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Down by the Riverside

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"Nicky, stop whining!"

"But I wanna sit over there!"

The place he was pointing at looked just like everywhere else to her and it wasn't even any less crowded over there, there was just the one table big enough for everybody. She stopped him from running off across the food court, stuffed the bags under the table and turned to look for everybody else. She spotted someone waving - Charlie - and waved back, and the redhead came over to the table. Mom and Dad and Tom were still in line.

"Hey, Beth. Stuck with the brat?"

"I'm not a brat!"

"Yeah, Mom's on a family kick again." Mom and Dad hated anything she liked, Tom made fun of everything, and Nicky whined every time no one was paying attention to him. Sometimes it would be really cool to be an only child.

Charlie rolled her eyes. "My mom's complaining because I didn't straighten my hair or go buy something she thinks is pretty."

"Your mom has no taste." Nicky got up, trying to sneak around behind her to the other table. "Nicky, sit down!"

"But I wanna sit over there!"

It felt like somebody'd just turned the bass up way high, it was rumbling right through her bones, but she couldn't hear anything but the boring muzak. It got worse, thrumming through her whole body and making her shake hard enough to grab the table. There was a big crash and blast of wind, then suddenly a big man was standing on the tables in the middle of the food court, he had to be over six feet tall and solid muscle like a bodybuilder, wearing some kind of black robe over a skintight black thing like a spy catsuit. His face was painted red and black with white lines like a circuit board and she couldn't even tell if he had any hair. She let go of the table.

"Where'd the crazy guy come from?"

Beth wondered how the mall cops had missed him, maybe it was a movie promotion or something. "Beats me. What's he -" She stared as the guy raised a gun, aiming it somewhere to her right. "Oh shit, get down!"

People were screaming and running away. The guy jumped off the tables, gesturing with the gun and everything went flying, tables and chairs smashing into the walls and the windows, dust and glass flying everywhere. Nicky dove under the table and Beth tried to hide there with him, shaking. Charlie flattened herself on the floor next to the table. Half a pizza landed on Charlie and a hamburger hit Beth on the cheek, a mostly-empty soda cup landed on the table and fell over, dripping. She shoved Nicky to the side so she was between him and the crazy guy, maybe they could get around the short wall, out of sight maybe he wouldn't target them.

"Stay right with me, Nicky, we're going to go around." She started crawling, cutting her hands and knees on broken glass, Nicky sticking to her like a burr, and then she was sliding, she couldn't get any traction, her back slammed into a table because she wasn't on the ground anymore. Charlie grabbed her arm and tried to pull her back down, Nicky was crying, and she was rising higher, the table overturning and sliding down her back, catching on her shorts and dragging them down her hips, then the table fell as she was jerked higher into the air, another bass thrum rattling her bones. Charlie fell backward into a table with a loud cry when she lost her grip. The crazy guy was pointing the gun at her, and she yanked her shorts back up because she didn't want to die with them falling off.

The food court moved under her, she was moving, knocking over fake plants and banging her legs painfully into the stupid wall. She grabbed it, tried to yank herself down, but she shot up instead, moving faster, her heart going a mile a minute and the railing slid under her, a jewelry kiosk right under her, the clerk staring up at her and those were glass cases, there was glass everywhere - and whatever was holding her up suddenly let go.

-----

The world was shifting and tilting, no up or down or ground, a constantly shifting multicolor blur assaulting her eyes and a wall of noise like she was hearing the entire City all at once. Then suddenly there was up and down, she was falling through the blur and the noise, everything turning into a roiling, churning blaze of white.

Jamie Jaren landed hard on a pale tile floor, people scattering around her with startled exclamations. Her goggles auto-switched to daylight vision as she assessed the area, trying to make sense of what she saw and heard. Civilians trying to get away from her, shouting and people running everywhere but especially above her, clothes-mannequins in window displays, clear boxes in front of her with small objects in them, decorations on strings - miniature lights, artificial leaves - a strong nearby smell of cooking meat and the Gun traces overhead.

