The below text is taken from the book ‘Unbound’, a novel written by Christopher Myers that will be released in the coming months.
Ordell’s eyes wandered over to the rugged jukebox that could barely be observed behind the holographic man wearing colonial gear, the ruffles of his shirt pouring out of his thick bloodstained coat. An oil lamp hung just above the music-maker, with similar lights placed around the room. The combination of illuminating sources gave the Rupu a strange feeling, as though one was enjoying an evening in a British tavern that hovered somewhere in the upper atmosphere.
I wonder where exactly the Cathedren is, Ordell thought. It takes two hours to get here from London, so that must place it somewhere beneath the Atlantic, right? Maybe beneath Iceland? Thank God that Akemi built the Rupu here… at least the Cathedren is relatively safe until the 2600s.
Ordell took a deep breath in and opened his eyes as a voice drew him back into the conversation he had at one time been a part of.
“My mom taught me how to make them,” A brunette woman sitting in the padded chair across from Ordell explained. She was holding her arm out in full view, an ink blot dancing along her wrist. “It’ll turn back into a horse here in a minute. Just wait for it.”
“Mhmm,” Ordell nodded, his eyes shifting to the Rupu’s other patrons. The room felt smaller than it was, the old chandeliers hanging low enough that you could swat at them with a hand. Ordell couldn’t even see the room’s end, booths and bars filled with guests obscuring the edge of the circular tavern.
“There it is,” The woman said with glee, pointing at her wrist.
Catherine, was it? Ordell asked himself. Katie? Damn… I don’t remember.
“That’s incredible Cat,” Ordell said with a smile he had learned as a child to present to those desiring attention.
“Thank you,” the woman said, wincing at the name but happy to hear the response. “What about your work? Do you have a partner?”
Crap, Ordell thought. Did I tell her I was an agent? He looked down at the beer that his hand sat next to. There were at least five foamy rings above the little liquid that sat at the bottom of the thick glass.
“No official partners,” Ordell said. “We work alone most of the time. It helps to keep us un- uh- undistracted.” He nearly said ‘unattached’, but successfully avoided the painful conversation that term usually revealed.
“How many eras have you visited?” Cat asked.
“Um, probably five.” Ordell kept the other three to himself, remembering where they led in the last fling he attempted. “Germany in 1820 is always fun, as long as you make it right before the African invasion.”
“I’ve always wanted to go back and see the Jurassic,” Cat said, a smile creeping across her face.
Ordell resisted an urge to roll his eyes but couldn’t help but turn up his nose. Did this chick never finish high school?
“You can’t go back any further than 1200,” Ordell explained.
Cat’s disbelief was obvious. “What?! But where do the dinosaurs of Bukaru come from?”
“They’re genetic fabricants from the late 2700s… you really didn’t know-”
“Salut buddy!” A high-pitched male voice called out from nearby, two pale hands meeting Ordell’s shoulders moments later.
Cat opened her mouth and looked up at the man that had approached, seeing something that caused her to grind her teeth. “I’ll just… let you two have a few.” She stood up and walked quickly to the bar to order another drink.
“Damn it Jehan,” Ordell sighed. “You realize you’ve done that three times now?”
“Really?” Jehan said, sitting down in the still warm wooden seat that Cat had taken up moments earlier. “I only remember saving jou from certain distress once?” The young man’s curled blond hair bounced back and forth as he leaned back and shook his head. The golden fibers, usually short enough to just shimmer, stuck out in an incredible contrast against his dark skin.
“It was probably an older version of you then,” Ordell exclaimed, taking a final swig of his drink and setting the glass back down with a satisfying clunk.
Jehan frowned. “Jou’re not supposed to tell me that.”
“Who cares?” Ordell asked, waving one hand in the air and glancing back toward the bar.
“Are jou doing okay?” Jehan said, kicking his feet up onto the empty chair next to him.
Jehan’s jacket was less worn than when Ordell had seen him last. For a moment, Ordell attempted to piece together when this might be for his friend, but shook his head and gave up on the math relatively quickly.
“I’m fine,” Ordell explained. “I would have been better if you would have sent me a letter or left me a note on the board.” He pointed to the chalkboard behind the bar, filled with messages, most of them so vague that they could only be decoded by those receiving them.
“Trust me,” Jehan explained. “Jou wouldn’t have wanted to end up with Kathleen over there.”
