Here are the previous chapters to the best time travelling science fiction story since (assuming time is linear) Back to the Future, Doctor Who and Looper:
Irene placed the scrolls she had bought that morning on the sandy flooring and pored over the pages.
Jude sat on his bedding and opened the bottle of arak they'd been up-sold. He took a swig.
“Wow, this stuff is strong,” he bellowed.
Irene's eyes flicked up to Jude, before returning to her reading.
“I wonder what this Yēšûă guy plans to do if he goes through with meeting us,” Jude said out loud, taking another swig of the arak. “We'll probably have to keep low for a while to avoid trouble with both the Romans and the rebellion sympathisers.”
“Suddenly you’re a talker, hey?” smiled Irene, glancing back at the soldier. “I got the impression you weren't one for idle chit chat. God, I know I'm not.”
“Just thinking aloud.”
Irene put her scriptures to the side, and repositioned herself so she was sitting cross-legged and facing Jude. “Well, if you're in the mood for talking, I can talk. You did save my life after all. So although usually I would be quite averse to leaving my work for meaningless social niceties, I will bear this one as a symbol of my gratitude. Fire away.”
"No, it's fine."
"No, let's talk. That was my roundabout way of saying I am okay with talking to you."
Jude shrugged. "What?"
"You can even tell me told you so, at this point, with an extra cheesy grin. I am grateful for your Van Damme moves."
“Well, I knew I'd have to come to your aid at least once on this mission," he grinned. "Let's hope now that you've walked into some paid goons you're done with all the trouble. Mind you, I was impressed with the punch you gave that big guy. You almost knocked him off his feet.”
“You knew you'd have to come save me? That's the type of chauvinistic trash I used to expect from soldiers. You almost had me thinking there was more to you.” She turned back to her scriptures. “Okay, psychic hotline, I'll put my five dollars fifty a minute in, when did you decide I would be trouble? Before or after you stormed out of the meeting I was to be welcomed into the team?”
“From the moment I laid eyes on you I could see you'd be trouble, and I didn't even know you'd be part of the team,” he chuckled. “I was coming back from quarantine and saw you picking apart the ethics of changing the past, in an emotionless way, not a passionate way like the others, and I thought, 'Who's this woman? She is trouble'.”
“And so that's why you were unimpressed about my appointment?” she said, raising her eyebrows.
“Truth be known, I would have told you that a stuck-up know-it-all getting in the way of getting the job done is the last thing I would want for a mission. But maybe Alex isn't as stupid as he pretends to be - you have turned out to be the most useful team member on this mission, and I am even starting to appreciate your dry but terrible sense of humour. Even the way you think. As surprising as it is for me to say that." He shook his head absently at the bottle of arak he was still holding, and had the beginnings of a smile. "I guess you're just very good at what you do, and even though we are worlds apart, I admire you, in a way.”
“Thanks, it means a lot to have your respect considering the very little you hold for anything outside your tiny world,” she said, meeting his beginnings of a smile with the beginnings of a cheeky grin. “But I bet you wish you were going back in time to kill a Viking so you could've got a cute blonde Scandinavian chick rather than a dorky Middle-Eastern American girl.” She laughed and snatched the bottle of arak off Jude.
“No, I'm really glad we got you. You're growing on me, like I said. And who said there is anything wrong with dorky Middle-Eastern American girls anyway. Though, I like your thinking, maybe I’ll suggest we go after a Viking next time.” He chuckled. “But don’t get me wrong, you are a little cute … in a quirky way.”
There was an awkward pause. Irene filled this time up by pushing her glasses further up the bridge of her nose, and fluctuating between smiling and frowning. Her creamy olive skin even became a shade pinker. And then she finally decided to respond.
"I am glad my visual appearances give you the impression I would be a good match, based on your cultural reference points and unconscious identification of features that indicate high fertility and strong genes. I return the favour by saying the neural pathways linked with the animalistic desire to pass on genes and spawn young are firing for me, too." Irene took a sip of the arak but coughed half of it out. “That is rocket fuel, excuse the cliched metaphor. How can you drink that? No, that's incorrect, I know the mechanics of drinking liquid. What I meant to say is how can you keep drinking that when you know how it tastes?”
“Stings the back of the throat a little,” he said with a wink. “You need to take a bigger drink to appreciate it.” He gave her a little nudge.
Irene tipped the bottle back and took a gulp. She screwed up her face and squeaked, “Little better I suppose, but I'm not a big drinker. I have done some very regrettable things in my youth when inhibitions and standards have been lowered by intoxication.”
