Maurice Borge is working on his last day with the Time Police before a well-earned retirement. Unfortunately, because his job involves protecting space and time from evildoers, scum, criminals, and jaywalkers, the last day might last forever.
Last Day on the Job
A Novel of the Time Police
Protecting Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today
1 – May 26, 2007, 12:36 pm
“Why would anybody in their right mind build a time machine into a refrigerator?”
“Hell if I know,” Maurice Borge replied, crouching behind a wooden crate and checking the safety on his pulse blaster. He was in the mood to put steaming holes in someone today, and this self-proclaimed mad scientist was getting on his last nerve. He didn’t bother to tell the rookie that someone in their right mind generally wouldn’t be building a time machine at all; as a rule, it took being three Froot Loops shy of breakfast to want to make a device to shred the laws of quantum physics. With a sigh of resignation, Maurice ran a hand through his thinning hair and heaved his bulk up.
Beside him, his partner was already scrambling over the scraps of wood and metal littering the warehouse’s floor. Andre was a good kid, but still a little green. He was also dumber than a sack of hammers, but most of the force’s new recruits fell under that classification.
“He’s making a break for it!”
Who says shit like that? Maurice asked himself. A rook trying to sound professional.
“Freeze, jackhole!” Maurice leveled his pulse blaster at the fleeing criminal. The perp – the crazy, wild-haired sort who was the usual source of illicit temporal devices – ducked inside said refrigerator and slammed the door. With an ominous hum, the avocado-colored Frigidaire vanished in a flash of blue light. Maurice let his gun drop to his side.
“Shit!” He sighed in disgust. This was the part of his job he hated. Well, actually, every part of his job was a part he hated. Having a perp rabbit to God-knows-what century right before you got the cuffs on him really only ranked slightly above his average level of hatred. “Get the tracker from the car and let’s see where he went.”
Time machines – no matter their specific power source and construction – tended to work in much the same way. When you built something to tear a hole in the fabric of the cosmos and violate space-time like a twenty-dollar whore, there were only a limited number of ways to do it. The trans-time scanner read the temporal signature left behind and could give the Time Police a fair idea of where and when the perpetrator was going, at least in theory. The TTS had been known to be incorrect. Maurice didn’t cotton to the idea of taking a trip back to the Cenozoic on a wild goose chase.
Andre might have been a rook, but at least the kid knew how to work the TTS. He held the scanner – back when Maurice came from, he’d have said it looked like something from a bad sci-fi movie, all boxy and with unnecessary flashing lights to give newbies like Andre a sense of confidence in the gadget – over the spot where the refrigerator had done its vanishing act. The machine squawked and squealed, finally projecting a set of blue space-time coordinates hovering in the air.
“Looks like he’s gone to…next week?” Andre’s voice cracked with disbelief – or maybe because the kid had probably been old enough to shave for a whole three months. Every time he saw one of these fresh-faced pubes, it made Maurice’s ulcer act up. If he was lucky, he’d make it through today and be able to retire with his hide intact. Then he could find some nice peaceful timeline, settle down to enjoy his old age, and leave chasing mad scientists and would-be supervillains across the nether regions of time and space to brats like Andre.
“Eh, small jumps like this, the machine’s probably right.” That much was true – while the thing tended to be off by a century or two when it involved a jump of, say, a couple million years, if whatever you were chasing had just decided to go back or forward a little ways – Time Police rule of thumb said about fifty years, but Maurice wasn’t sure how much he trusted the scut about that number – the TTS was usually pretty accurate. “Warm up the car.”
Despite his admonition, the Moxie didn’t need any time to warm up (and there was a joke – time being subjective in this case, as the car could in fact travel instantaneously to almost any point in time and space, and got 35 miles per gallon to boot). It looked like nothing so much as a black-and-white 1957 Cadillac redesigned by Syd Mead. Maurice heaved his bulk – he’d meant to lose about fifty pounds for the last twenty-five years or so now – onto the front bench seat and punched the coordinates from the TTS into the console in the center of the dash. Green, yellow, and red LEDs flashed on, indicating their destination.
The Moxies were actual, honest-to-goodness flying cars, a relic left over from a future timeline that got wiped out a long time ago (at least, the future in a subjective sense – objectively speaking, that “future” of flying cars and personal jetpacks had been the year 2003). It was probably for the better that the only remaining Moxies were in Time Police hands; that particular future populated by humans – just as incompetent as at any other point in the space-time continuum – all given personal flying machines, was dangerous and messy to say the least.
