Pivots of Time
Author: Mike Barlow

Chapter 0
Prologue What Has Come Before

Maida panted as she topped the rise, her sides aching with the effort of the continuing pursuit. She heard the sounds of struggle drawing nearer, and panic began to set in. Doubling over, breathing heavily, she knew that she couldn’t run any further. From just over the last hill, she heard the fighting cease with the crunching sound of a sword piercing ribs. She turned to face the survivor.

            Aelfwine staggered up the hill towards her, his right hand clutching the wound in his left side, and his left gripping the pommel of his blood-stained sword. He, too, was panting harshly.

            “I think….that was…the last of them,” he stuttered, “I couldn’t see any more coming.”

            “Where did Ayuldrin say he would meet us? He must have brought more men with him.”

            “It was half a league behind us – he was not there.” Aelfwine answered, “Something must have happened to them.”

            Maida wrinkled her brow in thought. “Something is wrong here. The Destroyers are tracking us as if following a scent. And the Agency keeps sending couriers, bearing news that help is coming, but no help arrives. Only more of Them….”

            Aelfwine brushed the hair out of his face and smiled as best he could. “Have faith, girl. They will come to help. They will. They must….”

            Maida had barely opened her mouth to reply before the arrow found her throat. Aelfwine leapt to his feet, and then fell under a barrage of arrows, his massive torso punctured and pierced, staining the grass around him as he breathed his last. Maida’s eyes flickered open, a bloody sob rising as she viewed her friend and protector pass on. She watched as a number of boots arrived at the scene, and cowered before the cruel men wearing them.

            “We never fail,” the leader whispered in her ear, before plunging Aelfwine’s sword into her heart.

 

***

 

As another galleon set sail from Plymouth harbour, bound for the New World with its cargo of settlers, food, and other supplies, the two stow-aways shivered in the empty cabin they had crept into. Carolina hunkered in the corner, her arms wrapped around herself for warmth. Torfinn paced the cabin, his light footsteps making no sound as he fingered his flintlock pistol, eyes roaming around, searching for danger.

            “Did…did we lose them?” Carolina asked nervously, the slight quiver in her voice giving away the terror she barely controlled.

            “Hopefully.” Torfinn muttered, “I don’t think they will have thought to follow us here, and once we’re in the New World, we can lose ourselves. They will never find us there.”

            “I think we should have stayed. The last messenger said help was near at hand.”

            “I don’t believe it,” Torfinn said roughly, “Messengers have been saying that for weeks, no help ever came. The Agency is paralyzed, they will not act, and I do not know why. Nor do I wish to wait around for them to come to their senses and help us. This plan is sound. The Destroyers do not operate in the New World.”

            The sound of gunpowder echoed in the distance. Barely had either person reacted when a cannon ball broke through the hull, by a mere chance striking Torfinn’s right knee, shattering bone. He fell, crying out in pain as water rushed in, and a boat drew alongside, men aiming muskets from the starboard side.

            “No!” Torfinn’s anguished cry echoed in the enclosed space as he fired his flintlock from the floor, the shot striking the rear-most assailant in his shoulder. The man toppled backwards into the cold waters of the Atlantic as the other attackers let fly their ammunition. Pain blinded her senses as Carolina was struck with several shots, the cold rushing water quickly numbing the pain, and numbing her mind. The Destroyers raised their weapons in victory as Carolina faded, with an echoing shout of “We never fail!” chasing her into nothingness.

***

 

John spun the wheel, the car careening close to the nearside kerb as it turned. The roar of the engine almost drowned out the sounds of aerial battle above, as yet another Luftwaffe attack was beaten back. The car sped away from Trafalgar square, bouncing the two occupants out of their seats with each imperfection in the road surface. As it neared the outskirts of London, the road surface became more agitated, while the occupants became calmer.

            “Looks like we made it.”

            Brenda, while not wishing to speak too soon, was inclined to agree. The last time they had seen the Destroyers was longer past than she would have believed possible. Now they were leaving the city – and there was no sign of the previously unrelenting pursuit. She smiled fondly at the man on her right as he drove her away, drove her towards safety. Without him, she would have been dead long ago. Without him, she would not have been able to avoid and repel the Destroyers for as long as they had.

            “What’s that?” John asked suddenly.

            Brenda stared around wildly; searching for the threat that must have caught John’s eye, yet all seemed still. She looked at him questioningly.

            “The Pivometer.” John clarified before Brenda could ask, “Your readings….they’re spiking!”

            “What does that mean?” Brenda asked nervously.

            “I don’t know. Maybe……maybe the time has come? Is this to be your Moment?”

            Brenda considered. She felt the same – she felt as she had always felt. Was this her Moment? What was the choice she faced here? Would she make the right choice? What would….

            “Oh my God…”

            Brenda turned, horror staining her face.

            A German Messerschmitt dived towards them, its forward-mounted machine guns releasing their payloads just as Brenda turned to see.

            The bullets tore through the car, ripping metal from metal with a screech of friction. The engine ignited, the flame transferring to the petrol tank with alarming swiftness. Before John or Brenda could move, the car exploded in a brilliant flash of heat and destruction.

            The funerals were held a month later. On the gravestones were carved the words, “We Never Fail.”

***

Alex sat in the darkness of an autumn evening. The keys were in the ignition of his car, but only for lack of other places to put them – the engine was not running. The fleeting moonlight glinted off the pistol lying on the dashboard, and the knife in his hand. A glance at the dashboard clock revealed the time to be 12.40 am, explaining the silence, the desertion of the sub-urban street. Turning his head, he looked across the road, at the residence of his target. The house was dark – no lights showed in any of the windows. They were sleeping, then. The time to move was soon.

            Settling back to wait, maintaining his vigil of the surrounding area, Alex felt anticipation rising inside. Soon. Soon it would not be so calm. And this time, there would be no mistakes.

 

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