Friday, 14 December 2012

What About the History Books?


I learned of Smith and Thomson's time travel-based gamebook series Falcon from a review in Warlock magazine, but my first actual contact with the books was when three of them turned up in the Book Exchange I've mentioned before. I bought the lot, and still have my original copies. My first attempt at book 1, The Renegade Lord, was largely unremarkable, but I do remember making an (as it turned out) unnecessary trip to the Jurassic era because, you know, dinosaurs.

No need to list any stats, as my character is pre-generated, and only my experiences will cause any change.

It is the year 3033, and there's a lot of background information that doesn't really matter. What's important is that Earth is the head of a Space Federation, time travel is possible (but only through 'Timeholes' situated at specific spatio-temporal locations), and I work for the Temporal, Investigative and Monitoring Executive to prevent interference with the past. Well, will do once my graduation ceremony is over. Sort of do already: not long before the ceremony, section commander Agidy Yelov summons me for a mission briefing. TIME Agent Q was investigating a temporal disturbance, claimed to have discovered that one of the heads of TIME was responsible, and got killed before he could elaborate.

The briefing includes some slightly awkward info-dumping to forestall nit-picking. The rules already explained the limitations that prevent my going back to just before Q was killed and catching the murderer in the act, so there's no real need to have them restated here. And what's the point of saying, 'and there's this thing that's not been mentioned before, but you can't take advantage of it because of this other previously unmentioned thing'?

My graduation is to be attended by all the suspects - the Lords of TIME - and the way time travel works means that none of them can simultaneously be up to no good in the past, so there's no reason not to go to the ceremony. While travelling there, I try to take a look at Q's last transmission, but it's been classified by someone higher up in TIME.

At the Hall of Honours I meet the Falcon equivalent of Miss Scarlet and friends: there's the lobster-like Kirik, the Earthman Speke, blue-skinned Rigellian Lord Silvermane, exoskeleton-wearing Pilota, and The Creche 82282, a sextet of antlike representatives from the communal-minded Hive. I decide not to ask leading questions or psychically contact any of the Lords, and just give a dull acceptance speech after I've been sworn in.

On my way to the Eiger Vault, where the Time Machines are parked, I notice someone following me. An attempt at probing his mind leads to the discovery that he doesn't have one, and must be a machine. Rather than wait for him to ask if I'm Sarah Connor, I shoot him right in the circuits. A couple of Citpol Enforcers are rather keen to arrest me for property damage, but one of them discovers that there's a bounty on the droid I just trashed, so I should be getting reward money rather than a trip to the cells and compulsory donation of all transplantable organs (this future being a bit closer to Judge Dredd than Star Trek).

No further incidents occur on my journey, and I'm soon aboard my Time Machine, Falcon's Wing, and being greeted by the shipboard computer, CAIN. There I can access official files, so I check records of recent time journeys. Several have been classified, and the ones I can look up were made by Q, Kirik and Pilota. Checking up on the current locations of the Lords, I learn that Speke and The Creche 82282 don't want me to know where they are, though the fact that two unidentified characters with the security clearance of a Lord both arrived at the Vault within the past ten minutes is a bit of a hint. Silvermane has just arrived here himself, and claims to be on official business when I ask what he's up to. He also points out that Speke has just left, and I could probably figure out where he's gone by reading his file.

As I return to Falcon's Wing, a security guard in non-standard armour approaches. An attempt at reading his mind reveals that he is wearing a Psionic Damper, a Hiver invention. I order him to come no closer, he goes for his laser rifle, and my response isn't quick enough, so he shoots me in the leg. He gloats that a Lord of TIME engaged him to kill me, but a security droid intervenes before he can finish me off. Its stun blast causes his power armour to explode, so either it was a cheap and nasty model, or his employer didn't want to take the chance of his being interrogated.

Kirik is on record as having been to the Timehole that Q was investigating, which is on his homeworld, Kelados. I follow him to his current location - the same planet, but in the present - spending the journey in the ship's Autodoc to get the wound in my leg healed.

A local TIME Agent greets me shortly after I arrive, and takes me to the seabase research station that Kirik is visiting. There I meet a human who gives me some reflex-enhancing pills and reveals that Kirik has gone into the past. I follow, and CAIN briefs me on the situation back then: Kelados and Earth are on the brink of war owing to a misunderstanding. A Keladi envoy is about to set off on the journey that, historically, led to the peaceful reconciliation of the two worlds. If anyone were to intercept him, the consequences would not be good.

I arrive at a spaceport, and soon find Kirik's Time Machine. And his corpse. There are indications that he knew his killer. I send the Time Machine away, so nobody from this time can get their claws on technology from their future, but keep his Psionic Enhancer for personal use.

Checking out other ships in the port, I find a Phocian Corsair guarded by someone whose mind is being controlled, potentially by the villain. Before I can act on this knowledge, another Time Machine arrives, and TIME Agent Bloodhound emerges, stating that he has orders to kill me. His aim is a little off, and he only singes my neck. I retaliate with a blast of psychic energy, and Kirik's Enhancer makes it effective enough to knock Bloodhound out. When he comes round, I am able to prove to him that I didn't kill Kirik, and together we deduce that Yelov is either guilty or in league with the murderer.

Bloodhound returns to 3033 to report the successful completion of his mission while I remain here to protect the timelines. The Corsair with the mind-controlled guard takes off, so I 'borrow' a similar ship to pursue it. The pilot contacts me to ask why I'm following him, but I don't reply. He wouldn't believe the truth, anyway. I don't want to kill him if it can be avoided, but maybe it can't, as the envoy's ship has just turned up on the Scanner. I fire on the Phocian before he can attack it, almost crippling the vessel, and then board it. By the time I reach the bridge, the Phocian has managed to use his retros to manoeuvre into a position from which he can fire on the envoy, so I knock him out with a mental blast. History remains on track, and the Phocian hasn't died prematurely.

As I'm taking him back to the port, my Psychic Awareness registers the presence of a being with considerable mind powers on a nearby mining ship. I mentally 'overhear' a reference to a 'Golden Horde', and then the mining ship explodes. Back on Falcon's Wing, I learn that CAIN detected a Time Machine leaving the ship just before the explosion. CAIN also informs me of the historical Golden Horde, and as there's a Timehole to Earth in 1241, I decide to head there/then.

On the way I get healed again. A disturbance in the Void forces me to half-materialise in 1258, where I am temporarily temporally trapped, and have to watch the Mongols lay waste to Baghdad for over a month. Then the flux changes, and my journey resumes as if it had never been interrupted. Bit of a pointless interlude, really. Maybe the authors were concerned that their readers might not know much about the Mongols, and wanted to show what they were capable of. Or one of them found out about the massacre while researching the era, and thought it would appeal to the bloodthirsty tendencies of your average gamebook reader. Or somebody just wanted to show off his research.

In 1241 the Mongols look set to conquer Europe. Then their Khan, Ogedai, dies, and the Golden Horde must return to Karakorum to decide on his successor, so their armies never take Vienna. If Ogedai doesn't die, Europe is sure to fall, and history will follow a very different path. Just as I'm about to leave the ship, I spot a flyer taking off. CAIN calculates that it's heading for China, where Karakorum is. I follow.

In Karakorum I disguise myself as a Mongol. There are celebrations going on, because Ogedai has made a miraculous recovery from what had appeared a fatal condition. I sense the villain's flyer departing, but further pursuit will have to wait until I've arranged a little relapse for the Khan. His palace is guarded, but the guards on the gate are very susceptible to psychic blasts. The ones in the palace grounds are more of a problem, though, and an unseen archer gets a lucky shot in before I can take care of them all.

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