By Wayne Sefton
Come work at St. Mary's they said, it'll be fun they said. What could it hurt?
Me! It could bloody well hurt me!
My name is Sefton, Wayne Sefton. I don't know, it's cooler when James Bond says it. I work for the Institute of Historical Research at St. Mary's Priory, in the Security section. Basically we're bodyguards to a bunch of nutters in blue who seem hell bent on getting themselves killed in some once upon a time far off place. I say that because we investigate historical events in contemporary time. We don't call it-, well, what 'it is', but if you rearrange the words 'travel time', that's what 'it is'.
Things had been relatively quiet of late, which is never a good sign at St. Mary's. Idle hands in a place like St. Mary's is usually followed by a sharp rise in things like insurance, whether they be for house, car, life! In Rushford, premiums were higher than average anyway, though I can't think why.
With so little to actually do, a few of us had wandered down to Hawking hangar. One of the pods was due back today and it was customary for those with time on their hands to go and welcome an incoming team home. Plus, until they had arrived and contact had been made, you never knew if there was trouble to be dealt with or, as happened far more often, something would occur that would lead to much name calling and mickey-taking in the bar later on.
By the time I arrived at Hawking, Julie Jennifer and Jeff Pinner, resplendent in our green coveralls that marked us as Security, were leaning on a railing up on one of the balconies and waved to catch my attention. I waved back and made my way over to them.
"Who's out?" I asked when I arrived on the balcony.
"Pod eight." Replied Julie.
I looked down at eight's empty plinth. "Who's driving?"
"Peterson!" They both replied at the same time.
We all grinned at each other manically, then Jeff spoke.
"I've got six inches, she says a foot."
Julie gave him a soft punch on his arm. "Who's 'she', the cat's mother?"
I knew what was coming next. As soon as Vortigern was mentioned, that would be it. "I'll go," I paused for a moment's reflection, "Ten inches." It worked, mock battle was avoided. There was a sudden eruption of wind as pod eight suddenly appeared in Hawking, violently casting away the air its sudden appearance displaced. This was followed by a resounding crash as the pod dropped onto its plinth.
Julie grinned triumphantly. "Had to be a foot and a half at least."
Jeff shook his head as he took his wallet out of his pocket. "What is wrong with the man, I thought you was supposed to get better with experience?"
"Going off previous 'experience', they'll have to put a plinth on the roof for him this time next year." I said as I handed a fiver to Julie.
Not long afterwards, we got the all clear signal off Chief Farrel to say that all was well in the pod and all the watchers could relax. Peterson was the first out, to much jeering from the onlookers for a rough landing, followed by Maxwell leading Markham, who had his arm in a sling. So that gave us two targets for tonights entertainment in the bar.
We'd left not long after only to walk straight into Mrs Partridge, Dr Bairstow's PA. How she always managed to know where to find us is beyond me, but it's a trick I wish she would impart to the security section. The Gods only know we could use it out on the job with this lot we have to look after. Apparently I had been summoned to the boss's office. Note, just me. That didn't bode well. So, with the other two casting furtive grins at me, I made my way to Dr B's office while wracking my brain trying to figure out just what I'd done wrong this time and if my future had any more damages incurred forms in it.
As it turned out, it was neither. He had a job for me. Not just for me either as, waiting patiently in Mrs Partridge's office, sat Anne Neville, one of the history department heads. I said hello and was about to ask if she knew what was going on when Mrs Partridge opened the door into Dr B's office. How she had got back so fast and without me seeing her was beyond me, the woman must move like a Ninja. I asked her, as I passed, if she had a twin at St. Mary's, to which she replied that while she did have a few sisters, there was no twin. Then she left.
We had sat on the opposite side of the boss's desk and listened attentively as he laid out the job. Then he handed us a folder each and asked if we had any questions. When neither of us did, he bid us a good day and that was it.
Once we were out in the corridor Anne turned to me. "What do you think?"
I looked down at her. "Strict observe and report job, zero interaction with contemporaries. Piece of cake."
She raised an eyebrow. "I meant, see you in the cafeteria in, say, an hour?"
"Who gets the bacon butties?"
Anne raised her fist and we played Rock-Paper-Scissors. I can attest that bacon butties taste so much nicer when brought by the history department.
An hour later and I was sat in the corner of the cafeteria with Julie. I'd read through the brief that Dr Bairstow had provided and it had stated it was a job for two historians and two security. Julie has been known to have ice in her veins under pressure and, even though we would only be observing, there would still be danger on every side of us. Jeff was as tough as they came, but he was more overt than covert and this job would definitely need us to be covert.
We had only been sat there a few minutes when Anne came over, a large plate of bacon sandwiches in her hands. Behind her came a woman I wasn't familiar with and Anne introduced her.
"This is Susan Arney. She's newly qualified as an historian but her specialty will be invaluable on this jump."
I introduced myself and Julie who, having a mouthful of bacon buttie and chewing industriously, waved her greeting. Once the two historians had sat down, and she had swallowed her food, Julie looked at Anne. "So, what's the job?" She asked as she took another bite.
"1587, Virginia, as it was then, in the Americas." Beside her, Susan's eyes widened and she looked at her department head who gave her a sideways look and grinned. "Roanoke Island and the lost colony."
Susan balled her hands into fists, closed her eyes and whispered a fervent "Yes!"
"The lost colony, what's that?" Asked Julie as she reached for another sandwich.
Anne thought for a moment, thinking of the best way to proceed when explaining things to a couple of Security grunts. "Ok. Queen Elizabeth the first, having granted a charter that was eventually passed to Sir Walter Raleigh, wanted to colonise areas in the New World. Raleigh sent an initial expedition, a pathfinder mission if you will, which returned favourable reports. So he sent his main expedition in 1585 to establish a full colony on Roanoke Island. The expedition, and the later colony, was beset with problems straight from the beginning. Bad weather had seperated some of the ships from the main fleet, one ship ran aground on a submerged shoal and lost all its stores of food, things like that. It also happened that the colony was being established during one of the worst droughts to ever strike the eastern seaboard. After an initial friendly meeting with the local Croatan Indians, relations soon soured resulting in a burned out Croatan village and attacks on the colony in revenge. Things got so bad that most of the colonists returned to England, leaving only a contingent of fifteen men to garrison the colony and maintain Raleigh's claim. By the time the next expedition arrived, including a hundred and fifteen new colonists, the colony was deserted and the fifteen men presumed dead. The new colonists re-established the colony and it was during this time that the very first English child was born in the Americas. She was named Virginia Dare, after the area they had settled. This was in 1586. By the time the next expedition arrived in 1590, the colony was abandoned and there was no sign of any of the colonists, including Virginia Dare. The only clue as to their fate was the word 'Croatoan' carved into a tree and the letters 'CRO' carved into another. To this day, no one knows what really happened to the Roanoke colonists."
"Why 1587?" Asked Julie.
"By the time the 1590 expedition arrived, the colony had been abandoned for some time, probably years."
Julie shrugged. "The Croatans probably killed them all."
Susan shook her head. "By the time the ships left in 1586, relations with the Croatan Indians had greatly improved. They were, essentially, a very friendly and hospitable tribe. Plus there was no sign of any struggle or violence in the abandoned colony. Quite the opposite in fact as some of the buildings showed signs of having been dismantled. Not something you'd do in the middle of a war."
I looked at Susan. "What does the consensus say happened to them?"
Susan shrugged her shoulders. "No one really knows for sure but the consensus is split two ways. One side says they were attacked and massacred, probably by the Powhatan tribe or Mandoags. The other side says they were probably driven out by the drought and, close to starvation, they would have joined and been assimilated into one of the friendlier tribes such as the Croatans or even the Chesepians to the north."
Julie turned to me. "So what's St. Mary's interest in this?" Then, before I could answer her, she turned to Susan with a frown. "And what are man dogs?"
"Mandoags?" Replied Susan. "It means 'enemy tribe'. It's a collective name for any unfriendly tribe."
When Susan had finished, I turned to Julie. "The Boss was approached by a direct descendant of the Dare family who has ties with Thirsk and knows about St. Mary's and what we do here."
"So, it's a private job then?"
I nodded. "Private and confidential. We'll be taking pod six." I looked meaningfully at the two lunatics on the other side of the table. "It is strictly an observe and document mission. We do 'not' interfere with the progression of events and we do 'not' make any form of contact with any of the contemporaries. We go in, we observe, we leave. Given how little we know of actual events, we may have to bounce around the local timeline a bit until we find what we're looking for but, hopefully, we should be able to zero in on it pretty quickly. Our main focus is to discover what happened to the colonists, specifically Virginia Dare."
