The third novel in Fiona Snyckers‘ Time Mavericks series, Time Of Trial, is available now. See an excerpt from the book at the bottom of this post. For context, get an idea of the story in books one and two in the series, A Slip In Time and Time After Time.
Jasmine woke up when the glare of light became impossible to ignore.
She opened her eyes. Then she shut them again as a shaft of sunlight made her wince. It seemed to drill right into her brain. Her eyes felt swollen and sore, and her mouth was drier than parchment. Every muscle in her body ached as though she had the flu. But worst of all was the headache.
This wasn’t the first time she had woken up.
She remembered being lifted up bodily and carried away. She remembered the rumble of a motorized vehicle, and the roar of an engine that was too loud to belong to a car. She remembered another sharp pain in her upper arm.
Then there was nothingness until now – now that this appalling ray of sunlight was trying to bury itself in her cerebellum.
Jasmine lifted her head off the pillow. The pounding in her temples intensified. She groaned and lowered it again.
Then she heard something – a sigh and a scraping sound, as though someone were settling in a chair. Every muscle in her body tensed and she forced herself to open her eyes. The pain of her photophobia was suddenly less urgent than finding out who had made that sound.
There was someone sitting a few feet away from her. This person was white and had short hair, a sturdy body, and a blue T-shirt with something written across the chest. Jasmine blinked and squinted as she tried to make out the words.
Another sound made her turn her head. There was someone else in the room too. This person was also white, with long blonde hair that cascaded to her waist. Her eyes were cornflower blue and her clothes were up-to-the-minute fashionable. She reminded Jasmine of a Barbie doll.
She flinched when she saw that the person with short hair was now standing much closer to the bed.
Jasmine tried to speak, but her tongue refused to cooperate. She moistened her mouth and tried again.
“They … them … their,” she said.
The person stared at her. “You what?”
“Your … your T-shirt.” Her voice sounded heavy and slurred. “They, them, their.”
The stare turned into a glare. “Ah, yeah. Those are me pronouns. And don’t you forget it.”
The blonde girl made a dismissive sound. “No one cares, Louise. Not one person in a fifty-mile radius cares about your pronouns.”
“Don’t call me that. My name is Lou.”
The blonde girl rolled her eyes. “Louise, Louise, Louise.”
“Where am I?” asked Jasmine.
The blonde girl looked at her. “What’s your name?”
“Jasmine,” she said. “Jasmine Bear.”
The girl squealed. “I was right. You are Indian.”
Jasmine raised an eyebrow. “Do I look like I come from India?”
“I didn’t mean that kind of Indian. I meant …”
“You meant Native American,” said Lou, their Irish accent strong. “Why don’t you try saying what you mean for a change?”
The blonde girl shrugged. “Everyone calls them that. My name’s Olivia, by the way.”
Lou looked at Jasmine. “I think I’ll call you Jazz for short. Are you, by the way? Native American, I mean?”
Jasmine’s mind moved sluggishly. She held ‘Jazz’ up to the light and inspected it, finding that she didn’t hate it nearly as much as she had thought she would.
“I don’t know.” Her voice was coming back and she sounded almost fluent. “I’ve never known. Mexican, Native American, Puerto Rican, Turkish, mixed race, Middle Eastern. I’ve heard all the theories. I’m a ward of the State of California. That’s all I know for sure.”
The corners of Olivia’s mouth turned downwards. “Aww … you’re an orphan.”
“No, she isn’t, you great eejit,” said Lou. “Not everyone in foster care is an orphan.”
“Yes, but she might be.”
They looked expectantly at Jasmine.
“I don’t know. Maybe. Probably not. It’s more likely that my father doesn’t know I exist and that my mother’s a drug addict or something.”
Jasmine stopped talking, a little shocked by her own eloquence. That was the most personal information she had disclosed in months. It must be the drugs talking. Whatever they had given her was making her chatty.
