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Authors: Michael Z Williamson

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A Long Time Until Now

BOOK: A Long Time Until Now
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Table of Contents

A Long Time Until Now

Michael Z. Williamson

Book 1 in a new series from the creator of the best-selling Freehold Universe series. A military unit is thrust back into Paleolithic times with only their guns and portable hardware.

Ten soldiers on convoy in Afghanistan suddenly find themselves lost in time. Somehow, they arrived in Earth's Paleolithic Asia. With no idea how they arrived or how to get back, the shock of the event is severe. They discover groups of the similarly displaced: Imperial Romans, Neolithic Europeans, and a small cadre of East Indian peasants. Despite their technological advantage, the soldiers only have ten people, and know no way home. Then two more time travelers arrive from a future far beyond the present. These time travelers may have the means to get back, but they aren't giving it up. In fact, they may have a treacherous agenda of their own, one that may very well lead to the death of the displaced in a harsh and dangerous era.

Baen Books by Michael Z. Williamson

Freehold

The Weapon

Rogue

Contact with Chaos

Better to Beg Forgiveness . . .

Do Unto Others . . .

When Diplomacy Fails . . .

The Hero
(with John Ringo)

Tour of Duty

A Long Time Until Now

LONG TIME UNTIL NOW

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 by Michael Z. Williamson

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8033-7

Cover art by Bob Eggleton

First Baen printing, May 2015

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Williamson, Michael Z.

A long time until now / by Michael Z. Williamson.

pages ; cm

ISBN 978-1-4767-8033-7 (hc)

I. Title.

PS3623.I573L66 2015

813'.6--dc23

2015004249

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

eISBN: 978-1-62579-371-3

Electronic Version by Baen Books

www.baen.com

DEDICATION

A good editor makes any story better,

without changing the author's voice.

So this is for Toni, Tony, Jim, Jim, Jim, Angel and Bill,

for fifteen years of support.

MAP

CHAPTER 1

First Lieutenant Sean Elliott sat sweating in an MRAP in the ass end of Afghanistan, waiting for the convoy to roll.

He wasn’t a new 1LT, though no one here knew him directly. He’d pinned it on a year ago. A month ago he had been on his first convoy, and his first firefight. Neither had been noteworthy. Some RIF had shot at them, they shot back and rolled through. He could honestly say he’d exchanged fire with the enemy, though. Or rather, one of his troops had, and he hadn’t ordered them not to.

Hopefully this trip would be easier. He was tagged onto a mixed convoy of Civil Affairs people meeting locals to offer them continued money and infrastructure improvement, to do some obvious and surreptitious checking for hostile development, to relocate stuff between COBs, and to deliver some vehicles.

It was hot and dusty, and sweat beaded behind his Wiley eyepro. Then it steamed. He wrinkled his brow to dislodge them so they’d clear a bit. Sweat pooled in his pits, down his back, and in his crotch. They had AC, but until they rolled, the doors were ajar. He thought about a Red Bull, but decided to wait.

Troops trudged back and forth, some boarding the convoy, some crossing between vehicles on some task or other. Ahead, someone was under the hood of another vehicle. That might mean swapping out or dispersing that load.

One of the trudging troops stepped close to the vehicle and asked, “Sir, do you have room for one more?”

He looked her over. The uniform said “ALEXANDER.” She carried a camera bag.

“You’re our photographer?”

“Yes, sir. Three other vehicles passed me around, then sent me back here.”

“Sounds normal. Yes, we have a seat, jump in.”

“Thank you, sir.” She had a ruck, a duffel, another bag, a weapon, the camera bag, and she wasn’t large, though not some skinny waif, either. She looked about thirty and unremarkable. She struggled and grunted to get her gear aboard, but didn’t ask for help or play weak. Good.

She climbed in back and set next to Caswell, who had been the token female. Caswell was USAF Security, along for the purpose of searching any local females they might have problems with. You never let a man search a woman in A-stan. It would lead to an instant riot.

A lot of Soldiers didn’t like Airmen, and vice versa. It wasn’t just interservice rivalry. The two branches operated differently and had some conflicts. When they both did the same mission different ways, it rubbed people. Caswell was dressed for the mission, presented honestly and seemed professional. He’d accept her as that.

The hood slammed on the vehicle farther forward, and with thumbs up, three men jogged to board it.

The radio called “Charlie Eight, confirm status, over.”