"Defense?" Asked Julie.
I looked at her and held her gaze.
She rolled her eyes. "Wonderful."
"I'll have a word with Professor Rapson, see if R&D have any of their sonic weapons ready. Other than that, it's pepper spray. A lot can change in six hundred years so it's definitely non-lethal only."
Susan looked a little sheepishly at us. "Erm, I only recently qualified as an historian and have only ever been on 'safe' jumps. Just so I know, who's in charge?"
I tried to keep my face neutral. "Historians lead the way out in the field, so Anne is in charge. 'Unless'," I paused for effect, "it's in matters of tactics and security. Then it's me."
Anne leaned forward. "Just remember, if Wayne or Julie tell us to get back to the pod, we go. No hanging around for one last click of the camera or to see what happens next. If we're told to move it's for a reason, so we move, no questions asked."
Susan nodded her head. "Yes, I understand."
I flicked my gaze from Susan to Anne and back again. "Don't worry. Julie and I have done plenty of jumps and have plenty of experience behind us. Everything will be fine."
I could actually feel Julie mentally cringe beside me.
We had all spent that evening prepping for the jump, which was due to leave early the next day. Because it was an observation only job, with strictly no contact, there was no need for the usual trip to Wardrobe, so we were all going dressed in combats to better blend in with the surrounding woodland. Any equipment we were taking we would sort out ourselves and the pod would be prepped and stocked for us, so we had nothing else to do.
In the morning, I was the first to arrive in Hawking which was empty except for Chief Farrel. By the time the rest of the team had arrived, the Chief had finished prepping pod six and had laid in the co-ordinates.
"Everybody ready for the off?" Anne asked once the Chief had departed and the door had closed. Once we had all either murmured or grunted that we were, she activated the decon and we all watched as the cold blue light swept the inside of the pod. "Ok! Seat belts fastened? Trays in the upright position? And off we go!"
Peterson could learn a lot from Anne as the landing was as smooth as you like. As we all unbuckled and prepared to leave, Anne swept the external cameras around our surroundings and carried out the usual checks to see if anybody was hanging around outside. She gave us the all clear.
I nodded my head. "Alright, Anne? You and Susan stay inside the pod for now while me and Julie recce the area." The two of them nodded and I turned to Julie. "Once outside, you break left and I'll go right. No more than two hundred meters and don't break the tree-line."
Julie nodded. "Two hundred meters, got it."
"Weapons check." Fortunately, Professor Rapson had a couple of his sonic handguns ready and waiting for a field test and was only too happy for me and my team to have one each. He even tested them for us right there in the lab. I must admit, I felt a little sorry for Emma James. The Professor could have warned her first. But, as the good professor pointed out, we wouldn't be warning any indians about the guns either.
Julie checked her weapon. "In the green."
"In the green." I replied after checking the charge and setting on my weapon. "Comms check." We both keyed our mikes, creating a brief burst of static in the earbuds we all wore. We both nodded to say we had received the static burst. "Comms check ok, we're good to go."
"See you back here?"
I nodded to Julie. "Safe and sound." Then I turned to Anne in the driver's seat. "Open the door please Anne."
"Come back safe guys." Said Anne as the door slid open.
We both nodded and then slipped outside. Once outside, we crouched down on either side of the door and waited for it to close, taking in our surroundings as we did. We had landed in thick woodland in the north of the island. The morning was cold and a thick mist that had drifted in off the Albemerle Sound ghosted through Beech and Cherry Birch trees, turning them into skeletal wraiths in the longer distances. The woodland was unusually quiet, but that was probably thanks to a materialising pod and the subsequent blast of expelled air. Sure enough, once we had separated and begun our recce of the area, the noise of the woodland gradually came back. The decision to make our initial jump in the winter had been a tactical one, and had been mine to make. We knew the island would be heavily forested and I didn't want to land in the summer when the foliage was at its thickest, lessening visual range and creating lots of places for contemporaries with a good knowledge of the area to hide in ambush. True, it also meant that there was less cover for us as well. But the difference was that we knew the contemporaries were there where-as they didn't know that we were here. Advantage St. Mary's.
The going was difficult. Have you ever tried moving surreptitiously across ground that was littered with dead leaves, twigs and branches? Try it, it's not easy. There are tricks you can do to make you sound more like an animal moving through the trees than a human. But, given the prevalence of hunting in this time, they wouldn't have helped. So we had to make the best of a bad situation and carry on as quietly as possible.
It took about half an hour to do a proper sweep of the area, and that was just doing one half of the area with Julie covering the other half. When I'd made my way back to the pod, I saw Julie coming in from the opposite direction. "Report?" I asked when we were both crouched down on either side of the door again.
"All quiet, eerily so. I mean, there's nothing moving around out there. The place is dead."
"I thought the same." I replied as I scanned the surrounding veil-like mist and the dark, skeletal trees that haunted the grey expanse. I took out my little compass and took a baring, then looked up and beyond Julie. "Ok. Assuming we landed in the right place, then the settlement should be roughly one kilometer in that direction. Let's get the other two and make a start."
"Assuming they've finished their tea." Said Julie as I opened the door.
They hadn't. Finished their tea I mean. But at least they'd made a cup for us as well, so we forgave them.
Fifteen minutes later and we were on the move. We traveled in single file with me in the lead, Susan behind me, Anne behind her and Julie bringing up the rear. We made decent enough time considering that we were being careful where we placed our feet, but we couldn't help but make some noise as we walked with each crunch of dried out leaves and each snap of a dead twig sounding louder than it actually was in the eerie stillness.
Then we came to a trail through the trees. It was basically a dirt track where the grass had been worn away and the ground compacted, plus there were ruts in the track to show where carts and small wagons had passed through the trees. I had halted our little column and was studying the track to see if I could figure out how recently the track had been used when, from somewhere ahead and slightly off to our right, I heard the sound of laughter coming from the fog. I turned to the group behind me, held a finger to my lips and then indicated for them to head back the way we had come and then followed them. We had only gone a couple of yards when Julie turned and indicated a fallen Beech tree, lying on the ground off to our right. We all headed for the tree and crouched down behind the thick trunk.
The moment was tense, but there was no immediate danger. The sound of voices could now be heard from the trail ahead of us, chatting amiably with each other, so we hadn't been seen getting under cover and any noise we might have made hadn't been detected. I signaled for everyone to keep their heads down and keep quiet, but I needn't have bothered. Julie was damn near unflappable, Anne was a veteran at this and Susan was behaving as though this was old hat to her. I was impressed.
Three figures appeared on the trail. All were men and all were armed, if only with axes, and all were wearing buckskin clothing that was fur lined against the cold. We sat quietly until the men were out of earshot and then we all slowly rose and peaked over the thick trunk of the downed tree. The track was clear.
I looked down the trail in the direction the men had gone. "Ok, we can go back to the pod."
Susan looked at me with a frown. "Back to the pod? Why?"
I nodded in the direction of the group of men. "They were speaking English, not Croatian. The colony is still here."
Susan raised an eyebrow. "Croatian? The Indians here are Croatan, not Eastern Europeans. They speak Algonquin."
I made a pretense of continuing to look up the trail, just in case there were any more contemporaries anywhere around. "Right, let's move. Julie? You take point, Anne you follow." Susan had the good grace not to say anything else. I'll be the first to admit, history is not my strong point, so I didn't really mind being corrected. Besides, when Susan saved my life later on, she made up for all of it.
We made it back to the pod without any incident and jumped forward six months. Now it was summertime and all the trees and foliage were in full bloom. The air on this warm summer morning was amazing, rich with the scents of the forest and the notable absence of pollution. We followed the same procedure as last time and, once the recce had been done, we headed off towards the track which we managed to find easily enough. At the track, we turned to the right as it seemed to head in a northerly direction and kept inside the tree-line instead of using the track itself. The going was a little harder but it was better than rounding a bend and walking into a bunch of contemporaries coming the other way.
After a while the trees came to a sudden end and the track carried on into a wide area that had been cleared of trees and foliage. On the other side of the clearing, roughly a quarter of a mile away, was a wall made of thick logs that had been stood on their ends and the tops sharpened into points.
We had found the Roanoke colony.
"That's it!" Said Susan, her excitement carrying in her voice even though she was whispering. "That's the lost colony. Just-, before it was lost. Obviously."
