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What Happens

So my first real attempt at a Science Fiction story. If nothing else, I had a lot of fun writing it!

"What Happens?"

The mailman was early that day. The package arrived with a thud that woke the old man downstairs. Love mom, said the label when it should have read ‘Another archaic voice recording.’ Undoubtedly another one of her long digression on the value of good nutrition or some such thing. He removed the multicard from the package and pressed play moments before he realized that he was about to miss the train. It was going to be an important day at work! The door slammed shut as the recording played to no one in particular.

* * *
The following is a prepared statement by Roberto Comers read as evidence in the case Comers v. The Unified Office of Law Enforcement. The plaintiff has charged the office of Law Enforcement with subjecting him to unnecessary psychological and spiritual trauma during his time of employment. Mr. Comers is presently unable or unwilling to speak and so Mr. Kahns has been certified to read this statement in his stead. None of the contents have been altered or edited. Mr. Kahns, please proceed.

It was a cool grey morning when I got the call. My third day on the job, I was just getting used to the hectic pace of things. A robbery at one, a floater crash at five, a body hacking at noon, I was there. I was just settling into the endless litany of bad fortune that was thrown at me, albeit quite indirectly, by the world.

“Comers” The groggy words left my mouth like dollop of crème. The voice on the other end was lifeless. “Comers, it’s Suresh, get down here right away. I’m sending you the address now.” Before he finished the sentence, an address congealed onto my notepad. “It’s time for your first homicide kid.” He said, putting a particularly sickening emphasis on the word “homicide.” The call ended. I glanced over at the night stand and read the words Hunting Expeditions Inc. scrawled hastily on the pad and blinking furiously. He had the irritating habit of writing little scripts into messages to call attention to them, as if I wouldn’t be able to find the address if it weren’t blinking.

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The train slowly ground to a halt and I looked up to make sure I wasn’t missing my stop. I don’t know why. Was she looking at me? A woman stood in the corner with the stone cold expression of a statue; or was she staring past me. What if she noticed me looking back. I looked back down at my pad. Male, mixed Race, mid fifties, found dead. The words had appeared on the pad, no blinking thank god. But that woman, who was she and why was she staring at me? Did she see me look back? What if… A man found dead, I should have been concentrating on that. A man found dead. What was it that I had learned about this at the academy? I couldn’t recall anything but that stare. The train slowed and a slight ring announced the Pavlovian dash to the door. Time to get off.

It turned out that the case was not actually homicide. As I approached Hunting Expeditions, I saw Suresh standing there smoking a cigarette. His hat was cocked over his head, undoubtedly to give himself that noir look. I didn’t think it worked too well with an Indian guy, but who am I to judge. “Comers, it took you long enough.” He trotted over to me and shoved me towards the door all the while betraying a smile through his straining cheeks. “He’s going to freak” I could hear him endlessly repeating it in his head. I wish he realized how ridiculous he looked; like a clown without the makeup who couldn’t remove his daytime smile no matter how hard he tried.

He was right though, I did freak. The body was heaped on the ground, presenting itself, rather nonchalantly, as a heap of wet towels from a distance. Only upon closer inspection did I see the man wrapped within the heap. His face was off color, a sort of shade of pinkish purple clashed badly with his bright red beard. His eyes were closed, but in a way suggesting that he was far from restive. I don’t know how anyone could describe the dead as looking peaceful after seeing something like this. I had to look away.

“Drowning, we think” came a flat voice with an English, no, Australian, or, some such accent from behind me. “Yeah, I sort of guessed.” I croaked. I turned around, careful to avoid getting an eyeful of death and found a short little Asian lady standing behind me. “You know, it’s not as easy as you think. It’s not as if every dead person in the water drowned.” Definitely Australian. “Had to take a look in his lungs you know, full of liquid.” I nodded politely, and there it was again, that heap intruding into the corner of my vision. “I’m Claudia Gibbons. Pleased to meet you. I’d shake your hand but I’ve already had my hands down this guy’s throat.” She said, cocking her head towards the man. “Pleased to meet you. Comers. I’m new.” She walked over to the body and started doing something to it again. I turned a little, and upon seeing the heap, turned back gazing thoughtfully at nothing in particular. Was that a gun in his hand? No, a tranquilizer rifle maybe. “Yeah I can tell. First dead guy? I can tell. Suresh, get him over here and get him acclimated to this.”