“In your youth? You mean like last year? How old are you?” Jude chuckled and met her glare with unwavering eyes. He stole the bottle off her as it stood by her side, had a few swigs, and handed it back to her. “I was actually trained to hold my alcohol. It's important that I keep a clear head even when I'm drinking shot after shot undercover with the Mafia bosses, drug lords, or Russian special agents, you know? All very good drinkers. I think your brain could easily learn the skill to maintain focus during inebriation.”
“I am glad our tax dollars are going into important things like alcohol training for the Special Forces and not dumb things like education or public health. What a waste health is.”
Jude chuckled. "Like I said, you have a good sense of humour, doctor. When you are not calling me prehistoric."
Irene took a few more gulps. “So, what does a killing robot do when he's not working? Do you call it working?”
“Train and work out,” he answered. “Read non-fiction. But usually every moment of my spare time is used to make sure I am as sharp and adaptable in my job as possible.”
“What about just meeting up with friends and watching a movie in between all the crunches, dumbbells, non-fiction books and killing?”
He grinned. “I used to. But these days, I don't keep friends. Friends and family and well, other types of relationships, are a liability. Anyone who has anything to do with me is at risk of becoming a target for someone who's wanting to get revenge or manipulate me ... and besides, they’re impossible to keep when you're away for years at a time, are not authorised to contact them, and have a schedule full of crunches, dumbbells and killing people."
"Oh. Sounds very lonely, even to me… What about your family?"
“I've been an orphan since the age of eight, so I don't really have family to worry about."
"I'm sorry … to hear that."
"There were some boys who were like brothers to me when I was growing up, but one died alongside me when I started out in the forces, and the others I didn't keep in contact with.” He paused. “Don't get me wrong, if I'm assigned to a unit, I can become friends with guys during the duration of that assignment. Just don't get attached to them, or keep in contact when the curtains are pulled. Even you and I could be friends on our first century tour.”
“So you're what someone might call a textbook loner,” she teased.
“I'll drink to that,” he said. “Or drink more to that as we've downed quite a bit of this bottle already.”
There was a pause in conversation filled with drinking, glances at each other, and quick smiles.
“Do you remember your parents?” Irene asked, breaking the silence.
“I try not to think about them too much, because it brings me back to the memory of their death,” Jude shrugged. He took a deep breath before continuing. “My father was an engineer in Saigon, and my mother was a military nurse back home. They met during the Vietnam war.” His eyes stared past Irene. “That war took so many lives on both sides. And yet they survived the war and were killed coming around the corner to pick me up from after-school-care. A drug-addict driver hit their car clocking about 130km an hour.”
“I'm sorry,” soothed Irene. “That's horrible.”
“That was one reason I enjoyed making hits of drug dealers. I felt in some way it was getting back at my parents’ murderer.” Jude smiled, and his intonation became much lighter. “So enough about me and my dark past. What do you do with your time, Doctor Irene Hadar? Apart from go to the most desolate deserts in the world and concern yourself with people who have been dead for hundreds of years. Do you go out with friends or...?”
She smirked. “My social life is as exciting as yours, I guess. I do a lot of reading, but mainly in my field of expertise. Occasionally I go to a big city near the site I'm working at to see an independent film, read a trashy romance novel or go shopping to switch my brain off.
“But I usually go by myself, leave a movie halfway through to get back to work, and only ever end up buying very ordinary work clothes because I don't like the way my body looks. As for company, my friends and family are hundreds of miles away back in the States, and I don't see them much.” She raised an eyebrow. “See what happens when you get me drunk. I give you an exclusive tell-all.”
“So you’re drunk?”
“Let’s just say the senses are a bit numb.”
The edges of Jude’s mouth curled cheekily. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Of course, I do. I have a picture of George Clooney in my wallet.” Irene simpered, opening her wallet to display the magazine cut out, and taking a swig of the arak before handing it back to him. “I haven't had a real, living one however since second year university. I broke up with him because he wanted me to put him before my textbooks. Boyfriends are time vampires, and never as dashing as Edward Cullen. That and his nitpicking burnt the last of any confidence I had in myself… How do you get all this out of me? Is this some sort of interrogation trick or merely alcohol-based truth serum?”
“The latter, but it is proving very interesting. I mean I am finding out that we do have some similarities, for example,” Jude said. “We're both reclusive workaholics.”
She raised her eyebrows and tried to look unimpressed, but ended up grinning. “We're that same obsessive personality, I guess. Except that you can read about what I do and my life in a few published works. Granted, works that only particular history nerds would want to read, but works in the public domain. But ... your background and job on the other hand is much more mysterious, Mr. Jude Stone. I'd love to read the reports from some of your classified missions.”
