The third entry for the Fiction Anthology (Spring 2010 edition) is the first chapter of Timestream Trappers.
He saw the unmistakable shape of the tallest structure in the city from the horizon. It looked like a shark fin piercing through concrete. Chronos Arch stands alone, towering over a flat circular plaza. Like a sundial, its shadow looms over every space of the plaza with equal time throughout the day. A few minutes later, he is next to the monolith, gazing upward. Standing there, he imagines this is what it must be like to stand at the foot of Mount Everest. One thought crosses his mind, descends, and escapes his mouth.
“I so don’t belong here.”
It was sheer desperation that made Max send his resume to Chronos… and every other place that had a job posting online, regardless of his lack of qualification. He had little idea of what he was being interviewed for. Max knew only two things about Chronos: one, that it has something to do with the time-traveling fad of the 50’s; and two, that it is a fairly long-winded contrived acronym: the Central Hub for Reunification Operations Negotiating Outer Streams. He didn’t even know “Chronos” was an acronym until he stepped into the main lobby and saw it stamped all over the receptionist desk. Behind the desk was an old man whose perfectly pressed navy blazer put his hand-me-down to shame. The man’s gaze seemed sharp enough to cut clean through his spectacles and impale Max’s now thin confidence. Grasping what little of his pride he felt remained, Max strode up to the man.
“Uh, hi, I have an 11:05 appointment with Director Taylor Quinn. Can you tell me where his office is?”
“Basement level 4.”
“It figures,” he thought. “60 floors and I end up underground. I’m definitely doing janitorial work.” He gave a polite smile and thanked the receptionist.
“Oh, by the way…” Max, his body already turned toward the elevator, completed the circle and once again faced the receptionist. “Doctor Quinn is a woman.”
“I see… thanks for the heads-up.”
Max stepped into the elevator and, after craning his head out to confirm that that was the end of his encounter with the receptionist, pressed the B4 button and slumped against the rear wall. His right hand fidgeted around the leather jacket, his leather jacket now that his uncle was gone, and pulled out a card he had printed out last night. It read:
Dir. Dr. Taylor Quinn, Director
“I thought that was a typo,” he thought, looking at the redundant title once more. “At least I know I wasn’t wrong about her being the director.”
A slight jolt shook him out of his thoughts. The display above the steel doors told him he was at basement level 4, but the doors weren’t opening. A female voice addressed him.
“State your name and business.”
“Maxwell Frost. I’m here to see Dr. Taylor Quinn.”
“Show me identification.”
“Sure.” Max mechanically reached for his wallet and flashed his driver’s license. “Wait, where do I…?”
“Alright, you check out.”
The steel doors slowly slid open for the dumbfounded young man. Max stepped out and into a spacious but dimly-lit office. There were no windows (not that he expected any underground) and no doors except the elevator door that just shut behind him. Behind what looked more like a sterile operating table than an office desk was a bespectacled brunette wearing a white overcoat. Judging by her size and facial features, Max judged her to be roughly 36 years old if all-natural, possibly a maximum of 52 given enough modification.
“So, Max. How do I look?”
“I have a habit of doing extensive research on anyone I plan on meeting. Your uncle was a skilled detective – one of the last of the ‘old school.’ Humor me. How old do you think I am?”
True, his uncle was a private investigator. Max worked as a part-time assistant for him. He liked to believe that his uncle was slowly grooming him to be his successor. Thanks to what happened two weeks ago, he never got the chance. But Max did pick up a few tricks of the trade, such as how to deal with certain clients.
“Close, I’m 34. At least legally that is.”
Max did a victory dance in his mind. He quietly told himself that the real thing will have to wait for later.
“Biologically I’m 37.”
“It comes with the job. Tell me, what do you think we do here at Chronos?”
His celebration jig turned into a funeral march. Here, he laments the fact that he didn’t inherit his uncle’s work ethic.
“Um, I’m sure it has something to do with…
Central Hub for Reunification Operations Negotiating Outer Streams. [Central Hub] is probably synonymous with “organization.” [Reunification Operations] and [Outer Streams] was much more vague. The director’s .gov e-mail address told him it was a government organization. And he remembered from some news articles that it had something to do with time travel. That industry is long-dead by now, but Chronos is still around for some reason. Max took a wild stab in the dark.
“…regulating time travel.”
“I guess that’s one way of putting it.”
The dancing re-commences.
“Of course, you’re well aware that no one time-travels anymore. We put a stop to that. But that was just the beginning. Oh, by the way you can have a seat and put your identification away.”
Max was made vaguely aware that he had been stuck in the same awkward position since stepping out of the elevator. He hastily put his wallet back in his coat pocket, sat down, and lightly bit the inside of his cheeks to ease the embarrassment.
“Continuing on, the legacy of that whole time-traveling business has been causing me some major headaches these past few years. You see, we are the only organization on Earth that is legally allowed to travel through time, and for one purpose: to undo the mess a mere three years caused to the time stream.”
“Pardon the interruption, but what mess are you talking about? Wasn’t the whole reason behind time travel’s population the fact that you could change anything in a past time and it wouldn’t affect the future?”
“Yes, that much is true, but the damage caused by creating multiple streams is starting to affect reality itself. We have the technology to fix it, but we suffer from a lack of manpower. We rely on specially trained agents to pinpoint specific instances of divergence from the main streams. And that’s where you come in.”
Max could feel it. His big break. His heart started beating faster in anticipation.
“Truth be told, this ‘interview’ is just a formality. It’s more of an orientation. You’re a bit young, but with your experience in the field I’m sure you’ll do well in this position. That is, if you’re interested.”
“Of course I am!”
He’s no longer dancing. He’s sitting down. It’s a full-blown ticker-tape parade now.
“Then, allow me to be the first to welcome you to Chronos, Maxwell Frost. I’ll e-mail you some reading material and a date for formal training. After all, this is quite a step up from your previous work.”
“No problem, I won’t let you down! I look forward to it!”
“Well, good. I look forward to having such an energetic office assistant on our staff.”
“Yep, energetic, that’s just… Er… Run that by me again?”