Based on the feedback you folks were kind enough to give me on the original version of ENFORCER'S chapter one, I did a major rewrite. I was told the chapter was too slow, and had a lot of info dumps. And when I read it here, I couldn't help but agree. So I spent the last few days completely retooling the chapter. Would you nice people take a look at it for me? Let me know what you think!
Dona Astryr paused on the dark, hot stairs that were scarcely wider than her shoulders, and listened for killers. A fist-sized evidence bot zipped past her shoulder, riding the glowing blue cushion of an antigrav field as it searched for murder victims.
In a blur of cyborg speed, Dona snatched the ‘bot out of the air. If there was a killer on the second floor, she didn’t want the device to give her away. The ‘bot started to beep a protest, but she thumbed a button to mute it. Drawing her shard pistol, she cocked her head, sensor implants scanning.
In the town square just outside the two-story house, a crier read the American Declaration of Independence in a fine, rolling baritone. The Philadelphia crowd hooted and stomped for the more inflammatory lines, bellowing support for the Continental Congress. If there were any Tories among them, they had the good sense to keep their snarls to themselves.
Dona, a time-travel veteran, barely even registered the words. She was a lot more interested in the soft female voice whimpering, a hopeless sound of agony coming from somewhere upstairs.
Fuck, somebody was still alive.
Victim’s condition? She started up the stairs in a soundless rush.
Extremely serious, her computer implant told her. Sensors detect multiple stab wounds and extensive blood loss. She must have medical attention in the next 3.2 minutes, or she will die.
Which wouldn’t necessarily end the victim’s existence. If Dona could get her into Regen within seven minutes of the time her heart stopped beating, she could be brought back. After that, brain death would be too extensive, and she would be dead in truth.
Where is the victim? Reaching the top step, Dona paused.
First bedroom on the left.
Any sign of attackers?
Which meant nothing. He could be sensor shielded; invisible to Dona’s eyes and implants.
The evidence bot jerked in her hand, trying to escape. She stuffed it into one of the pouches on her armor belt and headed for the bedroom door.
Damn, I wish I had backup, Dona thought. Unfortunately, every Enforcer on her team was busy searching the house’s first floor, while dealing with the thirteen victims they’d found. Two of them were still alive, including one fourteen-year-old with multiple stab wounds.
Dona braced in front of the closed door, pointed her shard pistol, and kicked the door down with her armored boot. Propelled by cyborg muscle, the door crashed open and banged against the wall. “Enforcer!” She entered low and fast.
An arch of bright scarlet blood splatter marked the wall on her right. A small round rug squelched under her boots.
The source of all that blood lay on the canopied bed in front of her. The woman was naked, wrists and ankles bound to the bed’s tall posts. Blood rolled sluggishly from the dozens of wounds marking her breasts, her belly, her thighs – even her face.
One eye opened, rolled with terror until it fixed on Dona. The other appeared glued shut by dried blood. A tear spilled, and her crusted lips moved soundlessly.
“I’m Temporal Enforcement agent Dona Astryr,” Dona told her, giving the room a quick scan. Bed, armoire, wash stand with a china pitcher and a bowl. No attacker, at least none visibl. “I’m here to help you.”
Send a message to Doctor Chogan, Dona told her implant. We’ve got another survivor, condition critical.
The woman’s lips moved again, but the only sound she made was a low wheeze.
Where the fuck is Chogan? Dona wondered, moving closer to the bed. Maybe I should just pick her up and Jump back to the Outpost. Would she survive a temporal warp in her current condition?
Negative. Given her wounds, an unprotected Jump would probably cause systemic organ failure and brain death. It would be better to wait for Dr. Chogan and a Regeneration Tube.
Dona frowned, watching the woman’s bloody lips move. Her one eye looked desperate. What the hell was she trying to say? Dona leaned closer and told her comp to amplify audio. “What did you say?”
The words emerged as if with superhuman effort, in a painful, wheezing hiss. “He’s…still…here!”
Dona spun, bringing her shard pistol up just as a towering figure in red and black temporal armor appeared out of thin air, having evidently dropped his sensor shield. She fired, sending a spray of need-sharp tritium shards hissing toward him. The shards hit the Xeran’s armor and bounced in a series of musical pings.
Damn, Dona thought. The fucking Xerans have upgraded their armor.
The Xeran hit her in a furious bull rush that rolled them both across the victim’s body. Dona’s sensors picked up her moan of pain as they crashed to the floor.