He keyed his headset mic and replied, “Charlie One, we are ready to roll, over.” After releasing the mic, he said, “Still ready as we were ten minutes ago, Major.”

At the wheel, Staff Sergeant Bob Barker smiled and almost snickered, as he shook his head a fraction, then leaned back behind his eyewear. He looked like some NASCAR racer, with a ’stache that pushed regs.

Sean took a deep breath, because there was nothing to be gained from stressing out. It would take as long as it took, and they’d roll when it was time, probably two hours late.

Apart from the unregulation mustache, Barker looked crisp. He periodically revved the engine a bit. That wasn’t really necessary for diesels, but it didn’t hurt anything.

In the back was a mixed bag. Armand Devereaux, medic. Ramon Ortiz, a veterinary NCO who was going to be helping the locals with goats. He would man the M240B on the first leg. They had a cooler full of caffeine, other drinks and candy, and bottled water.

“What rank are you, Alexander?”

“Sergeant, sir.”

“Are you getting out anywhere?”

“At the first stop, apparently. Ferderer?”

Caswell said, “That’s where I’m debarking. COB Ferderer.”

“Good. Battle buddy for the time being?”

“Sure.”

Elliott was glad of that. Caswell had been the only female in this end of the convoy, and she seemed a bit high-strung and remote.

Really, everyone for that stop should be on one vehicle. Troops wanted to be with their own elements, though, and some had assigned positions. When the juggling was done, it was always a mess.

He spoke loud enough for everyone and said, “We’re stopping there briefly, then continuing on. This vehicle and the one behind are stopping at COB Ferderer. Then we fill into the others and continue.”

“That’s why we have the extra space,” Ortiz said. “Enjoy it while we have it.”

He added, “Oh, yeah, we have some boxes of stuff back there. Soap, shampoo, other crap, and some pencils and writing books and colored pencils. May as well help yourself to any of the hygiene items; the Afghans won’t care.” Civilians sent care packages for both troops and locals. The locals generally didn’t have much use for the stuff.

A radio call was punctuated with puffs of exhaust from ahead. Charlie Seven started lumbering.

“And we’re rolling!” Barker said.

Barker slammed his door, shifted into gear, and waited. Elliott closed his. When Charlie Seven vehicle reached fifty meters ahead of them, Barker eased forward, as the convoy stretched like a worm.

They drove past the local bazaar, inside the gate, then wove through the Entry Control Point barricades, out onto the road, and were in Afghanistan proper. They followed fence and berm, with stacks of conex boxes just inside, until they hit a T and turned west and downslope from the plateau. There were fields here, with the river just west. It was quite pretty in a way.

Nothing should attack them this close to the base, and hopefully nothing would at all. On the other hand, it got really boring really fast over here. He couldn’t decide if this was something like a prison sentence, since he’d never been to prison. He did know he’d be here another nine months.

Someone in a Route Clearance vehicle came on air. “Right side, fifty meters past the outcropping. Burned pickup. Clear.”

They’d call for everything accounted for, vehicle, wreck, suspicious bush, though there weren’t many of those.

It was almost 0930. The distances weren’t great, but the roads weren’t very good, and would be full of farmers, flocks and potential IEDs.

It was a day like any other day. Long and crappy, with new stupidity that would be exactly like the old stupidity. Sun burned down, dust rose up.

“What do you think, Sergeant Barker?” he asked.

Barker shrugged. “I try not to, sir. But I can’t even do that right.”

“Fair enough. What I mean is, have you been on this route before?”

“About half of it. It’s mostly pretty casual. Hajji fires off a rifle now and then. One RPG that missed. It’s been mostly quiet the last three months.”

“Good.” That’s what his briefing had said, but real world confirmation was nice.

He pulled at his collar to vent some sweat, and loosened his armor slightly to let the AC cool him off. Quiet was good. He’d had a real firefight, this was a real combat tour. He’d much rather be doing engineer stuff, but this would work at promotion time, too.

A massive bang sounded, and the vehicle crashed back to the ground. It jarred his spine. They’d fallen several feet. Then the ride got bumpy because they were off the road.

“Contact! Find contact!” he shouted. What the hell was it? Not an RPG, not an IED. They were still rolling, then they swerved. He shouted into his headset, “Charlie One, we have contact.”

“No sign of contact,” Ortiz called from above.

“Bullshit, find me contact. We’re off road.” How did that happen? They were bumping up a long slope.

