An attack by time-hopping terrorists turns Mark Strang’s life upside down, and the Pittsburgh art historian discovers his calling as a bodyguard for hire. Strap yourself in for a ride through alternate timelines in this action-packed series that combines sci-fi, time travel, alien invasion, and high-tech adventure.
Patton’s Spaceship: When he learns the aliens behind the terrorists who destroyed his old life are trying to take control of timelines and subject them to totalitarian rule, Mark Strang will journey to a not-too-distant past to stop them—and get revenge. But he lands in a timeline where America lost World War II. He can help the resistance with his knowledge of future technology, but is he permanently trapped in a Nazi-controlled past?
Washington’s Dirigible: With the inhuman Closers still threatening timelines, Strang joins forces with their enemies, the ATN. He and time agent Chrysamen ja N’wook travel to an alternate colonial America to locate a missing operative and find that the colonies are on friendly terms with England and George Washington reigns as Duke of Kentucky. But he has one real enemy here—himself.
Caesar’s Bicycle: On assignment in ancient Rome, Mark Strang discovers the Closers have infiltrated the timeline and Julius Caesar is under their influence. Even as the Closers rewrite history to tip the scales in their favor, Strang is reluctant to assassinate an important government figure. But as he delays, his life—and those of his companions—hang in the balance, and they face a gruesome demise.
About the Author
John Barnes (b. 1957) is the author of more than thirty novels and numerous short stories. His most popular novels include the national bestseller Encounter with Tiber (co-written with Buzz Aldrin), Mother of Storms (finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards), Tales of the Madman Underground (winner of the Michael L. Printz Award), and One for the Morning Glory, among others. His most recent novel is The Last President (2013).
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"I get bored really easy," I explained to the kid. "Easily, I mean."
"And this isn't boring?" She was a nice kid, as kids go, sitting at the kitchen table in the little temp suite I'd gotten us as a safe house. I liked the fact that she didn't make any noise or run around much — it's a pain to have to guard something that runs and zigzags unexpectedly.
"No, this is dull, but it's not boring." Anything but; I'd been up all night while ten-year-old Porter Brunreich, who wanted to know if it was boring, and her mother were sleeping their first safe sleep in several days. I'd been sitting here, at this cheap wood-grain table in an anonymous apartment building, a .45 in my shoulder holster, a little auto button on my cellular phone that would dial 911 and tell the cops where to come, waiting for her crazed father to turn up and try to break in.
In books they always say a kid looks "solemn," when all they really mean is "serious" or "not giggling." Porter just looked like she was thinking about something very important. "So it's dull because there's not much to do, but it's not boring because there's danger."
"Something like that," I said. Actually, not boring because there was a good chance of getting into a brawl, and just possibly of having to beat up her father. But that didn't seem like a nice thing to tell her.
Porter looked pretty much like any other skinny blonde ten-yearold. In a few years she might be sort of handsome or elegant in a horsey kind of way, like her mother. Or rather like her mother usually looked — right now Mrs. Brunreich had two black eyes, some nasty abrasions on her face and neck, and her nose under a piece of steel that was being held on with a complicated bandage. Things Mr. Brunreich had done to her two days before; reasons why she had hired a bodyguard.
"You're carrying a gun," Porter said. "Are you going to have to shoot Dad?"
Mrs. Brunreich stirred at that, and I let her have the chance to answer, but she just took an extra-deep drag on her cigarette and continued to stare at the wall. So I had to answer. "I don't shoot people, usually," I said. "I carry the gun so I can protect you and your mother, because since I have it, they can't get rid of me by waving a gun in my face. That's why I carry such a big, ugly-looking one — to help keep them thinking straight about that."
It's a Colt Model 1911A1, the "Army .45" you've seen in a million war movies and private-eye movies, and people recognize it instantly; it says "Blows big holes in people." Saying it is nicer than doing it, I guess, and if you say it loud enough, you don't have to do it as much.