“I can tell you about my missions for Alexander, but watching James Bond is much more exciting and family-friendly than the other stuff, doc,” he said with jest.
"I would like to know, Mr. Stone," she said carefully, attempting not to slur her words. She took another mouthful of drink.
“I am sorry to disappoint your inquisitive mind, but there's not much to tell that isn't classified. Unless you are interested in my name, rank and serial number.”
Irene pouted her lips in an exaggerated fashion.
"Oh, the sad look," joked Jude. "I've never broken, even under weeks of torture – never knowing if I’d ever get out alive, but had they known about the ‘Irene Hadar sad look’ … well, let’s just say that I was never trained for that type of interrogation."
“Well, with that in mind, yesterday at the markets you didn't tell me about why you disappeared from the Special Forces,” Irene started, pausing to steady herself on the flooring with her hands.
She regained composure. “This stuff you bought is going straight to my head. I thought your mission - should you choose to take it, which you did - was to look after me,” she blurted, punching his shoulder as hard as she could. “My drunkenness and the consequences will be all your fault. You better not take advantage of me in this compromised state.”
Jude laughed but his eyes were pensive.
“I never talk about it,” Jude said. He became still, and his eyes gazed at the wall without blinking. Irene sat still and quiet. “The one time I broke protocol, I had to go into hiding for it. And still hiding from it. That’s why my ‘employment’ with the Special Forces ended.”
There was silence between them.
“You better not just leave it at that, my friend.” She sipped her drink and lowered her glance. “You do know that secrets are not worth anything if they aren't shared. That is what my gossipy Aunt Stacey always says.”
"You are funny." Jude leaned back grinning. “Thanks for the heads up, too. I will remember her the next time I have some disinformation to spread.”
“What do you mean by 'funny'? Am I ha ha funny, or 'aren't you an adorable little girl, pat pat on your head' funny... or just strange funny?”
“All three, but especially the third category,” he joked.
“Well, I'm offended,” she muttered, trying to stand up but falling into Jude. “Now you got to tell me,” she yawned. “Because this alcohol is making an embarrassing mess of a weirdly-funny book nerd. I told you I do stupid and regrettable things when I am drunk. I am almost flirting with you, which is stupid, even ridiculous, and the last thing my sober would dream of.”
“I wouldn't say an embarrassing mess,” Jude said, letting a smile come across his face. “Perhaps just embarrassing with a slight lack of order.”
“I love how out of all I said, that is what you latch onto.”
“Anyway, this story is one you wouldn't want to hear.”
“Come on, tell me. I'm a big girl last time I checked. I fill out tax forms and everything,” Irene said sarcastically. She pushed herself up and steadied herself. “Who do you think I am going to tell? And who is going to believe me?” She held a hand to her head like a phone and pretended to speak into it: “Well, Victoria, you wouldn't believe what top military secrets I learnt whilst on my travel back in time.”
"You could tell your aunt," Jude chuckled. “It isn't that I can't tell you, it's... What if it is something I don't want you to know, too?”
"Then I'd say why would you tempt the rabbit with a carrot and then kill it and steal Easter from the children?"
“You are drunk,” he replied. "Still funny, but wasted."
"So drunk I will not remember anything of tonight let alone a boring war story."
“Okay, I'll tell you on the condition you forget it in the morning.”
She settled herself down and leaned forward. "Deal. I have forgotten it already."
There was a pause as Jude realised what he had just agreed to do.
“Well, I guess I start at the very beginning."
"... a very good place to start. You've watched Sound of Music too, I'm guessing?" She tied her hair back and waited. "Go on then."
"It was a black op mission gone wrong,” he said. “I did something against orders, and so it was either be hunted by special agents who I had worked alongside up until then, or disappear.”
Jude gazed at the young woman who was now quiet and still, and he took a deep breath and continued.
“I'd been sent to a shanty town just outside Sao Paulo with a fake passport and a fake back story. My mission was to integrate into the community, become part of the drug ring controlling the village and surrounding villages, and find out as much as I could about the drug lord running the show. And of course, if I got the chance, discreetly make him have an accident.
“It wasn't long after winning a few street fights I was approached to join the ring, and it was only three months after that that I had become right hand man to the top honcho.
“He was known as the 'White Panther', and was a particularly ruthless boss, despite how charming he could be sometimes.
"As a way of getting his trust I did some really bad stuff for him. But as I keep telling you, and what most people don't understand, this is what we do and it's what needs to be done to stop guys like this.