Lou’s fingers drummed against their thigh. “So, Jazz. Not to interrupt your life story or anything, but do you think you’ll be ready to get up soon? We have things to do.”
Jasmine struggled onto her elbow. “I need to get back to school. I need to fix this. They can’t throw me out – not when I’m so close.”
Her head swam and she fell back onto the bed. She touched her upper arm and winced. It felt as though she had been punched in the deltoid muscle.
“Gah. What did they inject me with? I’m so nauseous, I can’t sit up.”
“Some sort of knock-out drug.”
Jasmine stared at Lou. “Who did this to me? Was it the footballers?”
It was dawning on her that this situation was too strange and complex to have been engineered by the meathead and his football-playing gang.
Olivia stood up. “We should call the Controllers. They need to check her vitals. Of course, as a trained paramedic, I’m perfectly capable of checking her myself, but why would anyone listen to me?”
“I don’t know,” said Lou. “Why would they? But for once you’re right. The Controllers said we should let them know when she wakes up.”
The dread Jasmine had been feeling since she woke up increased. What kind of dystopian rabbit hole had she fallen into where people called the ‘Controllers’ needed to be summoned?
“Wait!” she called. “Can you at least tell me where I am?”
Lou glanced back. “Oh, didn’t we say? You’re in London.”
Jasmine’s greatest weakness was her imagination.
Anxiety was a demon that rode in on the back of a horse called Imagination. She had learned to rein her imagination in – to tame it and bridle it. Hope was another unwelcome visitor that was ushered in by imagination.
The Time Mavericks stared at the interloper. Olivia was the first to find her voice.
“Um … do you mind?” She took the bottle of milk from his hand and closed the refrigerator door. “We all use the milk that’s in this fridge. You can’t put your mouth on it and then put it back in the fridge. That’s disgusting.”
The interloper looked guilty. “Sorry about that. My mom’s always on my case about that too.”
“Well, there’s no mom here to police us,” said Olivia. “We all try to act like grown-ups. Now I’m going to have to pour this down the sink because your mouth has been on it.”
Jasmine made a sound of inarticulate protest. This brought Olivia’s glare to bear on her.
“Isn’t that kind of … a waste?”
Olivia shook the last few drops out of the milk bottle and threw it in the recycling. “Of course it’s a waste. Which is why Chucky here should never have done it.”
“That’s Bucky,” said the new guy.
Jasmine swallowed her indignation. Having been used to not quite enough food her whole life, she couldn’t help seeing it as the most criminal waste to pour perfectly good milk down a sink. As for the fact that Bucky had put his mouth on the bottle – well, that was just nonsense. When the milk turned sour, for whatever reason, you added some sugar to it and ate it with a spoon. It wasn’t all that different to yoghurt.
Lou turned to Booker with their hands on their hips. “Did you know about this?”
“I knew the Controllers were thinking of adding a new team member,” he admitted. “But I didn’t know they were so close to finding someone.”
“You’d think they could have given us a heads-up or something. Instead we get back from a mission to find this guy making himself at home.”
“We should introduce ourselves,” said Booker. “This is Lou O’Malley from Ireland.”
“They, them, their,” said Lou, shaking hands with Bucky.
“Those are my pronouns. They, them, their. I’m non-binary.”
“She’s a girl,” said Olivia. “Her name is Louise.”
“The milk police over there is Olivia Summers. She’s from Memphis, Tennessee.”
“Nice to meet you, Olivia,”
Jasmine couldn’t help staring as Olivia and Bucky shook hands. They could almost be siblings with their blue eyes, blond hair, and all-American good looks. They made a striking pair.
“That’s Jasmine Bear from California.”
Bucky smiled at Jasmine. “Hi there.”
“And I’m Wesley Booker from London, via Jamaica. You can call me Booker or Book.”
Bucky gave him a nod. “And I’m Buckminster van der Meer III from Mobile, Alabama. But literally no one calls me that. I go by Bucky.”