I grinned at her and turned my attention back to the colony. Whoever had first built the compound knew what he was doing. From the edge of the trees there was roughly a quarter mile of open killing ground before you reached the compound. The compound had been built on top of a hill, so anyone attacking the compound would be fighting uphill to get at it. Earthworks had been dug all around the hill and would have to be negotiated, slowing an enemy down and making them an easier target for riflemen on top of the hill. Fire hardened stakes had also been driven deep into the hill forming a ring around the middle, their blackened tips pointing in all directions in a seemingly haphazard way. Once past the earthworks and the stakes, you then had a high wall that surrounded the compound and was broken only by a pair of sturdy looking gates at the end of the track we had been following. I strongly suspected there would be a ledge on the other side of the palisade wall for the defenders to stand on during an attack and for lookouts to patrol the rest of the time. I was proven right a few moments later when we could see the top of a man's head walking slowly along the length of the wall, the long barrel of a rifle over one shoulder. "It doesn't look very big." I commented more to myself than to any of the others.
Susan, standing behind the tree next to mine, glanced my way before speaking. "It doesn't have to be. The colony has barely more than a hundred people in it. I also think the camp is longer than it is wide, so we can only see a part of it."
A few columns of smoke drifting lazily into the air deeper into the colony gave credence to this and I nodded my agreement. "Right, ok. The colony is obviously still here, so it looks like we need to jump-!"
Anne's urgent whisper cut across mine. "Wait! Listen, can you here that?"
We all listened intently and then we also heard it. It was a baby's cry, drifting down from the top of the hill. Susan and Anne had turned to each other, their eyes bright with wonder. It was Anne who spoke first. "That's a newborn, can't be more than a few weeks old at most."
"It's her, it has to be. That's Virginia Dare."
More voices could be heard now, two men calling to each other with one of them possibly being the sentry up on the palisade wall. I looked up at the compound but there didn't seem to be any more activity going on than could be seen earlier. "Right, Anne? Do you have what you need?"
Anne was looking down at her equipment and she spoke without looking up. "Yes, yes I think so. I may even have the baby's cries on audio if the mic's gain is good enough."
"You can check that later, we need to move. Julie, you take point again."
We headed off into the trees behind Julie who, instead of following the track, cut away from it to the left slightly. After over half an hour, Julie's uncanny sense of direction brought us straight to the pod. "Good job." I said as we stepped back to allow two historians, still babbling about wailing babies, to enter the pod. Julie watched them enter, raised an eyebrow and grinned at me before following them in.
We jumped twice more, trying to zero in on the time frame we were looking for, before we came across the empty compound for the first time. It was obvious, to a trained eye, that a battle had taken place. There were still arrows everywhere as well as one or two discarded axes and lances. I watched Susan as she studied an axe that was embedded in a wooden wall of one of the buildings inside the compound, her look of concentration marred by a deep frown. I was about to go over and ask her what she'd found when Julie came out of the building next to me.
"Whatever happened, happened fast. There's still food in pans in there and on tables. It's all dry and dessicated now. In this heat? I'd say it's been there a good two months, maybe three."
I nodded my head as I continued to look around at the abandoned outpost. "Ok, keep looking. Look for journals or diaries, anything that might have a date we can use as a guide."
"On it." Said Julie as she set off again.
I moved over to where Susan was still studying the axe, her brow furrowed in concentration. "What is it?"
She looked at me, then glanced back at the weapon before looking up at me again. "It's an axe."
"What?" I looked at the weapon. "Well, actually its a Tomahawk but," I looked at her with a frown of my own, "I don't mean the weapon, I mean what's got you so bothered?"
Susan's eyes flicked to the axe and then back at me, her head never moved. "The axe!" She said, raising her eyebrows. "It, it's wrong. It shouldn't be here. It's not a Croatan axe or Tomahawk. It's not Powhatan or Chesapeake either. These markings-!" She trailed off, losing herself in thought again.
I was about to say something when I thought I heard a noise, a creaking sound of wood rubbing on wood. I raised my head slightly, straining my hearing. Then I heard it again, so feint that it had to have come from beyond the walls. I keyed my mic twice in rapid succession, alerting my team to a possible danger. When Susan looked at me again, I signed for her to stay where she was and then ran as quickly and as quietly as I could towards the nearest wall in the direction I thought the sound had come from. The walls were well constructed but here and there were small cracks in between the logs and I peered through a couple of them before I saw them. Out on the track, a group of men, both white men and Indian, were leading three open top horse drawn carts towards the main gate.
I turned and ran back to Susan who had been joined by Anne. "People coming, we need to move!" I saw Julie heading our way in between two of the buildings and signaled for her to turn and head back the way she had come, then I told Anne and Susan to follow her and the three of us ran headlong through the abandoned colony to catch her up. By the time we heard the big gates opening, we had found the other gates at the opposite end of the compound. We opened these gates as quickly and as quietly as we could and, once we were all through, we bolted for the cover of the trees. Once inside the tree-line, we moved a short way deeper into the shaded interior before stopping and leaning on the trees, our breathing coming in short gasps and our hearts hammering in our chests. In the mad rush to get away before being discovered, none of us had remembered to breathe properly while running.
"Now that, was a close one." Gasped Anne as she bent forward and put her hands on her knees.
"That it was." I agreed. I looked back at the walls of the compound that could be seen through the trees. "But no one is coming out, so I think we're good."
It took the best part of an hour for us to make our way back to the pod. We walked in silence, more through tactical necessity than anything else. Once we were all safely inside, me and Anne played rock-paper-scissors to see who would make the tea, then I put the kettle on.
Later on that evening, Anne called us all together inside the pod. She and Susan had been going though the footage and the still images they had taken. All credit to them, I hadn't even seen them taking any video let alone any pictures, yet they had both. What was more, however, they had audio of the baby, we suspected, was Virginia Dare crying. I nodded my head appreciatively before turning to Julie. "Tell them what you found."
Julie looked over at the two historians. "I found a ledger, in the Blacksmith's forge. The last entry in it was on the fifth of May. From what I saw in the ledger, the Blacksmith was pretty good with his record keeping. There were entries made into the ledger almost every day, as you'd expect from a new settlement, and, with the fifth of May being the last entry, that's our target date."
Anne looked thoughtful. "I'd like to get there a little earlier, if that's alright with you? There's some setting up we need to do if we're going to properly record and document the event."
I nodded my head while thinking here we go. "Sure. How much time do you need?"
"Just a day or two." She took out a notebook and opened it, flicking through a few pages until she found the one she wanted. It was a rough, hand drawn map of the colony and its surroundings. Anne pointed to a spot that had been marked on the map. "There's a large Beech tree here. If we can get a camera secured to one of the upper branches, it would give us an excellent view inside the compound." She pointed to another spot on the map, this one closer to the main gates. "There's also another one here which would give us a good view inside the compound as well as the main gate. I thought, as we haven't really been to the woodland on the far side of the compound, we could place the remote cameras over there."
I nodded my head in agreement, better to place the cameras in the unfamiliar area and stick to the area we know ourselves. I turned to Julie sat next to me. "What do you think, two teams?"
Julie looked at the two historians before turning to me. "Height will be our advantage. In this day and age, an attacker's focus will be on the compound and the killing ground in between. They have no reason to look up."
"Agreed. There'll be a good four hundred meters between us and where the action will be. Plus the foliage should be thick enough to cover us from the ground if we're up a tree and we can have camouflage netting below our positions as well. We should be safe enough."
Anne's eyes flicked between the two of us. "Two teams would be better, we can cover the event from four different points. There will probably be a lot going on, so we have to keep in mind our main objective. We need to find out what happened to Virginia Dare first and foremost. Finding out the fate of the rest of the colonists would be a bonus, but we need to concentrate on the baby."
I looked at Susan who had stayed quiet with a thoughtful look on her face. "Something to add?"
"What?" She looked at me and then around at the rest of the group. "I'm sorry, what?"
I was sitting with my arms resting on the table and my fingers clasped, so I opened my fingers and turned my hands palm upwards. "If you have anything to add, now's the time."
"No, nothing." She replied with a brief shake of her head.
"Alright, if you're sure?" Susan nodded her head so I left it. "Ok then, I think we're done here. We're going back to a time we know the colony is definitely occupied so, to lessen the chance of discovery, I suggest we prep all our equipment now and then jump. At least that way we can arrive, set up and get back to the pod with a minimum of fuss, ready for the event. We'll be setting up in the dark so be prepared for that."
