Bon, reprenons. La série de romans de science-fiction Timewars, dont celui-ci est le deuxième volet, raconte des histoires de voyages dans le temps. Au 27ème siècle de notre ère, la technique du voyage temporel est parfaitement maîtrisée et une police spécialisée est chargée d’empêcher l’apparition d’anomalies dans le déroulement du temps. Postulat de base: les modifications mineures dans le passé peuvent être réparées, mais on ne peut rien faire contre des déviations considérables.
Point de départ du récit: un terroriste psychopathe et schizophrène, Adrian Taylor, a décidé de causer une rupture violente et irréparable dans le cours de l’histoire. La police du temps a appris que Taylor et ses amis veulent agir à Paris, en avril 1625. Des agents sont donc envoyés sur place pour contrecarrer les visées de Taylor.
Très complexe, voire confuse, l’intrigue voit agents et terroristes s’agiter en tous sens, intoxiquer, trahir, au point que l’on ne sait plus qui est qui, ni pour qui travaillent les agents doubles. La police du temps en arrive assez vite à croire que Taylor veut provoquer une rupture entre Louis XIII et sa femme à propos de l’affaire des ferrets. De fait, Taylor a tué Milady et a pris sa place, aidé par une transformation physique complète suscitée par une chirurgie esthétique beaucoup plus sophistiquée que la nôtre.
La police du temps envoie donc deux commandos se lier aux quatre mousquetaires pour les aider à sauver Anne d’Autriche. Après avoir fait connaissance avec d’Artagnan avant même son arrivée à Paris, en l’aidant lors de la bagarre de l’auberge de Meung, la mission des deux hommes est de se joindre aux mousquetaires lors de leur expédition à Londres. On apprend ainsi que le groupe comptait dix membres et non pas huit en quittant Paris (les quatre mousquetaires, leurs valets, les deux commandos du futur), et qu’il était surveillé en permanence par des hommes équipés d’engins volants, chargés de les prévenir des embuscades tendues par les hommes du cardinal (voir extrait ci-dessous)…
Mais tout cela n’était qu’une fausse piste destinée à écarter les policiers du temps de Paris. Le véritable objectif de Taylor-Milady était de tuer à la fois Louis XIII, Anne d’Autriche et Richelieu – typiquement un changement de l’Histoire tout à fait irréparable. Le moyen? Milady fait croire à Richelieu qu’elle a volé à Buckingham deux des ferrets de la reine. En fait, il n’en est rien, et le terroriste travesti remet au Cardinal deux faux ferrets dissimulant des bombes radiocommandées. Il compte les faire exploser lors du bal des échevins, quand les trois plus hauts personnages du royaume seront ensemble, occupés à compter les ferrets accrochés à la robe d’Anne d’Autriche…
Des péripéties compliquées permettront aux soldats du temps de déjouer le complot à la dernière minute. Détail cocasse: alors qu’ils viennent d’arrêter, à coups de rayons lasers, Taylor-Milady dans une galerie du Louvre, c’est en s’appropriant le fameux blanc-seing donné à Milady par Richelieu et en l’utilisant pour tenir à l’écart les soldats du Cardinal arrivés sur les lieux, qu’ils réussissent à s’éclipser sans trop de mal.
Pas très bien écrit et pas toujours cohérent, The timekeeper conspiracy n’est pas un chef d’œuvre. L’auteur fait cependant preuve d’une habileté certaine pour imbriquer son histoire dans celle de Dumas. On apprend que Constance est un agent du futur, des valets sortent des pistolets lasers avec un naturel parfait, etc… Le plus amusant est de voir des scènes emblématiques réécrites sous un jour complètement différent, comme l’expédition des ferrets. Les mousquetaires, et d’Artagnan le premier, n’en sortent pas grandis: ils ne sont finalement que des pions, manipulés par les acteurs d’un conflit dont ils ignorent tout, et auquel ils ne pourraient évidemment rien comprendre...
Shortly before dawn, ten people on horseback left Paris by the barrier of St. Denis. The group consisted of Aramis and his servent, Bazin, a somber man of forty who dressed in black and affected a priestly air; Porthos and Musqueton, his lackey, an amiable peasant of about thirty-five who was dressed considerably better than his fellows in his master's cast-off clothes; Athos and his man, Grimaud, whose taciturn demeanor matched his name; and D'Artagnan and Planchet, the comical scarecrow of a man whose aimless, spirited babble more than compensated for Grimaud's and Bazin's glum reserve. They were just about to leave when their party was increased by two new arrivals. (…)
Of necessity, no one but D'Artagnan was to know the true nature of their mission, since the honor of the queen was at stake. Andre and Lucas knew, of course, but they feigned ignorance. As for the other musketeers, all they were told was that it was to be a mission of great importance and that they had to go to London and very possibly get killed along the way. D'Artagnan told them that he had been entrusted with a letter and that, should he fall, one of the others would have to deliver it. Save for a few brief instructions regarding that delivery, the three musketeers knew nothing. Initially, Porthos had raised some doubts, but following a brief discussion of the risks involved and the reasons for their going, Athos settled the matter once and for all.
