was not a paradise if you had someone else’s blood on your shirt.
sun was about to set. In the twilight, the stains on Radford Mueller’s shirt
were barely visible. He ducked into a copse of coconut trees. Few people were
about. This wasn’t a place for tourists; it was a seedy quarter of Honolulu,
where enlisted men could swing the rent and the locals sold them vice.
he was hidden by the trees, he took a deep, sobbing breath. He had washed his
hands thoroughly before he had fled the apartment; still, he wiped his palms
vigorously on his dungarees.
from his own deep breathing, the only sound was the slow grind of glass under
his shoes. People had discarded beer bottles here.
bloody scene played through his mind to the point of distraction.
was just fighting back! He thought.
the evening shade, a couple walked past on the foot path.
woman looked back at him.
they locked eyes, Radford Mueller tried not to look like a fleeing
wore a short dress that was perfect for the Pacific island’s climate, but might
have gotten her arrested anywhere in the forty-eight states. The man, his face
turned away, had a short sailor’s haircut, so he was probably stationed here.
that most men didn’t have short hair in 1941.
here,” the woman said to her companion.
stepped closer. She had a thin, Scandinavian face that matched her blonde hair.
gave him a huge, friendly, fake-as-all-get-out smile.
teeth were perfect, which was a red flag that she, like Radford Mueller, was a—
traveler, how ya doin’?” she said.
Mueller tried to hide behind a tree trunk that was, at most, eleven inches in
travel: every government on Earth had banned the process as soon as it was
underground lab Radford Mueller had used was literally underground.
went through an abandoned building, into a basement, and there it was in all of
its musty, creaking glory. Six tech people did the job. They were supported by
four thugs who ensured that (1) he paid and (2) was given a good fright to keep
his mouth shut.
labs do not get new business from excellent customer service.)
human refrigerator with a heavily-scarred face pointed an Uzi at him. “Call me
Jordy,” he said. “We’ll get you what you paid for, but you talk to the cops,
and my face is the last one you’ll ever fucking see.”
Mueller’s life had always been bland and predictable. Now that he was getting
the excitement he had craved, here was what he did: he managed to hold a
tightened ring of muscle between his bowels and his underwear.
not saying a word!”
traveler, how ya doin’?”
Mueller was no roughneck, despite the fact that he had just killed a man with
his bare hands. Nor was he a dishonest man. Lying did not come easily to him.
when he squeaked out: “What are you, who are you—,” swallowed a gulp and
finished with “—talking about?” it sounded about as smooth and authentic as a
line delivered at a singles bar by an adolescent boy with a fake ID whose voice
had not yet changed.
Pinky Estes,” she said, as though she was introducing herself at that same
pointed a manicured fingernail at him: “And you’re Radford Mueller. And you
just murdered your grandfather!”
the pirate lab, Radford Mueller had stripped naked, as ordered. The four tough
guys surrounded him for a final round of insults and threats, even after he had
paid. The technicians who were supposed to attach the leads to his body and
lower him into the chronotank fluid, watched all of this with no emotion save
boredom. Surely, they’d seen it a hundred times.
the Uzi Guy tried to take a picture of him, but couldn’t get an app on his
phone to show up on the home screen. Radford Mueller gathered that the app was
supposed to distribute his face all over the criminal underworld if he found
himself in a squealing mood. But like so many software products, it promised
greater convenience than it delivered.
Mueller’s long-planned time jump halted at this one, unexpected juncture.
sighed. He had eaten shit his entire life; it was the only meal he knew how to
give it to me,” he said, and gently took the phone from Jordy’s
you just press down on the icon for a few seconds, and wiggle it, and then it shows
up permanently on the home screen. You don’t have to navigate to find it
the Uzi Guy grunted in appreciation.
you’re all right,” Jordy the Uzi Guy said. “Y’know, uh. Uh. I know When you’re
going to. And I heard a joke about it. It goes like this. There’s this guy who
God, the tech guys motioned him to come over so they could attach the leads.
Mueller thought: I’ve run into the Time Police!
truth, there was no known dedicated force which pursued chrono-lawbreakers
through time. Just plain regular cops raided the underground labs. And they
also went out and arrested the idiots who, no matter the consequences, just had
to post their chrononautic experiences online.
how else could this woman know about him?
all public denials, Time Cops had to exist!
not a cop,” she said.
cop.” Her big smile got even bigger, if that was possible.
was a foot taller than this woman and had just beaten a muscular young man—yes,
his grandfather—to death. Still, he looked around frantically for someone to
protect him from this petite lady. Her companion lurked, half-seen, with his
back turned, on the walking path.