Everyone had nodded their assent so we all set about prepping equipment and carrying out last minute checks. Julie and I went over the maps we'd made of the area and the contingency plans we had in place for if anything went sideways. After all, we are St. Mary's and 'going sideways' should probably be our motto.
Some things never change.
We jumped back to the third of May, 1588. We arrived late in the evening with the sun having already set. The plan was to set up two remote controlled cameras in the high branches of two trees on the far side of the colony. Once those were set up and in place, we would then return to the pod and, on the evening of the fourth, we would go to our side of the colony and secrete ourselves in position ready to cover the events of the fifth and possibly the sixth.
We left the pod under cover of darkness and made our way to the colony. Even though the night sky was clear with a bright three-quarter moon, the darkness was near total under the thick canopy of trees. However, we managed to find our way back to the edge of the trees and the open killing ground. From there we split up into two teams with Anne and Julie setting up the camera closest to the track that would cover the main gate and me and Susan setting up the camera that would cover most of the colony's interior. Anne and Susan were the ones to climb the trees and set up the cameras while Julie and I covered them from the ground and kept watch for any signs of activity that might jeopardise the mission. Although it took some time to complete, eventually both cameras were in place and working perfectly. With the job done, we all met up again and headed back to the pod for a well earned rest.
The next day we took a little longer to prep. We were going to be spending quite a lot of time up a tree so, as well as the various bits of equipment we would be taking with us, we also needed food, water and some small camouflage nets that would be spread out below us to cover us from being seen from below. Fortunately, all of these we managed to fit into four backpacks, two for each team.
In the early evening, just as the sun was setting outside, we were all packing everything into our backpacks when there was a loud clatter. We all turned and saw one of the cameras on the floor in various pieces. Anne was stood over it with her hand on her forehead. "Oh crap! Sorry, sorry. I don't know what happened, I thought I'd-" She sighed heavily and then knelt down to pick up the various bits of camera.
I looked at Julie and nodded towards the camera screens. She replied with a nod of her own and then went to do a camera sweep of the outside to see if anyone was around who might have heard something. When I turned my attention back to Anne, she had been joined by Susan and the two of them were going over the broken camera. "How badly damaged is it? Will it still work?"
Susan held up a circular piece of the camera. "This lens is cracked, it'll need to be replaced."
Anne looked at the damaged lens. "We have a spare. The rest of the camera looks to have survived, but...!"
I raised my eyebrows. "But?"
"The camera is electronic and the battery has come off with it still turned on, which means it's probably scrambled all the information it was holding in its memory. I can put it all back together again and get it working, but I'll need to recalibrate it."
"So, what's the problem?"
"There are a number of calibrations that need to be set. Each calibration has to be initialised to bed in the settings. It can take a good four hours."
"Then you'd better get started." Anne set to work on the camera, ably assisted by Susan. I went over to stand next to Julie and looked up at the bank of screens showing images fed from the external cameras on the pod. "Could've done without this," I said quietly, "I knew things were running too smoothly."
Julie nodded her head as she watched Anne and Susan work. "You realise we're risking blowing the whole mission right now?" She turned and looked up at me as she sat back against the console. "We can't activate the remote cameras from here, and moving around up a tree on the edge of a clearing in broad daylight will be risky at best, especially in full view of the compound."
I knew what she was getting at. I quickly ran through the risk assessment in my mind, taking into account the mission failure; the risk of discovery of one or both teams, the risk of capture of one team or the other. Anne was a seasoned veteran of these jumps and Julie was one of the most capable and respected members of the Security team. The weak link was Susan, but that was only through a lack of experience. She had certainly proven herself capable so far. "Alright. I'll take Susan and we'll set up at the mid-way point on this side of the compound. You and Anne do what you can with the camera and then set up on this side of the gate. Just be careful. I don't want to see them leading the two of you into the compound in chains and then have to go in and get you."
"Ooh, chains!" Replied Julie with a wicked glint in her eye.
I grinned, shook my head and then went to collect Susan.
We did another sweep of the cameras on the pod and left straight away. The darkness was near total under the canopy of trees and the night was unusually quiet. That should have been my first clue. But I'm from England and we don't have Cicadas, so the absence of their nighttime chorus didn't ring any alarm bells for me, or for Susan either. Instead we concentrated on our sense of direction to take us to the track and, from there, to the colony.
We had been walking for some fifteen minutes with the unnatural stillness of the night playing quietly on a spot somewhere in the back of my mind, but I was too busy concentrating on where we were going, moving as quietly as possible and running through scenarios and stratagems to pay any heed to it. From out of nowhere, I was suddenly pushed so hard from behind that I was almost spun off my feet and thrown violently into the thick bole of a tree. It was a moment after I collided with the tree that pain exploded in the back of my right shoulder. I grabbed a hold of the tree and heard a strange kind of 'whizzing' sound and a thud somewhere just in front of us. Then I felt my legs buckling beneath me as all my strength seemed to leech away. I grabbed tighter to the tree which caused an agonising pain in my shoulder and my strength to drain faster. Then I felt myself falling sideways.
Susan suddenly appeared by my side as she caught me and pushed me back up to the tree. She was saying something under her breath and it sounded like she was repeating "Oh God, Oh my God". Then I heard a feint 'pop' and a hiss, then from somewhere close someone screamed.
"Wayne! We have to move, we have to move now!" Susan's voice hissed in my ear. She must have thrown my right arm over her shoulder and physically pulled me to my feet as pain suddenly flared once again in my shoulder. "Move soldier, this way!"
I was carrying my backpack over my left shoulder and almost lost it as I staggered along with Susan guiding me. By now the pain was indescribable and each jarring stumble and footfall caused it to flare anew. I was on the verge of blacking out, I knew, but the sense of urgency and fear in Susan's voice kept me going as we ran heedlessly through the trees. Then I heard an electric hum and knew instantly what it was. Susan had used a sonic weapon. From somewhere behind us came an inhuman screech and we were moving again, this time in a different direction. Through waves of pain and nausea, I recognised what was going on. Someone, or something, was chasing us and Susan was trying to lose them in the dark.
I had no idea how long we had been running, or shambling in my case, but I soon came to the limit of my endurance. My legs had long since turned to lead and then the inevitable happened and my strength gave out. I tumbled to the ground, dragging Susan down with me, then I lay there groaning as more waves of pain burned through me. "Can't..., go on. Leave, me."
"I'm not leaving you, no!"
"Get...,back to the..., pod."
Susan had grabbed me again and was dragging me along the ground now. "I'm St. Mary's and we don't leave our people behind. So shut it!" She stopped dragging me for a moment and then I felt her change direction. We stopped again and, no sooner had we stopped, I felt all my senses leaving me. Then Susan's frightened yet determined voice came to me from the encroaching darkness.
"I'm sorry, Wayne I'm so sorry, but I have to do this."
There came a snapping sound and the worst pain so far jarred me to my bones. I took a breath to cry out but the cry never came. Instead the darkened forest around me suddenly went much darker. The world went black.
I don't know how long I was out for but it couldn't have been very long as the darkened forest showed no signs of getting any brighter once my senses began coming back to me. The first thing to register was the pain. Of course, it had to be didn't it? The second was the darkness all around me and the third was Susan putting her hand over my mouth. Then she whispered in my ear so quietly that I could barely hear her.
"Stay perfectly still and, for both our sakes, keep quiet."
I nodded my head slightly to say I had heard and understood and then lay where I was, trying mentally to take stock of what was going on. My shoulder felt as though it was burning, my whole body was aching for some reason and there was a pulsing throb in my head that seemed to keep rhythm with my heartbeat. In spite of it being nighttime, I was sweating profusely and my mouth felt as though something had crawled in there and died. Yet my sense of smell, for some bizarre reason, seemed to have heightened as I breathed in the earthy smell of the forest around me. It wasn't until later that I worked out it was probably because I was lying on the ground, face down with my nose part-buried in the forest loam. I lifted my head slightly and looked around me. We appeared to be lying inside a bush of some kind. No, not a bush. A thicket. Susan had dragged me into a thicket to try and evade whoever was chasing us.
I heard a snuffling sound from somewhere off to my left and then the sound of a soft footfall as it broke a dried twig. Again there came the snuffling sound, closer this time. Whatever was making that noise was only a few feet away. So, not a 'who' but a 'what'.