She saw a young woman - very pale skin, shoulder-length light brown hair - float out from over a guard-fence at the upper level and instantly pulled the Gun, using it to grab the decorations and twist them into a net, anchored however weakly at the edges, then extended the energy fields outward, shifting several to support the woman's head and neck just as she started to fall. Shock vibrated up her arms as the makeshift net gave way almost instantly, leaving the woman supported only by the Gun; she released the decorations and shifted the energy to support as she carefully brought her down to the ground, avoiding the displays nearby. She nearly collapsed when Jaren set her on the floor, grey with shock and trembling; she got her upright and moved her to a bench, noting that she moved as if she was hurt. The other woman's hands and knees were abraded and bloody, not life-threatening, several other stains were food rather than blood, and there wasn't anything obviously broken. She'd have to hope for decent medical care whenever this was.

Civilians scattered around her as she ran for the nearby stairs, taking them two at a time. There wasn't any cover up here at all, the smooth, pale walls interrupted by glass doors and display windows, and she could see the suspect looking away from her in the middle of an open area. She moved slowly, past a semi-open space full of frightened civilians; it made her back itch almost as much as the suspect did, and she wished she'd brought back-up as she approached the open area. The air stank with the smell of cooking or burning meat, overwhelming everything else. Food was ground underfoot, metal-mesh tables and chairs overturned, artificial plants dumped out and torn up, a few people hiding in corners or sprawled motionless, glass windows shattered and broken glass everywhere. Nearby two men and a woman were slumped together, no obvious wounds, probably shock or terror. At the far side, a redheaded woman was sitting with her back to the rail, holding a small boy tightly. The suspect moved toward the rail, casual and self-satisfied, not paying attention to this side. She moved up carefully, trying to get a good line-of-sight on his Gun hand. Lucky for her he was left-handed.

She snapped out lines of force from the Gun, hitting the pressure points to force his hand open so he'd drop his stolen Gun. "Halt! You're under arrest!"

The suspect held onto the Gun and flung out a burst of force like he'd shoulder-smashed her, then hurled a table at her head. She wrenched it out of his control and tossed it aside into an empty area, then dove for the floor while he hurled everything loose in the area at her. She shifted force into a barrier between them and over her head, wishing again for backup. Tables and chairs fell to either side with a resounding clatter, liquid and crumbs scattering down on her.

The suspect raised the Gun and disappeared into time.

Jaren swore and followed the fresh, vivid trace.

-----

Beth was shaking, her back hurt, her legs hurt where she'd hit the wall and her nose was running, she was hot and cold and everything kept fading in and out. People kept trying to talk to her, guy from the jewelry kiosk, real cop, mall cop.

"-your name?"

She blinked at the mall cop. Middle-aged, ordinary-looking black guy, looked worried, scared, probably not as much as she was. "B-Beth. Beth Sh-sharon." The real cop, a Hispanic woman, short and stocky, was standing a little further off, talking into a radio. The decorations had all been ripped down, there were fake leaves and stupid tiny lights everywhere. Some of the lights had been crushed, plastic and metal bits glittering in the fluorescent light.

"Is your family here?"

She gestured vaguely up. She didn't know where they were, they hadn't even gotten to the table when the guy with the gun had shown up, Nicky had - Nicky wasn't down here. "Nicky - my brother - "

"Nobody else came down with you. No shooting."

No shooting. The guy had had a gun and hadn't shot. She'd been floating, flying, she'd almost fallen, she had fallen, none of it made sense.

"Are you hurt?"

"My back hurts. My legs hurt." He kept asking her questions, but she couldn't really focus on him. Nothing made sense, it would have made sense if he'd shot people, instead she'd fallen and -

"What happened to the soldier?"

"Soldier?"