Andre climbed into the passenger side. When he’d first been assigned his partner, the rook wanted to drive. Maurice had, needless to say, nipped that notion in the bud. It would be bad enough if the newbie was just driving a regular car, but the Moxie was a different sort of beast, and someone without the right experience could land themselves (not to mention their unfortunate about-to-retire-alive partner) into a heap of trouble.
By their very nature, time machines were also teleporters. After all, if you traveled forward in time fifty or sixty years, the Earth would continue to rotate and revolve around the sun, and any time-travel device you used had to compensate for that. Some of the older Time Police told stories about a mad scientist (and in the temporal enforcement business, you rarely crossed paths with the sane kind) who built a time machine out of a Camaro and forgot to include that function. He died in the vacuum of space immediately after performing his first time jump and finding that the planet beneath him had moved several thousand kilometers. The Time Police left his Camaro orbiting the moon as a warning to other temporal physicists not to make the same mistake.
When you paired the machine’s ability to jump instantaneously from one point in space-time to another with the fact that the Time Police did their recruiting from the shallow end of the gene pool (or so it felt – when he was feeling more charitable, Maurice admitted that Andre was in fact not more stupid than the general run of the populace, which said something about how low the average had sunk in between his native when and Andre’s), things got especially sticky. If you did something stupid like transpose two numbers or get a decimal in the wrong spot, you were more than likely to end up in the middle of the planet or stranded out in the butthole of the multiverse. The Moxie had life support, environmental controls, power windows, and all the other standard features the eggheads back at headquarters liked to jabber about every time you stopped by the department motor pool, and carried enough juice to go a few million years without recharging, so at least they weren’t guaranteed to die immediately. Maurice wasn’t partial to having to turn around and come back to the relative present because the newbie screwed up some calculations
Beside him, Andre flashed a thumbs-up signalling he was ready to go. Maurice rolled his eyes. Enthusiasm, Andre had. Brains, not so much. He hit the Auf Wiedersehen button, and blue light exploded around the Moxie.
When the purple spots faded from Maurice’s vision, they were sitting in a grungy alley. Across the reaches of the multiverse, there were few things as consistent as dirty alleyways. You could drop yourself into one in just about any city across a span of three centuries and they’d all look pretty much the same.
Maurice rubbed his eyes and goosed the gas. There wasn’t a sign of the green Frigidaire. With the Heisenberg principle in play, they could predict the time the crazy coot had arrived at, but only get the position to within a few hundred meters. At least the Moxie hadn’t materialized on the roof – this being 2007 or so, having to fly off the top of a building would attract some undue attention. With the generally low level of competence in the Time Police force, that undue attention happened anyway, but the brass back in the home timeline would still chew you out about it, if for no other reason than to get their jollies.
“See the perp?”
He let the Moxie roll slowly out of the alley and waited for an opening in traffic.
“I see the fridge,” Andre replied.
Andre pointed. There it was, an avocado-colored refrigerator, one of those nuke-proof models from the fifties. Like a lot of mad scientists, the machine’s creator favored style over substance. At least he hadn’t built the damn thing out of a police box – Maurice had busted a guy who’d been running around in one of those for centuries. Despite the man’s alleged title, Maurice doubted he had any sort of medical degree. That guy and his blue port-a-potty were notorious.
By contrast, it appeared that this perp was nothing more than a minor nuisance. Instead of kidnapping random women and taking them on extended tours of the universe, this particular troublemaker had parked his time machine outside of a convenience store. Maurice pulled over to the curb and put the Moxie in park. Beside the refrigerator, the perp was scribbling the lottery numbers posted in the store’s window on a pad of paper. Maurice groaned.
“Lottery numbers? Really? Can’t he think of something more ambitious to do with a time machine?” he sighed. The standards of evil were slipping.
Then again, when somebody with a time machine did get more ambitious, it usually ended in a timeline in which humanity got conquered and enslaved by some mad dictator. Maurice supposed some jackhole in a time-traveling refrigerator stealing lottery numbers wasn’t the worst thing to deal with on his last day at work. In fact, given how the last century or two – or at least it felt like a century, but given the vagaries of time travel, it could very well have been that long in his subjective timeframe.
“Kid, get out and nail him. And don’t screw up this time.” Despite Andre not making any particular error that let the perp get into his fridge and bolt, Maurice wanted him to think that he might have. Fear of fouling things up was an excellent motivator. Implying that the rook had made a mistake last time around would keep him on his toes. Time Police who weren’t on their toes…well, usually, they didn’t die, but at the very least it put them in embarrassing situations.