Without realising it, I allowed my training to take over. In the absence of light, the best way to see is out of the corner of your eye. The curve of the eyeball magnifies whatever ambient light there is and will allow you to make out things slightly better. Using this technique, I looked to my left and saw Susan with her arm outstretched as though she was aiming something. I realised she was aiming the sonic handgun at whatever was outside our hiding place. I was about to tell her not to fire when I realised just how much danger we were in. Any noise, any movement I made would alert whatever was out there to where we were hiding, it was much too close to us for it to miss it. But if Susan fired her weapon, the sound of the sonic discharge, let alone any howling the creature might make, would bring its friends, who I knew beyond a certainty were close by, running straight to us. All I could do was will Susan not to fire.
Susan, in true St. Mary's fashion, never buckled. She held her nerve and held her fire. But Fate is a cruel master and Susan's reward for her strength and courage was the one thing neither of us wanted. From somewhere out in the darkened forest there came the sound of a loud thunderclap.
The pod, our only safe harbour and means to get home, had jumped away.
A strange howling went up from somewhere out in the forest. A moment later and the howling was picked up from various places all around us, including from just outside the thicket. Then the creature outside the thicket scampered away, followed a few seconds later by another one. But something wasn't right, something about the creatures. That they were wolves was obvious, but their howling didn't sound quite right. Nor did the sound of their paws as they charged past us and away.
I lifted my head and pain and nausea threatened to overwhelm me again. I closed my eyes tightly and fought to take control of my own body. Through gritted teeth I whispered "Susan, report."
Even her whispers conveyed just how frightened Susan was when she spoke. "Was that the pod? Did they jump away?"
I reached out my hand and gripped Susan's hand tightly. "Susan! I, I need to know what's happening. Everything is, is a confused mess in my head. I need to know what's going on or I can't..., get us out of this."
Susan took a deep breath to try and steady her nerves. "It's the attack, the event. It's happening, now!"
I frowned. "What? But it can't be, it's too early."
"I don't know. Your Blacksmith might be good at keeping records but it looks like his keeping track of the date was crap. You've been shot with an arrow, by the way."
I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. "That part was an aside to you?"
Even whispering, she could hear the incredulous in my voice. "I know, I'm sorry. I'm having a hard time keeping track of everything that's going on."
I tried to change my position and the nausea came again. I groaned and allowed my head to sag a little.
Susan gently lay her hand on my good shoulder. "Try and stay still. The arrow is still in you, it's in so deep I couldn't risk pulling it out."
I was taking deep breaths to try and stem the rising bile I could taste in the back of my throat. "You did, the right thing. The, the arrow is blocking the hole and, and slowing the blood loss." I could feel something pushing at the front of my wounded shoulder and, when I felt it with my left hand, I could feel a small lump there. It was the tip of the arrowhead. The arrow had almost passed all the way through my shoulder.
Suddenly Susan put her hand on my arm and squeezed. When I looked at her, she put a finger to her lips and we both froze. Then I could hear what had alerted her. Something was coming and it wasn't alone, there was a lot of them. This time it was people. We could tell by their footfalls and, although they were moving quietly through the trees, the occasional snatches of whispered conversation that was in a language I couldn't hope to understand. We couldn't tell how many there were out there in the darkened forest, but there were so many of them it took close to a full minute for them all to pass our little hiding place. If, as I suspected, they were heading for the colony, the colonists didn't stand a chance against so many.
We waited until the last of the men were well passed and away from us before either of us spoke and it was Susan who broke the silence. "I know what happened, will happen. I know where the colonists went and why no one could find any trace of them."
"You want to talk about this now?"
"You need to hear this, you need to know in case I do..!"
"Don't!" I interrupted her and the vehemence in my voice stopped her more than my interruption. "You never say die until you breathe your last breath. You said it yourself, St Mary's never leave there own behind. They will come back for us, all we have to do is survive until they get here. You understand?"
Susan looked abashed for a moment. "I'm sorry. Yes, I understand."
"It's alright. Just, just never say die, that's all." I squeezed my eyes closed against the pain in my shoulder and then had to fight to open them again. "We have to get this arrow out."
Susan looked at me with wide eyes. "What? But, I thought you said we were better off leaving it?"
I struggled to change my position so I could get my left hand into the breast pocket of my combat shirt, then to change position again to use my bad arm to open a pouch on my belt. "We..., were, but my body is, is trying to fight against the arrow and agai..., against the pain and it's sapping all my energy. I can..., barely keep my eyes open. How much of the arrow shaft is, sticking out of my shoulder?"
Susan looked behind me. "I'm not sure, four maybe five inches."
"That will have to do. Help me, to sit against the tree trunk, will you?"
Behind our heads, the thicket we were hiding in wrapped itself half way around the thick trunk of a Beech tree and Susan pulled while I tried to shimmy back so I could rest my good left shoulder against the tree. By the time we were done I was breathing heavily again and sweat glistened on my forehead. "Ok, good. Unfortunately you're going to have to do most of the work." I opened the triangular blade of a flick knife with my thumb and then reversed the knife before handing it to her. "You'll have to cut a groove into the shaft with this. The blade is 'very' sharp so you, won't have any problems."
Susan looked uncertainly at the bloodied shaft as she took the knife. "I'm not sure I can do this."
I leaned my head back against the tree trunk as I looked over at Susan. "Hey, I have every confidence in you. You can do this."
She looked at me and then nodded her head. "Ok, then what?"
I opened my other hand and showed her the bullet I'd taken out of my breast pocket. "Then we take the bullet off this and, and you're going to fill the groove with gunpowder, out of the casing."
Susan stared at the round in my hand. "Why have you brought a bullet with you?" She hissed in alarm.
"It's my good luck, charm."
"You have a bullet for a good luck charm? What's wrong with a rabbit's foot?"
"It wasn't very, lucky for the rabbit and he, had four of them."
She frowned at me for a moment or two and then changed her position to better work on the arrow shaft. "Just so you know," she whispered, "having a bullet for a good luck charm isn't normal."
I turned my head part way towards her. "We're in a forest five hundred plus years before either of us was born. Define 'normal'?"
Susan raised her head slightly and then cocked it to one side. "Fair point. I'm going to start on the arrow, are you ready?"
I took a few deep breaths and prepared myself for what was coming. "Do it!"
Susan started working on the shaft of the arrow and I felt every little thing she did. Bless her, she really tried to be as gentle as possible, but the agony in my shoulder grew as every stroke of the blade against the wooden shaft reverberated in the open wound. It was made much worse as the sudden onset of howling and the answering sound of musket shots caused her to start in surprise, even though the noise of battle was obviously a good distance away. "Oh! Oh God, I'm sorry."
I squeezed my eyes closed and nodded my head. "It's alright, it's alright. Just, please hurry. I can't, can't keep this up."
Susan got back to work, beads of sweat breaking out on her forehead as she concentrated on the task at hand. "Sorry, this would probably be going better for you if Julie was here."
I'd been allowing my head to sag a little and suddenly raised it again. "What did you say?"
Susan leaned forward slightly to see me better. "Julie. She's very capable and would probably have this done by now."
"Yes, she is. And I'm an idiot." I keyed my mic twice and we both sat in silence, listening. Nothing happened and I was about to key my mic again when a single short burst of static came over the comms link.
"What? But, I don't understand. We heard the pod jump away, didn't we?"
I wiped sweat out of my eyes. "I must have missed, a check-in while I was unconscious, or they saw whoever shot me, following after us on the cameras. Julie probably ordered Anne, to jump back to St. Mary's if, if none of us made it back to the pod in time." I tapped the mic three times, then pressed it three times and then tapped it three times again.
"Was that Morse code?"
I squeezed my eyes closed and then blinked them open again. "S.O.S. Julie knows we're, in trouble and she's coming."
"How will she find us?"
"I, Ive set my comms link, to broadcast. She can, can use the carrier, wave to track us." The darkened forest began to shimmer and waves, looking like heat haze on a hot summer's day, began to slowly rise. "We can, we can wait, wait for her-?"
Susan looked at my back. "No, we can't. You're bleeding quite badly here and you've lost a lot of blood. We need-! I, need, to get this done. Give me the bullet."
I handed her the round and allowed my hand to drop to the floor, I felt so weak and tired. "Do you, know what to do?"
The knife she held was a multi tool and I heard her slide the blade home and then heard the click of metal on metal. She had opened the butterfly handle of the knife and exposed the jaws of a pair of pliers and was now using the pliers to work loose the bullet from the casing. "Yes, I know what to do." After a few moments, she continued. "Ok, I'm ready to pour the gunpowder into the channel on the shaft."
