I'd just like to wish any TH fans out there a very Happy Christmas. And to celebrate this holiday season, here's the first chapter of 'The Time Hunters and the Sword of Ages.' I hope you enjoy it.
The Modern Prometheus
Darmstadt, Germany. 1714
Otto Kruger’s eyes snapped open. At once, his senses were assaulted with information: the bitter scent of disinfectant; the sight of the rutted stone ceiling above; the purr of a machine humming softly to his left. Remaining stock still, he took a moment to process this new environment.
Where was he?
The last thing he remembered was being aided into a time machine outside a pirate tavern on Nassau, arriving at a Gerathnium facility somewhere in the Kamchatka Peninsula in Medieval Russia, before being transported, drifting in and out of consciousness, to an underground room. But more than the events, he remembered the pain, the unspeakable pain, as the blood spilled from his severed arm like an unstoppable tap.
His head blazed with fury as he recalled the swordfight that had resulted in the loss of his right arm – the clash with that insufferable groundsman, Will Shakelock. And then another memory joined the others, his last before this very point: he was lying on a rusty bed, barely large enough to cover his substantial frame. An unseen syringe propelled the anaesthesia into his body, sending him into a sweet, merciful oblivion, as the words of his employer, Emerson Drake, found his ears.
‘You will live, Otto. I told you, I reward those most loyal to me. I shall rebuild you, better than before, better than anyone that has come before. You will consider these events a blessing, I promise you …’
But how long ago was that? He had no idea.
It was then he heard that same voice again.
‘Welcome back, Otto.’
Kruger turned his head. Emerson Drake was standing there, a self-satisfied smile set on his thin lips.
‘Thank you, sir,’ Kruger replied groggily, his voice still needing time to find its natural timbre.
‘How do you feel?’
Kruger took a second to answer. ‘Good,’ he replied.
Drake’s eyes narrowed. ‘Just … good?’
Kruger sensed his employer had expected a different response. And now he was fully conscious, he could understand why. Good didn’t begin to describe it. He felt magnificent. The pain had gone, replaced by an innate raw power he’d never experienced before.
Kruger pushed himself sharply up. As he did, his icy blue eyes fell on his right side. Grafted seamlessly to his elbow was a silver arm, identical in size and weight to the one he had lost.
His eyes widened with shock.
‘Do you approve?’ Drake replied.
Kruger didn’t answer. Instead, he raised his enormous silver hand and balled his fingers into a fist. The deep scar on the right hand side of his face was cast in a silvery hue. Slowly, his mouth formed the following words, ‘I do, sir.’
‘Excellent,’ Drake replied. ‘The arm is made from a polynythene carbonite alloy, and attached, via the somatosensory system, to the premotor cortex region of your brain. Essentially, it will feel and function precisely as your old arm did. With one notable exception, you can now punch a hole in a wall without feeling a thing.’
Kruger glanced impatiently at the wall opposite as if keen to try this out.
‘And I trust you won’t mind I made a few other modifications whilst you were asleep – sensory and corporeal augmentations that make you really quite unique.’
Kruger looked confused.
Drake responded with a smirk. ‘You are now stronger, faster, more agile than any man alive.’ He paused. ‘In short, I’ve made you super-human…’
Eyes wild, Kruger was about to respond when he noticed two men in the far corner of the room. The first, slim and elegantly dressed in a flowing robe, had a high forehead and thick black hair that spiralled down in tight curls. He was staring back at Kruger, mesmerised. His mouth was ajar, as if wishing to express words of approval but unable to find the confidence to do so. The second, a middle-aged man with a striking gold and white striped tie had a warm, generous face, but wore a very different expression: as pale as stone, he looked simply petrified, thick beads of sweat specking his forehead.
‘Ah, of course,’ Drake said whimsically. ‘Otto, may I introduce you to these two gentlemen?’ He nodded at the curly haired man. ‘This is Johann Konrad Dippel, our esteemed host. Indeed, we currently inhabit a room in the western tower of his magnificent castle. Mister Dippel has been an Associate of mine for some time now, and I consider him to possess one of the most deviant minds of the early eighteenth century.’
Dippel clearly considered this a great compliment. ‘Dankeschön, Mister Drake,’ he said, before bowing at Kruger. ‘My house is yours, Herr Kruger.’
Drake turned to the other man, who was making effort to contain his trembling body from the others. ‘And this is Arthur Kingsley Porter – Professor at Harvard University, and without doubt one of the most eminent scholars of medieval architecture in the twentieth century.’
Porter looked too scared to respond.
Drake gave an ugly smile. ‘I’m afraid Mister Porter had to be coerced into making the time-trip, but I did feel he should see this wonderful castle. After all, it is indisputably one of the most renowned specimens in history, there’s no question about that. Have you found it interesting, Mister Porter?’
The man gave an anxious nod. ‘Y-yes,’ he replied in an American accent.
‘I am glad,’ Drake replied. He looked back at Kruger. ‘Anyway, Otto, would you care to stand? I’m keen to see just how successful the surgery has been.’
