Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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The Mercenary

A ping in my ear indicated the sweet flow of money into my account. That would be the payment from the Transgalaxy MegaCorp for blowing up their competition a year before yesterday’s hostile takeover. I blinked to flow the credits to my ID chip. I wouldn’t have gotten them yet where I was going, and I’d need to stand some rounds of decent hooch.

Galactic bond traders don’t drink the cheap stuff.

“Fred, I’m taking a week off,” I told my chronobot.

“Where are you going, Amy?” Fred asked. “Proteus? Ceres?” He had a list of resorts in his data bank. Of course, I’d never been to any of them. Too busy working and saving every credit.

“Not where, Tin Man. When.”

“Amy, you aren’t using Guild resources for personal time travel, are you?”

“Uh huh.”

Fred went through a series of rapid visual sensor blinks, his version of “Cannot compute.” But all he said was, “OK, when are you going to?”

“June 14, 3142,” I answered. “A week before Todd leaves me.”

Fred wouldn’t have been so docile if I hadn’t disabled his reporting ware. I’d planned this mission for a long time, and no over conscientious polysteel puppet was going to get in my way. I noticed his little ovoid head twitching, though. Perhaps I hadn’t done as good a job with the override as I thought.

I settled into my transfer pod, deep in memory. Eight years earlier my husband had told me he’d met someone else. “I’m so sorry, Amy,” he’d said, crying like a little girl. Young Me ripped out my commlink and went on a bender. Then I entered the Chrono Guild to get access to time travel, enduring the most punishing, badass training program in the galaxy. To my surprise I turned out to be a pretty damn good mercenary. But I had never let go of my heartbreak – or my obsession.

My plan was simple. Like most nice guys, Todd was a sucker for people who lived on the dark side. If I went back with my ripped bod and 3D facial scarring, he’d have no idea who I was; even my voice had deepened. Once I’d gained his confidence I’d winnow out his girlfriend’s identity. Then phhhhttt – kinetic slice to her jugular. Neat and discreet. That would at least give Young Me a second chance.

Of course, I was a little shaky on the details. Changing the fates of strangers was just business, but as Fred was attempting to remind me, the extensive Guild conditioning included a strong taboo against screwing with time for personal reasons. Who knew what would await me when I returned to my native time? But I was willing to take that risk.

Fred plugged the line into my inlet and started a dopa flow to soften the effect of the transfer nanos. I’d have to work fast once I got there, because the Guild had also built in a failsafe to make sure we didn’t linger in non-native time. After a week our cells began to degrade. And time sickness was an ugly way to die.

***

The place where the financial wizards hung out was all dark wood and real leather. It even had a human bartender. My kind didn’t frequent places like this, but then, to my knowledge, nobody had ever thrown a Chrono out of a bar.

I spotted Todd immediately, laughing with his buddies, dark hair rumpled, tunic open. A couple of nervous dweebs hopped off their stools when they saw me coming. I straddled the seat next to Todd.

“Top-shelf for everyone, barkeep,” I said. The guy took one look and got to work pouring without a word.

“Hey, thanks,” Todd said. “You’re a Chrono, aren’t you?”

“Yup. I just popped a rival megacruiser out of orbit for a big client. It’s spinning into infinity, and I’m flush as an Aegirian whore.”

“Wow,” he said. “I thought those ships were sabotage-proof.”

“It’s a long story.”

I bought a few more rounds and entertained the boys with lurid tales of Chrono life. I didn’t want to press my luck the first night, though, so I took off pretty early. “Maybe I’ll see you around,” I told Todd casually. “I’m looking for someone, and I hear he shows up here.” Flimsy excuse to keep coming by. But not entirely untrue.

***

The next night he was back. All those times he’d stayed out he’d told Young Me he was working late, but after his confession I assumed he’d been with her. Apparently the answer was none of the above.

I walked up to the bar.

“Hey, I’m glad you’re back,” he said. “I owe you a drink or six.”

I shrugged and sat. “Your wife OK with you closing down bars every night?”

“How’d you know I was married?”

Oops. “You just seem like the kind of guy who would be,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m married. Kind of.” He stared into the crystal blue liquid in his glass. “Amy’s sweet, but she’s a lightweight. She shops and she lunches. You know the type. Well, maybe you don’t,” he said, grinning at the tattoos shifting across my face. “And I’m sure you don’t want to hear about my pansy-ass marital problems.”

“You’re right. I don’t. Anyway, I bet you’ve got a hot girlfriend.” Tell me her name, Todd.

“Nah. I’m too much of a straight arrow for that.”

OK. He didn’t trust me enough to confide in me yet. I still had time.

I hung out with him for the next few nights, but I couldn’t find a way to turn the conversation back to his love life. Soon I began to experience the little bouts of the dizziness that herald time sickness. By the seventh night I was feeling the full effects: disorientation, migraines. I needed to leave before my cells went berserk. And I’d accomplished nothing.

“So,” I said that last night, “my gig in this time is done. Gotta go back.” I turned so he wouldn’t see the tears welling in my darkened eye sockets.

To my surprise he reached for my hand. “Listen. I know this sounds weird, but I need to tell you something before you leave. I’m in love with you,” he blurted.

Whoa. What?

“You’re so strong,” he said. “So different from my wife. But I think there’s sweetness underneath the swagger.” He took another swig of liquid courage. “I told Amy we were through before I came tonight. I don’t know if you could be with someone as boring as me, but it wouldn’t be fair to stay with her.”

I took a deep breath. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go down, but Chronos were used to improvising. “Todd,” I said, “I am your wife.”

“What’s that now?”

“It’s me, Amy. From the future.”

It was his turn to stare as I tried to arrange my feral appearance into something resembling Young Me’s cheerful cluelessness. “Please don’t say ‘tell me something only Amy would know’,” I said. “It’s me. I became a Chrono so I could come back and vaporize the woman you left me for.”

He wore the same confused look that Fred had when I told him I was going on a personal time jaunt. “Wait. How can you be her?”

“Chrono training changes you. A lot.”

I could see he was starting to buy it. “So,” he said slowly. “I left you for… you.”

“And everything will work out,” I said, hoping it was true. “Now you know Young Me doesn’t have to be a fluffball. Go home and tell her you made a mistake. Help her become…me.” I smiled. “Listen, though, if she still becomes a Chrono, tell her to forgo the beauty treatments from hell.”

Todd was grinning. His eyes lost focus as he tried to contact Young Me on his commlink. “No answer.”

“She’d have cut her link a while ago. But I can tell you that she’s going to hang around drinking and crying for a good while.”

He got up and kissed my tattooed lips, drawing stares from the other patrons. Then he headed for the door. “I love you,” I called after him.

I needed to get to a Guild center for the transfer back. I was fading fast, and this time already had one Amy. I was downing a final shot for the road when I heard the blast. I shoved my way out of the bar and ran into the street. Todd lay there, his gut aerated by a couple of thugs who were digging out his ID chip. Reflexes kicked in and I killed them quickly. Then I dropped to the ground and cradled his body. I would have cried if I remembered how.

Back at the apartment, Young Me would be throwing things in a bag for her epic binge. Then she’d turn herself over to the Guild, never knowing Todd was dead. At least it looked like the timeline was more or less intact. So, in eight years, she would find out that she was the only woman he’d ever loved.

Twice.

A bit about the author:

Beth McCabe is a proud resident of Tacoma, Washington. McCabe is a graduate of the Barnard College Creative Writing Program, where she placed second in the Elizabeth Janeway Fiction Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Monday Review, Halfway Down the Stairs, Liquid Imagination, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Highlights for Children, and other publications. Visit author page