Matter of Precision

The woman had everyone’s attention.

It wasn’t that hard, since she had a rather large gun.

Her demeanor was matronly, her looks nondescript and belonging to person in their early to mid- forties. Her body was thin but not fragile, dark wavy hair drawn back in a conservative bun. A brown-eyed gaze that was piercing. Her clothing were vaguely anachronistic: no buttons, odd cut, and colored a muted gray. Hands well-manicured.

Not exactly your standard bank robber.

She sighed and adjusted a pen on a desk, rotating it to face precisely southwest and moving it exactly 1.6 inches in that direction. “There.” The woman wiped a tear from her eye. “I’m in it now, for better or for worse.”

There were twelve hostages in the bank, silent and paralyzed with fear. Police were outside; their negotiator considering options. The woman paced back and forth between the twelve, waiting. One of the hostages couldn’t resist looking up, looking at their tormentor while hoping not to catch the woman’s attention. In that, she failed.

The woman froze for a fraction of a moment, backed up, seeming both scared and excited. “Terry…” almost breathless. “My god, Terry. Is that you?”

Terry shuddered. She had no idea who this was. “How do you know my name?” Her voice was so quiet it was barely above a squeak.

“Oh god, of course. You’re what? A year out of college? Two?” The woman was aware she was babbling. “Here, probably a couple of months. You told me about this. I didn’t pay attention. I’m sorry.” The woman massaged her forehead, trying to reduce her stress. “We’re co-workers. I mean we will be co-workers. You know me as ‘M’. God, you’re so young.” M pulled Terry to her feet and took her away from the other hostages and the view of the police.

“Please don’t hurt me.”

M deposited Terry in a chair. “I won’t hurt you. I can’t… I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were here.” M frowned. “But I’ll bet he did.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I work for an Agency. An agency that you’ll work for too. What we do… it’s complicated. But… it involves time travel.”

“Time travel.” Terry couldn’t keep the cynicism out.

The woman smiled. “Here.” She held her wrist up and immediately a glowing display emerged holographically from what Terry assumed was a tattoo. “It’s always easy to show off the high-tech stuff. This is a miniature model of the timeline and our effect on it.”

“It looks…” Terry studied it harder. “–kind of like a river.”

“That’s a good metaphor. What we do, what you will do, is we adjust the current of time. A small adjustment here, a shift there, and if they are in the right place, then things change for the better.”

Terry frowned and looked at the hostages. “This isn’t very subtle.”

M frowned. “I… didn’t have a lot of choice. The robbery was set for today, so I had to replace the robber so I could stop him. Or expose him. I’m not entirely sure which. We usually use AIs to predict how the course will alter but this time I had to wing it.”

“This is the second time you’ve mentioned ‘him’.”

M nodded. “I think… I know one of my co-workers, Q, has gone wrong. He’s been killing people without sanction. I saw there was an uptick in deaths whenever he went on assignments but he simply claims his assignments are more dangerous than we predicted. But I spotted him ‘adjusting’ a scene while we were on assignment together. Setting up a death just for fun.”

“To change the timeline?”

“That’s right. What he did wasn’t in the mission parameters. And then… when I had it figured out, he tried to murder me. Placed me in a meeting… with someone I figured out almost too late was a serial killer.”

“What does that have to do with the robbery?”

“He’s in here today, on assignment. I thought he might have been one of the hostages.” The woman frowned. “No such luck. So, I’m waiting… I don’t know who he’ll show up as. But I’m ending it today.”

Terry paled. “Jacob. He started work today. Nobody told you because, well, bank robbery. But he’s in the back. In the bathroom.”

M quickly moved to the back. The bathroom was clear. She paused, listened. Movement in the manager’s office. She went in; there he was, on the floor, cradling the phone, talking to police. She cursed. It wasn’t the target. She turned again and moved.

“Hello?” A voice from the lobby. New voice. “I’m the negotiator. I’m unarmed.” A pause “Could we talk?”

M headed out, gun drawn.

It was Q.

The first gun shot startled the hell out of Terry, who fell from her seat. It took her a moment to comprehend what she saw next. The shot had appeared to go wide but, in reality, it had hit a ficus by the door, knocking it over so the entrance was blocked. The next shot, M tried to hurt him but missed. The shot after that ‘accidentally’ took out the power, knocking the cameras out.

He wasn’t just standing still though, he was ‘clumsily’ making his way through the place as well. That’s where Terry saw it the most. The precise moments which affected time. Those little changes that made the difference. He had an earpiece that wasn’t blue-tooth standard. Terry intuited that it was connected to the implant in his arm. His AI fed him directions, helping him defend himself by altering fate. Up against that, the woman couldn’t compete.

Mass police gunfire shattered windows, followed by flash-bangs that left everyone deaf and disoriented. Next, tear gas and then SWAT. The woman took two shots and crumpled.

Terry looked down at the body, wondering if M would be whisked back to her home time. Or taken later. Or simply left.

“You okay?”

The negotiator. Q. He reached down and offered a hand to help her up.

Suddenly, there was a look. He recognized her.

Terry felt fear wash over her; what if the woman was telling the truth? She was right next to a killer who had no problem altering time.

She had to do something.

Thn, she spotted a pen on the desk nearest to her. It’s position… a possibility.

She ‘stumbled’, knocking into Q, who fell backwards, his head impacting with the pen, set up directly 1.6 inches southwest from its original placement. Watched as the light in his eyes died and he fell. She wondered if she had done the right thing.

She wondered if they, the agency that both the woman and the man worked for, would still contact her.

The answer to their offer, she knew, would be ‘yes.’

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