Andre unbuckled his seatbelt and drew his pulse gun. Most rooks kept their set on deep fat fry, but Maurice was the rare exception on the force in that he wanted to apprehend a perp who was more than just a pair of smoking boots. First thing he’d drummed into Andre’s head (other than “don’t touch the Moxie’s controls unless I tell you to”) was “Keep the gun set on stun”. The rhyme made it easy for even a newbie to remember (or so he hoped – his partner vaporizing a guy for traveling a week into the future to get lottery numbers wasn’t how Maurice wanted his last relative day on the job to end).
The mad scientist (you could tell by the lab coat, goggles, and wild hair – it was the standard uniform of sanity-challenged inventors from at least 1500 CE onward, from what Maurice had seen) stopped short. He blinked rapidly, obviously taken aback that a couple of flatfoots could follow him an entire week into the future. “Hey, now,” the perp started to say, “just be careful with that.”
“Just hold it right there,” Andre told him, levelling the pulse gun at the perp (Maurice hoped again that the kid had it set on stun and not liquefy). Maurice placed his hand on his own door handle, ready to jump out in case the rook did something stupid.
“Hey, tell you what,” the perp continued. “You let me slide, and I’ve got the Powerball numbers for this week. All we gotta do is jump back to where we came from, and I’ll split it with you. Sixty-forty. What do you say?”
Maurice thought it over. You didn’t get rich working for the Time Police. And this jackhole winning the Powerball wasn’t likely to cause any big tears in the fabric of space-time or the rise of an evil empire or anything. As unambitious as the perp was, Maurice had to feel for him. If it wasn’t against regs (and, to be honest about his reasons, if the department’s bureaucrats didn’t keep such a close eye on Moxie logs), he’d be tempted to pull a scheme like this himself.
Unfortunately, Andre had yet to have all of the idealism sucked out of him by years of being a janitor for whatever unknown gods ruled the timestream. Instead of just shutting up and taking the bribe like any Time Police officer worth his badge would do, the kid kept his gun pointed at the perp.
Maurice pushed his door open and heaved himself out. He casually brushed some lint off his uniform – he’d always thought that the silly uniforms Time Police were required to wear made them look like bellhops, but nobody’d ever asked his opinion – and adjusted his gun belt so that it didn’t squeeze in on his overweight stomach too much. “Kid, why don’t we talk this over?”
“Yeah, yeah,” the perp agreed enthusiastically. “Let’s talk it over, man.” What was it with these guys, that their eyes never pointed the same direction?
“Can’t do that,” Andre said. The kid’s voice cracked again. “It’s against regulations to take a bribe.”
Maurice nodded amiably. “See, kid, there’s regulations and then there’s regulations. You gotta know when to-”
“Hold it right there, I said!” the rook interrupted him.
The perp was taking a step forward. It wasn’t what you’d call a threatening gesture, especially given that the man was nothing more than skin and bones – why didn’t these mad scientist types ever eat a decent meal? Unfortunately, Andre had a nervous trigger finger. The kid’s gun flashed, and a ball of blue light expanded around the perp. The wild-haired scientist’s eyes bugged out and his entire body went rigid, then collapsed like a boneless pile of rags.
“Great. Now you gotta drag his ass back to the car. I sure as hell ain’t doing it.”
Andre sighed in resignation. That was a rookie’s job – to do whatever his partner didn’t feel like doing. After a couple of weeks paired with Maurice, the kid was used to it. In fact, Andre had gotten comfortable enough with his partner to let his annoyance show. Maurice thought about giving him a swift kick in the butt, just to remind the rook who was in charge. As if sensing Maurice’s irritation, his partner quickly cuffed the perp’s hands behind his back and dragged his limp body to the Moxie’s back seat.
With their target secured safely in the back (Maurice had been tempted to have Andre stash the clown in the trunk instead of the seat, but decided against it – even though the administration looked the other way on casual police brutality, that would go beyond the pale even for them), the officers buckled their seat belts. Maurice punched up the time-space coordinates for home and floored the gas. The Moxie vanished in a flash of blue light.
When they arrived back at headquarters, local subjective time was 0945. By the reckoning of the Time Police’s clock, the entire affair of tracking down the jackhole in the Frigidaire – which had taken up three hours of Maurice’s subjective time – had taken around fifteen minutes. Maurice groaned. This day just wasn’t going to end, was it?