I leaned forward. "Help me, into position. We'll only get one, crack at this." I changed my position so my wounded shoulder was directly in front of the tree trunk and then turned and looked back at Susan. "I'm sorry, but, this will all be on, you again." I took a few heavy breaths. "Once you light the, gunpowder, you'll need to, help ram my sh, shoulder back against, the tree. Then you, you'll need to, pull the arrow through me, all while, while the gunpowder, is still burning. You understand?"
Susan nodded pensively, then she looked around on the floor, leaned over and picked something up and began brushing it with her hand. Then she handed me a piece of branch which was about two inches thick. "You're probably going to need this. Bite down on it."
"Good thinking." I replied as I took the offered piece of wood.
"Now, sit still. I'm tipping the gunpowder onto the shaft now."
I nodded my head and put the wood in my mouth. When Susan had filled the channel she had made in the arrow, she came and sat next to me. She held a lighter in her left hand and placed her right hand on the front of my shoulder, being careful to place it under the small lump that was the arrowhead. "Are you ready?"
I looked at her and took some deep breaths in through my nose, then I nodded. "Are you going to count to three?"
She shook her head. "No."
"Good, I hate-," she flicked the lighter which caught first time. Behind me there was a bright flare of light as the gunpowder ignited and Susan shoved me hard back against the tree trunk. Then she grabbed the arrow just below the head as it burst out of my shoulder and pulled, but her hand slipped on the blood soaked shaft as my body seemed reluctant to release its hold on it. My jaw cracked as I bit down hard on the wood, black stars exploding in my vision as searing pain roared through my shoulder and my legs writhed on the ground in front of me. Susan gripped the slippery arrow again and, placing her left hand against my shoulder, yanked it clear of my body as the last grains of black powder ignited, "-long waits."
With the stench of charred flesh and burnt cordite around me, I leaned my head back against the tree trunk, closed my eyes and slipped into welcome oblivion.
Slowly, my senses tried to come back to me. I opened my eyes, or at least I tried to open them, but they seemed to want to stay closed and the battle to force them open was a frantic one. Then I tried to move, a perfect example of racking bad ideas on top of one another. Nausea threatened to overwhelm me as the agony in my shoulder flared anew and I sat back against the tree trunk with my eyes squeezed tightly shut and taking in deep breaths.
"Wayne? Stay still for a few moments, give yourself time to come around."
"I'd rather, ugh, go back to sleep."
"No, don't go back to sleep. It's not safe here and we need to move."
I opened my eyes then as I suddenly realised I wasn't speaking to Susan. "Julie?"
"Yes, I'm here. And you're lucky to be here too. What the hell did you do to your shoulder?"
"I got shot with an arrow," I replied defensively, "it's not like I did it to myself."
Julie looked at me with a raised eyebrow. "Yes. And then, instead of plugging the wound with moss, like Medical showed us in the last lecture, you tried to blow up your shoulder with gunpowder."
"What lecture?" I frowned and looked at Susan as I felt something prick me on my leg.
Susan shook her head. "I'm new here, it must have been before I came to St. Mary's."
"Did you just, inject me?" I blinked my eyes rapidly a few times as my vision started to swim a little.
"Enhanced Morphine solution, Professor Rapson's own recipe I believe."
I turned eyes that were becoming blearier by the second on Susan. "Rapson? You gave me someink cooked up by those crackpots in R and-, R an-?"
Susan cocked her head slightly to one side and raised an eyebrow. "R and D?"
"Them buggers!" I said as I jabbed a finger towards Susan and nodded my head at Julie.
"Christ, he's off his head." Said Julie as she peered at me in the gloom. "Look at his eyes!" The thing about Morphine, even St. Mary's own version of it, is that it isn't actually a painkiller. You can still feel the pain you're in after taking it. The difference is that you're so high off the drug, you couldn't care less how much pain you was in and, if you're not bothered about it, then it doesn't hurt as bad.
"As long as it's helping." Replied Susan, ducking and weaving her head as she tried to see my eyes.
"It's helping him alright. We could probably tie string round his ankle and pull him along like a balloon."
"Ay, is good stuff this. Can I have summore?"
"No!" Said the two women in unison.
Julie moved forward to my injured side. "Right, come on. We need to move before someone comes back this way."
As I was 'helped' out of the thicket and up onto my feet, I heard Susan ask, "Where are we going?"
"Back to the landing site, it will be the first place St. Mary's go to look for us. We'll hold up there for as long as we can and try and figure out what to do if we get stuck here for the duration."
A thought came to me. "Hey, we could live in a Wagwim like the Indians do."
"You mean a Wigwam?" Asked Susan as she watched me swaying slightly on my feet.
"One o' them as well if you like." I replied, staring intently at the back of my hand as it appeared to attempt to wander off without the rest of me.
Julie threw her backpack over her left shoulder and then moved to my left side, where she put my left arm around her shoulder to steady me as we walked. Once Susan had collected my backpack, as well as her own, we set off through the darkened forest, leaving the sounds of battle behind us.
It took us a little over an hour to get back to the landing site, now made conspicuous by the absence of a pod. I sat down and leaned back against a Cherry Birch tree and closed my eyes. The Morphine was wearing off now and the pain was definitely more noticeable. While we had managed to cauterize the hole in my back, the one at the front of my shoulder was only partly closed and was still seeping blood. Julie, who had thought to bring a first aid kit with her, had packed the wound, opting for sterile gauze instead of moss, and bandaged it but I was still bleeding badly enough for it to seep through the bandages. So I sat and tried to assess what to do next. A few minutes later, both Susan and Julie came and sat down next to me. Julie was the first to speak.
"How we doing?"
"I've been better but I'll survive."
Julie looked at my ashen and sweat streaked face and then checked my shoulder. "You need any more Morphine?"
I shook my head. "I can't think properly on that stuff, maybe later."
Julie gave a half smile. "I'll say you can't think on it."
I frowned and looked at her uncertainly. "What did I do?"
"Oh you just told me how pretty I am and how olive green suited me, just what every girl wants to be told, and then asked me out on a date."
"I didn't," I turned a horrified look at Susan, "did I?" She nodded her head and smiled sympathetically. I looked back at Julie. "Julie, I am so sorry. You know I, it wasn't me, I would never, oh crap!"
Julie grinned. "It's alright, I didn't take it personally. But just know you're in for a good arse-kicking next time we're sparring in the gym."
I leaned my head back against the trunk of the tree and looked up. Through a break in the canopy of leaves above us, I could see that the sky was starting to brighten with the coming dawn. I looked around at what we had to work with. The area was predominantly populated with Cherry Birch trees. While undoubtedly pretty to look at, their thin branches and just as thin foliage made for a less-than-ideal hiding place. Off to my right, roughly a hundred meters away, was a single Beech tree. This would make a much better hiding place, the problem was that if someone had tracked us back to here then the Beech tree would be the obvious place to look.
Julie had been right to bring us back here, this is where St. Mary's would come to start their search for us. Unfortunately it was indefensible and we simply couldn't stay here. But where could we go? What was more, how could we let St. Mary's know where we had gone? I needed more information so I turned to the one person, I hoped, would have it. "Susan? I need to know what you know. We're surrounded by hostile contemporaries and we need to plan how we're going to survive until St. Mary's comes back for us. You seem to know a lot about this time and this place, plus you've now seen what actually happened. We can't stay here, we can't defend it against that many hostiles. So we need to leave and make for the mainland. Tell us what you know."
Susan looked from me to Julie and back to me again. "I, I don't know where to start."
Julie leaned forward slightly. "Start with the Croatans. I thought they were friendly, why do you think they attacked the colony?"
"They didn't." Replied Susan, her eyes flicking between Julie and me. She took a deep breath to steady herself and then she began. "Look, I wasn't sure until tonight, until after Wayne was shot. One theory of what happened to the colony was that they were attacked by Mandoags, a hostile tribe. That's exactly what happened. But, what no one could have guessed was exactly 'who' had attacked the colony, much less why." She laughed softly, but it was more an ironic laugh than one of good humour. "It's no wonder no trace was ever found of the colonists. The searchers would have given up long before they ever came close to finding them. Everyone thought it was a local tribe that had attacked them, with the Powhatans at the top of the list."
"Why?" I interrupted, mentally crossing the Powhatan tribe off my list of places to seek help. "Why do people think they attacked the colony?"