----------------

“Dead guy. Name is,” he flipped to the front page of his notepad, “Dexter Flynn. Doctor of Cainozoic Fauna at UU. Drowned it seems. Went back to the late Cainozoic, ‘bout fifty million years ago, in search of some sort of rare animal to take back to his lab. Came in this morning covered in water and with this sticking out his back.” Suresh dramatically picked up a small needle, holding it silently for a couple of seconds for all to see. The group of us sitting around the table looked mildly bored. Gibbons gnawed at her donut at the other end of the table. Even her nibbling sounded Australian, or maybe that was my imagination.

Various other members of the temporary homicide group were assembled, variously filing their nails or gazing intently through Suresh. Putting the needle back on the table, he continued. “Appears that this tip was covered in some sort of a poison. We’re running tests now, but it seems odd that someone would commit murder with a tranquilizer dart. Looking at maps of the region, it seems possible that the murderer positioned himself perfectly so that Dr. Flynn here was knocked unconscious and fell into a river, but it sounds far-fetched. I think maybe it was a failed kidnapping operation of some sort, looking at the” Our boss stood up.

“We asked for a briefing Suresh, not some crackpot theory.” Suresh didn’t miss a beat. “Of course. So anyways, it looks as though he was probably still living when he hit the water, drowned, and then got synced back here, approximately two hours after his death.”

“Ok, so now you’ve got it. Thanks Agent Gowda.” Suresh sat down, basking in his flawless performance, having already forgetting the mild embarrassment from a moment earlier. “So, that leaves the dirty work. Comers, lets get you out for some fieldwork.” What the hell was that supposed to mean? I had been doing fieldwork all week. What the hell was chasing after a gang of body jacking pranksters if it wasn’t fieldwork? “You got a problem with that?” My disdain had obviously peeked through. “No Sir” I replied.

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“Ok Comers, now the number one rule of syncing is…” How many times had I heard that? “Follow orders. I got it Suresh, thanks” Condescending bastard. I knew it was my first sync but how could I possibly forget that? “I’m just saying, you know, a lot of people go out there the first time and see some poor guy getting iced and have to try and jump in and save the guy. Doesn’t do any good. Just messes with your head” What, was he just trying to get on my nerves now? It looked as though he was having trouble suppressing his grin. I wish I could have helped him with that, but I just nodded. “You know, just a couple of years ago, this guy, think his name was Johnston, tried to knock some kid out of trouble.” His jocular tone seemed oddly inappropriate. “Of course the kid died, but here’s the real kicker, he syncs back a couple of minutes later in a couple of pieces.” So that was what he was after. Breaking in the newbie before his first sync. “Don’t think, just follow orders. I know” I turned away to mask my frustration as I fastened the silver sync bracelet onto my ankle.

“Just sayin’ orders are there for a reason. Protect your sanity, if you know what I mean. Anyways, you should be syncing in the Cainozoic era, approximately five minutes before the event. We’re bringing you in at a point fifty meters away from our best guess of where he was shot. We’ll be recording the whole thing.” The final briefing before the sync made me suddenly tired. If only I could move myself a half hour into the future, having already done the deed. “From what we’ve gathered it should be temperate with dense foliage. The conditions are optimal for dense fog so use the river to your west as a guide if you get lost. We’ve uploaded a map into your pad.” Sure enough, there was a map in my pad. “Alright kiddo, you ready to go?” Before I could answer Suresh was gone.

I guess it would be more accurate to say I was gone. It was white. Cool humid air brushed against my skin. It took me a couple of seconds but I felt the mushy earth below my feet. Was that a tree in the distance? Shapes popped in and out of the fog like shy silhouettes as I tried to situate myself. The river, where was the river. I listened carefully only to hear a snap in the distance. I looked for the source and saw a figure momentarily materialize out of the fog and disappear again almost before I realized it. I snuck gradually towards him. It had to be Dr. Flynn, no more than twenty yards away. His camouflage created the illusion that his fiery red hair was floating in mid air. Amateur. The static sound of a river, there it was, a little too late to help me navigate; oh well, I found him anyway. There he was just standing there, wasting his last moments of life thinking about some kind of fungus or something. I wanted to reach out and tell him to think of something important, his kids, his family, his friends, his life, but maybe his collections were what was important, who am I to judge?

Dr. Flynn suddenly broke into a sprint and before I knew it, I had followed him to the banks of the river. I couldn’t see what he was chasing. Flynn came to a stop and I peered into the distance. There it was, a shadow ducking in and out of the fog. It looked vaguely human; was it the killer? I snuck closer to Flynn, trying to get a better view of the figure he was pursuing. No luck, but I did manage to screw things up. Snap, a twig popped under my feet and Flynn whirled around and I hit the ground. He hadn’t seen me, but he kept staring in my direction for a minute. He leaned in a little closer and I could see each hair on his blazing red beard through the fog.

