The turbines cut out with piteous whine, sending the transport into a gut twisting dive until Barth gave the exposed engine block a solid kick. The propellers whirred to life like startled birds, quickly righting the bulk of their air borne vehicle to proper traveling mode. Merrick Tambly pried his death grip off the sides of his seat, relaxing his clenched jaw as their pilot, Barth, turned around with a sheepish grin.
"Hate it when that happens. Sorry, gang, hit a spot of temporal interference over Capetown. Must be stuck in the dark ages today. Should be smooth sailing past the tip of Africa to our destination."
Tambly glared at him through the transparent face shield of his suit. "This is ridiculous, couldn't the Agency do better than this death trap?"
"Are you referring to the ship or the biological pilot?" inquired his traveling companion and partner. She continued to leaf through the pages of a carefully preserved paperback, utterly unruffled by the transports kick start antics.
"A bot in a Bullet is more reliable," muttered Tambly, cringing at another jostle of turbulence.
"You know the air lock control is right next to me man," Barth shot back.
"Either way, we'd be there by now," Tambly grumbled, shifting his bulk in the undersized seat. Even his suit felt too small, far too tight over his biceps.
"Both bot and Bullet would plunge to the Earth the moment you hit a dark spot." his partner intoned, not looking up from her novel. "And if you stopped gulping those enhancers like a maniac, you wouldn't out grow your suit every few weeks."
He cast a speculative eye at his diminutive partner. Belle Sykes was petite. Standing she barely reached his shoulder, but the woman was all lean muscles. "You must take them," he accused.
Sykes deigned to raise her eyes off the page, one eyebrow in a perfect arch. "I aim to be fit for our mutual employer, not some ill proportioned behemoth."
Tambly treated her to a smirk, and gave a flex that made the weave of his suit creak in protest. He nodded to her prized paperback. "Haven't you read that already? Swore I saw you flipping through it when we hit Boston Harbor to sort out those stray marathoners."
She chuckled at the reminder. "They were rather surprised by the locale weren't they?" She stroked the creased spine. "I got this signed last time England flickered to the 20th century. He looked rather puzzled, not sure he'd written it yet."
"Surprised Rossofern didn't gripe about the temporal inference."
"It was worth the write up," Sykes winked at him. "Besides, I got your brilliant company out of it."
"Ouch, heck of a burn there, kitten," Tambly pouted.
"Call me kitten again and I will set you on fire."
"Guys, we are approaching coordinates," Barth jumped in, covering his chuckle with a cough.
Sykes rolled her eyes at both of them and looked out into the icy black waters of the 60th parallel. Endless dark ocean spread out below them, static against the long night. Even after the bombs, this part of the world remained unchanged. There was supposed to be nothing to change. It was why Tambly and Sykes were sent to this watery void.
"Those reports were bollox," said Tambly, squinting out the porthole beside her. "I don't see a scrap of rock, let alone a whole island. Rossofern's a nutter."
"No, not quite," murmured Sykes, catching sight of it on the horizon. It shimmered in her vision like a desert mirage, never fully present. It slowly took shape through the haze. Not exactly a verdant oasis in this lifeless expanse, but it was definitely a land mass.
An island that shouldn't exist.
Tambly remembered the day the bombs went off.
Technically, that day occurred roughly one hundred and twenty years prior to his birth. Not that time mattered on the surface anymore. Witnessing the event was part of the Agency training, the modern equivalent of a taser to the face for the enforcers of temporal disturbances. It was quite a shock to the system witnessing the death of billions. A simple test, no matter if they came back puking their guts out or sobbing uncontrollably in a ball on the floor. The only requirement for passing was do not interfere.
It was an effective method of drilling the mantra into their skulls. No one wanted to see a repeat of carnage on a scale that made WWII look like an international bar room brawl.
He still had nightmares about the screams and the abrupt silence. Despite his predilection for muscle enhancers, Tambly was quite serious about his chosen profession. An island appearing in the empty expanse of the 60th parallel was an anomaly. Anomalies were bad.
The isle continued to waver in his vision. He squinted at it, not trusting it to stay put as he loaded up the tool belt.
"Orders are assess, record, report." He repeated their mission for the pilot's benefit as Sykes generally ignored him. "In and out, fast as we can manage. It doesn't look terribly stable and I want to be home for steak and fries at the pub."
Sykes made a face at him. "Your fondness for old world food is disgusting."
Tambly winked at her. "Can't beat a classic."
"Hey, hoss, one other thing," said Barth, tossing a small black pouch at him. "That'll help you collect some data if your fancy gizmos fritz out on you."
Frowning, Tambly peeked into the pouch. "You're kidding right?" He sneered.
The pilot grinned. "Even has a spare set of batteries."
"Let's get this over with," said Tambly, stomping down the plank onto terra sorta firma. He tried to ignore the spongy ground beneath his boots, tamping down the thought he would sink through any second as he waited for his partner. "You coming or not, kitten?"
Sykes's fingers involuntarily curled into fists. "I swear, one day, I'll strangle him." She cast a wary eye on Barth. "You know the drill. If we aren't out in one hour, drop a marker and hightail it to head quarters."
"Not my first rodeo, Belle," Barth waved her off. "You have fun with the big guy."
She sank three inches down on impact with an audible squelch. "Hell, I've hiked through peat bog firmer than this."
Tambly spoke over her grumbling. "What does that look like to you?"
Puzzled, she scanned their surroundings. She was a breath from asking the tosser what he was yammering on about when she noticed the curve to the hazy air before them. It reached up, up, beyond her line of vision.
"A dome?" she said, approaching it as cautiously as she could while the ground sucked at her boots. The two agents came to a halt where the air went fizzy. Sykes took a swipe at the barrier, startled by the buzz in her fingertips. "Think it's solid?"
"One way to find out." Tambly strode into the haze, phasing out of sight before she could yell at him to stop.
Sykes quickly closed her mouth, shaking off her partner's idiocy. She whipped an atmospheric evaluation meter from her belt and attempted to get a read of the loamy isle beneath her feet. She groaned when the readout gave her zero point zilch. According to the expensive piece of technology in her palm, she was standing on absolutely nothing. With a sigh, she pocketed the useless hunk of alloys and plunged in after the lummox.
Nothing remained of the two enforcers but their deep footprints on the dark soil, coming to an abrupt end.
Barth stared at the space they'd occupied, an old fashioned cigarillo dangling precariously for his lower lip. "Well, that's a bitch."
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Science Fiction Multi-Feature Picture ShowScience Fiction
***Winner of Sci-Fi Smack Down X*** It's a Science Fiction Smack Down! What's that mean? Stories written to monthly prompts pertaining to different science fiction genres, hosted by the guru of Sci Fi @Ooorah. What's month one? Lost World, of...