Author : Andrew Bale
He stared at the body on the ground. He felt like he should be crying, laughing, raging at the universe, something other than just sitting there, but all he could do was sit there and stare. The belt pouch was new – he had never seen it before. Reaching over the corpse, he opened it, pulled out a cigar, a lighter, a flask of whiskey, a grenade. He already had a bad liver, bad lungs, had sworn off drinking and smoking years ago, but it hardly mattered now. He was a dead man, just waiting to die.
It had been a simple plan. His stolen time-belt gave him a big advantage in the stolen antiquities market, and the Mongol battlefield below would yield artifacts worth millions to the right collectors. He didn’t know how they saw him, or why they came after him, but he had had no choice but to fight – the belt had not cooled yet, jumping again would have killed him. Besides, he wasn’t really afraid. A millennium’s worth of technological advantage had overcome his substantial natural cowardice.
He had cut down a few with his beamer before he saw a figure appear behind them, just as in a dozen past skirmishes. Two guns made short work of twenty charging horsemen, and he had just started to swagger over to loot the bodies when he saw it at the edge of the impromptu battlefield. One body that was not that of a Mongol, but of a time traveler. His body.
The Time Patrol forbid it, but when you were out on your own, illegal already, why not? You get attacked, you have no backup, so you become your own. Survive the battle, then jump back in time later, prepared, and help yourself win! It had worked before, and it wasn’t any greater of a risk – no matter how his personal timeline looped, he could still only die once. Besides, the big risk was the initial contact, any later incarnation that had come in to help would know exactly what was happening. He was a little unsure about the continuity of causality, but he was no theorist and it worked!
But now he knew his future, not his past. An ancient blade, an unseen attacker, perhaps a straggler. The horse-amplified cut had come up under his arm, bypassing the armor entirely and cleaving through his armpit into his chest. He had staggered, crawled, writhed before he had bled out. It would have been, would BE agonizing.
He touched the wrapping on his shin, stared at the partly-healed matching wound on the body before him. A gouge sustained finding his overlook was now the measure of the rest of his life. A few days, a week or two at most? Long enough to scab over, not long enough to become skin again. At least he had, or would have, the decency to wear shorts, leave that marker exposed.
He pulled out a pad of paper, began making lists. A 20th century Cuban cigar, a 22nd century Bourbon, a cheap lighter, an incendiary grenade, a belt pouch, his gray hiking shorts. A fight at the Coliseum, Sinatra at the Desert Inn, Lunapalooza 23, the grassy knoll, that place with the strawberries.
The belt pinged, cool enough to jump. He stubbed out the cigar, dropped the empty flask, set the grenade on the body, and pulled the pin. No time to waste on a funeral, he only had a little time left to be living. Time to jump.
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