The 6th of May

July 11, 2017 - Short Story

The Sixth of May


Kelly D. Tolman

Diera felt the impact an instant before she heard the shot. Though she did not immediately understand the significance of the sound, the fiery pain in her arm told her all she needed to know. Without thinking she sprang into the shadows of the towering pines. After two quick steps she hit a full sprint, trying for the cover of deeper woods.

The sloping ground made running difficult, and after the initial rush she tired quickly. Pain and exhaustion raced through her. She felt ill, and gulped air. An electric shock suddenly bit into her lower arm. She tore away the holographic control panel. The image covering her flickered until the entire illusion of fur and four legs melted away to reveal a sleek, comfortable gray jumpsuit. Diera slumped against a tree and checked the wound. The bullet had passed through her left bicep, leaving a clean but painful hole and destroying most of the built-in controls in that part of her suit. With so much blood lost, she might not have the strength to reach the barrier before it closed again.

Behind her something moved. On reflex she turned to see, but nothing was visible through the dense vegetation. Quickly she emptied her pockets with her right hand, hoping she had remembered to bring something useful. She turned up a couple of breath mints and a pocket knife. Her canteen was half full, but a stream rolled by less than a quarter mile away.

“You’re too careless,” said a gruff, but familiar voice from the shadows of the trees.

“Come on out Tom,” she called. “I already know how stupid I’ve been. You don’t need to remind me. I need help getting back. I’ve been wounded.”

“I see that.” Tomor stepped silently from behind the trees. He was a good eight inches taller than Diera, though she wasn’t considered short. Though he carried a stout backpack, he moved like a cat. He kept his black hair, even longer than hers, in a single braid down his back. As he looked at her, she knew he also was taking in the rest of their surroundings. Tomor was a man experienced in the world, but he seemed too sure of himself for Diera’s liking.

“They attacked without warning,” she said. Her face had begun to whiten from the strain and loss of blood. She could feel herself shivering though the sun had just passed noon. “I’m cold.”

“You’re going into shock now. Tell me if you start to feel nauseous. The locals hunt wild game at this time of year. You chose a poor disguise.” Though he spoke the truth, she resented his words. He had no right to tell her what to do. Tomor worked quickly and efficiently on the wound. From his pack he supplied antibiotic ointment which also numbed the pain, as well as bandages. “You’ll need more repair when we get back, but I can stop the bleeding for the moment. Hold still.”

“I see you came prepared for trouble,” she said. His fingers looked too large to handle the gauze as gently as he did. Before she really noticed he had already cleaned and bound the wound.

“Trouble is never far from any of us,” he replied. “Drink some water, and take these.” He pressed a couple of pills into her hand. “The wound is clean. The bullet didn’t hit the bone. You’ll have a scar, but eventually you should be fine.”

“Did you bring a radio?” she asked.

“The battery is dead. I already tried it when I heard the shot. I don’t think the protective casing is reliable. A lot of the electronics are having trouble since the move. The temporal distortion seems to have electromagnetic side-effects we didn’t anticipate.”

Tomor stood up and looked around. Her blood trail came up from the south. He didn’t have to look far to see it. She hadn’t done anything to cover her trail. A rumble of thunder, very quiet and distant pushed through the trees. Though the only clouds were still several miles to the west, the wind would quickly drive the moisture east.

“We haven’t much time,” he said.

“The colony won’t leave without us,” replied Diera. The medicine he had given her was working fast. Already she felt the edge of the pain slip away. “We aren’t scheduled to leave until tomorrow night anyway.”

“The rain will be here before nightfall. If we can make it back before dark you will be much more comfortable,” he said.

“I’m perfectly comfortable in the woods, rain or shine,” she replied.

“Nobody is perfectly comfortable in the woods.” Tomor laughed, but only a little. “Even my people build shelters. They will have found your trail by now. We have to move or they will find us.”

He held out his hand and helped her to her feet. She breathed deeply, stifling the pain that shot through her shoulder and arm. “If they are hunting game, the locals shouldn’t be hostile. I don’t think we need to worry too much if they find us.”

“You know the regulation regarding contact with any local population as well as I do,” he replied.

“I’m sure Soros would understand, Tom. This is a matter of life and death,” she said.

“Not yet it isn’t, but if we don’t find shelter or make it home soon it will be. Besides, there are other hunters out here besides the locals.”

“That’s crazy. There’s no way Dalbor could have found us so soon. We left no trace in Siberia, and there was zero local contact.” She felt angry, but also just a little concerned that he might be right.