"She walked me over here after I - " Beth let the words trail off. He was talking again, the words meaningless buzzing. Fallen, not fallen, nothing made any sense. Nobody was screaming anymore, nobody was here, the guy from the jewelry kiosk was gone, maybe they'd evacuated the mall. The mall cop moved, there were people - Mom. Dad. Tom and Nicky and Charlie. Everybody looked like she felt, stumbling over to her, her parents were crying. Mom sat down next to her and Beth buried her face in her shoulder, Mom was talking and the words didn't make any sense and she didn't care.

-----

Jaren staggered back from the blast of heat, turned and ran from the fire until the heat lessened, then ducked behind a large, overturned vehicle. She looked back, seeing a moderately-sized building completely engulfed in flames, with no one visible in the immediate area. Even if she'd had backup, there was no way anyone was still alive in that. No fresh Gun traces. No fresh vehicle tracks. She edged carefully to the right, unable to hear anything over the roar of the fire. The vehicle shifted, only noticeable by the sudden fall of glass, and she hurled herself backward as it rose unsteadily into the air, then rolled to the side as it crashed down where she'd been.

Dark liquid dripped out of one end of the vehicle as it skewed around, ripping up dirt and concrete. She scrambled to her feet and aimed the Gun, pushing the vehicle back. Most of the force was coming from ahead of her and to her left, the suspect shouldn't be familiar enough with Gun use to disguise location. The vehicle started to rise again, unsteadily. She fought with it, then the suspect let go suddenly, transferring all the weight to her. She staggered, pain flaring along overtaxed nerves, and dropped the vehicle with an alarming crash as the suspect escaped into time.

She grimaced, shaking with backshock, and moved cautiously toward his previous location. Something collapsed in the burning building, the fire roaring with renewed intensity. The wind blew smoke into her face, she was sweating with heat, and the Gun shook in her hands as she tried to get a lock on the trace. It took three tries, the trace weakening steadily, and then she caught it and followed.

Wet leaves squelched and slid under her; her goggles shifted into night-vision mode, revealing a clearing with fairly open woodland around it. She rolled into a defensive position as something rose up nearby, big, triangular - skimmer. She pulled out her comp as it spun in place, but he'd yanked the transponder and modded the navcomp, leaving it unidentifiable. She'd bet the markings had been stripped too. It shot off toward the City, engine almost inaudible.

Mission failed, meaning even more shit to face at HQ, even if she didn't get arrested herself. She turned around, orienting herself, and spotted the tall, weathered stone monument into the center of the clearing, telling her where she was before she confirmed it. "Jaren reporting. Suspect escaped in a modded low-altitude skimmer. Current location at the Memorial Obelisk, requesting pickup."

"Pickup sent. Report to Commander Liu immediately on arrival at HQ, Jaren."

"Understood."

No mil-pol, at least not yet, even though there should have been alarms everywhere. She leaned against the obelisk, listening intently for flyers, and tried to sort out events for the reports she was going to have to file. There was probably a form for 'prevented attempted murder of person or persons unknown in unknown time and location' somewhere in the database, along with 'observed illegal time travel' and 'committed illegal time travel in pursuit of illegally time-traveling suspect'. Probably one for 'property damage in unknown time and location in the course of duty', too.

She heard a flyer approaching before she saw the running lights on the slim craft; the computer reported it as being theirs before she spotted the markings. It hovered over her and dropped the ladder; she climbed up quickly and pulled the ladder up behind her, then pulled the door shut.

"What's going on?" she asked, strapping herself in as the flyer turned.

"Still searching for his entrance point."

She logged in and checked the reports. Tech was testing the security system, Oliveira's neck had been broken, and her Gun was being tracked. No unexplained Gun traces or time-travel logged before the attack. Med was searching for possible identities. Nothing seemed to have changed; the City looked the same, the event appeared to be the same, and HQ was reacting about like she expected. Maybe there hadn't been a long-term effect, or a large-scale one. She logged out as they reached HQ, the flyer's thrum shifting down as the pilot maneuvered through the crowded dock for a open space.

"Good luck, Jaren."

"Thanks."

