a flourish of energy guns, able to be as blatant as they pleased since this wasn’t a history they had any desire to preserve . . . or he’d vanish when this world was cancelled.

You’ve done that twice, he told himself. Uncounted billions of human beings wiped out as you restored the real history, which in a sense makes you a mass murderer on a scale even Hitler or Stalin or Stantel V couldn’t imagine. Perhaps there’s a certain ironic justice to it . . . but that future that needs restoring contains Wanda and Monica. So to hell with it.

The Austrian went on, with a gesture towards a neat pile of Manse’s folded clothing and the contents of his pockets and wallet:

“Plus, of course, there are your clothes and documents.”

And my communicator in that watch, dammit. Aren’t Austrians supposed to be a bit sloppy? You certainly aren’t, Freiherr von Starnberg, even if you’re a dead ringer for Graf Bobby’s sidekick. You had me stripped right down to the skin and separated from everything I carried down to belly-button lint.

As if to prove Everard’s judgment of his capacity, the baron went on: “None of them quite what they should be, even the American passport. Money in a denomination which doesn’t exist, printed with the name of the Austrian Republic . . . which, almighty Lord God be thanked, does not exist either. You were accompanied by a most attractive young lady showing enough leg that she would have been arrested in any city in Europe, except possibly Paris or Bucharest, who then disappeared into thin air on that remarkable vehicle. And the pièce de résistance, this.”

He lifted a cloth and Manse’s stunner lay beneath it. The smooth, neutral-brown curved shape was splashed with lead from the bullet that had smashed it out of his hand, but still fully functional; you could drive a tank over it, and it would still look like a minimalist sketch of a pistol with a pointed projection cone where the muzzle should be.

“Whatever this is, it knocks men or horses or dogs unconscious for a quarter hour at up to a hundred meters, and renders them helpless at twice that distance. It is uncannily accurate, soundless, has no recoil, weighs less than a pound and is made from something that cannot be scratched by diamonds or penetrated by X-rays. According to Privatdozent Herzfeld at the university here—”

“Damned Jew,” the German muttered.

“Yes, but a very, very clever Jew, Horst. They are often extremely useful that way. And he says this—” he prodded the stunner with a finger “—is an absurdity, but that if it did exist it would function by some impossible focusing of high-frequency sounds, probably. He was quite angry with us until he realized it wasn’t a joke, and even angrier when we took it away again before he could study it further. So, Herr Everard. You tell us . . . what are you, exactly? Where are you from? The world of the future, perhaps, in the manner of the Englishman Wells?”

A jolt of alarm; the Austrian wasn’t joking, and he thought the Turk at least was taking the possibility seriously as well. He wouldn’t have bet against the German either, but the man seemed to have only one expression, a snarl.

“Or Mars? No, not Mars, I have checked and current thought is that Mars is uninhabitable.”

The German grinned unpleasantly. “Wherever he’s from, he arrived in a manner he didn’t anticipate. Or he wouldn’t be here now. Something went wrong for him.”

Manse looked him in the eye. “I am someone who can turn a minor nation into a Great Power,” he said . . . in Turkish.

Existence focused down to a needlepoint. The pale blue eyes of the taciturn Ottoman flared, the pupils opening until they almost swallowed the iris; the other two gave sudden sharp glances at him and at Manse.

Scar-face there didn’t get any of that. I don’t think von Starnberg understood it either, or not all of it. And Mustafa got it perfectly and is thinking hard. This can’t be a happy alliance.

“German, Herr Everard,” the Austrian said. “Or English, or French. What was that . . . something about power?”

“The American said that his country was also a Great Power,” Mustafa said in a neutral tone.

“If he is an American,” the German growled. “When I was in German South-West Africa and Tanganyika and Tsingtao, I learned how to make lying pigdogs eager to speak the truth.”

“Horst, Horst, perhaps you should go to America, to Hollywood.”

“What?” the German said, puzzled.

“To act in their movies, playing the stereotypical Prussian Brute,” the Austrian said, and waved a placating hand when the man sputtered. “Please. To business. Herr Everard?”

“I’m an engineer,” Manse said calmly.

It was even true; at least, he’d been in the Army Engineers in the Second World War, and an engineering consultant after it . . . until he answered a very odd help wanted ad.

“The pistol and dimensional motorcycle are inventions of mine,” he said calmly. “As Captain von Stumm noted, the motorcycle malfunctioned.”