It was then that the beam shot out from behind him. It shot through the fog to infinity and bounced around erratically. Shit, a laser site. That shadow had to be the killer. Instinctively I called out to Flynn. “Duck!” The words flew out of my mouth even as my orders were screaming through my mind. Damn it, but if I could save a life, it would be worth it. Flynn’s head snapped in my direction and our eyes met for a split second.

The laser snapped suddenly to Flynn’s back, and as he opened his mouth to ask something, a look of mild surprise (or was it realization?) erupted onto his face and then quickly vanished as he tumbled off bank into the river ten feet below. They say that time slows down when you’re going through something traumatic, but this was over before I even knew it had started.

I scrambled over to the bank of the river, but Flynn was gone. Had I killed him? Had I called the killer’s attention to him? Was this how it was supposed to happen? A stream of questions flowed in a circle through my head, providing no answers. My first big task and I had screwed it up. Maybe he wasn’t dead. No, he had to be dead.

A figure wandered out of the woods. I could hardly make him out, but I backed away. Manslaughter or not, I wanted to live. His red beard seemed to levitate in the air. He leaned over the bank of the river and cursed and vanished into a bolt of lightning. Could it have been him all along? A shimmer and the world disappeared.

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Where were the screaming voices? Where were the police with their hungry cuffs out to arrest me? I sat in the return chamber alone with the prehistoric moisture as the only evidence that I had ever been gone. Maybe they were discussing what to do with me. Maybe… The door swung open and there stood Suresh, as gleeful as ever. That bastard really wanted to see me fail. What the hell had I ever done to him.

“Laugh it up Suresh. I ruin my life and you’re there to grin at it.” Suresh just stood there and continued to smile. I just sat, my mind desperately trying to negate the past. If only I could go back five minutes. If only I could have kept my damned mouth shut. I looked up again and Suresh still stood there, leaning against the door, cool as ever. I heard footsteps in the distance. “How’s our little hero doing?” it was Gibbons. Was she in on the joke too? It must just be too irresistible to get the new guy, but this was just strange, like torture, except not as funny.
"We caught the bastard Comers!" Gibbons seemed a bit overexcited. "Come on, smile. You deserve at least that" she said as she unnecessarily pushed both of her cheeks further up with her index fingers to make the point abundantly clear.
"He's been double syncing people back for years. Of course this kind of 'murder suicide' if you will, is exactly the kind of thing we were trying to prevent, but at least this guy won't be doing it again." Suresh said in the way that a doctor might say "At least we saved one of your limbs." I stared blankly. “You know, Flynn probably deserved it too. He knew the risks of this kind of thing, but no, he really needed that silly specimen.” I remained silent, intent on not incriminating myself any further. Gibbons gave Suresh a sort of knowing look and I think he replied with the slightest of nods. Gibbons left.
“You know, it’s hard for everyone the first time. You really have to get your feet wet to understand the reason we follow orders. It’s not just some kind of a show of power. It’s about your sanity.” There was something about his tone of voice that was, for the first time, sincere, like a parent comforting his injured child.
“I’m sure when you glanced over the manual, you saw the chapter title and thought ‘yeah of course, follow orders.’ What else would they tell you right? It seems pretty obvious and so people skip over it but it’s not like that.” Suresh sighed as he walked into the room and sat down. It was that oddly serious tone again. I almost liked the asshole Suresh better. He took a second to make himself comfortable and took off his hat.
“You go back and you think too hard and before you know it… Well lets just say that those psych evaluations were about more than just weeding out the crazies." Suresh stopped and his expression relaxed. He looked at me as if I were a lost puppy. “We do good here Comers. We go back and we catch perpetrators of crimes, and nothing we do back there makes anyone any worse off.”
I must have looked catatonic to Suresh. He stayed for a bit, but at some point he left after he realized that I wasn’t much fun. Damn, if I had only kept my mouth shut.
That was the complete written testimony of Roberto Comers. This meeting is suspended until tomorrow.
* * *
The multicard stopped. Nothing happened.

I'm not sure how the mail

I'm not sure how the mail delivery prelude fits with the rest of the story, but the prepared statement part is well-written and interesting.

As a prepared statement, though, it felt a little too much like a straight-forward first-person narrative at times. Would a prepared statement include Comers' complaint about Suresh's use of blinking words, etc.?

I'm not suggesting you should change anything about the narrative, though. Only that perhaps the framing story might not be necessary, unless there is a second part yet to come in which that frame becomes important.

Otherwise, I think it works well. You leave me curious as to how Comers got himself into his psychological mess. Was this the incident all it took? Or was Comers sent on a series of sync missions and then finally had a breakdown? And if the latter, what did he see that finally led to a breakdown?