She didn't look successfully diverted by the comment, so I added, "I hope I won't have to use it, ever. And I don't want to use it on your dad. I guess if he came after you or your mother with a gun, I might have to. But only if it was your lives at stake, Porter."
"But you do shoot people."
"I've never had to. I've never fired this thing at a person."
Mrs. Brunreich stubbed out her cigarette and said, "Porter, don't ask so many questions."
The kid nodded and gulped the last of her milk. It seemed unfair — she was just worried about her dad — but considering all the marks he'd given Mrs. Brunreich to remember him by, I could see where the lady might prefer the subject was dropped.
On the other hand, Porter wasn't the kind of kid who'd ever been subjected to much discipline that she'd had to pay any attention to. "If you've never shot anybody, how good a bodyguard are you?"
"It's all right, ma'am, it's a fair question." I was keeping an eye out the window for the van we were using for this job. Robbie and Paula were complete pros, and they wouldn't be one minute off either way from the set time of 8:37 A.M., still nine minutes away, but we were running the pizza routine, and that has to be done quickly. "I haven't shot anyone because there hasn't been any reason to. Shooting people is not my job; keeping people safe is. And the people I guard are safe."
The kid nodded.
"If anyone even thinks they need the bathroom," I added, "go right now. It might be a while before there is another chance."
Porter got up and went down the hall to the pot; she did it just as I'd told her always to do it, with her little bag (two changes of clothes, two books, one very old teddy bear) with her.
As soon as the bathroom door closed, Mrs. Brunreich said, "You can shoot the son of a bitch for all I care."
It came out "sunuffafish" because of the way her mouth was swollen from where he'd beaten on her face with his fists.
I nodded to indicate I'd heard her. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to encourage her. No matter what one of them's like, I hate it when one parent bad-mouths another in front of the kids.
She lit another cigarette, and said something I had to ask her to repeat. "You're a quiet man, Mr. Strang." She blew out smoke in a way they all learn to do from movies — I guess it's supposed to look sophisticated, and maybe she needed that considering what she looked like just then. "Is that because it's more professional?"
"I'm just quiet." I kept my eye out the window, on the street. Robbie and Paula had just a couple of minutes to go.
I just had to hope that Mr. Brunreich, if he was watching or even still in the state, didn't figure there was something weird about a pizza delivery at this hour of the morning.
It wasn't the cover we'd have used if we'd had a choice. But Robbie and Paula had had to do surveillance the night before from the parking lot, and the only company that I had a standing cover arrangement with was Berto's Pizza.
This was the second apartment Mrs. Brunreich had been in within the past three days; the other one had been one of the secure houses for Steel Curtain, a big bodyguard company here in the city. The trouble with a big agency is that there are a lot of people around who know them, and lawyers especially tend to know them — that was how Brunreich had found out where it was, or so everyone guessed.
Brunreich, besides being a lawyer, was a big, dangerous, crazy bastard with quite a bit of martial arts training — the kind of training you can buy if you're lucky enough to inherit the money, which also gives you time to train a lot when you're young. I knew — I had the same kind of training, and, in fact, I'd sparred with him a few times.
I wasn't looking forward to doing it for real. Hal Payton, who ran Steel Curtain, had been escorting Mrs. Brunreich on a quick trip around the block — supposedly his men had swept it first — when Brunreich had just popped up from behind a yew bush, slammed poor old Payton in the face with one hard fast one that put him out for the count, and started whaling away on Mrs. Brunreich. Payton's backup had jumped right in, but that still gave Brunreich time to land four or five savage blows on his soon-to-be-ex, and from the look of things she would have to be lucky to avoid seeing a plastic surgeon before it was over.
Hal Payton's assistant was a burly guy, my height but with a lot more muscle, and he'd given Brunreich a good hard one upside the head with a police flashlight. He said it seemed to startle him more than hurt him — "at least Brunreich didn't run off like a man who was hurt."
I couldn't exactly remember which of us had won when we'd sparred. I think I had a slight edge in speed, and I know he had a big one in strength.
