In the early years of the 21st Century the first successful time travel device was designed and constructed by Professor Andrej Turgenyev and Dr. Phineas Jasper in coordination with technicians from the USDOD and NSA. The TPRFG (Temporal Probability/Redundancy Field Generator) commonly referred to as TAP, was tested first with A/V recording equipment, then with birds and mammals, then intrepid volunteers and found to be a viable means of transport into the past.
Initial explorations along the time lines led to the discovery of a shadowy organization called the Rectifiers who were attempting to change the outcome of selected historical events. Both the origin and overall intent of the Rectifiers has yet to be discerned. Their continued tampering with the Ultra Time Line could cause complete chaos in current and future human progress and technical development, thus the Temporal Management Agency (TMA) was formed to combat this threat.
From a top secret location deep inside the Rocky Mountains, the TMA and it's agents patrol the time lines thwarting the Rectifiers efforts to alter history.
Agent 66 emerged from the TAP as his 18th Century merchant's garb disintegrated revealing a standard issue TMA jumpsuit. Director Naveen's voice sounded strained when she'd contacted him. It was highly unusual for the Director to contact him at all, much less during a mission. Something must be seriously wrong. He joked and chatted with the Time Tech's as they decontaminated him, but his thoughts were elsewhere.
"Agent 66, please take a seat," said Director Radha Naveen, her voice was grave. "Agent 24 will be joining us in a moment." 66 raised an eyebrow. "I know you were expecting Agent 31; however he is on another high priority assignment and cannot be spared."
The office door opened and a tall, flaxen haired woman strode into the room. "I apologize for my tardiness Director Naveen," she said in oddly accented English. "The debriefing took longer than anticipated."
"Agent 66, Agent 24, 24, 66," Rhada said briskly.
"Call me Derek," 66 said smiling.
"Crystal," 24 said, returning the smile.
They nodded to each other and turned to the Director. "I will need your combined talents for this mission. It is of prime importance, possibly the most important in the existence of the Agency.
The problem is this. There has been a rupture in the Ultra Time Line. The Mother Line as the Tech's refer to it. This rupture is allowing alternative time streams to intersect with our own. The very essence of our existence is being altered by intrusions from elsewhen."
"What is being done to mitigate the effects of these intrusions?" Derek asked, leaning forward. "Can an alternative time line penetrate here at headquarters? Could we be altered and cease to exist?"
"At present, no," Rhada said wearily. "The Tech's have erected a Chronobubble around the entire installation to prevent such an occurrence. We are currently in Time Stasis and safe for the moment. All indications are that The Rectifiers are creating the rupture utilizing technology unknown to us. We have, however pinpointed the source of whatever is causing it to early 20th Century America in the city of Chicago, the period known as the 'Roaring Twenties'."
"How can we travel in time if we are in stasis?" Crystal asked. "Are we in fact trapped here in the bubble? Are we nowhere in the Time Stream?"
Derek smiled; Crystal was quick on her feet, already planning their next move, their next gambit. She would be an effective partner, of that there was no doubt.
Rhada nodded. "The Tech's are working on the problem now. The magnitude of the difficulty is such that every milliwatt of computing capacity is at work solving this problem. The mental strain on the Tech's is tremendous. Some have already broken under it and been isolated."
The agents exchanged glances. Both had experienced the Sensory Deprivation Tanks in training. Deprived of all senses, suspended in regeneration fluid, a symbolic return to the womb until body and mind healed. Crystal shuddered at the memory and Derek frowned. It was not pleasant.
"The Tech's have also informed me," Rhada continued, "That all conventional operating procedures in Time Combat will need to be altered until the problem is solved. We cannot at the present time transport our current technology to the past. You may only utilize weaponry of the period or before it. Upon leaving, you will report for training in the use of period weapons." She smiled at Crystal, "You may bring your short sword and battle axe if you wish. They may prove useful."
Crystal relaxed visibly. Those weapons were extensions of her own arms, a part of her energies, victorious in many a battle. "I will bring my saber and stiletto," Derek said. "I am comfortable with them. We may not always have access to weapons of the period. Are The Rectifiers also hampered by this restriction in technology?"
"All indications are that this is the case," Rhada replied. "Their internal defense and repair mechanisims appear inactive. You will be fighting on relatively equal terms. There is an additional factor of concern, however. The overlapping Time Lines is permitting periodic intrusions of Rectifier agents from other time lines into the Ultra Time Stream. You will be facing opponents from various periods of human history and varying historical outcomes.
We have observed periods where empires still exist, dictators still rule, revolutions have failed, countries and governments as we know them never formed, monarchies and conquerors have triumphed, free people are subjugated..." she paused, "And the TMA does not exist. I need not stress the importance of this mission. The Techs say breaching the Chronobubble long enough for two persons to pass through is possible before compromising stasis. Are there any questions?"
"Only one," Crystal said. "When our mission is complete, can we be retrieved?"
Rhada steepled her fingers, "All indications are that it is possible. We all know the risks. This is no exception. Every effort will be made to return you in one piece."