“Bastard!” Dona snarled into the Xeran’s black faceplate as they rolled across the blood-soaked rug. He grabbed her gun hand with crushing force. She ignored the pain, fighting to twist the weapon around and aim it at his faceplate. Backup! Goddammit, I need backup!
Requesting backup…No response. It appears the agents downstairs are also under attack.
Her comp was right. Dona could hear the hiss of shard pistols downstairs, the thump of armored fists hitting armored bodies, the snarled curses in Xeran and Galactic Standard.
Her opponent’s polarized faceplate turned gray, went transparent.
And revealed Ivar Terje’s face smirking into her own. “Hello, baby. Miss me?”
Dona stared at him for one suspended instant of disbelief. Which quickly morphed into howling rage. “You botfucking traitor!” She rammed her left fist into his throat, aiming for the larynx, meaning to crush it right through his armor. It would have been a killing blow, especially propelled by genetically engineered strength amplified even more by her nano-implants.
She had the pleasure of hearing him gag. His hand lost its vicious grip on her gun hand, and she wrenched free, rolling on top of him. And promptly slammed the pistol into his faceplate so hard it cracked. “You almost killed me, you son of a bitch,” Dona snarled. “You ruined my life, my reputation!” She rammed the gun into his faceplate again, sending more cracks radiating across the reinforced plastium. “They thought I was a traitor because of you!” Her third blow had every last erg of her cyborg strength behind it.
His faceplate shattered, jagged fragments flying. Ivar snarled, knocking her weapon away from his face. “You’re worse than a traitor. You’re a fucking fool.”
Bracing his booted feet against her gut, he kicked her off him with brutal power. She sailed over the bed and crashed into the wash stand, pottery shattering, wood splintering around her body as she hit the floor.
Ivar rolled to his feet with astonishing grace for a man so massively built. “Every lie I told you, you believed. Love you?” He laughed, a hoarse, ugly bark. “Why in the fuck would I love you?”
Short horns glinted on his forehead among red hair cropped short and tight against his skull. A priest’s horns.
He’s a Xeran priest now? Dona thought in sickened horror as she rose from the wreckage of the wash stand. Her back ached in protest as she sank into a combat crouch and drew a knife from her boot. The blade chimed, the sound low and menacing.
The techs of Temporal Enforcement had improved the quantum axes they’d invented six months ago. The new weapons were smaller, lighter, but just as capable of cutting through temporal armor.
A deep voice roared from somewhere downstairs in a familiar male bellow. Something crashed. For a split second, Dona felt comforted.
Chief Alerio Dyami was in the fight.
Dona’s quantum dagger hummed a higher note as she circled with Ivar, their boots crunching through broken crockery.
She studied her foe with grim attention. Blood flowed sluggishly from a cut under Ivar’s eye as he glared at her from the ruins of his helmet.
“You still fucking Dyami?” Misinterpreting her shocked expression for surprise, he sneered. “Did you think I didn’t know you were betraying me with that sanctimonious Warlord prick?” He lunged, crossing the distance between them in a blur of battleborg speed, an enormous fist flying at her face. “I always knew what a whore you are!”
Dona jerked aside, avoiding the blow by millimeters, and slashed the blade at his belly. He knocked her arm aside before the blade could rip into his guts. She danced back and spat, “I never betrayed you, Ivar. You were the one who betrayed everything you ever claimed to believe in. Me. Chief Dyami. Your Enforcer’s oath.”
“My oath?” Nobody but an idiot would buy that beefershit." He curled a lip. “Unlike you, I’m not that stupid.”
He’s so busy sneering, he’s forgetting to keep his guard up. Dona’s eyes narrowed, focusing on the left hand he’d dropped.
Ivar was a hell of a lot stronger than Dona – easily a foot taller and twenty kilos heavier.
But Dona was faster.
She struck in a blur, driving the quantum dagger at her foe’s massive chest.
He hit her wrist so fast, she didn’t even see the blow. Her arm went numb to the elbow, and the blade cartwheeled from her hand. Ivar twisted, slamming a backhanded punch into the side of her face. The blow knocked her off her feet, sending her skidding into a corner.
He was on her before she could scramble away. Dona threw up one arm in a block and counterpunched, trying to force him back so she could make it to her feet. He only snarled and began to pound at her, driving punch after punch, sending her reeling against the wall. Starburst of pain thundered through her skull, but she kept fighting, throwing punches and kicks into his big body. He didn’t even react to the blows at all, as though he didn’t even feel them.
Then his fist arched into her face, and her skull seemed to detonate.
The next thing she knew, she was flat on her back with no memory of how she’d gotten there. Ivar loomed over her, a savage grin on his face.
