“God, I hate time travelers,” said Martin.
They were at the corner of Rue de Orient and Moray. It was the middle of the afternoon and the sun was beating down, delivering hammer blows of searing heat. The street was mostly empty; anyone with any sense was inside, enjoying air conditioning and a tall, cool drink. Cars rolled by, mostly old gas-powered models, driven by young gangsteres, French pop blaring from their speakers.
Doc had the tracker, a black box resembling a cell-phone.
“We’re close,” he said.
“Thank God,” muttered Martin. He adjusted his black glasses. “It’s too damned hot to be wandering around out here.”
They headed east on Moray, discount outlets and liquor stores giving way to more upscale businesses. Signs in English and Spanish were replaced by signs in French and Spanish. There were fewer gasoline vehicles on the street and more electrics. They paused in front of an electronics store, Doc squinting at the tracker.
Martin turned and examined the store front. Behind wrought iron bars and shatterproof glass were displayed smallish, flat-screen televisions. Images flickered on the screens. French telenovelas interspersed with ads for cosmetics and bottled waters. A soccer game being played in Riyadh, the Saudis demolishing the visiting Korean team. A news channel, the digital tickertape beneath the anchorman providing the number of ebola fatalities in Detroit.
“Christ,” muttered Martin. “This world is really fucked up.”
“There,” said Doc. His tone was sharp.
Martin turned. Doc was moving purposefully toward a scarecrow figure, weaving erratically down the street. He hurried after him.
The thin, bedraggled man turned as Doc called his name. His face was a mass of tumors, but Martin could see the man’s eyes, bright and black. They fixed on Doc.
“Who are you?” he hissed. He fumbled beneath his ragged coat, pulled out a knife. “What do you want?”
Martin flexed his wrist; the needle-gun strapped to his forearm, slipped into his palm.
“We’re here to help, Mister Phillips,” said Doc.
He stood his ground, hands up and open, doing his best to project calm authority.
“You can’t help!” hissed Phillips. “No one can help! The things I’ve seen! The things I’ve done!”
“We know, Mr. Phillips,” said Doc. “We’re here to help. We’re from the Chronal Defense Directorate.”
Phillips’ eyes widened. “The CDD sent you?”
“Yes,” said Doc. “They sent us.”
Phillips glanced from Doc to Martin.
He began to speak. “. . . .”
Martin shot him. The needle-gun wheezed. Phillips jerked as a hundred needle-thin chemical slivers hit him. He collapsed. Doc moved toward him.
“Careful,” warned Martin.
“He’s dead,” said Doc. “Poor fellow. You didn’t have to kill him.”
“Poor fellow my ass.” Martin tucked the needle-gun back into his forearm holster. “How long is it going to take us to reset history? Unless you want to live in a world dominated by the Franco-Spanish Empire? How did that even happen?”
“It didn’t,” said Doc. “Look.”
Frowning, Martin turned. The world around them was shimmering, the present evaporating and resolidifying as the two men watched. Boxy electric cars morphed into gasoline automobiles. The signs in French and Spanish twisted, text reconfiguring into English. A wannabe gangster cruised past them in an ancient El Camino, Eminem blaring from the cab. The street shimmied and shifted, cafes and shops replaced by boarded up storefronts, scrawled with graffiti. In the distance, Martin heard the familiar roar of freeway traffic.
“Thank God,” he muttered.
Doc put away the tracker and pulled out his cell-phone. He dialed a number and spoke quietly with the person on the other end of the line.
“Well?” asked Martin.
“They’re sending a crew for the body,” said Doc.
“What about the reset?”
“Marx and Spencer took care of it,” said Doc.
“Those two? Geez. Do I want to know how?”
“Probably not,” said Doc. “But better them than us. The CDD tracked the change back to the 17th Century.”
Martin glowered at the dead man. “He sure got around.”
“Yes. That explains the tumors, at least. He must have absorbed a ton of chronal radiation.”
“Hard to believe this is the guy who discovered time travel,” mused Martin. “But then, I guess you reap what you sow. Right?”