He didn’t really expect to be believed. Just having a story gave him somewhere to start, though. The questions hammered at him after that; he was drenched in sweat by the time they finished, not from inventing plausible lies but simply from making the ones he used consistent. Several times he thought the German was going to come around the table and use the riding crop on him, or his fists.

And the good Baron von Starnberg is just as ruthless, under that veneer of Viennese good-humor, Manse thought, as the guards shoved him out at the point of their machine-pistols and marched him back to his cell. This time two of them came in and stood watching him, weapons ready. After a few hours they were replaced by Germans, though those stuck to the corridor outside, evidently on the theory that if any were in the room he could somehow jump them and get their guns. Time ticked by . . .

But I’ve got to get out of here. The Turk understood me. The question is, can he do anything about it?



He’s there. Or at least the sonic stunner and the communicator in his watch are, Wanda thought.

She dialed the magnifying optic and it automatically stepped up the light. A medium-sized flat-roofed building currently being used as offices, with guards outside the entrances—military, not police, and in three different types of uniforms. The scanner couldn’t get a precise fix on the instruments, not at this range, and any lower and the timecycle could be seen from the ground. She’d had to dodge a couple of biplanes already.

Time to take a closer look, on foot.

The problem with that was her clothes; she couldn’t pass for a local, or anything acceptable, dressed as she was. A quick check had showed that nobody here was showing more than an inch of ankle, not even the hookers. What they were wearing during the daytime looked like a jacket or tunic, a long narrow tubular skirt, feathered hats and broad cloth belts slung at hip-height, with various accoutrements. Her shoes would definitely pass, but nothing else she was wearing—and her short hair was going to be conspicuous too. Evidently girls wore theirs long and down or braided, and women had it long and done up with pins and combs under the floppy-brimmed hats. She didn’t know whether that was because things had changed differently here, or because older fashions hadn’t changed as quickly as in her Jazz Age.

Wanda sighed; there was nothing she could do about the hair but wait six months of time she didn’t have. There was a way to solve the clothes problem, but she didn’t like it. Her money was worthless here, but her stunner worked perfectly. Still . . .

You’re going to wipe out this entire world, she told herself. Be realistic! A painless mugging is no huhu.

A spin of the magnifying optical screen, and she picked a woman walking through the dusk down a fairly narrow street. Clothes not too shabby and not too new, height and build about like hers; that took a while, because she was a full three inches taller than the female average around here-and-now. Then an instant transition to an alley, and she was waiting.

Tut mir sehr leid, meine Liebe, ich brauch’ das jetzt dringender als du,” she called.

“What?” the woman said, turning, her eyes going wide at the strange dress.

Then she gave a little shriek at the sight of the stunner, so like a gun at first glance.

My need is greater than thine, lady, Wanda thought, and pressed the stun.

A quick bound and she caught the slumping figure of the young woman before she struck the ground, and a grunt of effort as she pulled her back into the alley and slung her across the rear seat of the timecycle. A touch of the controls, and they were in a meadow in the Rockies, in a stretch of summer high noon ten thousand years ago. A quick jump had shown the meadow wouldn’t be bothered by sabertooths, paleo-Indians, or grizzlies in the next few hours.

Getting the clothes off a totally limp body was more difficult that she’d expected; dressing a totally limp body in her own outfit was even more of a struggle. When she had the new clothes on she walked around to accustom herself, and cursed the way the narrow skirt wrapped around her legs; if she had to run, she’d need to rip it off. A sudden thought struck her.

“Do I have to take her back to nineteen twenty-six, mark, II? That world’s going to blink out of existence. It’s sort of like dropping her in a volcano.”

It was one thing for Deirdre van Sarawak to outlive the history that had produced her; she’d had a place to go and someone to look after her. And anyway Piet had rescued her on impulse when Manse snatched him out of captivity, in a future in which Carthage had won the Punic Wars thanks to a couple of ambitious Neldorians with energy rifles hiring on with Hannibal. This poor woman . . .

I can’t just take her back. It’s personal. I picked her just because we have about the same dress size! Dammit, that doesn’t make sense but it’s the way I feel.

Wanda transferred her belongings to the unconscious woman’s purse, all but some jewelry she’d had along, then turned the thong of her own around the snoring figure’s wrist. They should fetch the equivalent of ten or fifteen thousand dollars anywhere in the earlier twentieth century; and even in Central Europe in those days you just didn’t need much in the way of identity documents.