In all his sixty-five subjective years and travels across the bowels of time and space, Maurice had yet to encounter a single bureaucracy that wasn’t run by complete assholes. No matter where or when you landed, there was always a pencil-pusher asking for your travel papers or nagging you to file your renewal form for temporal mechanics certification or denying your expense report or any of the other thousand petty ways said pencil-pushers had of getting a tiny bit of revenge at the universe for sticking them in such a position. The administrative division of the Time Police, an arm of the agency responsible for keeping space and time playing nicely and not hitting each other on the playground, was no exception to the rule. If anything, the Time Police’s bureaucracy was the Platonic ideal of the concept (Not that, having met the man, Maurice would believe Plato actually came up with the concept of ideal forms – more than likely, someone had erroneously attached his name to the thought. The old Greek was dumber than a bag of hammers.).
In the case of the Time Police, that bureaucracy had certain rules and regulations in place that seemed to exist for no reason other than to make the average detective or beat cop’s life a singular hell (not that a singular hell existed – so far as the Temporal Research Division could tell, every last concept of hell dreamed up by mankind and assorted other species existed somewhere out there in the multiverse). Among those charming regulations put in place by the infinite diseased wisdom of the Time Police’s higher echelons were those relating to payment and hours worked. Simply put, the Time Police measured officers’ hours worked by the local time at headquarters, not by subjective time experienced by said officers as they hopped from past to future. If you left headquarters at eight a.m., spent twelve hours in 350 BCE on a case, then returned to headquarters at relative time 0830 that same morning, you got paid for a grand total of a half-hour’s work. It was a fiendishly clever scheme, and unfortunately most officers were too broke, too incompetent, or too displaced from their native space-time coordinates to look for other work. A few enterprising souls had tried using their cruisers to jump ahead to the end of the day, but payroll was notorious for checking cars’ logs. There were only three things in the universe that consistently got their hunk of flesh out of you – death, taxes, and the accounting department.
In the end, that policy was excellent for the budget, it was less so for the officers who got paid for perhaps a tenth of the work they did. It also might have been the reason so many in the Time Police would let minor offenses – getting stock tips from the future, smuggling the occasional historical curiosity out of the past, that sort of thing – go in return for a small application of currency. Most wouldn’t take bribes to look the other way about large offenses, like changing history so Hitler won World War II (to be fair, the Time Police had a supply of Hitler clones socked away in cryo and every time someone succeeded in killing the bastard they just thawed out a copy and history resumed its normal course), but there wasn’t any harm in letting the small things slip through.
Why, then, would an otherwise presumably sane and rational being take a job with the Time Police, if not for the pay? That wasn’t the question. The real question was, who would pass up the opportunity to travel through time and space in a Moxie, meet exciting historical figures, and blast them with a pulse gun? Most Time Police recruits were the trigger-happy and not-too-bright sort, a description that did nothing to distinctify them from most humans in any other time frame.
Maurice sighed in disgust. Only six hours, fifteen minutes left on the clock (that time being relative to headquarters, of course – depending on how things went, it would be anywhere from ten hours to a month by Maurice’s subjective time) until his retirement. He’d been around the block enough times to know the kind of things that usually happened on an officer’s last day. He hoped he was going to avoid any incidents that caused him to leave the force feet-first. He’d even avoided picking out a place to retire to, because due to some freakish loophole in the laws of causality, that act automatically increased one’s chances of dying by 500%.
“Hey, Borge – the chief wants a word with you,” the desk sergeant called as Maurice and Andre dragged their perp through the door.
“Take that clown to holding.” He allowed Andre to drag the still-groggy mad scientist down to the crazy tank. “And Stan, get someone with a tow truck out to 2007. There’s a green refrigerator, looks like he stuffed some kind of foldspace shunt into it. Can’t miss it.”
The desk sergeant nodded and picked up his telephone to call the impound yard to send a driver out to impound the illegal time machine. Maurice caught a glance of himself in the mirror behind the desk. He groaned and straightened up his tie. Seemed like no matter what he did, he always looked slightly disheveled, like he’d slept in his uniform for a week. The chief didn’t seem to care, but it bothered Maurice that he seemed to have so little control over his own appearance.
“Come in and shut the door.”
Maurice did as he was told. The chief took his pipe out of his mouth and set it on the desk. It wasn’t lit or even filled with tobacco, but Chief Reynolds liked the affectation. Across time and space, a pipe seemed to be a universal constant of police chiefs everywhen.
