Time Siege - Wesley Chu

ONE

THE SLOG

Roman struggled to keep his footing in the ankle-deep slog of the muddy riverbank. The tainted water, mixed with rubble, dirt, and debris, had been accumulating broken bits of the ruined city for centuries. The resulting mixture was a slow-moving speckled brown mush that folded over itself repeatedly as it flowed down the steep slope.

He slipped on a metal plate embedded in the goo and fell onto his belly, sliding several meters and losing whatever small progress he had made climbing up the hill. He spat out a mouthful of the gunk and cursed as a mushy tide swelled, rolling over and caking him in its grime.

Black abyss, he was going to smell like shit until his next shower. Unfortunately, his next hygiene maintenance wasn’t scheduled until the morning after tomorrow. That meant he was going to stink like a latrine until then. Probably meant he was going to have to rack outside of quarters tonight as well.

Someone above him laughed. “Chaki, you bunking with Roman, right? Have fun.”

Chaki’s face appeared at the top of the hill as Roman tried to reclaim his footing. “Damn clumsy fodder. Stop playing in the mud. The collie’s here.”

Roman looked at the green metal plate that precipitated his fall and scowled. There were some letters on it in an archaic form of solar English. He wiped the gunk off with his sleeve and read it slowly: NEW LONDON.

“Are we on the right continent?” he asked in a loud voice. “I thought we’re on one of the Americas.”

“What kind of a stupid question is that?” Renee called down.

“I don’t know,” Roman said. “This is my first tour on this planet. I just thought London was a city in Europe. Or was that Africa?”

Overhead, a gray box-shaped ship struggled to fly around the many obstructions to their position. On top of the hill, fallen poles, loose wires, hanging vines, and building fragments jutting up and out were scattered all over the landscape, often making it difficult for the collies—flying boxes not known for their maneuverability—to reach their landing zones.

They were near a river mouth, and the soft ground had sunk so much that many of the buildings on both sides of the river leaned in over the water until they formed a triangular roof above it. Several of these buildings looked ready to collapse and probably wouldn’t stand much longer.

“Why are our extraction points always on top of hills?” Roman grumbled. “Why can’t it just come down to us for once?”

He renewed his efforts, using his hands to claw his way up. His arms sunk elbow-deep into the muck, getting even more grime onto his now completely filthy uniform. Not that it mattered anymore; he couldn’t get any dirtier.

Roman and the other half-dozen jackasses with him were just finishing an eight-hour patrol of a region southwest of the city of Boston. Surveillance had picked up movement from what could possibly be the wastelander tribe they had been searching for the past six months, and of course, his was the unlucky squad sent here to investigate.

The Cooperative Forces, or Co-op, was created after the failed attack on Boston to retrieve the temporal anomaly to fulfill the agency’s contractual obligation to the megacorporation. It was supposed to be a joint operation by Valta and ChronoCom. However, those Valta assholes—their leader, Securitate Kuo, specifically—did not seem to know what “joint” meant. Almost all the heavy lifting was carried out by ChronoCom monitors, while Valta’s troopers just sat on their collective asses. Kuo had even had the audacity to tell the lead monitors to their faces that the Valta troopers