“I can very well choose my own damn mistakes,” Ordell said with a frown.
Jehan shook his head. “No jou can’t. Jou know that.”
“I don’t want to have this conversation again.”
“What are you here for Jehan? I didn’t know that they stationed you in 2433…”
Jehan shrugged. “For a little while at least.” He tapped his fingers against the dark wood of the table. “I’m here for jou though. Ethel wants to speak with jou.”
Ordell bit his cheek and leaned back into his chair, causing a creaking sound that whistled over the classical music pouring out of the juke box. “She couldn’t come visit me herself?”
Jehan laughed. “Jou know they wouldn’t let the boss out to a place like this.” He waved his hand around, nearly hitting a burly woman that was squeezing between Jehan and the seat behind him.
“Yeah yeah, I know. It’s just-”
“Only been a couple of months since the last mission? I heard.” Jehan’s eyes migrated toward the tile floor. “I know it hits hard friend.”
“That’s not it,” Ordell said, looking around the room.
“Jes it is,” Jehan said with a laugh. “Jou and I are quite alike, jou know? I simply know what I’m running from.”
Ordell rolled his eyes and stood up. “Did Ethel tell you to say that?”
Jehan smiled. “She may have planted the thought in my mind.” He stood up with Ordell. “Ethel is back at the agency. She’s hoping jou can make it up there tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Ordell asked in surprise. His stomach was beginning to drop. What does she think I’ll do if I have too much time to myself? Couldn’t we at least give it a week?
“Jou’ll be okay, my friend.” Jehan said, slapping Ordell on the shoulder. “Maybe we’ll see each other on this mission.”
“Maybe we already have,” Ordell responded, shaking Jehan’s hand and heading out of the Rupu.
Instead of heading to another bar in Cathedren and spending the evening searching for a distraction, Ordell made his reservation on the overnight train to Rome. The trip felt short, with Ordell sleeping through a majority of the journey. Arriving in town, he headed past the few skyscrapers that stood in the middle of the business district and under the tubes connecting them, through the relatively clean but crowded streets toward one of the older structures, composed of marble and glass. On the train, he had changed out of his lightweight jacket and jeans and into one of the agency’s high-collared suits. The white of the nearly weightless coat allowed him to fit in with the majority of the rest of the crowd, which were clothed in either robes or light-colored t-shirts and shorts.
Passing a pile of silver rubble and a monument of three concentric circles, Ordell nearly halted in his step. Blinking, he slowly began forward again as his memory stretched back into place. It had felt like yesterday that he had travelled on the same street in front of the capital building. In reality, it was only a month ago for him, but nearly a century for many of the residents of the city. Ordell moved tepidly past a plaque that described the bombings that took place in 2341. There’s no capital for this region right now, is there? And Bratislava won’t become the Eura capital for another hundred years…
Shaking the memories from his mind, Ordell strolled through a massive archway that at the top was emblazoned with the words ‘Human Preservation Agency’, the initials HPA right below them. Marble and glass decorated the atrium and connecting hallways, with a variety of famous paintings hanging from the walls. Only a few groups of staff stood around chatting, the majority of the Agency’s employees hurrying to and from their meetings or cases. Most wore either airy polo shirts or high-necked robe-jackets, adorned with the Agency’s initials.
Walking up to one of the lines allowing exit from the atrium and entrance further into the building, Ordell smiled and nodded at a guard, placing his hand down onto a podium that was still warm from the last group that had headed through the security gate. Seeing a green dot flash at the top of the device, Ordell continued through and looked up to the ceiling, which lowered ahead before flowing into three different hallways. It took him only seconds to find his number among the others. Seeing ‘1207’ hanging from the ceiling, he followed the holographic text down the right corridor past conference rooms and auditoriums, the majority of them empty.
Considering that the HPA was the largest organization in the Loop, the building that Ordell stood in contained a vast amount of staff, ranging from resource advisors to societal analysts to physicians and nurses. Moving through the building into thinner and thinner hallways, Ordell travelled until he was the lone traveler left in the region. Each area led further into the HPA, with marble replaced by stone and ancient wooden pillars and walls the further he moved.
Finally, standing in front of a titanium door with little lighting, Ordell raised his hand to knock. Before his knuckles rapped against the metal, the door swung open and a young woman walked out, her eyes glued to the floor.