Frantic, desperate, Dona drove kicks against his armored ribs. He snarled into her face, his eyes glittering with a rage that was not quite sane.
He’s going to kill me, she thought through the spinning confusion of her battered brain.
Warning! Her comp blared. You have sustained a severe concussion. You cannot continue to take blows to the head without severe brain injury.
She could only snarl.
Ivar shot to his feet, hauling Dona upright with a hand clamped around her throat. He rammed her into the wall, sending plaster raining around her shoulders. Dona cried out as pain bust through her abused back. Blood ran hot down her chin as she watched him draw back his fist for a blow that would likely shatter her skull.
Gods curse him, I am not going to let this bastard butcher me. I will fight him to my last breath.
Drawing on the last of her strength, she drove a fist toward Ivar’s hated smirk. He swatted her fist aside. “Is that the best you can do, you little cunt?” He laughed, eyes glittering hot. “Then I guess you’ll die.”
And he cocked his fist for that final blow.
Then Ivar simply…disappeared.
Deprived of his support, Dona felt her knees give way, dumping her into a heap on the floor. Dazed, barely conscious, she lifted her aching head to look around.
And saw Alerio Dyami’s broad, powerful back, arms swinging in pistoning punches as he drove Ivar against the wall.
Safe, she thought in dazed relief. I’m safe. Alerio won’t let him kill me.
Darkness rolled over her in a black flood, and her head thumped to the floor.
“You’re a dead man,” Alerio snarled through set teeth as she stalked Ivar Terje around the scene of his latest crime.
A nude woman lay bound to the bed, blood smearing her body from multiple stab wounds. Even worse, Alerio’s sensors told him Ivar’s sperm slicked the poor woman’s thighs.
But even as that crime filled him with a cold, righteous fury, what really made him burn was the sight of Dona Astryr lying in a bloody heap.
If Alerio hadn’t been forced to fight his way through all those Xeran priests downstairs, he could have spared Dona the beating she’d just suffered.
Instead he’d found her backed into a corner, bruised and bloody. Beaten by the man who’d once called himself her lover.
Knowing he faced a fight, Alerio had gone to riaat on his way up the stairs. His computer implant had pumped biochemical into his bloodstream, throwing him into the berserker state that increased his considerable strength by a factor of ten.
More than enough to pound a traitor who richly deserved it.
“You’re not fighting a woman now,” Alerio growled, as his enemy scrambled away from his advance.
One of Terje’s eyes was already swollen closed from the impact of Alerio’s fists. “You’re such a fucking hero, aren’t you?” His bloody lip curled in a sneer. “But you didn’t save the bitch on the bed, did you? Or the ones downstairs, including the kid. We butchered them all, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it. You can’t change history. No matter what you do, no matter when you Jump, they’ll die because we killed them. You failed, Chief.” He laughed. “Some hero. Some Enforcer.”
For a moment, rage choked Alerio, but he dragged that violent emotion under control. Ivar wanted him to lose control, get sloppy. Make mistakes.
“You’re right,” Alerio said in a low, deadly voice. “I failed to save the fourteen people you raped and murdered.”
Ivar’s gaze flickered.
Alerio whipped into a spinning kick. Ivar ducked, tried to block, but neither effort was enough to keep the Chief’s boot from slamming into his jaw.
Ivar crashed into the wall behind him and almost went down. Alerio, still balanced on one leg, reversed the kick and snapped the toe of his boot into Ivar’s jaw.
The battleborg staggered, crashed into the wall with one shoulder, then managed to keep his feet.
Alerio, both feet now planted, punched him squarely in the face in a left right combination that rocked Ivar’s head on his shoulders.
“I’m going to make you pay for every stab wound, every punch, every kick.” Alerio bared his teeth. “I’m going to pound you into a red smear. And you’ll never rape another woman again.”
Ivar staggered, then braced himself, glaring into Alerio’s face. “It’s not going to be that easy.”
The punch came out of nowhere, a blur of knuckles and bone. Ivar’s fist hit him squarely in the mouth, rocking his head hard. Ivar bulled past him, almost knocking him on his ass.
Shit, Alerio thought. He’s a hell of a lot stronger than he used to be. He’s upgraded his tech. Shaking off the moment’s disorientation, Alerio went after Ivar.
The battleborg retreated, his lip curling. “You talk big, Chief,” Terje snarled. “But we’ve got T-suits. That makes the whole fucking time stream our playground. We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will. Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s…justice. You. Your little whore Dona. Those abominations, Nick Wyatt, his Warfem bitch Rianne, and Jessica and Galar Arvid. All of them.” His one eye narrowed. “And most of all, we want the T’Lir. So be a hero, Chief. Or watch me kill.”