Mueller did the only thing he could do.
asked: “What are you, then?”
insurance agent. If you would like!”
had wanted to apprise his grandfather, Frank Dominick, of the upcoming Pearl
Harbor attack so he could become the hero of the hour. A civilian, Grampa
Dominick had been assigned by his corporation to assist the Navy in its use of
Dominick had been an outsized figure in family lore. At age sixty-four, he’d
married Radford’s grandmother when she was twenty-three; five months later, she
had given birth to Radford’s mother. A precocious self-taught engineer, Frank
Dominick had been in Hawaii, only in his early twenties, as a senior
electronics man for a military contractor.
had talked about what a crazy character he was.
much of a character, as it turned out.
he opened his door and saw Radford Mueller standing in the hallway, his first
words were, “What do you want, coon?”
Mueller said. “I…” He had never in his life encountered prejudice because his
father was African-American.
not expecting any deliveries,” Dominick said. He glared at his grandson. “What
do you want, spook?”
he slapped his grandson across the face.
agent?” Radford Mueller repeated.
woman nodded. “You just killed your grandfather. Now you’ve got to worry about
paradoxes. He has no children yet, so how did you exist to come back in time
and kill him? Will you cease to exist? Who knows? But will you carry the
guilt of it for the rest of your life? Yes, certainly! You’re no killer are
you, Mr. Mueller?”
he said plaintively. He hugged himself.
in luck!” she said. “I want you to talk to someone. But first, I’m going to set
up a silence field so we won’t disturb anyone.”
held up her left hand, palm downward, and a large ring on her index finger
began to glow a warm pink.
she said. “Now, no one outside of our immediate radius can hear us talking.”
Mueller would have been hard-pressed to say exactly what she had just done. His
Era had no such thing as a “silence field.”
I can introduce you to someone,” she said. She tapped on a bracelet that was
surely not a bracelet. It seemed to summon the man standing in the shadows
beyond, her walking companion.
man got up next to her and stared impassively at Radford Mueller.
was Grandfather Dominick.
Mueller shrieked so loudly that he should have woken King Kamehameha from his
Estes frowned, but remained professionally patient.
guess we got a return on our investment in the silence field,” she said with
brittle chipperness. “Now, before you start begging forgiveness—”
Grampa, I’m so sorry!” Radford Mueller blubbered. “But you attacked me! You
acted crazy. And I hit you back—”
Dominick stared at him with no apparent emotion, certainly not anger. His
appearance was unruffled and unbloodied.
you fell and when I tried to pick you up you swung at me again and—”
just a robot,” Pinky Estes said firmly.
robe…robot.” Radford Mueller’s Era had humanoid ButlerBots, but nothing that
looked as advanced and human as this.
Mueller, Mutual Casualty and Causality will preserve causality—it says so right
in our name! You will remember beating your grandfather to death. We can’t
change that. What we can do is go back in time two hours, give your
grandfather a harmless drug that will erase his memory, hide him while he
sleeps it off, and have the robot greet you at the door half an hour ago. You’ll
beat it to ‘death,’” (she made air quotes) “and your memory of what happened
will be preserved. And so too will your grandfather, so he will father the
child who will be your mother, and you will be born.”
human jaws were capable of literally hitting the ground whenever they
figuratively did, Radford Mueller’s chin would have been resting on dirty sand
and broken beer bottles (and a used condom which, fortunately for his
sensibilities, he had not noticed).
amazing. That would be wonderful. How did you find me?”
gave him her best grin. Grampa robot remained uninvolved, its subroutines
causing it to blink at random intervals.
just call out!” she said. “Our company may have been willed into existence by
the space-time continuum, unwilling to put up with any paradoxes.”
Mueller doubted that origin story the same way he doubted that Keebler cookies
were made by the little cartoon elves on their packages. He recognized
corporate spin. Still, he was glad that this particular corporation was here,
would be amazing!” he said—and even though his words and tone were
enthusiastic, it was a rather tepid way of saying he was glad to pay a
contractor to get a murder off of his conscience. “So I really would have only
killed it. Ah, no offense.”
grampa robot spoke its first words: “No harm, no foul.”
Radford Mueller was gleeful. He leaned forward and shook hands with the
simulacrum. The palm was warm, fleshy, and convincing.
Pinky Estes took Radford’s big hand between her two smaller ones and cupped it.
They smiled warmly at each other. He gazed into the eyes of his petite savior.
this is a premium service,” she said.
she named the price.
Fuck you! Oh, fuck you in all three holes you little cunt!”
smile, if anything, gained strength.
actually getting a better deal than you think. Your payment takes the form of a
trust account you set up in your own Era. Because our corporate entity is
decades down the line, we take the accrued interest as part of our payment,
which lowers your initial deposit requirement.”
wow,” Radford Mueller said, in just the tone one would expect. Then he sighed. He
knew he would pay it.
had cloths in her purse to help him wipe off the blood. As she did so, she gave
him instructions on how to set up the account when he got back to his Era.
we have to be clear,” she said. “If you don’t establish the account, then we
don’t see your information. And if we don’t see your information, then I don’t
get sent back here to make the deal. The continuum seems to have many
ways of closing a paradox loop, and some of them are far less pleasant than
this, from your perspective. Understood?”
Yes I do.”