“No contact,” Barker said. “There’s nothing around us.” He slowed but kept moving.

“Tire blowout?” Sean asked.

“Negative, everything looks good.” Barker wiggled the wheel. “We’re fine.”

“Fucking weird.”

Alexander said, “Maybe we hit a local vehicle.”

“Possible,” he said. “Well, get us back on the road and we’ll regroup and assess.” He keyed the headset. “Charlie One, contact is nonhostile, possible vehicle accident, over.”

Barker said, “I can’t see the road.”

The radio said, “Charlie Eight, this is Charlie Nine. We hit whatever it was, too.”

“Downslope.” Where the hell was Charlie One? “Charlie One, say again, contact was not hostiles, possibly a vehicle strike, over. Break. Charlie Nine, what was it, over?”

“Charlie Eight, this is Charlie Nine. I don’t see anything, over. Just you, I mean, over.”

He looked at Barker. “Okay, then stop. Back up slowly.”

“Nothing from Charlie One?”

“No,” he replied.

Again Barker said, “I don’t see the road. We are on grass. Green stuff.”

“Fuck. Stop. Perimeter. Fast.” He keyed the mic. “Charlie Nine, this is Charlie Eight, unass and assess, over.”

They kicked the doors and the ramp and rolled out, carbines raised and alert. Ortiz and Caswell were on the right, Alexander and Devereaux on the left.

They were on a hilly slope. There was no sign or sound of hostiles, just brush and stubby trees. Those were a bit odd. The growth was knee high and wild. They’d been traveling through cultivated fields before.

He cautiously walked back to Charlie Nine, now only twenty meters or so back. SFC Spencer was that vehicle commander. He and his three troops were kneeling, weapons ready.

“Man, it’s chilly here,” Spencer commented as he glanced around. “What happened?”

It wasn’t chilly, but it was maybe 80°F or so, rather than well over a hundred.

“How’s the vehicle?”

Barker came around the back, examining the passenger side. “Nothing. Nothing underneath, nothing on the body. We’re fine.”

“Okay, we couldn’t have gone more than a couple of hundred meters. Is there any sign of any locals, hostile or otherwise?”

“Negative.”

“Stand by,” he said. Grabbing the tiedowns on the hood, he climbed up, then on top. He grabbed the cupola and took a long, measured look. Then he flushed and chilled at the same time.

“LT?” Spencer asked.

He couldn’t think of anything to offer. “I got nothing.”

The female SP, Caswell, called up, “What do you see, LT?”

“I do not see the road. I do not see vehicles. I do not see the convoy.”

A troop from Charlie Nine said, “Dust. All the way across there.” He pointed upslope. Right. They were below the road. It felt as if they’d gone left, but they’d gone right.

“And damage to growth.” Spencer pointed at the tears they’d left.

“Raking fire?” the troop asked. His nametape said DALTON.

Spencer said, “No, I think it was an earthquake.”

“Shit, I—”
hope the rest of the convoy is alive
, he didn’t say.

“Call JSTARS,” Elliott said.

He was very afraid they weren’t going to get a response. Something was
very
wrong.

Spencer jumped into his cab. “Trumpcard, this is Charlie Nine, over.” He rattled off their chalk number and route ID. “Trumpcard, this is Charlie Nine, over . . . Any allied unit, this is Charlie Nine, request confirmation and response, over.” He shrugged his hands and stared at Elliott.

What next? “Dalton, Spencer, go uphill two hundred meters. Go west two hundred. Make it a box and return.”

“Hooah, LT,” Dalton acknowledged for them.

“You, cover them.” He pointed at the gunner on Charlie Nine.

“Trinidad, sir. Roger that,” the Filipino nodded and jumped up into the cupola.

“Anything on GPS?”

Barker said, “That’s not working, either. No signal.”

He hoped no one could see him shiver. He clutched his weapon tight against himself, because his hands were half numb and jittery. Shock.

He watched Dalton and Spencer as they moved carefully uphill. He’d wanted them to be cautious, and he wanted them to get done and get back fast. He twitched.

They turned west, which was right, and a few moments later, Spencer tossed a handful of loose dirt and waved.

“Let’s drive up there,” he said.

Everyone remounted. Barker fired the engine, and drove a careful circle in the right direction, then rolled uphill. It was jolty off road, as expected, and he could see the trail they’d cut on the way down.

BOOK: A Long Time Until Now
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