“Welcome, Bucky. We’re having a training session this afternoon after lunch. I look forward to seeing what you can do. And speaking of lunch …” Booker glanced at the kitchen clock. “We’d better get changed into our regular clothes before it starts.”
“We don’t normally dress like this,” Olivia told Bucky. “How much do you know about what we do here?”
“Most of it, I reckon. You mean the time travel thing? It sounded like science fiction to me. I wasn’t buying it for a minute. Then the Controllers sent me back in time to watch myself discover my powers when I was six. That gave me a jolt, I can tell you.”
Lou laughed. “Lookit, we know that jolt. They did it to all of us.”
“It is certainly effective in banishing one’s skepticism.” Booker ushered everyone out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the dormitories.
“Ha!” Lou crowed as Bucky turned towards the men’s dormitory with Booker. “Look at that. Your days of having a room to yourself are over, Book. You’ve got yourself a roommate.”
Booker shook his head. “Dude, I’ve shared a room with a bunch of guys since I was six. That’s how it works in military school. I’m used to it.”
“Well, I’m not,” said Bucky as they disappeared into their dormitory. “I’m afraid I’ve left the place in a bit of a mess.”
Jasmine heard Booker saying, “Yeah, that’ll have to change,” before the door closed behind them.
She went into her own dormitory with Lou and Olivia. It was a relief to be back – and even more of a relief to know that lunch would be served soon. It was hard to believe that the last time they had eaten breakfast had been at the King George II hotel in 1871. It felt like a lifetime away. In many ways it was – several lifetimes away.
Olivia unlaced Jasmine and Lou’s corsets and they returned the favor for her. It was blissful to have the constriction around their waists gone and to walk without feeling the weight of petticoats and a heavy skirt brushing against their legs.
“Give me all your Victorian clothes.” Olivia gathered the corsets to her like a mother hen. “When I’m done cleaning and mending, I’ll return them to the costume room.”
Lou shrugged into their usual uniform of a slouchy tracksuit and trainers. Then they remembered what Booker had said about how loose-fitting clothes could give an opponent something to grip onto and put a tighter top on under the tracksuit.
“It doesn’t feel right that we have training already this afternoon,” said Lou. “You’d think Booker would give us some time to chill, so you would.”
“What do you guys think of Bucky?” Olivia brushed out her hair in front of the mirror. “He’s cute, right?”
“Oh, he’s gorgeous, I’ll give you that.” Lou flung themself on their bed and flicked through their phone. “But what kind of super-privileged background does he come from? I mean, Buckminster van der Meer III.” They put on an exaggerated southern accent. “What kind of a name is that?”
“It’s the one his parents gave him,” said Jasmine. “He prefers Bucky. I think we should give him a chance.”
Lou pulled a face. “I suppose. I don’t see why we needed a new team member in the first place.”
“What have you done?”
Olivia’s voice echoed through the chamber, resonant with horror. Fear and suspicion chased each other across her face.
‘Is he … is he dead?” Lou could hardly get the words out.
Jasmine swallowed hard. She knew how the scene must look. Bucky lay dead at her feet while Booker slept on, apparently unharmed. She was the only one who knew how ill he was.
“He was about to kill Booker,” she said. “He had Booker’s neck in his hands and was about to break it.”
Lou and Olivia stared at her, their eyes like saucers. Lou was the first to find their voice.
“Are you sure …” They coughed and tried again. “Are you sure he wasn’t checking on Booker? Making sure he was okay, like?”
“No.” Jasmine was more confident of this than she had been of anything. “Bucky was squeezing his neck. When he looked up and saw that it was me, he smiled. I told him to stop, but he ignored me.”
“He smiled because you’re his teammate,” said Olivia. “He was greeting you.”
“No. I know what I saw. He had Booker’s neck twisted at an angle. I thought he was going to break it before I could stop him.”
“This makes no sense,” said Lou. “Why would Bucky want to hurt Booker? They were mates.”