I like to pretend it's all just a job, and I don't worry more about one guy than another, but the fact was the job before this one had been chasing off a 130-pound computer nerd who was pestering an underage girl for a date, and I had liked that job a lot better.
Mrs. Brunreich's lawyer hadn't liked me much, either, but when she insisted on taking Payton off the case (bad move — Steel Curtain was a good outfit and anyone could have rotten luck, and her lawyer knew this but couldn't win an argument with his client just then), he'd asked Payton whom to hire instead, and Payton had said me. One more thing I owed the old fart, along with my training, my experience, my life, and the lives of my sister and father. I buy him a beer now and then.
Her lawyer had not asked the "ever shot anyone?" question. I wondered if he would have hired me if he had. Especially if he'd found out that although I'd been in business five years, this was really just a temporary job, while I was taking a little time out from doing a doctorate in art history, just a little time to get my head a little more together ...
The toilet flushed. Porter came back, still carrying her bag, balanced and ready. I glanced at her and gave her a little smile, hoping it looked encouraging — I mean, I don't know anything about kids, except it's hard to keep the parent that doesn't have custody from grabbing them — but there was something about the way she was behaving ... more adult than most adults I had guarded, certainly more adult than her mother —
She nodded at me but didn't smile herself. Maybe she had nothing to smile about, or was just very serious. You never really know unless you've known them for a while.
Lately I hadn't known anyone for more than a few weeks.
I was getting extremely morbid in my thinking. Bad before going into action, I reminded myself, and Hal Payton could tell me that this was likely to be bad action. I scanned the street again; nothing but six-block flats and row houses, high stoops and barred windows, like any other Pittsburgh street. It was a cloudy spring day, so the street seemed to be almost in black-and-white. They film a lot of horror movies in this town — the mood is right.
The big van marked "Berto's Pizza" came around the corner and parked at the curb; I'd have known it in any paint job, and it had had plenty, because Robbie and Paula supplied what I thought was the best secure-vehicle service in the city, and I always used them when I could. You couldn't have put a shot into that van at pointblank range, or into its engine, and various other things were set up in it to make it a bit tougher to stop than a light tank.
Paula got out with the red box; red meant she'd seen nobody but wasn't perfectly sure the area was secure.
She's a big young woman, halfway between "Rubens" and "East German Swim Champ," and though she can look pretty good when she wants to (she only wants to on a job), right now she looked thoroughly up-all-night bored and tired, which was just what you would have expected.
Through the tinted windows you couldn't see Robbie sliding into the driver's seat, but I knew she was, the way I knew the .45 in my shoulder holster already had a round chambered. Paula had left the engine running; if we could get to it, we had the ride for the getaway.
I motioned Mrs. Brunreich and Porter to follow me downstairs, with their bags, and they obeyed instructions, not turning out any lights. Paula rang the doorbell behind us, an obnoxious buzz designed to be heard on the street and make things look convincing.
When Mrs. Brunreich and Porter were directly behind me, I opened the door. Paula dropped the empty pizza box and stepped to the hinge side of the door, facing outward; I moved to the lock side, my back toward Paula. As we'd rehearsed, Mrs. Brunreich and Porter came through the door, and Paula and I closed up ranks with them between us.
I really had to give credit to Porter — she stuck right by Paula's right side, where she was supposed to be. (I was grateful for the millionth time that Paula is a lefty.) I was on the other side because the main threat was supposed to be to Mrs. Brunreich.
We were almost down the long flight of concrete steps to the cab when he came charging out from between the buildings behind us. He must have stood there with his gut sucked in all night — the space between the row houses was barely a foot — and maybe that was why he stumbled a little, and it made some noise.
I got a glimpse of him and whirled to get up on the step behind Mrs. Brunreich; Paula got another glimpse and reached out to hurry the mother and daughter down the steps to the van. Robbie kicked the automatic open on the van, the door slid open, and behind me I could feel Paula practically lift both of them up by the scruffs of their necks and heave them across the sidewalk and into the van.
Brunreich was ignoring me and heading straight for the open door of the van, right down the grassy slope.
