RULES STALIN has a confession. He doesn’t really like Time Travel stories. All too often the conceit outweighs the entertainment value, and they rarely sit comfortably even when the plot holes are ironed out. It shows the quality of both prompter @thebrainofchris and author @Ch0l0k, then, that this story is really bloody good. In fact, it’s one of my favourites so far. It’s elegant, pacy, full of action, and exactly as clever as it should be – enjoy it:
STORY NUMBER: 12
PROMPT PROVIDER: @thebrainofchris
As the familiar tug of chronal-divergence began unravelling his molecules, Jason De Lancie smiled. It was happening at long last, and this time he was ready. He exhaled slowly as he felt the sand materialise beneath his bare feet. Opening his eyes the fog dissipated and the arena came into focus, exactly as he remembered.
He wasn’t alone on the field of battle, but of course he’d always known that would be the case. To Jason’s left a young man fell to his knees gazing about in horror. To Jason’s right a middle-aged man stumbled but remained standing, his fists clenching.
Jason sprinted to a weapons stand placed along one edge of the arena & grabbed a Gladius. He didn’t need to check what his opponents were doing, he already knew. The younger would be staring slack-jawed round the arena, while the elder of the two would be sidling toward the weapons rack. Jason knew they’d be doing this, it’s what they’d always done, always would. It was this post-cognisance of events that gave him the edge, and he needed it, there was only one chance to get this right.
Swinging to his right he set his sights on the younger man who he’d successfully flanked. A century of combat, of traveling the length and breadth of the chronosphere had led to this final battle with an opponent that had haunted his existence since he’d first set foot in the time stream. It all came down to this, and this time Jason was determined to end things once and for all.
Years of interstical travel had honed Jason’s senses to the point where the slightest change in the process could be felt in his every molecule. Something was wrong.
As his surroundings coalesced a feeling of de ja vu washed over Jason. He looked around; an octagonal arena, serried ranks of faceless entities and, either side of him, two strangers. One a silver-haired warrior, covered in a patina of scars that told of a life as long as it was hard. The other barely a boy, his face a picture of idiotic incredulity. Strangers. Or were they, the nagging sense of de ja vu returned as he stared at them. Everything seemed unpleasantly familiar. Frantically he scanned his memories, sorting through countless remembrances, a myriad of worlds and times, until suddenly it clicked. He had been here before, this is where it begun, and where it had to end.
Clenching his fists in grim determination he stalked across the arena. It was the boy that was the dimly remembered thorn in his side, it was because of him he was here.
Selecting an axe from the weapons rack he advanced on the young man, determined to end this before it had ever begun.
One minute I was reaching for my book, the next I was somewhere else.
A shock of cold washed over me, along with an unpleasant feeling of dislocation. Disorientated I fell to my knees and looked around. I was in an arena, octagonal in shape and carpeted in warm sand. Something moved in my peripheral vision and I turned realising that I wasn’t alone in this place. There were two others here with me; a determined looking man in his early forties stood to my left, while across from him stood a grey haired individual whose fierce blue eyes and network of scars belied his methuselahian appearance.
Looking up I could see that the arena was surrounded by row upon row of stone benches, all occupied by pale skinned, faceless individuals. Before I could ponder this further, however, I was dragged back to my current predicament by someone clearing their throat. It was the middle-aged man, he stood before me hefting a small but wicked looking axe in his hands.
“I’d say I’m sorry about this,” he began.
“But I’m not. The only way to make sure I’m never here, is to make sure you’re not”
So saying he lifted the axe above his head. Frozen in horror I realised his intention and I raised my hands in a pathetic defensive gesture. Then without warning a sword sprouted from his chest, like some kind of horrific stop motion tree taking root.
He looked down in confusion then slowly slumped to one side to bleed out in the dirt. As he fell his murderer was revealed. The old, a short bloody sword in his hand a look of acceptance on his face.
“I don’t have long until the time stream resets,” he said.
Squatting down, he looked at me.
“This doesn’t have to happen again”
“wh…whh…wh..” I stammered
“Who am I? I’m you Jason, but I don’t have to be. I’ve just saved you from yourself, now it’s your turn to save me”
A look of pain crossed his face and he slumped down.
“Dammit, it’s happening faster than I thought. No matter there’s little left to tell you. You’ve just graduated, correct?”
I nodded, speechless now.
“Majored in physics, yes?”
As I watched his whole body seemed to shimmer, like a heat haze on a summers day. Slowly, and almost apologetically he started to fade away.
“Don’t pursue your dreams, whatever you do. Your life, mine, his”
He gestured at the dead man laid at our feet
“Depend on it”
His voice was barely a whisper now. He leaned closer and managed a final exhortation
“Don’t let yourself end up this way”
And then he was gone, his final word floating in the breeze
And then, without warning I was back in the library as if nothing had happened. The only hint of my experience a few drops of blood spattered across my shirt. Looking down I saw the book I’d been reaching for before my trip. ‘Temporal Dynamics or How to Kill Your Own Grandfather & Get Away With It’ below that the authors name, embossed in gold.
Jason De Lancie.
It was already too late.
PROMPT: A time traveller finds themselves in a brutal arena tournament against their past and future selves.