"Either we return or none," Derek said. "We will stay as a unit until you can extract us both." Crystal smiled at him, nodding in assent.
"Report for weapons training, then get some rest," Rhada said, rising to her feet. "When the Time Portal is activated, you will of course be garbed in clothing of the period and we will deactivate all your implanted micro weaponry and defense mechanisms. Your weapons will be molecularly reduced until you need them." She shook their hands. "Good luck and may the gods smile upon you."
She watched them leave and swiveled to gaze at a hologram of a forested mountain slope a thousand meters above. Two of my best agents sent on a mission from which they may never return. If they survive, and they cannot return, they are capable of making a life for themselves in the past. They must succeed or life as we know it now will cease to exist and every person here with it. Then the Rectifiers will become the rulers of time.
Derek lay back in the massage tub, the jets soothing his tired body. The weapon instructors had been unstinting, driving him and Crystal to exceed what they considered their perfect fighting techniques. Crystal. She was a whirlwind as she dueled with the instructors, lithe and agile, keeping pace at every turn. She had caught his eye several times from across the training room, winking at him; the sheen of sweat on her face suffusing it with a soft glow.
His career as a Time Warrior had hardened him, made him cynical, aloof, trusting no one, a loner no one really knew. He liked it that way. Many people had passed through his life, but they were as footprints on a beach, disappearing behind him in the waves of Time.
Something about Crystal intrigued him and made him glad she was his partner on this mission. She was smart, capable, tough and deadly, a formidable opponent in battle. However, there was softness when she looked at him... A knock on the door interrupted his musings. "Doors open," he called.
"Are you decent?" said a warm contralto voice. "I'm coming in."
Crystal? Here? What the... ?
"Hello Derek," Crystal said amiably, leaning against the bathroom doorframe. "Doesn't that feel good on tired muscles? I just finished taking one. I feel much more relaxed." She was wearing a blue robe and was barefoot, her hair still wet.
"To what do I owe the honor of your presence?" Derek said.
"I saw you watching me today during training," Crystal said, "I was watching you too. You handle that sword like a master. I could tell you were holding back so as not to injure the instructors."
"Good instructors are hard to find these days."
"The odds are such that we may not return from this mission... ," Crystal began.
"We'll come back," Derek interjected, "We always come back."
"Is there room for two in there?" Crystal said, her robe sliding from her shoulders.
All personnel in TMA Headquarters were waiting in the TAP Chamber when Derek and Crystal entered, garbed in the fashions of 1920's America. Crystal wore a brown beaded dress with the hem just above her knees, arms bare, t-bar shoes, patterned beige stockings and her blond hair gathered under a broad-brimmed hat. She carried a small leather purse, which contained her molecularly reduced weapons and a Chronocommunicator.
Derek wore a brown flannel suit, white shirt and brown tie, two-tone white and tan shoes and a light brown hat. His miniaturized saber and stiletto and his communicator carried in his jacket pockets.
The Looking Glass Chamber techs had determined that brown was a neutral color in that era and would attract the least attention as the agents went about their mission. Each agent carried false identification, commonplace items and replicated money of the period, enough to maintain a lifestyle for six months if necessary.
Prof. Andrej Turgenyev hobbled toward them, cane tapping on the polished floor. "Agent Derek, Agent Crystal, I wish you luck in your mission. Your bravery will not be forgotten."
Dr. Phineas Jasper stepped from the crowd, his face somber. "If you succeed, we will continue our battle against the Rectifiers. If you fail," he raised his arm in a sweeping gesture, "All this will cease to exist, and all of us as well."
Director Naveen shook their hands, saying "The gods be with you on your journey."
The air stank of ozone as the TAP flared to life, bolts jumping from four nodal towers to the Time Portal stage. Derek and Crystal walked into the glowing oval and disappeared. Dr. Turgenyev was first to speak. "And now we wait."
A dark alley illuminated briefly, when the agents arrived in 1926 Chicago.
Grimy walls rose on both sides, and dented waste cans stank of irregularly collected refuse. A cacophony of car horns, shrieking sirens, angry voices and roaring engines assaulted their ears as they approached the street. Before they reached the sidewalk, a shabbily dressed man approached them, pulling a stubby pistol from his trouser pocket. "Good afternoon people. I want your wallet and purse, and no funny business."
Crystal kicked the gun from his hand and Derek doubled him over with a blow to the sternum. The man lay wheezing as Crystal retrieved the gun and Derek rifled the man's pockets; money, a dirty handkerchief, comb and a wallet, nothing of interest. He dropped them as Crystal examined the pistol.
"Colt .38 caliber snub-nose revolver, six shots, limited range, easily concealed, useful in close-up fighting." She placed it in her purse. "This may be useful later."
"We need to find lodgings," Derek said as they strolled down the busy sidewalk, "A base of operations until we can determine the location of the apparatus disrupting the time line."
"The techs dropped us in the approximate vicinity," Crystal replied. "Look at these buildings. It could be anywhere. And we have no detector devices."
"Actually, we do," Derek said with a grin, pulling back his sleeve. The wristwatch he wore flashed various colors as if searching for something.