She climbed out the hatch and onto the dock, walking quickly across the metal mesh to the central exit, then took the corridor to the east and crossed the bridge to Admin Tower. Night shift had started about an hour earlier, so it wasn't crowded, and she didn't have to wait long for an elevator. The Commander's office was on the top level; when she arrived, she laid her hand on the reader and the door opened.

Commander Liu was tall, imposing, and angry. She was also alone, no mil-pol and no Provis.

"Jaren, you're lucky I don't yank your badge. That stunt could have sent us both to Wyndham Ground and given the Provis a thousand excuses to take the department apart." Her voice was crisp and cold. "Report."

She stood at attention. "I entered the obstacle course at approximately 21:35, shortly after Kat Oliveira. I exited to the courtyard at approximately 22:05 and observed a scuffle at the exit to the facility. I drew the Gun and ran ahead, attempting to force him away from Oliveira. He broke my hold on him, dropped her and took her Gun. I felt the shockwave when he used it, but I - to the best of my knowledge, ma'am, I was the only person with that capability. My first assumption was that he had access to a illusion device, possibly something military. I confirmed that Oliveira was dead and called for backup, scanning the area for the suspect until I received the ZR alarm. At that point I followed the trace."

She described the chase, the incident with the woman, and the second location she'd followed him to before returning to the present. "Suspect is approximately 180cm, very muscular, and appeared to be using physical disguise instead of devices. Suspect did not speak at any time. He's clearly very familiar with Gun use, though his style is extremely physical and unlike any LP-trained officer. Given his ability to pick place and time, I suspect the second victim was deliberately chosen. Oliveira may have been random or may have been mistaken for me; we're close in height and build."

"Understood." Liu stood up behind her desk. "As of now, you're back on active duty. You answer directly to me for the duration. You'll be assigned a new partner in hours."

She bit back an irrational protest - she'd known Mal wasn't coming back to duty since she'd woken up in the hospital - and said, "Yes, ma'am."

"You'll be assigned a secure office. Exercise extreme caution in discussing this case." Liu shook her head. "The only reason either of us is standing here is that the alarms that should have gone off over half the city have been compromised, and nobody else appears to be aware of it."

"Compromised? How - " The systems had been designed with multiple failsafes.

"We're working on it. We're looking at a repeat of the Margate if one hint of this ever gets out." Jamie's stomach turned queasily; the aftermath had nearly destroyed the department. "The Provis have been looking for an excuse to get into our business for years and you damn well should know it. This would give them every excuse they could possibly need."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Report to Medical, then await further instructions. Send me any visuals you've got of the suspect or the victim. Dismissed."

-----

Beth turned off her cell phone and stuffed it in her pocket, suddenly totally uninterested in talking to anyone, and wandered out into the backyard. Ralphie followed her; he'd stuck close ever since she'd gotten home that day, like he knew something was wrong and thought it was something a big dumb sheepdog could fix. She scritched his ears and sat down on the bench in front of Dad's overgrown garden. She was still bruised all over, her back hurt even though the doctor said it there wasn't any permanent damage, and she felt like she was still waiting to crash. She banged her hand on the bench, scraping her knuckles bloody. It hurt, at least, and she sucked absently on her knuckles.

Ralphie growled.

She jumped up when that weird rumble went through her bones again, then bolted for the house as someone big jumped the fence. It was too late, her feet slipped and slid on nothing, she was floating again and sliding backwards, and Ralphie was barking, deep and threatening, not his usual frantic 'heyheySQUIRREL' noise. She fell suddenly and then Ralphie got hurled backward, like a giant had just picked him up and tossed him, he let out a horrible yelp when he landed. She couldn't scream, her throat was tight and closed, and someone grabbed her when she tried to grab a tree and pull herself away. Then hands closed around her throat, squeezing, the world went black and gold, she could barely hear Ralphie barking.

