Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Time, Where Did You Go?

As I mentioned in the preamble to my playthrough of the fifth of Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson's Falcon books, I'm pretty sure that I bought At the End of Time, the last book in the series, before I got the preceding one. Only because I was able to find it first - I'd have preferred to get them in order (or simultaneously), but one of the local bookshops had AtEoT in stock, and none of them had the preceding book, so I bought the one I could, and either waited for the other to turn up or placed an order for it.

I'm not entirely sure how my first attempt at the book ended, but I do remember what must have been an early try if not the first, in which I failed to put together all the clues that had been provided, set off an alarm, and got torn apart by hostile lizard beings because I didn't have any explosives to use against the horde.

Having finally defeated recurring antagonist Agidy Yelov, I can now get back to the day-to-day routine of work as Chief of the Special Agent Section of TIME. Can, but won't, because Bloodhound, one of my agents and also a close friend, has gone missing, and I'd much rather try to find him than plough through status reports and other paperwork. I call in on Lord Jobanque, my superior, seeking authorisation to go off in search of Bloodhound, and am displeased to hear that, not only am I forbidden to take the mission, but nobody else is to be given it either.

It turns out that there's something odd about the timehole from which Bloodhound has not returned. The precise nature of its peculiarities has yet to be identified, but the top two theories regarding what happened when Bloodhound tried to travel to it are that he either got stuck forever in the void outside time and space or was simply atomised. Regardless, he is to be presumed dead, and the timehole is to be avoided.

So, do I defy orders and risk life and limb in a desperate bid to rescue my friend, or do I return to my desk and start reading reports? While the title of the book could refer to when I will finally clear the backlog of bumf, AtEoT was published a year too early to be hopping onto whatever 'interactive battles against red tape' bandwagon may have been spawned by Bureaucracy, and not even the worst of my days at the office have ever come close to becoming 'a vortex of unbelievable horror' as described on the back cover, so I'm going with the option that should make for the more eventful playthrough.

Abusing my authority, I have Falcon's Wing, my Time Machine, made ready, and travel to the vault where the Time Machines are stored. A security guard, obviously wishing that he'd chosen to take this particular day off work, sheepishly tells me that I'm not allowed in. I remind him just how massively I outrank him, and he backs down. Only briefly, and alarms soon start going off, but not in time to keep me from boarding a hovrail to the Time Machine bay.

Two Security Droids await me in the bay. Not relishing my prospects in a fight against them, even though they have been ordered to subdue rather than kill, I trust in the limitations of their AI and tell them to go to a storage area to apprehend the intruder responsible for the security alert. The Droids have orders to arrest me, but they also have to obey the orders of anyone of my security clearance or above, and as they haven't been explicitly told that I am the intruder, they can't tell that I'm lying. Instructing me to place myself under arrest and await their return, they glide away on their fools' errand, and I hurry into Falcon's Wing and pilot it into the timehole where Bloodhound vanished.

It soon becomes clear that there is something odd about the timehole. Instead of the usual grey void, I find myself passing through a stomach-churning mess of whirling colours like a washing machine full of Hawaiian shirts on the spin cycle. Only for a few seconds, which is a lot quicker than any normal trip through time, and then I arrive... somewhere. Shipboard computer CAIN is unable to identify where or when I've arrived, but can tell me that my readouts are only showing the date 99,999,999 AD because they don't have enough digits to show anything later than that. Worried about the premature ageing that can be caused by severe temporal displacement, I try to depart, but Falcon's Wing remains in its current spatio-temporal location.

I'd better explore my surroundings, then. I've arrived in a silty depression in the ground, and the only sign of life is an ancient-looking technologically advanced building in the distance. Gravity is close to Earth's, and the air is breathable but a little low on oxygen. I'll risk going out without my environment suit, but make a recce in the ship's flyer.

The view from above is not inspiring. Dusty plains, sluggish rivers, mountains rounded by aeons of erosion... and tracks in the dust! Catching sight of something moving along the track, I fly closer. It's a heavy-looking metal machine with a rotating turret on the top. There's something vaguely familiar about its appearance, but I decide not to hang around waiting for recognition to kick in. Mainly because the machine is shooting at me with a machine gun, and while such a weapon may be too primitive to pose a serious threat, opening fire like that does suggest that whoever is operating the machine isn't particularly friendly.

Flying on, I catch sight of an area that appears to be covered in camouflage netting. Then something shows up on my radar display, rapidly revealed to be a 21st century jet aircraft. It's armed with missiles, and marked with the letters USAF, which could be interpreted as signifying that I'm in trouble regardless of whether the pilot considers me friend or foe.

I land the flyer, hoping that the pilot of the jet might do likewise in order to find out who I am. Instead... well, at least I can recognise when someone's lining up a missile strike, and am able to get to a safe distance before General Norman Dummkopf up there blows the flier into its component parts.

Now on foot, I ascend a hillock, and hear machinery. Up this close, it's easier to figure out what that familiar-looking machine is. It's a Tiger tank, with SS markings, which is now pointing its main weapon at me. A couple more tanks join it. My blaster may be effective against tanks, but I'm not sure I can get all three before at least one of them lobs a shell in my general direction. Waiting to see what happens next looks like a suicidal option. That only leaves running back down the hillock.

At the bottom of the hillock, I look around. A tower, possibly the one I saw before, is some way away. A bit closer is some uneven, rocky ground. Rough enough to prove an obstacle to the tanks? Possibly, but where would I go from there, assuming the Nazis are prepared to leave me alone if I find cover. I'll try and make it to the tower.

I don't get anywhere helpful before a couple of the tanks reach the top of the hill and open fire with a barrage sufficiently widespread that I don't even get an Evasion Roll to try and avoid obliteration.

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