It’s the best I can do; if you keep your mouth shut you won’t end up in the booby hatch right away, you’ve got a stake. Or maybe the Patrol can retroactively pick you up a minute after this and fix something for you. I was right when I joined up, I’m not cut out to be a time-cop. Mammoths and sabertooths I can do. Offing someone I can’t, not unless it’s self-defense. Not face to face, not even this way.

She studied the menus, and did another hop; this time to a quiet, leafy upper-class suburb of Munich in August of 1910, just before dawn and well before the change-point. The woman was beginning to come to as Wanda tipped her onto a wealthy family’s lawn and blinked out of existence.

Vienna again, and a park not far from the building where Manse was being held. It was a governmental district, quiet after dark, but well-patrolled. She stepped off the timecycle and touched her watch; the nanoscale controls slaved to the communicator sent the vehicle skyward, hovering invisibly on antigrav until she summoned it. Closer, closer . . . people were walking by outside the building, giving the guards curious looks; evidently that wasn’t standard. The soldiers carried rifles with fixed bayonets and their noncoms had machine-pistols; they were older than your average farmboy conscript, and looked harder-faced and more alert, probably some sort of special brute squad.

Wanda bought a copy of the Reichpost. The newsboy gave her a curious glance when she waved away the change from a krone coin, and then a delighted grin when he realized she was serious, and thanked her with a thickly accented danke and a sentence in some Slavic language.

The paper gave her something to hold up as she sat on a bench across the street. The little machine built into her watch could project a pseudo-screen in the air in front of her, but that would be just a bit conspicuous without camouflage. Right now, and at this distance, it showed Manse’s stunner and his communicator, like hers concealed in a watch. They were close together, probably no more than a few feet, and neither was moving.

She waited an hour while the sun fell and the streetlamps came on, reading the paper to keep the fear at bay, the knowledge that the world around her and herself and Manse could—very well might—just stop at any instant. That it would bring Monica back and that the Van Sarawaks would take good care of her was some consolation, but not much.

In the paper . . .

The Three Emperors were meeting to consolidate the peace of the Middle European and Near Eastern zone; the editorial writer solemnly assured his readers that this grouping was the pillar of world order and progress. Kaiser Wilhelm was present, plus Emperor (and King of Hungary) Franz Ferdinand, and Mehmed VI Vahid ed-din of the Ottoman Empire, as well as what the editorial page called an ‘unspeakable rabble’ of Balkan leaders, subordinate puppets and satellites from the sound of it.

The British Prime Minister Lord Milner was reported to be considering lifting martial law in Ireland if there were no more outrages; Russia was in the middle of something more than riots but a little less than a civil war that had been going on for years, and the Reichpost was not-so-quietly happy about the way it defused the “Pan-Slav menace.”

Bolivia and Paraguay were fighting over some stretch of scrub; the Austrian government had granted the Grand Cross of the Royal Hungarian Order of Saint Stephen to the President of Mexico, who was called Félix Díaz Velasco and was continuing the wise and stable policies of his predecessors Victoriano Huerta and his great uncle Porfirio Diaz; someone she’d never heard of named Andrew Mellon was President of the US; the new Emperor of China, Yuan Keilang, was at loggerheads with the British-backed Japanese; there was a list of scheduled airship flights that included New York, Rio, Dar es-Salam, and Singapore among their destinations . . .

There it goes!

The stunner and the communicator were moving away from each other, at walking pace. The communicator was moving towards a room on the third floor, the top floor of the floridly neo-Baroque building. Manse would have been working to bust the situation loose, and once things started to shift she had a chance.

Wanda slipped the display into her purse and rose, dropping the paper on the bench. A wintry keenness filled her as she walked back towards the park. No need for much caution; this wasn’t a history the Patrol wanted to preserve.

It probably doesn’t have a Holocaust in its future, though things just as bad will happen eventually. Offhand it looks like a world that’s a paradise for old rich European men with waxed mustaches and chests full of medals and orders. But better or worse it’s standing between me and my man and me and my daughter, and I’m an agent of the Patrol.

Something whispered through the night above, something huge. She broke into a trot.



Austro-Hungarian Empire

June 3rd, 1926 AD

There was a sound outside the door, a muffled scuffle and a thud; then Manse Everard turned off the lamp and rolled off the bed. The door swung open; the Turkish officer stepped through quickly and moved to one side to avoid being silhouetted against the light. He gave a slight grim smile at the sight of the Time Patrol agent awake, alert, and fully dressed, in a fighter’s crouch close enough to leap at anyone in the vicinity of the door.

The pistol in his hand wasn’t quite aimed at Everard, but then again it wasn’t not aimed at him, either.

