Villa di Pratolino
By Laura Fox
TIMESTAMP: Florence, Italy. 2010
Jane waited for the world around her to come into focus and felt her stomach lurch as it did. Even with the time-travelling technology she had at her fingertips, the discomfort was only lessened sightly by using it, rather than a Time Warden’s innate abilities to slip between Time Rifts.
In the distance, the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore rose above the Piazza del Duomo, with the orange-red sunrise reflecting in the Arno. Jane wished she could watch from her perch on the bridge as the sunrise splashed over the city and the streets began to fill with the activity of the day, but quickly shook her head, knowing she was there for a purpose.
A row of motorcycles lined the Lungarno Torrigiani. Jane had forgotten to allow the time to organise a rental, and instead of Time Jumping again, resolved to borrow one of them. She followed the bridge and walked along the row of flashy motorcycles, eyeing them with a professional gaze. She stopped in front of a simple black Triumph Bonneville 800 which looked to be in good condition. Jane fished the masterkey out of her bag. One piece of tech she never left behind, it was an ingenious invention made to look like a keyless entry device. She turned the dial to the motorcycle setting, typed in the make and model, flipped out the metal piece, and watched as the metal moulded itself into a key.
Jane took a quick glance at the empty street before climbing onto the bike. She kicked up the stand, inserted the key, deployed the choke knob, and pressed the start button. The Triumph hummed under her small frame as she pushed her messenger bag around to rest on her back and tightened the strap. She looked down at her wrist and let out a deep breath, admonishing her lack of planning with the crude native transportation available. She only had forty minutes to make it out of Florence and navigate the winding roadways to Vaglia. She pulled on the helmet left by the bike’s owner and began her ride north.
Jane took her positian as a Time Warden of very seriously. Although her post included the years spanning the 19th through the 22nd Century, she spent most of it in 2130 within Thessaloniki, Greece at her flat in the Olympiados area. She loved the interesting mix of the thriving city, interspersed with the ancient ruins that had been preserved throughout time. Having the latest technology at her fingertips was just a bonus.
Jane had received the communication from Kristof just as she’d been freshening up for a night out with her girlfriends. It sounded urgent, advising her of a rift in the Continuum at Villa di Pratolino in Tuscany.
She had immediately looked to her augmenter, a device which allowed her to monitor the flow of time, navigate a Time Jump, and to communicate with other Wardens throughout the history of humankind. Monitoring the Continuum in her assigned time and area was Jane’s top priority. She hadn’t seen anything unusual when she had checked that morning, but now Jane saw the ripple that Kristof had warned her about.
Initially, Jane had been confused at the contact. It had been a long time since she’d heard anything from Kristof. He had once been of the most esteemed Wardens, and his influence on human history was strong. Kristof had mentored several of the best Time Wardens, including Jane’s mentor, Selene. However, Selene refused to talk about him after he left his post, and there had been little other information about him.
Jane preferred not to be involved with the politics governing the Time Wardens with all the bi-laws and recommendations. However, lately, Jane had heard murmurings that Kristof was in pursuit of a grander scheme than influencing humans. She shrugged the scant gossip off. The rumours of influential Time Wardens missing from the Time Continuum was much more interesting with strong facts supporting it. Many had assumed that Kristof had fallen foul of whomever was behind the missing Wardens. Some thought he was involved in the disappearances, but Jane had a hard time believing that someone Selene trusted could stoop to such heinous activities. Surely if it were true, he would have been stopped by now. There were measures in place after all. The situation of the missing Time Wardens had left her confused and wondering about the truth of it all.
Jane stopped daydreaming and focused on the the twisty road and the need to deal with the threat of a ripple in her zone. She pulled the bike into the Villa di Pratolino. She was a little windblown and her body was still vibrating from the long ride. Leaving the bike, Jane began to traverse the gardens looking for anything out of the ordinary. She was a little disappointed to find that everything seemed normal. It was still early and just past the tourist season, so Jane was alone in the expanse of drying foliage. Many of the leaves had already started to turn and a few had fallen to the grass below, creating a scant covering of orange, red, and brown. Jane felt the hair on her arms raise. The tension in the air was faint, but it was enough to alert her that another Warden was nearby.
Jane closed her eyes and concentrated. She could sense the push on her repel-field coming from the east. Opening her eyes, she saw the colossal statue of Appennino as it brooded over the grotto in the distance. Approaching the sculpture, she felt the waves of pressure grow stronger, causing her hands to shake and her stomach to turn. She fought the side-effects of being in close proximity to another Warden, knowing that it was her responsibility to maintain the Continuum and investigate the source.
Jane’s chest depressed suddenly as she spotted a lone figure. Kristof was unmistakable with his sandy, red-tinged hair and muscular frame. She watched as he paused at the edge of the statue, skirted the foot of the bearded giant, and disappeared into the centuries-old trees behind it.
Jane hurried across the grassy expanse, climbed the guard rail, and made her way up the sculpture to the spot where she had seen Kristof pause. Looking down, she saw an innocuous-looking black briefcase near the edge of the statue. Confused, she checked her watch. 8:02. She didn’t have time to deal with Kristof’s game of cat and mouse. She tried to message him, but he didn’t appear to be wearing his augmenter. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen soon. Peering around the edge and searching the trees, she could still feel his presence, and the feeling of her stomach turning was distracting.
The trickle of water flowing into the grotto softened as a new noise monopolised the air – a faint beeping noise emanating from someplace nearby. She looked around for the source, eventually identifying the briefcase as its source. Jane’s heart began to race as she quickly picked her way across the base of the sculpture. She rounded the huge foot and stumbled down into the grass. Looking out into the trees, she saw Kristof, flashing a smile at her before disappearing into the forest. The pressure on her repel-field lessened as he retreated, and she was able to breathe freely again.
Jane turned her back toward the sculpture only to hear a loud blast, as her body was propelled through the air and slammed against a tree. She winced when she saw a jagged branch piercing through her upper arm and pinning her in place. Unable to move, she watched as Giambologna’s masterpiece came crashing down on top of her in a mass of brick and stone.
Jane’s body disintegrated as the Winds of Time blew the dusty remains away. Kristof strolled out of the forest and stopped beside the toppled statue to check its ashen remains. Satisfied that Jane was now banned from returning to this Time Zone, he retrieved his augmenter and ticked her name from the list he had compiled.
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