"When the English came back in 1590 and began searching for the colonists, they met with Chief Powhatan who admitted to attacking the colony. It turned out that the Chief was a liar and had said he had attacked the colonists to give himself standing amongst the local tribes."
"It didn't work. The English established the Jamestown colony within Powhatan tribal lands a few years later and the two fought various wars over the next fifty years. Anyway, when we were in the colony the other day, there were a few weapons lying around, arrows and a couple of Tomahawks. Each tribe had their own way of marking their weapons, symbols that were painted on to imbue the weapon with power in battle. The symbols on the weapons in the colony were confusing me at first. Quite simply, they shouldn't have been there. They didn't belong to the Croatans, or the Powhatans. In fact they didn't belong to any Algonquin speaking tribe. The symbols were Athabaskan. At this time, many of the Native American tribes led a nomadic lifestyle. Very few, if any, knew the ways of agriculture, so they followed the vast herds of Buffalo and Horses that made up their diet. Right now, many of the Athabaskan tribes are moving south, out of north western Canada and into North America. The Mandoags who attacked the colony were an offshoot of one of those tribes."
She paused for a moment and looked at the two of us, then it clicked. I looked at Julie and then back to Susan. "So, you're saying, the colony, or any survivors of tonights attack, were taken back to the mainland?"
"I can go better than that. They were taken roughly three thousand miles across the mainland to the area we now know as New Mexico. I can also give you an educated guess as to 'why' they were attacked."
"They were attacked with the intent of capturing as many of them alive as possible for sacrifice."
Julie was frowning. "Sacrifice for what?"
"Ritual magic." Replied Susan, turning to look at her.
"Native American legend tells of an offshoot of the Navajo, an Athabaskan tribe who settled the area around New Mexico, who were Skinwalkers." She held up her hand to head off the inevitable question. "Skinwalkers were Shaman and Witches in the Navajo who would ritually slaughter animals and then skin them. When they wore the skins, they could adopt the essence or spirit of the animal and use it for their own ends. They would, essentially, become the animal who's skin they wore."
"Are you talking about Lycanthropy? Werewolves?"
"Not just Wolves. Bears, Cougars, even Buffalo. Many scholars believe the Skinwalkers were the precursor for the Eastern European Werewolf legends that began to spring up in the 1700s."
I had a sick feeling in my stomach but had to ask the inevitable question. "So, they took the colonists to, what? Wear their skin?"
Susan shook her head. "No, I don't think so. They might have tried it, to see what happened, but they wouldn't have got any benefits from it. Instead, they would have seen white men as a powerful magic for use in their rituals." Susan's voice softened. "It would have meant, will mean, a hard death for the colonists. A lot of the Native Americans of this time were a brutal and savage people who believed that the more someone suffered during their death, the better their afterlife would be. Quite often, the tortures they inflicted on people, both men and women, weren't done out of cruelty, but to give them a better afterlife. The Skinwalkers of the Navajo were among the worst and were greatly feared among the tribes."
Julie had a hard look on her face. "And these Skinwalkers are here, now?"
Susan was about to answer, but I beat her to it. "Yes, they are. That was why those animals earlier sounded so 'off'! They weren't real animals but Skinwalkers?"
Susan nodded her head. "Yes, acting and behaving like the animals they were wearing. The animals they had, in essence, become. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that their magic was real. But there's plenty of psychological evidence to suggest that, if their belief was strong enough, they may well have gained heightened senses, strength and speed when they wore their skins. True belief is a powerful tool."
"You may be right," I agreed, "but this changes everything for us."
Julie, who had been staring at the ground and probably imagining all kinds of horrors, looked up at me. "How?"
"For one, it means we don't have to leave this island. Two, all we have to do is avoid getting caught by these Skinwalkers. Three," here I grinned at Julie and Susan, "we may well be able to find friends and allies with the Croatians."
Julie grimaced. "Croatans, not bloody Croatians!" She looked at Susan. "You said before," she thought for a moment, "something about the different languages?"
Susan nodded. "Algonquin and Athabaskan."
"Can you speak these languages, or communicate in some way to a native speaker?"
Susan looked uncertain for a moment, then nodded.
"Fortunately I'm better with the Algonquin dialect than I am with Athabaskan. As long as you don't want any deep, philosophical conversations with anyone, we should be ok."
I looked at Julie and nodded my head. "Good enough. We head south."
"What about St. Mary's?" Asked Susan.
"Leave that to me." Said Julie as she stood up. Then she looked down at me. "You should take some more Morphine, it'll be a long walk over some rough terrain and we need to set a good pace."
"I can't think on that stuff."
"We'll do the thinking, you just have to concentrate on keeping up." With that she turned and made for the Beech tree, unsheathing her knife as she walked. When she reached the tree, she began carving on the trunk.
Susan opened one of the backpacks and started rummaging around inside it. "When we make it to the Croatans, they'll probably have their own medicine man take a look at you. 'That' will be really interesting to see."
I gave her a sardonic smile. "Oh yes. You'll fit right in with the history department you will." I watched a smile spread across her lips as she continued searching in the bag. Then I frowned as a strange feeling came over me. I looked down at the ground in front of me and then up at Julie, still carving into the tree. "Susan?" I said slowly. "Get the weapons."
Susan's smile disappeared. "What?"
"Weapons, now!" I pushed myself up of the floor, ignoring the pain in my shoulder. "Ju-!"
Julie leapt backwards, away from the tree, as a huge black claw came around the trunk and narrowly missed her face. From behind the tree trunk, a huge, distorted head of a black wolf slowly emerged and I realised it was distorted because there was a human face just below it. Both faces glared at Julie with animal ferocity and a deep growl came from the beast. Julie took a few steps back and then raised her hand. There was a 'pop' as she flicked the top of a canister in her hand and then a hiss as she squirted pepper spray into the monstrous face which coughed and then gagged before disappearing back behind the tree trunk.
Julie didn't waste any time, she turned and bolted from the tree back towards us. But another of the huge creatures broke from the shadows and gave chase in a strange parody of a canine run, as if it was practiced at running on all fours but found it strange and alien. No matter how badly it parodied running like a wolf, its speed was frightening as it rapidly gained on Julie.
Just as it was about to reach her, the beast kicked off with its hind legs and leapt for Julie's back. "Down!" I shouted and Julie dropped like a stone to the floor. The beast sailed right over her but still tried to grab her as it passed overhead. This meant it turned in mid-air, landed on its shoulders and rolled into an upright position. That was where it met my fist. The power of the blow, helped in no small part by the beast's forward momentum, caused it to somersault backwards and land on its stomach, where it lay still and didn't get up.
"Come on!" I said to Julie, beckoning with my arm in emphasis. When she passed me, I turned and ran with her back to Susan who handed us both a sonic handgun. We all turned back to the trees as a strange howling went up from the deep shadows under the canopy of leaves. Then two of the beasts slowly ambled out of the shadows, walking in a strange hunch on all fours, closely followed by a third that was still spluttering from a face full of pepper spray.
I watched the three figures slowly pass the Beech tree. "Three on three, that's not so bad." From our left flank, another of the beasts emerged from the shadows. "Four on three, still manageable." We looked to our right flank where a fifth one was slowly moving forward. "Oh come on!" I said disgustedly.
Julie looked down at her weapon. "I've got maybe a third of a charge left."
"Half." Said Susan.
I looked at mine. "A quarter, if that."
From the shadowed trees behind the slowly advancing beasts, a man appeared. He was soon followed by another three and then another four. Eventually fifteen Indian Braves, all wearing war paint and carrying bows with nocked arrows, Tomahawks and lances were slowly advancing towards us.
That was it. There was no way we were winning this one. Our weapons didn't have enough charge in them to beat all of them and there was no outrunning the skinwalkers. I turned and looked at Julie and Susan. "Ladies? It's been an honour and a privilege serving with you."
"An honour and a privilege." Replied Julie, then she turned and stared defiantly at the approaching Navajo.
"An honour and a privilege." Said Susan. She held my gaze for a moment longer and then, just as Julie had done, we turned and watched our death approach us.
A warbling wail went up from one of the Braves at the back and all twenty Navajo broke into a run, snarling and howling and waving weapons in the air as they came.
The three of us raised our weapons and waited for them to get closer. For the skinwalkers, it really wouldn't take that long, not with the speed they could move. Then another arrow flew past us, but this one came from behind. Just a second before, we still had hope. Just for one short second we still had a way out. But that arrow that missed all of us still managed to do some damage. It killed our hope and any chance we had of surviving. We were surrounded.
