(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores January, 2019.)
No pulse beat beneath the skin.
Kin concentrated, waiting for the familiar thump to barely register with his senses. Not his heartbeat, but something equally important: a Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon, one fine-tuned to his specific biometrics.
After twenty-eight assignments over eight years, the implanted beacon's soft pulse usually faded into the background, another subtlety of time travel that was simply part of the job. Like one's own heartbeat, it was one of those things that went unnoticed until it vanished. Now it was gone.
And with it, his return ticket to 2142.
Kin unwrapped the bandage, ignoring the burning pain through his abdomen as he tore the fabric off. His fingers found the dried green edge of binding gel and peeled the adhesion away from the gunshot's entry point beneath his ribs. He carefully collected any dried gel fragments in a motel towel to be burned later—even in his roughest shape, he always adhered to timeline corruption protocols. No need for nosy 1996 janitorial staff to find future medical tech, even after usage.
The bright LED numbers on the wood-trim clock radio across the motel room showed that eight hours and four minutes had passed since his encounter. He could still feel the factory roof-top gravel digging into the back of his neck while wrestling his target, a time-traveling merc who'd been hired to delay a senator's husband, causing her to miss a vote on a seemingly benign banking regulation that would actually have decades of negative consequences. They'd engaged, his arms and legs locking hers in a vise hold before she managed to grab a brick fragment and smash his kneecap.
Now his fingers gripped the bathroom sink's rim and he steadied himself, his left knee refusing to carry much weight.
A brick to the knee and a boot to the ribs. Then a gunshot, not from a plasma discharger but an era-appropriate semiauto- matic pistol.
The target's smirk still burned in his memory, the slightest of smiles visible through thin moonlight. For a flash, he'd wondered why she found their encounter amusing, but when the gun's barrel slid down from his forehead to the implanted retrieval beacon, he knew.
Stranding him, it seemed, was a crueler twist than murder.
Kin cursed himself for letting her get the better of him, for trusting his gut instead of the endless intel notes provided by the TCB.
She'd let her guard down a few seconds later, which was the only opening he needed, adrenaline powering a takedown. The sickening crunch of a snapped neck brought on both relief and self-loathing, typical rushes that came with TCB Protocol Eight Ninety-Six:
In case of life-threatening resistance, field agents are authorized to eliminate the target in lieu of apprehension.
Mission accomplished. Now what?
Kin racked his brain, searching through memories of processes, protocols, and training, anything that might give some insight into what happened when the beacon went off line. But the endless list of technical specifications and failsafe details offered little comfort, things field agents memorized for no good reason, really.
Except there was a good reason: the beacon never went off-line. It couldn't. Not while he was alive.
Assess and execute, he told himself. Processes, lists, mental visualization, his mind's eye sorted it all using years of agent training. Kin's hand pressed firmly against the wound, waiting for the slightest of tremors to register across his palm. Blood oozed out, bright red slipping between his dark brown fingers and running down his shirtless side. One drop hit the bathroom tile of the motel room safe house, then another and another. "Temporal Crimes field agent I-D-R-one-five, code E-six, interface active." The activation phrase given at the end of every mission. Two minutes passed, a hundred and twenty frozen moments.
Kin waited, then repeated the activation phrase. One second ticked by, then another and a third. Everything after became a blur; he stared, eyes squinting, awaiting the holographic projection with tactile interface, what always appeared when he said the activation phrase.