"Derek, how did you... ?"
"The Weapons Techs aren't the only ones who can tinker with molecules. I modified this watch to assume the molecular structure of my body for a short time. Once we were through the portal, it returned to it's former shape. Now we can track interferences in the time line, find that device and destroy it."
They paused before an imposing building. "The Drake Hotel," Crystal said. "This appears suitable. Shall we stay here?"
"It's within our search area; of course."
A door attendant let them in and they walked through the opulent lobby. Crystal wrinkled her nose at the smell of cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke that permeated the rug and furnishings, and hung in a pall near the ornate ceiling.
The desk clerk raised an eyebrow when Derek said they had no luggage, but took his money and gave him a brass key with the number 809 on a tag. After a ride in a creaking elevator whose operator conversed pleasantly, they walked down a brightly lit corridor and found their room.
Derek locked the door as Crystal removed her hat, shoes and dress; pulled back the covers and sprawled on the bed. "This mattress is very comfortable. I like it here already. Join me Derek. We'll search tomorrow."
He removed his suit, shirt and shoes, climbed into bed and they embraced and kissed.
"Our husbands would think this unmanly," Crystal murmured. "Only women cuddled with other women."
"When was this? Where do you come from?"
Crystal smiled, "I was a Viking's wife in the 10th Century A.D. Our men filled our lives with children, adventure, and the riches of a continent; also loneliness, privation and death. They were gone for months at a time and we learned early in life to provide for ourselves and defend our homes. It was during such a defense that a thrown lance ran me through. I remember the pain and the point protruding from my stomach, and then all went black.
When I awakened, I was in a brightly lit room with people in white gowns and strange shiny things all around me. I attempted to fight, but my limbs would not move. They placed a metal cap on my head and the length and breadth of human history began flowing into my brain. The Tech's had stolen me from Death's clutches because they admired my fighting abilities and the TMA needed agents from other eras.
What of you Derek, from what time did you arrive in the TMA?"
"I, like you, was brought back to life by the TMA after almost dying. I was a soldier of fortune, a mercenary in the 20th Century A.D.; I fought for whoever paid me. I honed the fighting skills I learned in World War II and fought in many brush-fire wars and revolutions that proliferated in the aftermath of the war. In 1953 I was conducting guerrilla warfare against Viet Minh troops when I was cut down by a machine gun.
I also awakened in an operating room and underwent cerebral instruction to acquaint me with world history since my time. The TMA needed my fighting skills to combat the increasingly aggressive Rectifier agents and their cyborgs. We will make a good team you and I, having both tasted death and been reborn."
Crystal pulled the covers over them and Derek turned off the bedside light.
The next morning the agents enjoyed breakfast in the hotel's dining room, and then began their search. Using a map of the city and Derek's detector, they determined the Rectifier base would be within a five-block radius from where they emerged from the portal. By noon, they had found nothing and stopped in a corner café for lunch.
Finishing their meal, they paid the server and walked to the door. In an instant, a glowing mist enveloped them. When it lifted, they found themselves in a narrow cobbled street lined with wooden buildings.
"Where are we Derek?"
"It appears to be 16th Century London. We're caught in a Time Slip. If we remain where we are it may return us to..."
An angry shout interrupted him.
"Halt ye Roundhead traitors. Halt in the name of the King."
Gaudily dressed men ran towards them from both ends of the street waving swords. Derek and Crystal unsealed their weapons and they sprang to full size. The men halted for a moment seeing blades appear as if by magic in the stranger's hands then ran forward, shouting and cursing.
Standing back to back, they awaited their attackers. "Three here, "Crystal said in a steady voice.
"Four here," Derek replied. "It is a good day for a fight."
Crystal laughed and began to sing a Viking battle song, her contralto voice thrilling to Derek's ears. With a clash of steel, their opponents closed in.
Parrying a sword thrust with his dagger, Derek slashed downward, severing his attackers arm at the elbow. The man tumbled backward screaming, blood spurting from the stump. He heard Crystal grunt and a gurgling cry of agony; five to go. Two men rushed at him, swords a blur. Derek ran one man through the heart as the remaining attacker pierced him through the shoulder. A slash upward nearly severed the man's head from his body, the splash of blood spattering the cobbles. Derek recovered in time to parry a thrust from the last attacker when a thrown battle-axe cleaved his opponent's skull.
The gasps and death rattles of the dying men echoed eerily in the narrow street as Crystal and Derek tended each other's wounds. She received a deep gash in her forearm that Derek bound up with his shirt. Crystal tugged off her slip and staunched the blood from Derek's wound. They leaned against a building dizzy and exhausted from the fight and loss of blood.
"It was a good fight Derek. I am proud to have you as my partner."
"And I you, we may very well be stranded here if the Time Slip doesn't..."
The glowing mist returned and they found themselves back in 1929 Chicago.
Derek shook his head in amazement. They were untouched, not a hair out of place.
"It never happened," Crystal murmured as people passed them on the street. "Not in this time line. This is more serious than we thought. We have to find the Rectifiers base before the Skeins of Time become so tangled it will be total chaos."