With a swift turn, Kruger dropped his legs to the floor. He pushed himself onto his feet. At six foot five, he dwarfed everyone in the room.
‘And do you feel fit enough to get back to work?’ Drake asked. ‘I have some thoughts on the fourth Eden Relic, and I think you might appreciate where the trail is leading,’ he added mysteriously.
‘I welcome it, sir.’
Drake gave a nod of satisfaction. ‘Excellent. Then it seems our work here is done.’ He turned to Dippel. ‘Mister Dippel, thank you again for your hospitality.’
‘You honour this house with your patronage, sire,’ Dippel replied.
Drake turned to Porter. ‘And Mister Porter, I assume you wish to return to your time and your charming wife, Lucy?’
Hope flickered in Porter’s eyes. ‘Yes … please. Very much.’
Drake pondered this for a moment. ‘I’m afraid that won’t be happening,’ he said icily. ‘You see … you’re a friend of Percy Halifax, are you not?’ He spat the name out like the very words scorched his tongue.
Porter’s head spiralled. Confused, he said nothing, as if fearful of giving the wrong answer.
‘I know you are,’ Drake replied simply. ‘But what you’re not aware of is that Percy Halifax is a time traveller, just like me … or that a few months ago, I told him if he continued to try and thwart my activities, I would punish his friends and family.’ Turning into the light, his face fell into silhouette. ‘I’m afraid he didn’t listen…’
A slow, horrific realisation spread across Porter’s face.
Drake glanced at Kruger. ‘Otto, would you give Mister Porter a hand in showing the dangers of befriending Percy Halifax.’
Without hesitation, Kruger marched purposefully across the room. Before Porter could shout an objection, Kruger’s silver hand seized his throat, crushing his windpipe, transforming his intended scream into a muffled, desperate wheeze.
In one swift, jerky movement, Kruger hoisted Porter into the air.
Porter kicked wildly, his fingers clawing at Kruger’s hand, but it was to no avail. Kruger’s grip tightened like a vice, choking the air from his lungs.
Drake watched it all with a cold detachment. He looked disinterested, bored even. ‘I could suggest you choose better friends in the future, Mister Porter,’ he said. ‘But then again … you have no future.’ He nodded at Kruger.
Like a child throwing a ragdoll, Kruger hurled Porter at the far wall, ten feet away or so. Porter smashed powerfully into the stonework, before crashing to the ground, twisted and lifeless.
Drake looked at Kruger, who looked shocked at his newfound strength. ‘You seem to have made a full recovery, Otto?’
‘I think so, sir.’
‘Then I suggest we leave this time zone,’ Drake replied. ‘I intend to be very busy in the coming months, so I’d like you to go on a time-trip for me, a very important trip.’
‘As you wish.’
Drake smiled. ‘You know, Otto, I’ve always appreciated your ability to follow orders. And you never question, you never ask for anything in return.’
‘Ah, but this time there is something, sir.’
Drake looked surprised. ‘Really? Continue …’
Kruger’s voice fell to a low, ominous snarl. ‘I want the groundsman. I want him to suffer like no other.’
‘Of course you do.’ Drake shrugged indifferently. ‘Then Shakelock’s fate is in your hands.’ He turned to Dippel. ‘I’ll have to erase this tower from history, Dippel. I’ve left too much of a mark for it to continue to exist.’
‘I will not object, sire,’ Dippel replied.
‘I know. Actually, in the future, some credit you with destroying this tower yourself in a failed experiment using nitroglycerine.’
‘Nitroglycerine?’ Dippel replied, puzzled. “And what may that be?’
‘It’s an explosive liquid,’ Drake replied. ‘However, as Ascanio Sobrero doesn’t invent it until 1847, many considered this an impossible claim. Ironically, it’s nitroglycerine I intend to use to blow this place to oblivion.’ He chuckled sourly. ‘Isn’t it fascinating how the actions of the time traveller today can influence the minds of tomorrow?’
‘And, Otto, let me tell you another story, one that also intertwines the castle and the life of our host. I said earlier this castle was a renowned specimen – well, its name is Burg Frankenstein. Does that ring any bells?’
Kruger nodded. ‘It certainly does, sir.’
‘I thought it might. Well, in a hundred years time, a young woman, Mary Shelley, will visit Burg Frankenstein, and conceive an idea that will later become arguably the most famous horror novel of any age. And, furthermore, do you know whom many believe was the inspiration for Miss Shelley’s protagonist, the scientist, Victor Frankenstein?’ He nodded at Dippel. ‘None other than Mister Dippel himself. Now isn’t that amusing?’
Kruger remained stone-faced. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘But the real irony is, with my recent experiments at the castle, it’s conceivably me who is the real-life figure on which she based her tragic hero.’ Drake laughed coldly. ‘And if that’s the case then you know what that makes you, don’t you?’
For the first time since he had gained consciousness, Kruger’s face was split with a smile. He glanced over at Porter’s corpse before looking back at Drake.
‘That would make me the monster, sir…’