Wanda, Monica, I’m on my way!

“That conceited braying ass von Starnberg was right, I think,” the Turk said. “You are a dangerous man, and in more ways than one, Herr Everard . . . no, you speak Turkish, don’t you?” he went on, shifting to that language. “A notable accomplishment, for a Frank.”

“I speak a little, esteemed Binbaşı,” Everard said in that tongue, deliberately keeping the sentence simple and hoping the oddness of his speech would pass as an accent.

In fact he spoke Turkish perfectly, legacy of a hypno for a mission in Istanbul in 2043 that he hadn’t bothered to have scrubbed from his brain yet, but it was a twenty-first-century variety. The language had gone through an upheaval about “now” in the past of Everard’s world, one which evidently hadn’t happened here. This Colonel Mustafa was speaking the old-fashioned Ottoman service-speech, full of Arabic and Persian and Albanian loan-words and curious constructions.

“Better we use German,” Manse went on.

Which will keep the questions to a minimum. I need to get out of this building!

If the Patrol hadn’t sent an assault team in to snatch him they probably weren’t going to. That left Wanda, who didn’t have combat training beyond the basic Academy course and was on a commercial-model timecycle designed with all sorts of amateur-proof safety locks to prevent things like emerging with your head in the roof of a room when you tried to jump into a confined space. She’d need a good long clear run in the open to get at him. Unfortunately there was no chance at all she’d just skeddadle for a Patrol base in the deep past; he knew his wife. The only thing he could do was decrease the risk for both of them.

Men in Turkish uniform came through the door, dragging the limp, bleeding forms of the guards and dumping them unceremoniously; the iron-copper-seawater smell of blood was strong. A sergeant was wiping the blade of a curved knife on the hair of one of the bodies and chuckling, murmuring something in what was probably Kurdish.

Yeah, the Three Emperor’s League is just one big love-feast, Manse thought. They may not have had World War One here, but it wasn’t because they’re a bunch of Quakers.

“Wrap them in blankets so they don’t spill too much,” Mustafa snapped at his men in their language. “And get their rapid-fire weapons.”

To Everard, in German: “Quickly, please, mein Herr.”

The corridors were even more deserted, and mostly very dark; there was the still vacant feeling of a building after working hours, amid a smell of old carpets and strong coffee and tobacco soaked into the walls. A metal staircase led them up and out onto the flat roof. Something huge overhung it; it took a moment for Everard to realize it was an airship, and large only by ordinary standards, nothing like the giant he’d seen on his first day.

Blimp, he thought, seeing the gondola slung below the gasbag. Semirigid. And Turkish colors, they didn’t have time to paint those out, but it won’t be obvious in the dark.

Four men were on the roof, with cables snagged around convenient projections; the gondola and gasbag swayed and creaked alarmingly, and the two engine pods gave a growling rasp as they idled, and a gasoline stink. The Turkish party began a rush towards the ladder that led up ten feet to refuge . . . and stopped abruptly.

“So, you lying pigdog,” von Stumm said as he stepped out of the shadows, a squad at his back. “Did you think your Asiatic treachery wouldn’t be noticed?”

The Turkish officer recovered from frozen shock almost instantly. His smile showed white in the dimness.

“Do you like the prospect of a firefight under that?” he said, jerking his pistol upwards.

From the scowl on von Stumm’s face, he didn’t. A hail of bullets might not set off the tens of thousands of cubic meters of hydrogen hanging over them like a fiery sword. Then again, it very well might, in which case the whole building would vanish in a fireball.

“Or you could call the Austrians for help,” Mustafa pointed out. “Since they love their Christian brothers so well.”

Evidently von Stumm didn’t like that thought either. “Cold steel!” he bellowed to his men. “At them!”

He whipped out the saber at his side; Mustafa did likewise with his. Metal flashed and glimmered in the dimness, bayonet and clubbed rifle, sword and knife, fists and boots and teeth. Shouts of Allah! Allah! met Hoch! and Hail Victory!; gave way to animal screams of pain and rage as the groups collided in a wave of violence.

The Germans had numbers on their side, but the Ottomans had Manse Everard, moving through the dimness in a striking blur with the strength and speed of youth, nearly a century of field experience, and training in fighting arts selected from a million years of slaughterhouse human history. He snapped a kick into a knee with unmerciful precision and broke it, slashed the edge of his bladed palm into the angle of neck and jaw, ruptured a sternum with a thrust of stiffened fingers, slapped a bayoneted rifle aside and tossed the man over his hip in a throw that sent him head-first into a rooftop ventilator with a gruesome crack of breaking bone.