“Isabelle!” Ordell nearly shouted in excitement, frightening the girl.
“Hi,” Isabelle said awkwardly, looking down at Ordell, who was an inch shorter than her.
“It’s been a – while-,” Ordell began to say, his smile fading away the longer he stared at her.
“I’m sorry,” Isabelle said, allowing her mind to fully partake in the conversation that had begun, “I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“No,” Ordell said, swallowing the saliva that had begun to pour over his tongue. “No we haven’t.” There was a moment of pause before he stuck his hand out. “I’m Ordell. Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“Um, hi, I’m Isabelle. But you already knew that…”
“Yep, funny how things like that happen, right?” Ordell asked, inching his way through the still open door.
Just as Isabelle began to ask a question, Ordell closed the door and backed away slowly, concerned that the young woman would attempt to open it once again. For a moment, Ordell could only hear the sound of his own breathing, a certain musk rising to his nostrils from the ancient room.
“Good morning Ordell,” a deep male voice said, causing Ordell to jump. “You’re here right on time.”
Ordell shook his head. “Isn’t everyone right on time to you Jackson, considering what you know?”
“You’d be surprised,” Jackson said with a laugh. The chubby dark skinned man sat behind a desk with a paper ledger in front of him.
Ordell had asked previously and found that the thick book contained the expected arrival times of each agent into Rome’s Human Preservation Agency Violation Department. It was the most guarded place in the HPA, with only department staff and agents having access. Only the library was more difficult to access. Ordell only even knew what the library’s interior looked like because of the intro video at the start of his training to become an agent.
The things we do to keep this world safe, Ordell thought with a laugh.
“You know that girl that just left?” Jackson asked.
Ordell shrugged. “Why?” He waited for an answer and then frowned. “Wait, why was she in here?”
Jackson waived a box in the air. “Just dropping off a parcel for an agent that passed recently.” The man laughed, his deep voice reverberating off the walls. He pulled at his shirt, which was too tight for his thick build. “So you do know her?”
“Put in a request for information if you want,” Ordell said, rolling his eyes. “I’m here for-”
“Ethel is in office five if you’d like to see her,” Jackson said quickly, his eyes wandering back to the novel in his hands.
“Thanks,” Ordell said with a nod as he moved forward through the steel and stone hallway, barely lit by the combination of flickering candles and holographic orbs.
Finding a thick wooden door numbered with a metal ‘5’ over fading grey paint that was chipping off near the floor, Ordell knocked. With no answer, he knocked again. Tapping his foot against the ground, he watched the handle, knowing Ethel’s methods and counting down in his head as he awaited a response. Right as the ‘n’ of ‘one’ rapped against the top of his closed mouth, the handle clicked and the door moved back a centimeter. Ordell grinned and pushed the door slowly open, his eyes travelling past the statues and bookshelves that lined the small office and meeting Ethel’s forehead.
The older black woman was thumbing through a manila folder and a thick reference book at the same time, her eyes not bothering to meet Ordell’s. “Come on in,” Ethel said, waving a thin finger in his direction.
“Yes ma’am,” Ordell replied, stepping into the room and allowing the door to click shut behind him. “This office isn’t too bad. Looks like you upgraded.”
“The lighting is off in this era,” Ethel said with a frown, still reading through the papers that sat in the folder on her desk. Her long sleeved black dress was accented with gold mesh, allowing her to stand out from the dark wall behind her. “Maybe it’ll even out once they get Eura back up and functioning again, but I’m not sticking around another century to experience that.” She shut the folder with a slap, purposefully causing significantly more noise than Ordell believed could come out of such a thin piece of paper. “I suppose the Agency has their reasons for the resource reduction. After all, they’ve never been wrong… they couldn’t be, right?”
Ordell shrugged. “There’s a first time for everything.”
Ethel laughed, her voice echoing off the walls of the chamber. “I always enjoyed you Ordell. Maybe that’s why they paired us up… your encouragement with my cynicism.”
“Yes yes, I know. Don’t mistake sarcasm for encouragement.” Ethel pointed to a leather chair on the other end of her desk. “Take a seat.”
Ordell hesitated, unsure of how long the meeting would last. “Thank you,” He said as he lowered himself into the chair that had lost all lumbar support decades ago.