But we're St. Mary's, we don't give up without a fight. With Julie and Susan still aiming at those coming at us from the front, I turned to draw a bead on those coming in from behind. And got the shock of my life.
Standing with one foot on a fallen tree and reloading a longbow stood Rachel Garstang Penman. As I watched, she drew the longbow and released the arrow, a look of grim determination on her face. From behind her, Jeff Pinner appeared out of the darkened trees with a sonic rifle in each hand and a look on his face that told anyone who saw it that he was here for war. Marietta Winfrey appeared, carrying another sonic rifle, closely followed by Jasonlouise Shaw. Bruce Pavier came on one of the flanks, a whining blaster in his hand. On the opposite flank, Isabel Tifft let fly with her blaster which destroyed a tree close to the oncoming Navajo. Finally came Violet Chamberlain and Jenny Blackmore at both ends of a stretcher with a medical box carried in the middle of it.
St. Mary's had arrived.
"ST. MARY'S, GET DOWN!"
In an instant, the three of us were lying on the ground. Arrows, sonic blasts and blaster charges blazed past us and into the oncoming Navajo and their Skinwalker monsters. In an instant the tide had turned and it was the attackers who were now running for their lives, the whooping of the Navajo Braves becoming shouts of fear while the snarls and growls of the Skinwalkers became yelps and squeals of terror as they disappeared back into the trees the way they had come.
No sooner had the Navajo turned tail, Jeff was with us with Marietta and Jason close behind him. Jeff stood in between us and the retreating Indians, both of his sonic rifles leveled at the trees as Marietta came and knelt beside the three of us down on the ground. "Is anyone hurt?"
Julie nodded towards me as I got slowly to my feet. "Wayne. Took an arrow to the shoulder."
Marietta turned to look behind her. "Stretcher!"
"It's alright," I said, making it upright, "I can walk." Then I felt a sharp prick on my leg and looked down to see Susan kneeling next to me. "Oh, you didn't?" Susan looked up at me, smiled and shrugged one of her shoulders. I looked at Julie, went cross-eyed and then slowly toppled backwards.
"What did you give him?" Asked Julie with a frown.
Susan looked from the injector in her hands to my prostrate form on the ground and then back at the all-white injector. "More of the same," she looked up at Marietta and Julie, "I think!"
Marietta turned as Violet and Jenny arrived with the stretcher. "Ok, don't worry about it. Let's just get him on the stretcher and get moving before our friends in the trees decide to come back again. Jeff? You and Bruce are on stretcher duty," she looked meaningfully at Jeff, "let's not drop this one, shall we?"
Jeff threw one of his rifles over his back and handed the other one to Violet. "No promises." He said with a grin. Jeff grabbed my ankles as Bruce put his hands under my arms and, together, they lifted me onto the stretcher. As they gently, or as close as St. Mary's can get to 'gently', lowered me onto the stretcher, I looked up and happened to see the Beech tree Julie had been carving on. In large letters, the exposed white wood stark against the darker bark of the tree, I could see that C-R-O had been carved into the trunk.
It took another hour for us to get to the second landing site where three pods were waiting. I was bundled into pod six with Julie and Susan and with Marietta driving while everyone else separated themselves into the remaining two pods. From the driving seat, Marietta looked around at us once the F.O.D. plod had been done and the blue decon light had done it's job. "All set?"
Once everyone had nodded, or in my case gurgled, their ascent, Marietta hit the buttons on the control panel and the world went white.
I spent the next two days in the sick bay after having an operation on my shoulder the same night as we arrived back at St. Mary's. I don't know what was worse, getting an arrow through the shoulder or listening to the Doc telling me why pulling an arrow loaded with burning gunpowder through my shoulder was such a bad idea. Telling him that "it did the job" then led to a two hour lecture extolling the benefits of moss as a plug over burning gunpowder. It then turned out that I was the only patient in sick bay and no, he didn't have other patients to tend to. Where was Markham when you needed him?
In the early evening of the second day there came a knock at the door and Julie stuck her head in. "Hey. Thought I'd call in, see how you are doing."
I sat up in my bed. "Hey. I'm doing ok." I then looked at the door and said, quite loudly. "I'm doing really good, feel well enough to get out of here in fact!"
"No you don't!" Said a disembodied voice from somewhere beyond the door.
Julie grinned. "Giving you a hard time?" She said as she sat down on the end of the bed.
I shrugged and then grimaced. "I really need to remember not to do that."
Julie smiled. "So, how 'are' you doing?"
"I'm a lot better, thanks. The op was a success and I should be out of here in a few days, but I'll be on light duties for a while. How's things out in the real world?"
Julie sighed. "Quiet. Maxwell and Peterson have gone back to Roanoke to finish the job off and retrieve the two cameras we put up those trees. Other than that, there's not a lot happening at the moment. Major Guthrie is planning some orienteering training for both the Security and History departments."
I sniggered. "Going off the last orienteering session we had, I won't be on my own in here for long."
We carried on chatting for a few minutes when there came another knock at the door and Susan came in. "Hi. Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you had company, I'll come back later."
"No, don't be daft." I said at the same time as Julie said, "No, it's fine."
"Ok then." Replied Susan with a smile. She came in and grabbed a chair. "I've just been to see Dr. Bairstow. He told me what you both said in your reports on the Roanoke mission. Thanks to the two of you, I've been added to the History department's active roster."
Julie threw her hands in the air. "Great, another psycho nutjob hell bent on self destruction for us to nursemaid!" But she did have a wide grin on her face as she spoke.
I laughed along with Susan. "Congratulations. That was a hard earned but well deserved posting."
Susan actually blushed a little. "Thank you."
"What's all the noise in here, don't you people know you're in a hospital?"
We all turned and saw Anne stood in the doorway. In her hands she held a tray, fully loaded with tea, milk and two plates of bacon sandwiches next to a data cube.
"How did you get these past the Doc?" I asked, grabbing a sandwich as soon as they came within range.
"A little subliminal manipulation." Replied Anne smugly.
When I frowned at Anne, Julie explained. "She stood outside the Doctor's door and wafted the smells of tea and bacon sarnies into his room until he felt compelled to go get some."
Anne gave her a surprised look. "How did you know?"
"We've done the same to Major Guthrie." Said Julie, grabbing her second butty.
We sat and chatted for a while while we finished off the bacon sandwiches and drank our tea. Then I noticed the data cube still sat on the tray. "What's on the cube?"
"New job." Replied Anne with a grin. "Thought our latest historian might be interested."
Susan's eyes brightened. "Really? What is it?"
Anne held Susan's gaze for a moment or two. "Legio IX Hispana!"
A look of wonder spread over Susan's face. "The Lost Legion? You'd better believe I'm interested!"
Julie looked at me and then at the two lun-, historians. "What's the Lost Legion?"
It was Anne who answered. "The ninth Legion was a Roman Legion stationed in Britain. Around 120AD, they marched into Caledonia, modern day Scotland, and was never heard from again. Now it could be that they simply weren't mentioned again in any written records of the time, or it could be that they managed to lose themselves in the wild Scottish countryside and ended up either settling somewhere in Scotland or slaughtered in some forgotten battle. No one knows for sure."
I looked from one historian to the other. "What's the money saying?"
Susan looked at me, a glint in her eye. "Slaughtered. The Romans really weren't popular north of Hadrian's Wall."
I frowned. "How can people keep losing so many things? Especially when the things they're losing is other people?"
Susan simply shrugged.
Julie, with a mouth full of bacon sandwich, said, "How many are going?"
"It's a big one. There will be a minimum of three pods and probably TB2 as well. There's an awful lot of ground to cover."
I looked at the three women around me. "Great, when do we go?"
All three started speaking all at once. "Oh no, there's no 'we'." Said Anne.
Julie frowned as she stood up. "Look at the state of your shoulder. Really?"
Susan also stood up. "You need to stay here and recover. We got this."
I looked at them as they all made for the door. "Oh come on. You need me, we're a team. I've been to Glasgow, I can speak the language!"
"Cui bono!" Said Anne, the last to walk through the door.
"What?" I stared at the empty door. "Did you just swear at me?" I shouted from my bed. "In Latin?" I continued staring at the empty door which seemed to stare back at me completely unabashed.
Three faces suddenly appeared from the side of the door, then they all pointed at me and started laughing. I couldn't help it. My face split into a grin and I laughed along with them.