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FoxS3 cowered in the darkness, and there was such silence around him that he believed he had lost his hearing. It was as if someone had slammed a door on the battle where he had been only a moment earlier. The air had the reek of rotting things, and even this was beyond his experience. The smell of charred bodies was nothing unusual to a warrior cadet like Fox, but in all of his short life he had never smelled rotting vegetables. He was still holding his wounded commander, BC, and had a plasma lance rifle slung over his shoulder. He removed his sunglasses, and as his eyes adjusted to the gloom he saw that he was in a narrow alleyway.

Now the sound of something else beyond Fox’s experience caught his attention. Warily he lay the unconscious BC down and thumbed his plasma rifle into life. As his finger began to squeeze the trigger, a horse clopped past in the street beyond the alley’s entrance, pulling a carriage filled with people who were laughing and singing. FoxS3 flicked the energy weapon off, feeling vaguely foolish, then he suddenly realised that there was nothing wrong with his hearing. There was no background rumble of a city jammed solid with machines. This was a city with very few machines.

Fox checked BC, who was breathing but still unconscious. Setting the rifle’s target laser to broadview, he lit up the alley. It was filled with rubbish bins, broken barrels, shards of glass from smashed bottles, and wind-blown newspapers. The dates of the newspapers spanned several weeks, but all had the same year in common: 1901. Fox switched off the light and melted into the shadows at the sound of approaching voices.

A man paused at the entrance to the alley, glanced about, then entered. Adrenaline burned through Fox as he prepared to drop the intruder silently. That would conserve energy in the plasma rifle’s power lattice. The man fumbled with his trousers, then began to urinate against a wall. Fox again felt extremely foolish. Two more men stopped at the entrance to the alley.

‘Oi, George, would ya be pointin’ the poker in there?’ called one of them.

‘Away with ya, give a man some peace,’ George shouted back.

‘Now fancy doin’ a thing like that!’ called the third man. ‘Fortnight a-fore Melbourne becomes capital of Australia, an’ what does he do? He pisses on it.’

‘Yeah, no respect for the first Australian parliament,’ called his companion.

‘Parliament’s not to be meetin’ in this alley,’ George replied as he walked out, buttoning his fly. ‘Shake a leg now, or we’ll miss the last train.’

‘Aren’t you gonna wash yer hands?’

‘Didn’t piss on ’em.’

As the voices faded into the distance Fox heard the faintest of gasps as BC returned to consciousness.

‘Fox, to me!’ the young commander hissed in the darkness.

‘Reporting!’ Fox responded.


‘Timejump, on target. Night, April, 1901.’

There was a short silence while the wounded student-commander grasped the implications of the words.

‘NineFive, in future, still!’ BC panted.

‘On target,’ said Fox.

‘Fox, order, mark!’ said BC urgently. ‘NineFive, prevent.’

Fox considered the brief order carefully, not because he was slow-witted, but because it was so very important.

‘Order, NineFive, prevent, verifying,’ he whispered steadily.

‘Lockdown,’ said BC.

‘Lockdown,’ echoed Fox, confirming that he understood the most important order in all of Earth’s history.

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