“There is no such thing as zero contact. Everything we do could be traced, though it would take time and resources. Time can be masked, as you well know. It may have taken Dalbor years to find out our location, but to us it would seem like only days or even minutes.”

They fell silent as he guided her north and east. The ground continued to rise, and Diera’s breathing became labored. Though their time in the Urals had trimmed her body into excellent shape, the wound and chase had sapped her strength beyond expectation.

Tomor moved confidently and quietly. Diera knew from her father that the big man had been only a little boy when he joined. No other outsider had ever joined the colony. At home she seldom spoke with Tomor. He was generally a quiet man, and though he often attended the group meetings and seemed to understand even the most complex of their studies, he rarely said anything beyond an abrupt “yes” or “no.”

“Dad says in a few months we may be able to retire the colony.” Diera spoke more to break the silence than to interact.

“I think that is optimistic,” replied Tomor.

“Why are you always so negative?” she grumbled. “All of the experiments are going so well. The last tests showed a complete cure with no serious side effects. Besides we can’t keep dodging Dalbor.”

“When the time comes to deal with Dalbor we will handle him.” His tone carried an iciness she had never noticed before.

“We don’t have any weapons,” she said. “Besides, nobody wants violence.”

Tomor merely shrugged at her suggestion. “Just as a man always has trouble he also always has a weapon, even if it is only his mind.”

You’re a philosopher,” she laughed a little, trying to lighten the mood. “Were all of your people so philosophical?”

Now Tomor laughed, but grimly. “My people were warriors and hunters. Our songs told of courage and death. Our shamans made magic for war, and we spilled the blood of our enemies.”

Sounds barbaric,” she said.

So it was,” he replied. “My father was a great king. His enemies fled before his spear and sent gifts to appease his anger. My mother offered me to the god of war before I could walk.”

Then why did you join the colony? We aren’t fighting any battles.”

I also learned from my father that there are glories and mysteries that cannot be discovered with a spear. My people believed that your father was sent from the gods, and I followed so that I might learn from him. Besides, the colony appeared in the middle of our village during the spring festival. We had no choice but to deal with you, and we couldn’t fight your technology. My people are extinct by now.”

Dad didn’t tell me much about what happened,” Diera admitted. “I wasn’t born yet.”

You were born a few days later, the sixth of May,” said Tomor.

I didn’t know you knew my birthday,” Diera smiled in spite of herself.

The colony set up in Siberia, supposedly in a place uninhabited by people to minimize the risk of contact. The time-porter can only control temporal travel, so they picked a remote place that looked like it had never been inhabited. Unfortunately it once was inhabited. They made immediate contact.”

The colony didn’t have much choice then?” said Diera.

Neither did my people. They sent me so that the village could survive.”

Tomor stopped suddenly. Diera mimicked him and froze. He sniffed the air and motioned for her to get down. She squatted slowly as he looked through the trees for something she could not see.

“Wood smoke, probably locals camping for recreation,” he whispered.

“There are no campgrounds here, and they weren’t here when I came through this morning,” she replied.

“Let’s hope you’re wrong, then.” He smiled, though she couldn’t tell why. “I’m going to take a look.”

Diera stood up and followed him, ignoring his sigh of protest. She didn’t go hiking in the woods only to miss out on the sights the world had to offer.

After another fifty yards Tomor stopped again. He pointed through the trees to a flicker of fire and smoke. Two figures huddled around the fire and spoke in muffled voices. The first misty drizzle of rain began to fall. Tomor pulled Diera behind a tree and dug into his pack for a pair of light rain coats.

“You seem to have everything in that pack,” said Diera. “I guess I’m lucky you were wandering around out here.”

Tomor raised a skeptical eyebrow. “You know it was no accident.”

“I should have guessed dad would send you along,” she replied.

“I don’t think he knows you’re gone,” said Tomor. “You’ve gotten better at disappearing.”

“What business is it of yours if I like to hike sometimes? They don’t let me do anything with the experiments, and I’ve already finished my studies.” The resentment in her voice was clear, though she sounded very tired. She grimaced against the pain in her arm, and slumped against the tree.

“You’ll pass out before we reach the colony. We’ll have to chance it out here,” said Tomor. He handed her another couple of pills. “These will help.”

“Did you bring anything to eat? I hadn’t planned on being out this long.” The rain had turned to a steady drizzle. Diera pulled her coat over her bangs to keep the rain from running into her face.

