I looked out of the high window to the street outside. The rain poured down, not torrentially, but with an insistent persistence, that left the pavement devoid of pedestrians, and road itself almost barren of of vehicles. What should have been a quiet summer’s evening was a complete wash out, and I was glad to be inside. I turned from the window and picked up my glass from an antique occasional table.
“Not a time to be outside” I stated to the room at large, not really expecting a response. The four of us had, as was our wont, adjourned to the Library after dinner, scowling concertedly at a new member who had the temerity to try an join us. The Library had been ours for time immemorial. Greywood had plomped into ‘his’ armchair and, tumbler of single malt not withstanding, had fallen asleep. None of us could really understand how he did it. He was demonstrably asleep, with light purring snore emanating from around a large fluffy moustache – that we would often joke had a life of its own – and yet not a drop of whisky would be lost from the glass, all would be consumed before the evening’s end.
The Commonwealth Club (we often called it the Prune Club – being elderly curmudgeons was our raison d’etra) is an anachronism, looking like something that Phileas Fogg might have belonged, hundreds of years before. But even in our supposed modern world it has its place.
Darbishire and Memana were bickering over some item or other that they had read in the news as I was looking out of the window, but they broke off as I made my comment on the weather outside and Darbishire said “that reminds me of a joke: time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana!”
Memana groaned and I looked round for a pillow, or failing that a book, that I could throw. Greywood huffed through his moustache and fixed Darbishire with a steely gaze. This was another of Greywood’s traits that we had never fathomed: no matter how deeply asleep he seemed to be, he always knew what was being talked about. We waited for the inevitable anecdote from his time in The Service.
That was a truly terrible joke [said Greywood], and besides which, it is factually incorrect. Fruit flies may, indeed, like a banana, but time does not fly like an arrow. Every moment in history is available to us if we had but the means to access it, and what we experience is merely the brain trying to make sense of all this time happening at once. During my time in The Service, I was seconded for a period to the Bureau of Anomalies in Time and Space. Some boffin or other had managed to crack a limited form of time travel, and whilst the Government had tried to keep it under wraps, a boot-leg version had leaked out to the criminal classes. There were two issues with this technology. One, whilst you could jump a reasonable amount of time into the past or future, you could only do so for a few seconds, a minute at most and you would come back to where you jumped from as if you were on a bit of elastic. The other was that the process of jumping had a physiological effect and all the muscle fibres in the body would contract a small but significant amount. As a result, the technology was all but useless for espionage, and the technology was suppressed lest it fall into the wrong hands. Suppressed badly, and inevitably it did fall into the wrong hands.
The head of BATS was not a complete fool – you don’t get to head up such a specialist group if you’re an idiot. He acted promptly, called in extra support as required and the team were able to track the leak and find the criminal group who were planning to use the equipment. They had had some plan of using the technology to gain information on sporting events. We managed to catch up with them in the midst of their first attempt and scooped them all up, with the exception of the time-traveller. Police records indicated that we had the whole gang as far as was known and so it was no simple matter to find our lost waif. We did not know what he (or she) looked like, we did not know where they had jumped from, how far into the past or future they had jumped, or when they had returned to our time. As I say, the head of the team that I had been seconded to was not a complete idiot and, as he had seen me at work before, he called me in early. A job like this is tricky in so many ways, but I was able to tell the team reviewing the CCTV footage from the venue what to look for and the Police were able to pick up the, as it turned out, man before he had got too far.
Greywood sipped his whisky, wiped his moustache, resettled himself into his chair and started to fall back to sleep. There is only one thing to do at such times and we all knew the drill. Memana was closest and kicked Greywood’s foot.
“Hey! Oh no you don’t! How did you know who to look for?”
“I would have thought it was perfectly obvious – I told you about the technology, and it’s physiological effects. All they had to do was look for the person who suddenly had serious problems walking – time wounds all heels, you know”.
David Jesson, 2017
One man’s now is another man’s history
Sonia awoke to a persistent beeping noise: “What the hell is that?” she muttered. She’d told her team not to wake her under pain of death and they’d never not complied. That’s when she realised it wasn’t her phone but the Gadget. Pulling open the drawer she read the message flashing in fluorescent letters: “Report immediately.”