The hands let go suddently and she fell, gasping for breath. She was barely aware of angry voices behind her, a woman and man, then someone running away and that weird rumble through her bones again, and someone moved next to her. She flinched away, her vision still messed up, and Ralphie charged up, growling, getting between her and whoever it was. The stranger was dark-skinned, short dark hair, weird goggles over her eyes, wearing clothes like the soldiers at the base. Like the one at the mall.

She spoke, and Beth had to listen hard to make out the words through the thick, unfamiliar accent. "Who are you? Why does he want to kill you?"

"I don't know anything," Beth gasped, her throat was sore and burning and she could barely breathe. Her eyes were hot and aching and she was trying not to cry.

The stranger muttered something Beth didn't understand. "Who are you?"

"Beth. Beth Sharon." It didn't matter, they could find her anywhere and she didn't know what was going on.

Sirens sounded down the street and her mother charged out the door, yelling; the stranger took off, and a few seconds later that weird rumble ran through her bones again. Beth started to cry.

-----

Jaren's new partner was Raziya Aratani, a stocky, muscular woman from Homicide with straight dark hair a few inches longer than regulations allowed; she'd gone into early retirement after her partner's murder two years ago, and Liu had just pulled her back onto duty. Liu and Professor Olanga, a research scientist on semi-permanent loan to the department, were discussing something urgently and quietly on the other side of Liu's office.

"Riverside 15?" Aratani whistled. "That's an ... interesting assignment."

"You could say that." Riverside 15 had been her and Mal's last assignment, standard patrol with a veteran pair of officers. Riverside overall was never dull, and 15 was almost everything about Riverside crammed into a single ward: small manufactories crowded next to small ag-ops, which themselves were crowded up against shops and residential areas. "There was a general strike and two near-riots the first two months we were there." They'd needed reinforcements more than once.

"I remember that strike. It counted as a riot by the end."

Liu turned away from her conference with Olanga. "Olanga has identified the victim."

He projected two images, one she had taken, and an old, two-dimensional image, distorted but recognizable as an older version, probably closer to Aratani's age. "Elizabeth Sharon. She'll invent the basic technology behind the Gun within fifteen years or so of the time Jaren encountered her. This should be nearly a thousand years ago, the early twenty-first century by the calendar then in use, though it's difficult to pin down the date as Sharon destroyed all her records before her death."

"That's - ambitious." Aratani shook her head. "Are we sure this isn't politics?"

"We're not sure of anything."

"Not even the crazies are that ambitious." Most of them, anyway, and the ones that were crazy enough to think of it probably couldn't get this organized.

"Someone clearly is. We're sending you two back to protect Sharon and we'll work the case from here."

They didn't get a chance to protest; R&D had pulled out an old project to adapt to allow them to report, Medical and Supply were making preparations, and City Archives was putting together a crash course in the early twenty-first century that would be available ASAP. "Report to Archives first. Dismissed."

Outside, they stared at each other.

"Weirdest damned orders I've ever gotten," Aratani said. "I'll meet you at Archives in an hour, I've got some business to settle first."

Jaren nodded and headed down to the dock, getting a message on the way that the archivists wouldn't be ready for an hour and a half and an acknowledgement from Aratani. She caught a skimmer and programmed in a shopping arcade near Archives, which had one of her favorite cafés, and leaned back, checking the news, as the skimmer glided across the city. She looked up as it passed Margate Plaza; it had been turned into a memorial garden after the civil war, flower-beds quartered by canals with a reflecting pool at the center, the ruined walls planted with ferns and other shade-loving plants. Supports had been worked invisibly into the blackened, broken dome and surviving walls, and the garden had been built over the inseperable, immovable bodies.