Tomor helped her to her feet and handed her a strip of dried meat. “We’ll circle around to the west, towards the stream and find a place to wait out the storm. If they are locals they won’t be wandering around in this weather, and hopefully Dalbor’s men won’t be experienced enough to want to try it.”

After only a few steps, Diera began to lean against the large man as her legs slowly lost their strength. Though the rain kept her upper body dry, the jumpsuit was not designed for rain, and the legs absorbed water easily that then ran into her boots.

They found a pair of trees near a large fallen log and Tomor quickly began to assemble a shelter using a long, curved knife that Diera had not noticed before. The blade was too yellow to be steel, but it cut easily through the bark. By weaving branches over the lowest limbs he was able to build a roof to keep out of the rain, and the fallen log served nicely as a reflector for their fire. He found plenty of pine needles and dry vegetation beneath the trees to use for tinder, though he needed to work quickly before the rain began in earnest.

The fire popped and hissed angrily both from the rain that made it through their tiny shelter and from the pitch in the wood. “It isn’t much, but it should see us through the night,” he said. Diera lay close to the fire beneath her rain coat. She shivered, and Tomor felt her forehead. He was not surprised to feel a fever or to see how pale her face had become. He used a broad leaf to heat some water and make a thin soup from dried meat, which he carefully fed to Diera before they both fell asleep to the steady patter of rain falling.

They both slept fitfully for a few hours. Just after midnight the rain stopped. The unexpected silence woke Tomor, and he built up the fire again. He checked his watch and changed Diera’s bandages. He burned the old ones, careful to leave as little trace of their presence as possible. He made a little more soup, and ate it quietly as he considered their situation.

“They’re going to abort the colony,” said Diera. Tomor hadn’t noticed her wake, but welcomed the company. She didn’t usually sound so pessimistic. “I heard dad talking after the last meeting. It’s become too dangerous. Dalbor has the key to time travel now. Even if we find the cure, he can continuously try to trace back to that moment and steal it before we return. He’s won already.”

“I suppose that depends on the war you’re fighting, and how far you’re willing to take it,” answered Tomor. “I don’t know much about Blascorp, or the importance of finding the cure you’ve been looking for. I do know that people have been living and dying for long before the colony started, and despite our best efforts they will go on dying afterwards. Frank Dalbor wants our research for money, and so does Blascorp.”

“Frank Dalbor is a thief, and probably worse. Dad says he was involved in a lot of suspicious activities, possibly even murder to get where he is. He wouldn’t stop at killing any of us.” Her passion brought some color to her face. Tomor smiled to see her show signs of energy, though he knew it would exhaust her.

“Killing doesn’t have the same meaning to everyone else as it does to you. My people would consider Dalbor a great warrior, and an even greater leader for bringing such a cure to them. The fact that he destroyed his enemies in the process would only add to his greatness.” He kept his voice even and calm as he spoke. With the rain stopped, he listened to the sounds of the forest as he talked.

“You wouldn’t understand anyway. I don’t know why we brought you along. The directives were very clear about local interactions. Blascorp won’t be responsible for you when we go back,” said Diera.

“You are right. I will be on my own again.” He paused. If her remark had stuck him his voice didn’t show it. “They were also very clear about having children. Your parents broke more than one rule. You are no more a part of Blascorp than I am.” Diera looked at his face as he spoke though he averted his eyes. “The colony had no idea my people even existed, probably because they accidentally obliterated us. I’ve learned your language and read and learned as much from the materials your parents brought for your education as you have.”

“You know more than I do,” agreed Diera, surprising Tomor a little. “I spend too much time daydreaming. You understand their research. They even let you help. I’m not much use to anyone there. I want to go back and meet other people. I’m not cut out for the colony.”

He brushed the hair from her eyes and she didn’t resist. “We are what we make ourselves in this world. My people fought their wars with spears. Your father fights his with research.”

“How will you fight yours?” There was a hint of a smile in Diera’s voice.

“I have no enemies,” he replied.

“Nothing to fight for?” Her eyes mocked him a little.

“I have you.”

Diera fell silent and stared into the fire.

Tomor caught a sound on the breeze and raised a finger to his lips. He strained and in the distance heard the muffled sound of a voice. “Lie still,” he whispered. “We’re well hidden. They shouldn’t see you if you don’t move.”

Tomor eased out of the shelter and moved quietly away from their little camp, circling to the right of where he heard the sound. He moved slowly, listening for any hint of sound. In the darkness he could pass within a few feet of another person and never know it. The fire was small and sheltered, so there was a good chance it would not be noticed.