“Borge, we’ve got a new one for you.” The chief slid a folder across the desk. Exactly why the Time Police, with access to advanced technology from all possible futures, still used manila folders and paper documents instead of something electronic, was a mystery. Maybe because to some people, namely the pencil-pushers in the file room, things weren’t quite real unless they were on paper. Maurice opened the folder. The photograph that looked back him was wild-eyed, with stark white hair and a lab coat. All of these guys had a certain familiarity about them, a sameness in their expressions, hair, and choice of wardrobe. Somewhere in the bowels of the universe, Maurice suspected that there was a demented god with a copy machine churning out nigh-identical mad scientists and unleashing them on an unfortunate cosmos.
“Name’s Strum Velinkopf. Repeat offender, even leaving out alternate-timeline versions of him. Convicted four times of operating an unlicensed temporal device, sent up the river twice more for making changes to the timeline. First time, he was trying to breed a race of yogurt people by fiddling around with the primordial soup.”
Maurice raised an eyebrow.
“Nobody ever said these guys were in their right mind, Borge.”
“And the second?”
“Across the International Date Line.”
“So what’s this Velinkopf up to now? Or going to do, depending.” Maurice could feel a headache starting to form. Sometimes the Time Police got a flag up based on what a perpetrator was going to do in the relative future. Preemptive arrests were always a procedural pain in the ass.
The chief’s mustache twitched. “We’re actually not sure yet. Temporal flux is playing a bitch with our precogs. Last we heard, he’s hiding out in 1217, working on some kind of conduit.”
“A conduit?” Temporal conduits were bad news, no matter whose hands they were in. Basically, they ripped a bleeding, screaming hole in the fabric of space-time, leaving the portal open both ways. The two time periods would start to leak into each other, then merge together. Left alone, it would be universal armageddon. Only somebody who thought plain old genocide was too tame would keep one of those things open – turned on long enough, a permanent conduit would erase everyone and everything from existence.
“Chief, I’m getting too old for this shit. Or I already was too old for this shit – I forget how it works.” No matter how much you traveled through time, you never could keep your verb tenses straight.
“That’s exactly why we chose you for this assignment. We need somebody experienced to handle this guy,” Reynolds explained.
“Are you sure it’s not just that you’re trying to get me killed before I retire so you don’t have to pay my pension?”
The chief’s mustache twitched again. “No, not at all,” he said flatly. Maurice wasn’t convinced. But then, they didn’t pay him to question the boss. What they did pay him for was tracking down jackholes like Velinkopf and locking them away in a prison at the ass end of time.
“And take that Andre kid. He needs the experience.”
And you’ll need somebody to bring back the perp after I get my ass killed with six hours to go until retirement, Maurice added mentally. He shrugged. Like the man said, life was nasty, brutish and short – all three adjectives occasionally used to describe Maurice himself.
“All right,” Maurice growled, closing the folder and tucking it under his arm. He left Chief Reynolds’ office with a growing sense of dread. Or maybe that was just gas – he was getting old enough that the cafeteria’s meals no longer agreed with him. No, it was definitely dread.
He found Andre at his desk, finishing up the paperwork on their would-be lottery winner. Maurice groaned inwardly again. Why did he have to get the only rookie on the force who was above taking a bribe now and then?
Still, he supposed having a rookie around who was willing to do all the paperwork for him was a point in Andre’s favor.
“They brought his time machine back. Did you get a look at it?”
“Son, I was born in 1976,” Maurice said. “When I was a kid, all this stuff was science fiction. Never did pay much attention to it because I thought all that time travel and spaceship nonsense was for nerds. Around about when the Time Police recruited me, I started wishing I’d paid more attention to the nerds when they talked about this shit. Now, I’m just too damn old to care anymore. That includes not caring about what some other nerd from 2007 did with a refrigerator.”
“I heard it was using some kind of foldspace shunt, and-”
“Yeah, kid, I know. It’s not exactly new to any of us. That kind of shunt’s a favorite with perps who can’t get their hands on anything fancier. It’s the time travel version of Shake-N’-Bake – makes it so any dummy with a core can skip decades.”
“Just let it alone, kid. You’ll see it again. And again. And again.” Maurice plopped the chief’s folder down on Andre’s desk. “Have a look.”
“Velinkopf,” Andre read. “I’ve heard of him. Wasn’t he the one with the plans for yogurt people?”
Maurice groaned again. “Yeah. And Reynolds says he’s hiding out in 1217. Guess who gets to go bust him before he implodes everyone’s heads?”
“Really?” Andre’s eyes lit up. He looked absurdly excited. It made Maurice want to smack him. Well, want to more than usual.
“Yeah. I’ll meet you in the garage in fifteen minutes.”