Punching in her entry code – not her birthdate (she’d terrorised all her staff with instant dismissal if they used that) her’s was the date her dog died – Sonia strode into the office.. She found them all sitting round the coffee machine, feet up and chatting. “Up!” she yelled in her best sergeant major voice and enjoyed the scampering response. “We’ve got a top priority alert. A suspect on his way from Boston. Time Traveller. Someone down there goofed and he used a ray gun on the senior security guy who’s now gone all ga-ga.”
Her team looked decidedly unhappy with that news: “Erm boss, how’re we supposed to handle that without getting fried ourselves?”
“We’re just running interference” she reassured them. “We announce a delay with the refuelling truck which gives them enough time to get a specialist out here from Boston. Everyone needs to keep calm, act natural and it’ll be just fine.”
It’d been Sonia’s suggestion that they use the excuse of the refuelling truck as a delaying tactic. Here in Anchorage, the conditions meant they frequently needed to handle freezing weather and today was certainly cold enough to freeze the proverbials off a brass monkey.
Sonia changed out of her uniform into something a bit more unchallenging and low level before making the announcement about the delay. Her announcement was greeted with the expected groans, so she announced that free hot refreshments were available. She took the opportunity to move amongst the passengers and engage each of them in brief conversation, but no-one was triggering her spidey senses.
Her phone rang “John’s landed” she heard in her ear. This time it was her turn to groan. Really, her little brother? They’d had to send the doofus to handle this on her territory? Sonia flashed her best smile to the cute looking guy in the Bruins sweatshirt and excused herself. Pity this wasn’t a real delay, she could’ve pulled there.
Pulling on her outdoor layers and boots, Sonia crossed the runway to where John’s plane was taxiing to a stop. Bundled up, John emerged first and hurried down the stairs. “Hi Sis, it’s the guy in the Bruins sweatshirt. Have you spotted him yet?” “Don’t be ridiculous” she snapped in response, “I’ve just been chatting to him and he’s just an ordinary guy.” John grinned, “Yeah he is exactly your type, but he’s the guy, I promise you.” “So why didn’t you stop him at Boston then?” John sighed, he could feel his big sister assessing him cooling, expecting him to confess that he’d messed up. “I identified him, but while I went to get my kit to put him down, the head of security persuaded my boss that he could handle it without any fuss himself. Seems he was wrong.”
“What this ray gun he’s using?” Sonia enquired. “We don’t know yet. It’s the first of its type we’ve come across” John admitted. “They usually just knock you out, but these ones seem to make their victims loose their memories and their mental faculties.” “Sounds nasty.” “Yup, that’s why I put out the instruction to just delay him. I didn’t want my big sis getting into any trouble she couldn’t handle” grinned John.
Swiping him round the ear, Sonia asked for details of John’s plan. “Well, he’s seen me before, so …” “He’s seen you before? That’ll make it more difficult. How well would he know you?” “We chatted for nearly an hour, so it’s a risk. I’m going to need to disguise myself. Any thoughts?”
Sonia pondered as they walked across to the airport terminal. Going to her office, she signalled a cleaner pushing a mop and bucket to join them. There John and the cleaner switched outfits, including the glasses and knitted hat the cleaner was wearing. Sonia walked round John and admitted “I’d not recognise you even if I was expecting to see you.” “Perfect” said John and got his kit prepared. Pulling on thick heavy cleaning gloves, he pushed the mop and bucket across the terminal building and into the lounge. John pushed the mop around in the guy’s eye-line and when he was confident there’d been no reaction, he moved round behind him. Looking over the top of his glasses, John picked his spot carefully and plunged the needles into the guy’s neck. The guy startled, but collapsed before he could get his hand into his pocket. Sonia and her team raced in, removed his ray gun carefully, and cuffed the guy.
Later, as they were walking back to his plane with the prisoner, Sonia asked “I forgot to check, how’d you know it was him in Boston?” “Usual thing, I got an instinct …” “Oh come on” said Sonia “this is me remember, I know how your mind works. What was it that triggered those instincts?
“There was something wrong I couldn’t put my finger on, so I struck up a conversation with him. We talked ice hockey ‘cos he was wearing a Bruins shirt. He knew facts and figures, but there was no colour, no opinion. Even though he said he was a long-term fan, there was no passion. So I asked about more stuff. And he was the same – all facts and figures, but nothing personal.”
“Time travellers need to get their cultural references right, especially when they come from the future. My guy sounded like he was reciting history … not talking about life.”
© Debra Carey, 2017