To his left a twig snapped. Whoever it was lacked experience. The unseen person stepped again, crushing leaves beneath thick boots. Tomor slipped like a shadow behind the person. A small LCD screen blinked on, revealing a man’s face as he looked at his watch. He wore a jumpsuit similar to Diera’s, though it was green rather than gray. Tomor slipped his knife from its sheath and stepped behind the man. In one swift motion Tomor brought the metal pommel down on the man’s head with his right hand and caught the bulk of his weight as he fell with the left side of his body.

Tomor slipped the knife back into the sheath and carefully lowered the man to the ground. He removed the man’s watch, and turned out his pockets. A radio attached to an earpiece, a multi-tool including a knife, a gun he didn’t recognize, and a packet of survival food. Tomor pocketed the items, and checked the man’s pulse. He was breathing and had a regular pulse.

Tomor used the wire to quickly bind the man’s hands together, and slipped the laces out of his boots to tie up his feet. Without a reasonable gag, he would have to trust to luck that the man would continue to sleep for at least a few more minutes.

He continued the circle back towards the camp they had discovered earlier, following the easiest path he could find through the trees. He guessed that these men had no real experience in the wild, and would have chosen the simplest route. His guess proved successful. A second shape appeared noisily in the night only a few yards from their tent.

Alex, are you out there?” called another man. “This is stupid. We won’t find anything in the dark. Come on back.” Tomor waited a moment while the man warmed his hands near the fire. By looking into the flames his eyes would take a second to adjust when he looked away and Tomor would have time to move. “If you broke your leg out there, I’m not coming after you. I told you it was stupid in the first place.”

Tomor slipped easily into the camp, his knife out quickly. Two steps and though the man turned he couldn’t see clearly. The pommel caught the man under the jaw, and he collapsed in a heap next to the fire.

It took only a few seconds to turn out the man’s pockets and tie him up like he had the other one. He threw a few logs onto their fire and went to check on Diera. She was sleeping comfortably, and he hesitated to wake her.

I found a better place to sleep,” he said as she opened her eyes.

She felt stiff and sore, and her arm throbbed, but she managed to get to her feet and follow him back to the tent. “What happened,” she asked.

Dalbor’s men, I assume,” he replied. “They were looking for something, probably us. They have cots in the tent. It looks like just two. You get some rest.”

He retrieved the other man, and laid them together at the edge of the fire. He let them sleep though he knew they would wake soon enough from exposure to the damp ground and the chill night air. The less comfortable they were they better, he decided.

After Diera went back to sleep he tried the radio. It took half a dozen attempts before he heard a familiar voice on the other end. “Is that you Tom?”

That’s right, Will,” he replied. “Diera’s hurt, but stable. We need to get her back as soon as we can, but we can make it through the night. If I leave the radio on can you trace the signal?”

Sure thing Tom. We’ll be by bright and early.”

Tomor set the radio next to the cot and slipped into a light sleep until just before dawn. As the gray light began to filter through the trees he checked the prisoners. They huddled next to each other, trying to sleep.

What now?” asked the smaller man when Tomor took out his long knife.

This will be a bit uncomfortable, but will get worse if you struggle.” Tomor cut the man’s jumpsuit sleeves and peeled them back, exposing the fine circuitry embedded in the lining. He continued to cut away the suit to the man’s waist and then continued with his companion.

Just as he finished the operation he heard someone approaching. Tomor grabbed one of the guns and slipped into the cover of the trees at the edge of camp.

Tom, are you there,” called Will.

Tomor stepped cautiously out, his gun at the ready. “I’m here,” he called.

Where’s Diera? Everybody’s been worried about you.” Will walked into camp and quickly crossed to the tent.

She’s all right, Will. She’s sleeping,” said Tomor. “I hoped her dad could make it. She needs a doctor.”

Will hesitated a minute at the tent’s doorway, but didn’t answer. He stepped inside and Tomor followed. Diera stirred in her sleep with the rush of cool air from outside and opened her eyes.

Is that you Will?” she asked.

Yeah. We’ll get you home as soon as we can. Can you walk?”

I can manage okay. Where’s my dad?” Diera sat up and as she did pain shot through her arm.

He sent me to get you. I see you had some trouble here. What happened?” Will looked to Tomor for a response.

They came looking for us in the night. Not sure how they knew we were out there. They were pretty clumsy. I was just going to interrogate them when you showed up.” Tomor picked up the radio near the cot and turned it off. “We better get going.”

Will followed him outside. “What about them?” he asked. He gestured to the men tied up near the dying fire. “We can’t just leave them out here.”