Alerio bellowed and lunged toward Ivar, but he was too late. A deafening sonic boom and a blinding flash of light staggered him. When he could see again, Ivar was gone. He’d Jumped.
Alerio swore viciously, then spun and headed for Dona. He dropped to his knees by her side as boom after boom sounded from downstairs. The priests following Ivar’s lead, Jumping for home.
Her face was battered, both eyes blackened, her pretty lips cut and swollen. Bruises distorted the clean lines of her chiseled cheekbones and delicate jaw.
Com Dr. Chogan, Alerio told his comp.
The doctor responded a heartbeat later. “What is it, Chief? I’ve got my hands full with Rianne. She took a gut wound.”
“Enforcer Astryr got the worst of it in a fight with Ivar Terje,” Alerio told her shortly. “She has a pretty serious concussion.”
“Okay. Let me get Rianne into a regen tube, and I’ll head up there.”
Dona moaned, a breathy sound of pain that made Alerio’s chest clench. It was more than the ache he’d normally feel over an injured agent.
“Terje,” she gasped. “He’s…here!”
“I took care of him,” Alerio told her roughly. “Send him Jumping back to the Crystal Fortress with the rest of the fucking priests.”
"The woman….” Dona lifted a wavering hand, gesturing weakly toward the bed and its bloody contents. “She was aive when I…came in. Is she…?”
"The woman….” Dona lifted a wavering hand, gesturing weakly toward the bed and its bloody contents. “She was aive when I…came in. Is she…?”
Alerio cursed himself silently. It had not even occurred to him that Harden could have survived those wounds. He ordered his comp to scan the woman.
No life signs, the implant reported. Based on the cellular decay she has been dead too long for successful revival.
Alerio’s shoulders slumped. “She’s gone, Dona.”
“Dammit.” A tear slipped down her bruised cheek. “I was hoping I could save her. But Ivar… He wouldn’t let me Jump her out.” Her scraped lower lip trembled. “They all died, didn’t they? Ivar and the priests killed every tourist here.”
“Yeah,” Alerio said roughly. “But they’re going to pay for it, Dona.” He picked up her chilly hand, wrapping his fingers around it. “I’m going to make the bastard’s pay.”
She gave him an unsteady smile. “I know. You always get justice for the…victims.” Her voice weakened, and her bruised eyes closed.
“Dona!” Alerrio ordered his comp to scan her with his full array of biological sensors. If she was too badly injured, he’d just pick her up and Jump with her to the Outpost Infirmary. But if her injuries weren’t that severe, it would be better to wait for Dr. Chogan and one of her field regeneration units.
She has a concussion, the comp reported, and there is swelling that must be addressed before it becomes serious. Fortunately, her computer implant is compensating. But her other injuries are minor. She would be best served if you don’t move her and let Dr. Chogan treat her here.
Alerio grunted, studying the young agent as she lay in the wreckage of the wash stand. She was tall and lean in her dark blue Temporal Enforcement armor. Like most enforcers, she was cybernetically enhanced. A network of biocrystals grew throughout her brain like a second nervous system. The computer implant that fed her brain sensor information and data, and gave her control of most bodily functions. A lacy sensor net lay beneath her skin – more biocrystal implants designed to detect everything from DNA to tachyon streams.
But those weren’t the only implants. More biocrystal was embedded in her bones and muscles, reinforcing them and making her ten times stronger than a normal human woman her size and build.
Yet even with her upgrade, she was no match for a battleborg like Ivar Terje. His implants consisted of thicker fibers that exerted three times the force Dona’s did.
“Make way,” Dr. Sakari Chogan said. She looked pale beneath the untidy topknot of her iridescent green hair, dressed in bright red medical armor as she horsed a regen tube through the doorway. Alerio rose to help the doctor guide the tube over Dona’s unconscious form until it could scoop her inside.
Once Dona was safely enclosed, Chogan ran a series of scans, watching the results appear in glowing green three-dimensional schematics of the human body.
“He banged her brain around pretty good,” Chogan grunted. I never liked that bastard.” She shot Alerio a look from the corner of one vivid green eye. “There was just something so fucking mean about him. He hurt people and liked it. Including Dona, lover or not.”
Pink mist flooded the tube and began healing her injuries.
Chogan sighed. “At least now we know what lies under that slick surface.”