Less than two minutes later von Stumm was alone, backing, sweat gleaming on his shaven head as Mustafa Kemal came forward in a whirlwind of steel. Manse was close enough to see the German accept a cut to the shoulder, drop the sword and yank out his pistol to fire point-blank with the muzzle pressed to Mustafa’s body.

Before he could von Starnberg was there; the projection cone of the Time Patrol stunner was only a foot from the German’s head when he pressed the firing stud. Von Stumm dropped with a limp finality at the edge of the roof, half across the coping. The Austrian’s boot gave him a helpful shove, and the body slipped out into space to fall three long stories to the pavement below. Manse winced slightly at the sound, coming erect and suddenly conscious of the sting of a minor cut on his left forearm.

Auf Wiedersehen,” the Austrian officer said with satisfaction. “So ein arrogantes, störendes preussisches Schwein.

Mustafa shook off the punch-to-the-jaw effect of being on the edge of the sonic stunner’s field. “I would say arrogant, meddling Prussian swine is quite accurate. But his death will create a stir.”

“Then let us depart, my dear Binbaşı,” von Starnberg said.

The surviving Turks and the Austrian squad climbed quickly up the ladder into the gondola; even with the dead left behind it was a crowded metal space, like a giant canoe with the controls at a glassed-in area of the front, and crawlspaces for mechanics to creep out and maintain the engines.

Which are probably very unreliable indeed, Manse thought.

Dim riding lights behind heavy frosted glass gave the men inside a ghastly semblance like animated corpses, fitting accompaniment for the smell of blood and the moans of the injured. There was a rumble of water being released from the ballast tanks as the growl of the engines rose to a roar, and a rising-elevator sensation as the blimp surged upwards. Von Starnberg made a motion towards his cigarette case and then halted it, looking upward and laughing. Instead he took out a flask and drank, offering it to Mustafa.

“Cognac,” he said.

“It is forbidden,” the man said. “But thank you.”

Forbidden when you’re in public, Manse thought, as he accepted it himself; he’d seen the flick of the Turkish officer’s eyes towards his men.

The brandy wasn’t as good as he would have expected from an obvious dandy and bon viveur like the Austrian, but it had alcohol in it and that was what he wanted just now. Meanwhile an Austrian medic attended to the wounded, bandaging and dusting wounds with antiseptic and administering morphine. Von Starnberg spoke sharply to one of his men, who unslung his pack and brought out wrapped parcels and several bottles.

“Now this is just lemonade,” von Starnberg said, swigging deeply from one, wiping the mouth and handing it on to Mustafa as his soldier gave out the other bottles. “And here we have cold chicken, bread, cheese, and chocolate—no pork products, I assure you, gentlemen. Drink, eat; fighting is thirsty, hungry work.”

There was a murmur as one of the Turks translated for the benefit of his monoglot comrades. Mustafa’s manner thawed somewhat.

“That was considerate of you, Freiherr,” he said. “On behalf of my men, I thank you. And for the medical attention.”

Von Starnberg’s smile was charming. “No, no, I assure you, it was the least I could do.”


100 meters altitude

Lake Balaton

Austro-Hungarian Empire

June 4th, 1926 AD

Wanda Everard’s frustration turned to horror as the first of the bodies dropped from the gondola. The blimp was running without lights, only the dim red glow of the exhausts showing. The naked corpses struck the water and sank instantly; they must be weighed down. The lights of towns and villas and resorts shone cruelly indifferent from the low southern shore.

Then the aircraft pointed its nose upward and began to climb. She followed automatically, her hands on the bars that controlled normal-space flight.

That couldn’t have been Manse. They could have killed him in Vienna. This is some sort of internal quarrel, they’re fighting over him, they’re advanced enough here/now to understand what the technology they’ve seen must mean . . .

The blimp rose to a thousand meters and accelerated to about sixty miles an hour, crawling eastward through the night.



Austro-Hungarian Empire

June 5th, 1926

“Für einen Türken is der Mustafa ein schlauer Kerl. Ich werde schau’n, dass er die Schuld an allem kriegt,” von Starnberg explained cheerfully.

“For a Turk, Mustafa was a very clever fellow. I intend to see that he will get all the blame. A pity, he might have been a great man anywhere but Turkey. Still, the Turks are barbarians and strain themselves to manufacture rifle cartridges. We Austrians have the means to take advantage of your knowledge, Herr Everard. I’ve arranged for a very comfortable schloss near Kronstadt, and soon the world will be surprised, eh?”