Sure we can.” Diera spoke from the doorway to the tent. She held the other gun on Will. “I’m sure more of your friends will be along later.”

What are you talking about? Tom, she’s delirious.” Will looked desperately from Diera to Tomor.

No, she’s right,” replied Tomor. “I should never have been able to make radio contact last night.”

And there’s no way my dad would have stayed home if he knew,” said Diera.

You haven’t got a chance.” Will dropped the disguise. His voice changed to a much lower tone, and the face melted away to reveal a shorter man with a couple days stubble on his face. “Even if you kill me the others find you. The colony is gone. We found it yesterday, but they ported out before we could stop them.”

In that case, it’s just us and you,” said Tomor. His voice held an icy edge that caused the other man to take a half-step back. “Where’s your porter?”

I’m not telling you that.”

You don’t have to,” said Diera. She fired the weapon and the man collapsed to the ground.

You know how much harder you just made it for us, don’t you?” said Tomor, but his face beamed a broad smile.

I’m willing to fight for what I want too.” She smiled at him in the morning. She never realized how strong he was. “I’m sure you can backtrack him. They can’t be far.” She seemed better recovered than he expected.

Tomor rifled through the man’s pockets. “He really did have some medicine.” He handed Diera a couple of pills. “That should help with the pain. They also have some solid food.” He turned to the men by the fire. “How far?”

They looked at each other and held their silence.

Tomor held up a radio. “I’m not going to kill you, but it will take them some time to find you. The question is how long. Talk, and I leave you with a radio.”

Just south of your base,” said the smaller man. “They found it just after dark. I don’t think they’ve moved our camp since last night.”

In a few minutes Tomor packed away the rest of the camp, adding to his already large load. What they couldn’t carry they added to the fire. As they left he flipped the radio on and hung it from the lower branches of a tree.

They’ll find the colony,” said Diera as they walked. “It may take them a few months, even years to figure it out, but when they do it will seem almost instantaneous to the colony.”

Then we better stop them altogether. How many time porters does Dalbor have?”

There was only one working porter in the world when the colony started, the one we used. They take years to produce. At least that’s what my dad told me. Dalbor would have had to manufacture one years after we left and then used some information supplied at the end of the experiment to track us in hopes of altering the timeline later.”

“So we need to find him and stop him from ever starting,” suggested Tomor.

“That won’t be possible, and you know it,” said Diera.

“Then we stop him here. If this group doesn’t return Dalbor will be dead or long retired before he can build a new machine to track us,” said Tomor.

They approached the camp just after noon. A small cluster of tents stood near a couple of fires. Two women and three men lazed around, apparently waiting. They dressed in camouflage hunting attire, but there were no rifles or horses, and the tent fabric matched that of the men they had captured.

Diera pointed to the largest tent. Tomor nodded. They edged back behind the trees.

“It takes a few minutes to activate, and we both need to be present when it triggers,” said Tomor.

“We won’t have that kind of time if it makes as much noise as our time porter.” Diera sighed and winced as she moved her arm.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t.” He winked and started circling around the camp to reach the tent. Behind him he noticed that Diera moved more quietly than she had when he first found her, and he smiled. They waited a few minutes just out of sight where they could see and hear the tent to make sure nobody was inside. They waited patiently, a little uncertain until a radio blared out. All eyes turned to the man who answered, and Tomor nudged Diera and they made a quick dash to the tent.

Diera found the control panel to the porter and worked her way through the screen. Whoever built it had designed it almost exactly after the model the colony used, except it was slightly smaller. The cab had twelve seats with one primary control console, and filled nearly the entire tent.

“Get in,” she ordered. “The security program was never upgraded. It uses the exact same protocol as our system. Better have your weapon ready, this is going to be loud.” She took her seat and activated the porter.

The porter began to rumble as the massive energy required activated. Neither of them could hear the shouts over the dull roar. By the time the tent flap parted, masses of energy had already begun to lick at the machine and surrounding tent. The woman who reached them first leapt back as a sudden burst of light engulfed the tent and they vanished.

Diera unbuckled the safety strap. “You know we’ll never be able to track Dalbor,” she said.

“I know, but hopefully he doesn’t have another one of these anywhere.” Tomor helped her from her seat and looked out into a pristine forest through the charred remains of the tent. “When is it?”

“May sixth, about four thousand years ago.”

“No going home then?” Tomor sounded hopeful.

“You wanted me. Now you’re stuck with me.” Diera winked.


› tags: Science Fiction / Short Story /

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