Then we’ll be off.”
fiddled with a bauble on her necklace, and she and the grampa robot vanished,
silently, instantly; it looked like a very cheap special effect.
they vanished, Radford Mueller realized what a high pressure sale it had been. He
knew how the paradox had been established—he’d been dumb enough to come back
here to talk to his grandfather. But why did the paradox belch up into that
particular company’s inbox? If the space-time continuum did that, how
come it didn’t notify the cops somehow?
the cops! How wonderful it would have been to be pulled over for speeding before
he had arrived at the illegal chrono-lab. He knew he would have gotten scared,
and would have taken his speeding ticket and driven straight home. Why couldn’t
that have happened?
she’d helped clean off the blood, and he was now more relaxed, he was able to
walk through the neighborhood to where he’d concealed the “bicycle.”
return ticket had been a false necklace; his was concealed in the left pedal,
activated with a single rotation. He went forward on the bike—
he was in the chronotank, nude, struggling with the leads that covered him,
while they told him not to struggle.
they unhooked him and toweled him off and gave him his clothes back.
World War II?” the head tech asked, not looking up from his monitor.
the Uzi Guy escorted him up through the abandoned building. Rats and mice
scurried ahead of them.
stood on the street in the nighttime, next to Radford Mueller’s car. Jordy’s
Uzi was slung under his arm to be less noticeable, not that there was anyone
around to notice. Radford Mueller raised his eyebrows when Jordy put a hand on
is the part where I’m supposed to threaten you one last time, and then let you
go. But that shit with the button was great. Been trying to get that app to
work for a long while.”
nothing of it.”
you kill your grandfather?”
man. Just don’t pay no money. It’s a scam, dig?”
Mueller, for the second time in subjectively an hour, found himself dumbstruck.
boss got a thing going with the Casualty and Causality group. They’re nothing
but a bunch of grifters. They swoop in and hand you some crap that they’re from
the far future.”
they knew I had killed my grandfather and agreed to take care of it!”
boo. Nothing changes the future. Some mechanism we don’t know about, but no one’s
ever done it. Ain’t you seen those interviews with the loons they caught at
other labs? They always say they kept Abe Lincoln or Martin Luther King alive,
or prevented 9/11, but it doesn’t take.
don’t know that it matters, anyway. All you people who come to us, you don’t
wanna change history. You wanna change yourselves. We can’t do either of those
for you, but we take your money.
Casualty and Causality people, their grift is more complicated. I’ve heard them
brag about it. They tasered your old man and dumped him in an empty room
somewhere. They made the switch—but before, not after, you told ‘em you’d
pay ‘em. The reason was, they needed the robot to pick a fight with you.”
It suddenly seemed very plausible; his “grandfather” had gone from zero
to one hundred on the Apeshit Scale in nothing flat—odd behavior for a
respected engineer who could hold on to a plum job in the last days of the
know how you can check it out?”
blood on your shirt, right?”
Estes had missed a spot.
build those robots to bleed easy. People don’t drop blood like that in fist
fights, but middle class geeks like you that pay for the time travel, they don’t
know that. You never been in a grown-up fight before, I bet. Why you think you
won?” He grinned a mouth full of half-gold crowns and half-blackened ruins.
I’ll tell you something about that so-called blood—”
Mueller interrupted, blurting: “But the robot was so much more realistic
than the crude ones we’ve got now.”
a ButlerBot on the inside. They put a lot of work into the rubber face. If you’d
tried to have a long conversation with it, you’d see it was no smarter than
them Butlers that clean tables at Wendy’s and Burger King.”
they had a silencing device. It kept anyone from hearing me scr— yell
when they surprised me.”
it some shitty neighborhood? Don’t matter if it’s in Hawaii or not, shitty is
shitty. No one cared about your yelling.”
Mueller frowned. That seemed only too right. “What were you going to tell me
about the blood?”
but without hesitation, Radford Mueller swiped the stain with his fingertip and
brought it up to his mouth. An unwelcome burst of sweetness blossomed on his
say the blood doesn’t look good unless they use the ole’ Hollywood special
effects recipe. Corn syrup and food coloring.”
syrup,” Radford Mueller murmured. No wonder she had so solicitously cleaned him
brother. Sorry. Them people are from the same Era as us. My boss gets a
kickback from them for telling them When you are. You can just forget about
paying. Half the marks think better of it anyway, I hear, so no one will
notice. Just don’t let anyone know I tipped you, okay?”
the Uzi guy turned away.
Radford Mueller yelled. “Why would they do this to me?”
stopped, turned back, gave him an annoyed look.
This is a criminal enterprise.”
turned back from whence he had come.
whirled back around.
The joke! I was gonna tell you. It’s like this. There’s this guy who’s half
Japanese and half Jewish. And every December 7, he launches a sneak attack on
laughed with a full-throated, childlike innocence, then walked back into the
Mueller stood very still on the street, and wondered—just in passing, mind you—if
it would have really been so bad if he had actually killed his