"Gentlemen," he had said, "is the king accustomed to giving you reasons for doing everything that you must do? No. He says to you, very simply, 'Gentlemen, there is fighting going on in Gascony or Flanders; go and fight,' and you go there. No, here are our three leaves of absence, which came from Captain de Treville, and here are three hundred pistoles, which came from I know not where. So let us go and get killed where we are told to go. Is life worth the trouble of so many questions?"
The issue settled, they departed for Calais, which was the quickest route to London. Finn had given Andre his cloak in place of her much more ornate one in an effort to fool the floaters. It was still dark and Lucas and Andre rode at the tail end of the group. Shortly after they left Paris, Lucas received his first contact from the floaters.
"Hawk One to Ground Squirrel, Hawk One to Ground Squirrel. Do you read? Over."
The throat transmitter enabled Lucas to speak softly, so that the others would not overhear him, but they would not have heard in any case, since they were all ahead of him and the group was in full gallop. Andre did not have a comset, so she was oblivious of the contact, but Lucas burst into laughter.
"Hawk One to Ground Squirrel, I'm getting a lot of noise. Are you reading me loud and clear? Over."
"You're getting a lot of noise because I’m laughing my ass off," Lucas said.
"Did you say 'over'?"
"Yeah, yeah, over, roger-willco," Lucas said. "What's with this Ground Squirrel shit? Who the hell is Ground Squirrel?"
There was a slight pause.
"What do you mean, who's Ground Squirrel? You're Ground Squirrel."
"Didn't Mongoose give you your call-sign? How the hell are you supposed to respond if you don't know your call-sign?"
"I am responding, you nitwit."
This time, the pause was appreciably longer. Lucas couldn't stop laughing.
"I don't see what's so fanny, Priest."
"Well, Christ, if you know my name, why don't you use it?"
"Well, it would be a bit irregular, but I suppose there's no reason why—"
"Look, have you got something to report or are you just providing comic relief?" said Lucas.
There was a slightly longer pause. Finally, "Hawk One" came on and said, rather tersely, "All clear up ahead."
"Assholes," mumbled Lucas. There was no further contact until they reached Chantilly.
The group arrived at a roadhouse a little after eight o'clock. They left the horses saddled, in case they should have to depart in a hurry, and entered the inn to have a quick breakfast. The only other patron besides themselves was a drunk who greeted them with exaggerated bonhomie. They exchanged token pleasantries and nothing more was said between them until it came time for them to leave, at which point the drunk lurched to his feet, holding a wine goblet aloft and swaying unsteadily.
"Gentlemen, a toast!" he shouted, nearly overbalancing. He clutched at Porthos's baldrick for support, then lurched back several feet, accomplishing the act, miraculously, without spilling a single drop of wine. "A toast to the health of His Eminence, Cardinal Richelieu! Gentlemen, will you join me?"
"I have no objection," Porthos said, "if you, in turn, will join with us to drink the health of good King Louis."
The drunk spat upon the floor. "Pah! I recognize no king other than His Eminence!"
"You're drunk," said Porthos. "Otherwise, I might not so easily forgive your insolence."
"Drunk, am I?" said the man, reaching for his rapier and missing it. He grasped at air in the vicinity of his waist until his hand found his sword and he pulled it from its scabbard. "Well, we'll see who's drunk!"
"That was foolish," Athos said to Porthos. "Still, there's nothing to be done about it now. Kill the fellow and rejoin us as quickly as you can."
Porthos shrugged and drew his own rapier. The drunk came on guard with a sudden, remarkable sobriety. As they left the roadhouse with the sound of clanging steel behind them, Lucas suggested that it might be simpler, since there were ten of them in all, to gang up on the man and quickly get it over with. Athos looked at him with shock.
"My dear fellow," he said, in tones of strict rebuke, "that sort of thing simply isn't done!"
Athos gave him a pained expression for his answer, mounted up and galloped off.
"It would be a bit dishonorable," Andre ventured, cautiously.
Lucas shook his head. "Boy, have you got a lot to learn," he said. They mounted up and galloped off after the musketeers.
"Ground Squirrel to Goony Bird," said Lucas.
"That's 'Hawk One,' " came the annoyed reply.
"Says you. Where's the other birdbrain?"
There was a short silence.
"Hawk Two is scouting up ahead. I'm at ten thousand feet, keeping you on scope."
"How come you didn't report that character in the tavern?" Lucas said.
"Jesus, you’re a lot of help."
"You expect me to see indoors from way up here? Give me a break, I'm doing the best I can."
"Then we’re in a lot of trouble."
"Not yet, but you’re going to be. Hawk Two just reported an armed party about a mile outside Beauvais."
"I didn't hear anything."
"He's on another frequency."
Lucas rolled his eyes. "Well, aren't your people supposed to be providing back-up on this ride? We're still well away from there. Move your agents in and clear the way."
"They're moving into position, but we can only take defensive action in case the terrorists are among them. If they're not, you're on your own."
"You've got to be kidding."
"Okay, look, is there another road that we can take to get around them?"
"No go," said the floater. "This is part of the original scenario. You've got to go on through."