“Yes – a traitor,” Alerio growled. “And he and his false god are going down for what happened here today.”
Alerio watched as Chogan, Lolai Harden’s body tube, and the regenerator containing Dona made the Jump back to the Outpost. Then he turned and headed back downstairs to check on the other members of his team.
They started Jumping from the house's great room in teams of two, accompanied by body tubes loaded with corpses.
Alerio kept watch as was his habit, covering his team's retreat. As much as he could, anyway, having gone half-blind and deaf from the temporal flares and their accompanying sonic booms. Luckily the suits' dampening field kept anyone more than ten meters away from feeling the effects. No temporal natives would wonder why there was a thunderstorm inside the house next door.
By the time it was his turn to Jump, Alerio’s ears were ringing as his comp started reciting the familiar string of coordinates back to the Outpost.
Coordinates confirmed. Engage temporal warp, he told it.
Engaging temporal warp in three...two...one.
It felt like being hit by lightning. His mind blinked out…
…And… he was back again.
Temporal warp to the Outpost successful, his comp announced.
Alerio made no answer, half-blind, stomach knotting in violent rebellion, his muscles jerking from the temporal warp. Bracing his knees, he stayed upright by will alone until his comp could compensate. My team?
All members of the investigation team present and accounted for.
Alerio breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whatever Vardonese goddess happened to be listening.
He'd lost a Jumper once. Riane Arvid's sabotaged T-suit had bounced her back and forth across Terran temporal space before finally dumping her in the twentieth century. Her suit was dead as a stone by then, unable to Jump at all. Unfortunately, a team of Xeran assassins appeared minutes later. She’d have died then and there if not for a timely rescue by Nick Wyatt, half-breed Xeran and superhuman guardian of an alien race called the Sela.
Nick and Riane had returned to the Outpost desperately in love.
Still, almost losing an Enforcer was an experience Alerio had no desire to repeat. Especially considering Ivar's threats.
We can screw and kill every tourist who falls into our hands. And we will. Unless you turn yourself in to the Victor’s…justice.
Like hell, ‘botfucker.
Blinking the spots from his eyes, Alerio glanced around the cavernous room that was Mission Staging. Heavily shielded for Jump traffic, it was lined with evidence and equipment lockers as well as regeneration tubes for treating the injured. Most temporal missions began and ended here, especially those featuring a large Jump team.
He ached to head for the Infirmary and check on Dona, but he managed to control the impulse. If they managed to bring any of those bastards to justice, he was damned if any of them would get off because one of his agents had broken the chain of evidence.
“All right, let's get the physical evidence stowed,” Alerio said in a command bark that had every Enforcer jumping. Apparently inured to his growls, Chogan’s medical techs strode out, accompanied by a pitiful parade of body tubes. He ignored them as he rapped out instructions. “The evidence bots are to be logged in and their contents transferred into evi-stasis. And make damned sure they're all our 'bots. Last thing we need is to give the Xerans another opportunity to sabotage our central computer."
Within minutes, the Enforcers were scanning and decanting each ‘bot. After sealing the biological evidence in stasis tubes to prevent further decomposition, they logged everything in with the Outpost's main computer. That done, the agents slid the tubes into wall slots that shot them into the Outpost’s evidence safe. If the Enforcers—or the Galactic Union’s Temporal Court—decided they needed any of the evidence later, it would be instantly available.
The procedure was one his people had done hundreds of times before. They didn't need Alerio hovering over them like a Soji Dragon with one egg. Especially since he was only putting off a job even more onerous than the one they were doing.
Somehow he was going to have to persuade Colonel Genoa Ceres to order a moratorium on temporal tourist visas. At least until Ivar was captured--or Alerio twisted the traitor’s head off his shoulders.
That action would not be legal under Galactic Union law, his comp informed him primly.
I do not give a stinking pile of Soji shit. Especially if he even thinks about going after my team.
Particularly Dona, who'd become Alerio's obsession over the past two years. As Ivar damned well knew. The battleborg had been violently jealous of her even when he was still pretending to be a loyal Enforcer.
It had driven Alerio into a frigid fury, watching Ivar watch Dona's every move while shooting little verbal barbs her way. There’d been times Alerio had ached to kick his subordinate's ass from one end of the Outpost to the other.
Unfortunately, being Ivar's commanding officer made that impulse impossible to carry out. Especially since Dona never reported her lover for his conduct. Alerio wasn't sure whether she just didn't notice--which strained belief, Dona being pretty damned observant--or whether she just had a very thick skin.
Even though it looked so incredibly soft...