My job is always to be between the client and trouble. I grabbed the old pipe railing, vaulted onto the dew-wet grass, braced myself hard, and aimed a shoulder into Brunreich's chest.
I had just an instant to think that tripping him would be more effective, and another to realize that if I had missed the trip, he'd have gotten right through me, before he hit my shoulder hard enough to knock the air out of me.
He was a big guy, as I've said, and he was running full tilt downhill, so the impact was quite a shock. But in my favor, I had the better position — to control himself coming down, he'd had to let his feet get a little in front of him to steady him, and I was leaning forward, with my feet well back of me. We compromised; I was driven down the slope but remained on my feet, and he flopped backwards and slid, legs sprawled and ass first, right into me.
He was reaching for me as he came, and I grabbed for a counterstrangle; as a result I fell on top of him, with each of us clutching the other by the collar, neither with quite the grip to squeeze a windpipe or close a carotid.
Brunreich's momentum was more than enough for both of us. With me on top, he went careering down that grassy, wet slope on his back.
The push-and-pull grip I had — basically pulling his lapel down with my left and trying to force his collar over his windpipe with my right — wasn't tight enough to put him out, but it at least let me keep both hands on him. I can recommend it highly if you ever go mud-tobogganing on top of a lawyer. And give some credit to L.L. Bean as well — his shirt never tore in the process.
But I really can't recommend the experience.
As we hit bottom I was thinking I'd just disengage and run for it, get enough space to use my tube of Mace or even the can of NoBear I keep in my car, when I realized that there was a lot more yelling than just me and Brunreich, and the van hadn't left yet.
I didn't have time to assess what the matter was, but it meant I had to keep fighting.
I got my feet planted before he did and kicked myself upright, but I didn't quite break his grip — he caught one lapel of my jacket with both hands and started the quick climb hand over hand that ends with an elbow whip and a brutal headlock, if not a broken neck. It forced my head back down toward him, and his feet moved in around mine to get better balance.
In self-defense class the students always ask why you can't just kick a man in the testicles when he does that. If you're wondering, put a chair in front of your refrigerator. Bend over the chair and pick up the refrigerator.
Now do it standing on one leg.
Luckily he was a bit out of it; maybe a rock or two had clipped the back of his head on the way down. I turned outward, and he "forgot to let go"— not an uncommon mistake, which is why the trick is old — and as his arm straightened, I braced the elbow with one hand, grasped his wrist with the other, pinned the knife edge of his hand to my body, and turned against his shoulder joint.
His free hand flew around wildly trying to slap me off him, but couldn't reach far enough to do any damage. As I increased the pressure he flipped over onto his side, and I drove his arm up into a hammerlock, taking a grip on the back of his head by the hair and arching his back to prevent him getting any traction.
Something hit me hard from behind.
It was well above the kidneys, so it stung like hell but didn't do any other damage. Then I was being flailed at, not effectively, by long thin arms and soft hands, but for all its weakness the attack was still fierce.
Whatever was slapping me got pulled away from my back. In the confusion Brunreich had gotten his free hand most of the way under him, so I said, "Put that arm out in front of you," and when he didn't obey instantly I started cranking on the hammerlocked elbow. That made him move.
I had some breathing time, finally. I got my grip well set and looked around.
Mrs. Brunreich was sitting in the open door of the pizza van, sobbing. Paula had an arm around her and was saying soothing things.
Robbie, a thin woman with dark crew-cut hair, dressed in backward Pirates' cap, baggy sweatshirt, and parachute pants, was off to my side, Taser in hand, as she was supposed to be.
Brunreich's breathing was loud and labored; he sounded like he'd just run a few miles. I realized I was holding his head up by the hair, arching his back at a painful angle, and that I might not be able to keep that up forever.
I figured I'd enjoy it while I could.
"Where's Porter?" I asked.
"Here in the van," she said. "You said to stay in here no matter what."
Excerpted from "The Timeline Wars"
Copyright © 1997 John Barnes.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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