“Exactly,” said Olivia. “They were friends and teammates. Teammates trust each other. They don’t try to hurt each other.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” said Jasmine. She tapped her chest. “This is me. Your teammate. And I’m asking you to trust me. I would never lash out at someone for no reason. You know me and you know who I am.”
“You never liked him,” said Olivia. “You never liked Bucky.”
Jasmine winced. She thought she had kept her dislike of Bucky a secret. “It doesn’t matter whether I liked him or not. I would never hurt someone for no reason.”
“But you didn’t hurt him,” said Olivia. “You killed him. Why did you have to kill him?”
“I … I didn’t mean to. I was trying to knock him away from Booker. My blast was more powerful than I intended.”
Booker moaned and stirred.
“Look at his neck,” said Jasmine. “It’s covered in bruises. You can see Bucky’s fingerprints on his skin.”
Olivia and Lou bent closer.
Were those bruises? It was hard to tell in the uncertain light. The only thing that was clear was that Booker’s condition was deteriorating by the minute.
“He’s very ill,” said Olivia. “His infection must have run out of control.”
“Should we get him to a hospital?” asked Lou.
“No. Not here. Not in 1961. The antibiotics won’t be strong enough. They’ll just make him more resistant to treatment. We need to get him back to the twenty-first century so he can be properly treated.”
“But how?” asked Jasmine.
“We need to finish this mission and get out of here,” said Lou. “It’s the only way to get back. We have no way of contacting the Controllers to let them know what’s happened.”
“Booker has a way. As team leader, he can contact the Controllers to let them know there’s a problem.”
Olivia sighed. “In case you haven’t noticed, Booker’s unconscious. We can hardly shake him awake and demand to know his secret channel to the Controllers. Lou’s right. We have to finish this mission.”
Jasmine put her head in her hands, fighting the urge to burst into tears.
“When we’ve sorted out the timeline, we’ll be automatically transported to the present,” said Lou. “There’s no other way. We can sort out what Jazz did or didn’t do when we get back. In the meantime, we have to act as a team.”
“But what about Bucky?” asked Olivia. “And Booker? We can’t just leave them here.”
“If you don’t want to trust Booker to a local hospital, we have no other choice. The faster we correct the timeline the faster Booker will get help. We need to grab those blueprints before they fall into the wrong hands. Let’s go.”
“Wait!” said Jasmine. “Isn’t there anything we can do for Booker to stabilize him while we’re gone?”
Olivia opened her purse and rummaged through the contents. “I have ibuprofen here and a generic antibiotic. They won’t do much, but they’re better than nothing.”
“Give them to him. Quickly.”
Olivia tried to rouse Booker sufficiently to swallow the pills. When it became clear that this was impossible, she opened the capsules and emptied the powder into the sides of his cheeks to be absorbed.
Lou glanced at Bucky’s mangled body and winced. “The Controllers use our energy signatures to bring us back, right?”
“Right,” said Olivia.
“Will Bucky even have an energy signature now that he’s … you know … dead?”
“They’ll use the tags in his clothing. I sewed them on myself. One way or another, he’s coming back with us to the twenty-first century.”
As they ran back to the trapdoor that would lead them up to ground level, Jasmine forced herself to concentrate on the mission at hand.
When you had just killed someone, other concerns seemed trivial. She had to remind herself that they weren’t. The future of the free world was at stake. Blueprints for an advanced missile defense system would fall into Soviet hands if the team didn’t intervene. The course of the Cold War could be changed forever.
“There are three places that the blueprints could be,” she said. “They could be with Stephen Ward whose is staying here at Lord Astor’s house. He is rumored to be a double agent. Or they could be with John Profumo, who probably won’t know what they are. Or they might already be with Christine Keeler who is staying here with Stephen Ward. She would have instructions to hand them to Yevgeny Ivanov. And he would give them to his Soviet masters.”