“You used thallium in the lemonade?” Everard asked grimly, looking at the stinking stains on the gondola’s floor.

“Yes, rat poison. I’ve been taking Prussian Blue . . . appropriate, nein? . . . for several days now. There was more antidote in the brandy, just in case.”

“What if Mustafa had accepted the brandy?”

“Then he would have been merely uncomfortable while his men fell dead, and alive when he went into the water,” Von Starnberg said cheerfully. “Ah, we’re nearly there. Come, take a look at your temporary residence, Herr Everard . . . may I call you Manse? Not too bad a place; they make their pastries too sweet and the coffee is vile, but some of the wines are excellent and the Rumanian girls clean up nicely. And cheer up! I will be a very great man when this project succeeds, the next thing to a king, and I know how to reward good service. Money, power, women, estates, titles? You will be able to take your pick.”

Except for wondering about the lemonade, Manse thought, and licked his lips as he came to stand beside the Austrian in the opened door.

The wind wasn’t too bad as the blimp slowed, and it was nearly dawn. A pale colorless light showed densely forested mountains below, low but steep, and on a height the towers of a fairytale Gothic castle, massive towers and courtyards, with a few lights showing in the windows.

“Isn’t it a grand sight?”

“Looks like escape,” Manse said, and grabbed the other man by the neck as he launched himself forward.

Von Starnberg fell away, screaming with his arms and legs working as he plunged through the air. Manse snap-rolled forward, presenting as much surface to the air as he could and arrowing forward. The side of the mountain flashed towards him; he just cleared the crest, and the side of the castle swelled towards him.

He was still smiling when he struck, though it was a little like a snarl as well.



Austro-Hungarian Empire

June 5th, 1926

Wanda’s scream died as her throat squeezed shut. Then a hysterical laugh choked off as well.

Manse does think a lot like a field agent, she thought as she set the controls.

Blink, and she was five minutes pastward and a thousand meters down. The uniformed figure tumbled through the sky, but Manse flattened out in an expert skydiver’s posture. Air brawled around the force-screen as she dove the timecycle like a stooping hawk, and in seconds she was beside him. A lurch as he swung onto the second seat, and she punched the controls.



18,244 BC

“I had to watch you die, you son of a bitch!” Wanda yelled, and flung herself into Manse’s arms.

“Not permanently,” he grinned, and then they were kissing.

When the embrace ended they grew conscious of the others; Piet and Deidre van Sarawak, with Monica in the other woman’s arms.

“Thank God,” Wanda breathed, and snatched her daughter up.

Piet grinned and hammered him on the back. The other Unattached agent in the softly glowing chamber below the Pleistocene resort was a woman, spider-thin, seven feet tall, with blue-black hair drawn up in a knot and huge blue eyes in a narrow hook-nosed face.

She bowed in a far-future manner. “Unattached Agent Everard,” she said.

“Unattached Agent Komozino,” he replied.

She went on with an alien directness: “We have rectified the situation somewhat. There was a very subtle biological sabotage of the Gavrillo Princip nexus figure, requiring that we substitute a clone. History now records that the assassin of Franz Ferdinand died of tuberculosis in an Austrian prison-fortress rather than being beaten to death by a mob in the streets of Sarajevo, but this is a historically negligible factor. The perpetrators are still at large. Unindentified.”

“For now,” Manse Everard said grimly, looking at his wife and daughter.

A scent came down the time-winds, that of maneater.

“Time to hunt,” he said.


I first corresponded with Poul about the time I sold my first story; he was a fascinating man to exchange thoughts with, a polymath who made the extent of his knowledge the foundation and fuel for imagination rather than an impediment to it, and who was unfailingly kind, honest, and wise in his advice to a novice. He was a gentleman and a scholar, a good man, and there aren’t enough people like him around. Later I had the honor of being his host and meeting him off and on—not as often as I’d like, but I treasure every instance.

My debt to him goes a long way further. His young adult Vault of the Ages was the first real science fiction I read; it introduced me to the solidity of his world-building, something you could taste and smell and feel, and the way his characters inhabited their own reality, and also to the mixture of hope and tragic stoicism that marked his universe.

On a more immediate level, he was never less than solidly professional—even his early mature works like Three Hearts and Three Lions or The High Crusade are meticulously crafted without being heavy—and at his best, he was hauntingly intense.

Plus I learned the uses and perils of the semicolon from him!

Without him, I probably wouldn’t be a writer.

—S. M. Stirling

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