Ethel sighed and allowed her eyes to meet Ordell’s. “As I’m sure you have already guessed, you have a new case.” She slid the folder across the desk.
“What year will I be heading to?” Ordell asked.
“George will let you know when you see him,” Ethel explained. “This case is a bit complicated.”
“What’s the location?”
“New York City.”
“What am I preventing?” Ordell asked.
He was silently running through the possibilities. His first few cases were madmen and women that were hoping to bring down the agency through technological disruptions. Those were never very difficult though, because all tech in the Loop was already known to the Agency. His next few were purported to be young tyrants. There’s no telling how the librarians knew what they might become, but Ordell rarely questioned his orders, as the few cases where agents refused to bring in youths were well documented and he didn’t want the deaths of hundreds of people on his hands because he failed to arrest a kid. He always feared having to bring in another agent. He had heard rumors of one or two going rogue and doing quite a bit of damage before being caught. The librarians could only track direct damage or the likelihood of compounding issues, and agents tended to be very good at avoiding direct societal alterations.
“You will be going after a terrorist,” Ethel explained, leaning back into her chair. The tall leather object barely moved, Ethel’s weight being significantly less than what was required to swing the seat back.
“A terrorist?” Ordell asked, picking up the folder and looking through the incredibly minimal information written on the papers inside.
“She’s a serial killer as well, from what we gather.”
“What?” Ordell asked in surprise. “This is significant enough for the Agency to mess with?” Crime was minimal in most eras thanks to the Agency’s work, but the majority of cases went to local police, whereas the Agency dealt with larger matters.
“Trust me, it’s significant enough,” Ethel explained. “We think she’s tied in with the deprophets.”
“That cult that wants to destroy the time machines?”
“Yes,” Ethel said slowly.
“And you’re taking this seriously enough that you’re putting me on this?”
“Yes,” Ethel said even slower.
“But when I asked a couple of years ago, you said that the deprophets couldn’t possibly mess with the machines.”
“They can’t touch the slides,” Ethel said. “If they did, we’d already know.”
“What about after 2930?” Ordell asked, leaning forward in his chair and closing the folder. “There’s got to be a reason that no one can slip forward further than that, right?”
“There is, but I don’t think it’s tied to this case,” Ethel explained with a frown.
“So who is the terrorist?” Ordell asked.
Ethel allowed the question to linger in the air. She took out a cigar and lit it, the flash from the zippo brightening the room past dim for only a split second.
“Ethel, you’re holding out on me.”
“We don’t know,” Ethel said, taking a puff from the cigar.
Ordell’s eyes fell to the table and even though he remained in his seat, he felt as though he was tumbling forward. There’s only two reasons that the librarians wouldn’t provide a name, He thought. Either they aren’t telling me because it’ll affect me during the mission, which is unlikely, or they don’t know.
“Look,” Ethel said, the same thing having recently gone through her mind as well, “It’s not as if the librarians don’t know.”
“But if they don’t-”
“We need to focus on the mission at hand,” Ethel said, her finger pointing down to emphasize the situation’s urgency.
“Do you know if this is my last case?” Ordell asked.
Ethel sighed. “You know that they won’t let me see information like that, no matter how many requests I put in for it.”
Ordell took a deep breath. “Okay then…”
“Hey,” Ethel said in between puffs of smoke. “You’ll be fine, alright? George will help you with everything you need for this one.”
Ordell looked up and met Ethel’s dark eyes. “You’d tell me if you knew any more about this case, right?” He knew what her answer would be, but he wanted to see her facial expression as she said it.
“I’ve given you everything I’ve seen,” Ethel said, clearing her throat. “And trust me, I’ve requested more. They’ve told me that the library has no more on this one.”
Satisfied with her answer, Ordell nodded. “Thank you. May I go now?”
Ethel nodded. “Of course.”
Ordell stood up and headed for the door.
“Be careful on this one,” Ethel said. “And don’t make me send Jehan after you on this.”
Ordell allowed himself a laugh. “You won’t have to worry about that boss.”
“Then I’m taking that as your word that you won’t be at any more gentlemen’s clubs-” Ethel continued speaking as Ordell opened the door “- or emotion parlors-” Ordell rolled his eyes and began to shut the door behind him “- or memory dens.” Ethel finished speaking just as the door clicked shut.
– Written by Christopher Myers