The shopping arcade was a few minutes past the Plaza; she hopped out of the skimmer and went into the cafe, ordering coffee, almond-garlic soup, and a slice of potato-chile tortilla. Most of the customers were students, with a few university and Archives employees, and the cafe was about half-empty. She checked her status - back on active, listed as inactive on the Wong case, no surprises there, office listed as AD15C3 - impressive, fifteenth floor was usually reserved for department heads and seconds. Too bad she probably wasn't going to get much use out of it. She sent messages to a few people that she wouldn't be available for a while, and watched the area while she ate. The petty thieves weren't in evidence, probably waiting for a rush to have more cover, and it seemed calm otherwise. There was a confrontation outside by a shop, students squabbling over something, but the officers for this area de-escalated the conflict quickly, and the students drifted off. She didn't know the officers personally, and had to tell them there was nothing new on the Oliveira case.

She finished her coffee and walked the short distance to Archives. The tower was covered in the same synth-sandstone as the older parts of HQ, but it had curved balconies covered in flowering vines, and different patterns of broken tilework banded at window-levels; a flock of golden-headed, bright green parakeets flashed out of the vines and swirled around the fruit-laden bushes at the base. A tall, muscular man, bald with an out-of-fashion black mustache, scowled and avoided the birds on his way out of the building, then headed down to the skimmer station; she frowned, wondering why she thought he looked familiar, then entered Archives herself. Aratani arrived a few minutes later.

"Did you see Councilor Sergievsky outside?"

"That's who he was. I knew he looked familiar." Sergievsky had been found amnesiac in an ancient hibernation pod ten years ago; there'd been a vehement debate about whether he was really from the past or just some idiot fucking around with old tech. There'd been a genetic workup done on him, so he wasn't the likeliest of suspects; if he was, they'd need absolute, ironclad evidence to do anything about him. "Ready?"

"Ready."

She left Archives several hours later, her head spinning between language and culture, wondering exactly how they were going to accomplish anything under such bizarre conditions. This wasn't going to be anything like working with the mil-pol, or even working with, say, St. Croix-Salle's police the way the organized crime division frequently did; it would be more like trying to cooperate with Paradisio, which had been in a state of heavily-armed truce with the rest of the region since the end of the last war.

"Should have asked for a raise," Aratani said. "Medical and Supply are ready for us."

She checked her messages after they boarded a skimmer back to HQ, seeing the same messages from Medical and Supply, a wildly overexcited message from her brother Dev in R&D - somehow he'd talked them into letting him work on whatever it was they were building for communication - and a quick message from her mil-pol liasion, Stasi Karahalios, warning her to watch her back. They knew something was up - probably at least Oliveira's murder and the infiltration of HQ - but if they knew about the time-travel, she'd be under arrest already. She sent a brief acknowledgement and scanned the rest of her messages; Jyoti said Mal was worse than usual about his conspiracy theories. She closed her eyes and leaned back; that was one thing she wasn't going to miss. 'Nothing anyone can do about that,' she sent back, and shortly afterward they reached HQ.

Medical was positively gleeful about all the things they got to shoot them up with.

-----

It was noisy and crowded and it felt too much like the mall; Beth didn't want to be in school. She didn't want to be home, either, didn't really want to be anywhere in particular and her parents would totally panic if she skipped, so she stumbled through the morning. She'd gotten stuck with English with the crappy teacher first thing in the morning, and if anyone said anything stupid like at least it'll be over with early she was going to scream.

Nobody did. People went on about omigod are you okay and that was so bizarre, it all felt weird and fake, and Beth stopped trying to smile or respond by second period. She'd forgotten everything about English class by lunch, vaguely listening to her friends chatter, something about a new student.

"- kind of scary. Look at her."

"Who?"

Emily gestured at another table; Charlie was talking to a stranger, a tall, muscular dark-skinned girl in a dark red t-shirt, jeans and boots, supershort wavy black hair, radiating a kind of - Beth didn't know what, like she was aware of everything even with Charlie talking. She wore a wide choker, leather and dark metal braided together, and weird snaky armbands that matched the choker. Her arms and hands were painted in faded patterns, henna maybe, she looked kind of Indian. And kind of not, and then she was realized she was staring and looked away.

"Nobody's got any idea where's she from, her accent's really weird."

Grace finished her soda and tossed the bottle. "Nate thinks she's a narc."

