I wrote this story sometime before 1995 while I was at university. (November 25 1995 was the first timestamp I could find.) In fact, this story sprung fully-fledged out of a dream, and it shows in a couple of places. Still, it's readable.


I was doing a job on Teul when I met him. It was in a small tourist hotel in the mountains on the east side of the Eastern Plateau, and as the job wasn't especially dangerous --- yet --- I was in the bar, admiring the view and sipping one of the local whiskies.

I was posing as a tourist on a riding holiday, and so I had been assigned one of the Bureau's mutated horses, who was now in the stable below. When the small aircar flew up the loch and disappeared out of my field of view in a landing approach, I didn't pay much attention, but Ester saw the occupant emerge.

Richard? her voice came to me, via the implanted communicator. I think there's someone you may want to see down here.

Who? I subvocalised. Good, bad or ugly? I checked that I had the miniaturised needler within easy reach.

Definitely ugly, she said, with the silent modulation that passed for a chuckle. Very ugly indeed. Don't worry, he's probably harmless. Just interesting.

Do I know him?

Oh, yes. You know him. He's on his way up to the lounge, by the way.

I put the drink down and turned round in my seat just in time to see the outside door open. A man came through, and then stopped dead as he saw me.

The effect he had on me was similar. If I hadn't put my drink down, I would have spilt it.

After he moment, he started smiling strangely, and then walked slowly over.

"What a surprise to see you here," he said.

"It can't have been too much of a surprise," I replied. "After all, you knew I'd be here."

"It slipped my memory. Mind if I sit down?"

"Not at all," I said breezily, and waved him at the opposite chair.

"What are you doing here on Teul?" he asked.

"Don't you know?"

"Remind me."

"You know we aren't supposed to talk about jobs," I rebuked him.

He smiled that strange smile again. "Aren't I different?"

I grinned back at him. "I suppose you are. Okay, then; simply to jog your memory: the Bureau's had reports that somebody in the Eastern Plateau has developed a working temporal dislocator, which will work with a decent mass/density ratio and no snap-back problem. They want me to find him and offer him a job."

"Oh, yes, I remember now," he said, nodding. "Yes, indeed. I wish you every luck in your mission."

"I don't suppose you could give me a few hints?" I asked him.

"We-ell," he said, "I shouldn't really."

"Just a few? After all, if somebody pushed me off a mountain, you would be put to great disadvantage."

"I don't think that's very likely," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "A operative of your experience should be able to sense whether someone has something like that in mind very easily."

I just nodded.

"But now you mention it," he continued, "I think I have heard rumours of this device. If I may venture a suggestion, then if I were you, I'd try looking to the east of the loch rather than the west. Of course, this is purely from what I've heard."

"Ah," I said. "I'll consider that carefully; there may be something in what you say. May I buy you a drink?"

"I would be delighted," he said.

"I can recommend the Strathechan whiskey," I replied. "One of the better malts of the area."

"That would be fine."

I got to my feet. "If you will excuse me a moment?"

"Not at all, not at all."

As I walked over to the bar, I said to Ester: Did you get all that?

Interesting chap, isn't he?

Does he have an implant? I asked.

Doesn't appear to have, Ester replied. He must have had it taken out. Of course, he could have a version that monitors only.

Could be. His technology's going to be rather better than ours. Was there anybody else in the aircar?

No. Don't you trust him?

Come on, he's practically family. Of course I don't.

I bought the drinks, and went back to the seat, where he was quietly laughing to himself.

"Oh, thanks," he said, as I handed him his drink.

"You hardly look as if you've aged at all," I said, sitting down in the window seat.

There was that twinkle again. "You'd be surprised at the quality of the antisenescence treatments that are being developed."

"Really?" I replied. "They must not have been released to the public yet, but I suppose if one has the right contacts..."

"This is good," he said, raising his glass up to the light. "I don't come across whiskies like this very often."

"You'll have to buy a bottle to take back with you."

He chuckled. "I'm not really a tourist."

"Oh?" I said. "What are you, then?"

He took another sip. "I'm here on business."

"What kind of business?"

"I really don't think I should say."

"I told you mine."

"That's different," he protested.

"Not that different," I answered, keeping back a smile.

"If our positions were reversed, I'd be more than happy to tell you," he said. "As it is, though, I can't."

"I can't believe it's unrelated. After all, the odds against our meeting like this must be fantastic."

"All right," he relented. "Slightly related."

"I know you're tied up in this temporal dislocator business..."

"Well, of course."

"... but I don't know exactly how."

"No, you don't."

"...yet," I added, purely for effect, but of course he knew all my tricks and just raised a sardonic eyebrow.

"Do you have a base here on Teul, or did you come from Earth?" I asked.

"Earth, of course," he snorted. "I came through in low orbit and got a ship to pick me up. Then it was just a matter of catching a passenger flight out here."

"What have you been doing lately?" I added.

"Oh, you know," he said. "A bit of this, a bit of that. Bodyguard for a certain alien prince visiting Earth, an investigation into a drug synthesis plant on Caita, the usual run of the mill."

"I'd have thought you'd have been promoted by now," I said.

"I was," he replied. "Then I resigned over some matter or other, and the Bureau started hiring me as an external consultant, at a much inflated salary. Now I only do interesting and relatively safe jobs."

"External consultant?" I exclaimed. "You're not serious!"

"Oh, yes," he said. "The Bureau's changed its policy. I think they're planning to incorporate as a company soon... but then you shouldn't know that."

"Don't worry, I won't tell anybody. Nobody would believe me, anyway." The Bureau incorporating as a private company! I mean, that's about as silly as, say, the Twelve Worlds Space Navy, PLC.

Ester, I suddenly said on impulse, You didn't hear that either.

This entire conversation is going in one ear and out the other, she said. What I can believe of it.

"This whiskey's stronger than it looks," he said ruefully. "I shouldn't really have let that slip. Look, I think I should go and find a hotel somewhere else. It's simply too dangerous to stay here together. Besides, somebody official might see us together and start wondering."

"Yes, there is a certain similarity, isn't there?"

"Just a little," he replied.

"Well, all right then," I said. "Though it's a pity. We won't meet again for... how long?"

"About fifty-five years," he replied casually, draining his glass and standing up.

Fif---!

I was speechless for a moment, before getting out, "Any more information you want to impart? You know, good investments to make, that sort of thing?"

He looked at me levelly for a moment, before saying: "The Caita stock-market's going to crash on the fifth of June next year. Don't worry, it wasn't your fault."

I nodded. "I'll remember that."

"Okay, then."

I always find saying goodbye to people, no matter how casually, very difficult. He, of course, was just the same.

"I'll see you..."

"Quite soon, I expect," he said, and grinned. Then he strode off across the bar and left, without looking back.

I thoughtfully bought another Strathechan whiskey --- it was good --- and gazed out the long picture window at the view of the loch below, in the dimming twilight. This certainly cleared things up a bit, I thought. I now knew that the job would very likely be a success; if I didn't recruit this man and his temporal dislocator, then someone else would, or someone else who had made the same discovery. And it would work.

And, about fifty-five years from know, I would use a temporal dislocator to send myself back through time to now...

I wondered who the alien prince was going to be, and why he wanted to visit Earth.

The aircar, which I would be flying, slowly rose from the landing courtyard below, xenon beacons blinking contrapuntally, before tilting nose down and accelerating up the loch.

I watched the lights disappear into the distance, and had another drink.