this is the result of a weekly writing challenge doled out by Chuck Wendig. hopefully, you enjoy.
Being a time traveling homicide detective may seem like a breeze. Even a joke. Just travel to the moments before the crime, arrest the murderer, and be back in time for dinner. As with most things in life, the simple and obvious answer isn’t as easy as it looks.
There is a whole host of logical, ethical, and complexly scientific reasons why a chrono-cide detective can’t prevent a crime from happening. I’ll spare you the self-righteous, text-book litany and explain it in the terms used in the field: it fucks shit up.
As a chrono-cide detective, I spend a lot of time meticulously strategizing how not to fuck shit up since it’s quite easy to do and punishable by some of the more unpleasant forms of death.
A lot of times, we can tell from investigating the scene of the crime which way the perpetrator left the building and apprehend them as they’re leaving the scene of the crime. But sometimes things are a bit more difficult. It’s a terrible thing to say, that you’re eager for a murder, but I look forward to the crimes that involve an investigation. I’m a detective dammit. I like to detect.
Even though everybody knows about time travel and chrono-cide detectives, they still tend to freak out when you disappear or materialize right in front of them, so it’s standard practice to find somewhere private- or at least sparsely populated- to make a jump. Though none of the people in the internet access station looked familiar, I got a few glances of recognition and nobody stopped me as I walked toward the employee bathroom. This is something you get used to when you time travel. People you haven’t met yet knowing you.
Once shut into the little two-stall bathroom, I pulled back my long, over-sized tailored cuff and adjusted the setting on the square touchscreen of my chrono-jogger, a device strapped to my wrist that was, for all the world, an extra-fancy watch.
A moment later I looked around me, and had I not felt the odd edges of time sickness- blunted by my daily equilibrium serum injection- I would have thought nothing happened. I walked out of the bathroom and found myself intruding upon a whispered conversation between two employees of the internet station. I smiled amiably and walked toward the front counter, hearing one of the clerks mumble “What the fuck?” in my wake.
Here’s where my job gets tricky. As I said, for multiple reasons, I can’t just go prevent the crime from happening. By the same token, I can’t say anything that will allow someone else to figure out what’s going to happen, or they will try to prevent the crime from happening. Either way, it’ll be seen as my fault that the crime didn’t take place, so it’ll be my head on the proverbial chopping block. (I say “proverbial” because in reality, it’s more of an apparatus, and more than your head gets chopped.)
“Who do I see about getting security footage?” I flashed my badge at the woman manning the counter.
She looked from the back of the store to me, confused by how I had gotten past her, until she looked at my badge and puzzled out what had happened.
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“Who do I see about getting security footage?” I repeated.
I used to hate having to repeat myself. It was a pet peeve. But since then I’ve worked a couple of cases that felt like that awful Groundhog Day movie. Repeating myself is no longer a problem.
“Why did you join chrono-cide?” the man in charge of security asked me once we were settled in his office as he retrieved my request.
I smirked. It’s a common question. Your moral fiber is tested thoroughly and regularly as a precaution, which people take to mean you’re a crime-hating saint with nothing to hide. Mostly it means you have a hero complex and are so narcissistic you share all your pitfalls because you don’t recognize them as flaws. Or you’re shameless enough not to care what people think. When asked about their career choice, most detectives give some spiel about making a difference or some such nonsense, but I always tell the truth. Because people don’t like it.
“I thought it would be easy,” I shrugged. “Little effort, big paycheck, never late for appointments.”
And there was the scowl. I love the scowl. The look that says that I haven’t met up with expectations in their limited world view, and they find me unpleasant. It’s always fleeting, because the person is trying to be polite, and scowling at someone isn’t polite, but it’s there. And I made it happen. And it makes them feel uncomfortable. And it makes me laugh.
“So it really is easy,” he said- they always say- with a smug, I’m-better-than-you-because-I-work-harder-than-you smile on his face.
“No,” I confess. “Chrono-cide is physically and mentally strenuous eighteen-hour days. As you can imagine, I was thoroughly disappointed.”
The smugness is gone, replaced with respect tinged with bitterness- at having been wrong- and shame- at having felt so smug. Results may vary, some people have no respect, but this guy was typical.
Respectful or not, the guy found the footage I was looking for and gave it to me.
“What are you looking for on there?”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” I smiled, only half joking. I was looking for the alleged murderers alibi. I don’t understand why criminals even bother taking security tapes anymore, when everyone knows a time jumper can take it and return it before they get a chance to think about it.
“At some point in the future I’ll be back to use your restroom,” I said to the receptionist as I walked out of the building to find a place to make the jump. Jumpers try not to use the same place two jumps in a row. Something about the fabric of the universe and time continuum. I don’t do it because the time sickness is incredible. I was out for two days after the last time, and I fear to think what would have happened if I hadn’t taken my serum.
“Um… alright,” she said, looking confused.
I walked around the building to the parking lot, waited for a lady to finish putting make-up on in her car, changing from sneakers to stilettos and clomping away, before jumping futureward beside my desk. It is generally frowned upon to jump to places you go to often since you might- literally- stumble into yourself and create a wormhole, and my supervisor lambastes me often for this. But i’m incurably lazy, the wormhole thing is just a theory, and even negative attention is attention.
A perfect jump, I materialized with my chair right behind me and plopped down into it.
“You’re lucky Captain didn’t see that,” said Ray, my supposed partner. I had always thought the word “partner” implied some kind of symbiotic relationship until working with Ray, who thinks it means being constantly absent whiled doing things vaguely related to solving the crime and yet somehow knowing everything before me.
“I’m not scared of Captain Captain,” I bragged. I swear to god that’s his name. Captain Marshall, Captain of the Chrono-Cide Force.
“But you should be worried,” I continued. “Since you haven’t done any actual work on this case thus far.”
“And it looks like I won’t have to,” he sat on the edge of my desk, looking unabashedly smug.
As usual, he knew something I didn’t, and he was about to enjoy the hell out of my annoyance as he told me what it was.
“And why is that?” I indulged him.
“The murderer confessed this morning,” he grinned.
“When did this happen?”
“While you were gone. You should put your jumps closer together.”
“If you actually did any work, you’d know that I’m keeping my jumps within regulation,” I snarked, tossing the now pointless data drive from the internet station onto my desk. “So Johnny Coleman just walked in and confessed the whole thing?”
“Not Johnny Coleman.”
“What? That’s impossible.”
“Then I guess we’d better go sort out the anomaly in our holding cell.”
“No, this is the missing data drive that shows Johnny Coleman is a liar,” I said, holding up the drive.
“Or it’s the drive that shows he’s telling the truth.”
“Who the fuck do we have in the holding cell, then?”
“Donald Cartwright the third.”
“The mayor’s son?” I gawked.
“The very one.”
Something didn’t feel right about this. Obviously it seemed unlikely that the mayor’s son would be guilty of chopping off a man’s head before setting him on fire- and even less likely that he’d confess to such a thing- but there was more to this.
“No, something isn’t right.”
“I knew you’d say that.”
“So did I,” said Captain Captain.
I spun my chair to face him as he stood behind me.
“Captain, I don’t know what’s going on, but I call bullshit on this.”
“I don’t like it either, but the case is open and shut and that’s all there is to it. Drop it, Amy.”
I winced at the use of my first name. It meant he didn’t want to hear any argument from me. I glared at him as he turned and walked back into his office.
“You’re not going to drop this are you?” Ray smiled.
“I sure as fuck ain’t.”
“I’m coming with you,” he said, hopping off his desk.
We jumped. We did something you’re never supposed to do. We went to the scene of the crime.