"Nate thinks everybody's a narc."

It wasn't hard to believe, she just didn't act right. She moved like she owned the place, like she had a total right to just be walking down the hall or whatever, and the teachers weren't important. Nobody'd call an adult acting like that rude, it was like Mom with some professor from another department, but it was totally pissing off the teachers. She couldn't figure out where she was from, either, even if she was positive she'd heard the accent before. Maybe at one of Mom's faculty parties or something. Charlie'd probably know already.

Maybe Nate was right for once in his life and she really was a narc. But she'd have guessed narcs wouldn't be so obvious.

The bell rang and she escaped, grabbing her stuff from her locker in record time. The noise was bad again, too much like the mall, and all she wanted to do was get out and away. She ran out the door, nearly outrunning Tom, then finally slowed down.

"Sorry. I - nevermind."

Tom rolled his eyes and shrugged at her. "You couldn't take the bus?"

"No." She couldn't stand the thought of being cooped up on the bus either. She realized she'd barely been paying attention to where she was going, she'd probably nearly been run over, and turned left to pick up the cross-street to get home. It was quieter here, most people were still at work. "It's just - too loud."

Tom shrugged but walked with her anyway. After a while, she felt less terrified and seriously embarrassed at the way she'd bolted, wondering who'd seen her that she knew. Maybe nobody'd ask her about it tomorrow. An engine started somewhere close, she looked up and saw the lights flick on in an empty pickup; somebody'd just used a remote start, probably, and then she saw the steering wheel move. She froze, staring at it, and the whole truck started to move, the engine revved.

"Beth, move!"

Tom yanked her arm and they ran, the truck bearing down on them, the noise getting louder and louder. They bolted into an alley, the truck screeching behind them, then they heard it back up and make the turn. Driveway, path, there had to be way past all these fences - someone ran toward them, Tom shouted, there was a path on the left and they heard the truck screech to a halt.

Whoever it was had something - a gun, just like the one the crazy guy in the mall had - aimed at the truck, shooter's stance like she'd seen in the movies, both hands on the gun. Beth could see the wheel turning - trying to turn, like someone was fighting for it - and then the engine died, the wheel stopped moving, and she felt a faint, distant rumble like she had at the mall. The woman - short dark hair, boots, jeans - casually holstered her gun and turned to them. The girl from lunch.

"Who are you? What the hell is going on?" Tom demanded.

"Jamie Jaren - " and Beth knew where she'd heard the accent, the soldier who'd shown up in the yard - "LaBoure-Trier Police Department."

"Never heard of it."

"Don't tell me it doesn't exist yet." That wasn't real, that was the stuff of bad movies. So were people appearing out of thin air and trucks without drivers trying to run you over.

"What? That can't happen. Those movies suck and I refuse to be in one."

"Shut up, this isn't even your movie."

Jaren looked at them and shook her head, baffled. "Let's just leave it at that I'm supposed to keep you alive and arrest your attacker."

Beth stomped on Tom's foot before he said anything else. "Fine." Maybe she was lying, maybe this was some sort of really weird and over-complicated plot like a spy movie or something, but what was she supposed to do about it, anyway? "I'm going home before whoever owns that truck comes looking for it." She was surprised no one had come out, but everyone was probably at work or night shift workers sleeping.

Jaren nodded and said she'd see them there; it was less an offer than a statement, and Tom started to bristle again. Beth scowled at him and he shut up; it was only ten more minutes from here, and they already knew where the house was anyway. She wasn't interested in talking, keeping an eye on their surroundings, and Beth didn't know what to say anyway. There was probably a whole list of questions you were supposed to ask time travelers or aliens or whatever the hell Jamie Jaren was. Charlie would know. She supposed she could ask for lotto numbers or sports winners or something. She hadn't thought of anything before they reached the house.

Jaren watched them up to the door and then walked away, cool and steady and straight-backed. She was turning the corner when Beth glanced out the front window, and then she was gone.