“Anyway, I would've usually killed him to dismantle the order after getting that close, but I discovered he was being funded and armed by three major offshore companies. One from the United States, one from India and one from somewhere in Europe. I sent all the information I was finding out back to home base.
“At the same time as climbing the drug ring ladder, I had been living with a local family in return for a small rent. They were poor, but Christian, and so they took me in with open arms. Their faith gave them the strength to live in such a dangerous area with so little, and to stop the boys from being dragged into dealing or ruined by drugs.
“It was their faith that also made them very tolerant of me and my very intolerable ways. Even when I came home stinking of alcohol with cuts from glass bottles that had been broken on my head. The lady of the house always stayed up waiting for me. She disapproved of all the fighting, but somehow could still accept and love me like I was family.
“The family never knew I was involved with the White Panther however, because if they did I am sure they would have thrown me out. Drugs had destroyed that area and their church was active in fighting it - in its own way.
“I started to feel like what it must feel like to have a family. I grew a little too close to them - something that was completely against my training and orders.
“The stern dad became my dad, the busy little mum was my mum, and the two boys looked up to me like an older brother. I even had to bail the older boy, Ricardo, out of trouble when he'd gotten into a street fight copying me, his 'older brother'.
“I used to watch little Ricardo play football. He was very talented but was told he was too skinny to play professionally. I took it upon myself to train him, make him faster, stronger, bigger and fitter than any other kid his age. It was part of a deal I made with him so he wouldn't get back into street fights.
“Not long after that the family was getting offers from professional football clubs all over the country to trial for their youth teams, including Flamingo, Santos, and the team the family supported, Sao Paulo.
“I spent a year and a half with the family, but distanced myself when the White Panther began to take an interest in my time outside of his service.”
Jude's face lost a little of its colour.
“What happened?” muttered Irene, her brown eyes flicking from one of Jude's eyes to the other.
“The White Panther knew I had spent time with them, and he had kept tabs on them. When he saw Ricardo out at one of the night clubs he owned, and saw the size the lad had grown to, he was summoned to his office upstairs.
“He figured if Ricardo was that size and was close with me, perhaps he'd fight like me and be useful in a dispute he was having with a drug lord encroaching on his territory. Naturally Ricardo denied the request and went home. I don't know whether he believed that I was part of the ring, but I hear the whole thing shook him up.
“The White Panther had offered a big wage, but the boy's faith in God and
sense of right or wrong … was steadfast.
“Unfortunately, as I said, the White Panther was a ruthless madman. It was why he'd stayed at the top so long. No one dared to challenge his leadership.
“To make a statement, he sent his thugs to their place and killed the family. The thugs then set the home on fire. The police and neighbours watched on, not daring to get on the wrong side of the White Panther.”
Irene gasped and put a hand to her mouth.
“I'm sorry, Jude,” she eventually said.
“When I learned about it, I made him pay for what he did,” Jude said, his body stiffening. “Once he was dead, I didn't know what to do. The drug lords in the area were now aware of an undercover operation and of my real identity. I couldn't return to home base because I had exposed the operation in that area, and would've been killed. And except for my job and this little family… I had nothing.
“So I disappeared, and promised myself never to break that rule again. Never to get close to anyone again. That's life, I got to live on after my mistake. They didn't.”
“And that's when Alexander approached you?”
Jude stared at the wall. “Alexander didn't approach me. Agencies and drug barons across the world couldn't even come close, do you really think Alexander could? Not to mention the agency I worked for who wanted to 'de-program' me because they thought I'd gone haywire. 'De-program' meaning eliminate, not sending me to a shrink or anything.
“Truth is I heard about his secret program and what it entailed, and figured it was the best way to get away from my life and do what I do best. Kill people. And so I approached him. He put a suitcase full of cash on the table, and I signed his contract without even looking at the money.”
There was a drawn out silence.
“Anyway, enough of my bedtime stories,” said Jude walking to the part of the floor where he had set up his bedding. “I'm off to get some sleep.”
Jude lay down on his side facing away from Irene. She watched him for a few moments before crawling over to him.
She leaned down and kissed him on the temple. “Good night,” she whispered. “Thanks again for saving me tonight. I just want you to know, that under it all, I think you are a great guy.”
He turned to face her. Their eyes locked on each other. They froze. Their breaths quickening and syncing, and the aroma of the arak filling the narrowing space between them.
Slowly, they leaned in and kissed. As their lips parted, their eyes opened and instantly widened.
Both were silent.
Irene put a hand to her mouth and stared wide-eyed at Jude. “I don't know - I'm sorry - I...” Her voice drifted off. "Let's not ever mention this ... ever."Jude watched her make her way back to the other side of the room and pull the covers over her head.
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