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The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (6th Installment)

February 21, 2018 04:10PM

“Ever seen a movie called Timecop?”

Assistant Director Tyrone Jeffreys, in charge of Investigative Operations for the US Marshals Service, looked at the man seated across the desk from him, the man to whom he had just addressed the question.

Mike O’Brian had gone through what anyone would have to admit was a harrowingly awful eighteen months. A year and a half that had ended with the death of a wife everyone knew he loved to distraction. And now, with no parents, no kids, no siblings, no other close relatives, O’Brian had no one else in the world. It seemed unfair to take advantage of his misfortune, but this was exactly why he was being considered for this special assignment.

Aside from the fact that he had located and arrested more fugitives than just about anyone else in the USMS, there were few who looked the part of a federal marshal more than Mike O’Brian. Though he didn’t wear a broad-brimmed Stetson and cowboy boots like that Givens fellow in Kentucky, the tall, broad-shouldered O’Brian managed to convey the frontier ethos of the Marshals Service without the aid of wardrobe accessories.

“Excuse me, sir?” said O’Brian.

“Y’ever seen a movie called Timecop?”

“Yeah. Had Mia Sara in it.”

Jeffreys wasn’t surprised that Miss Sara’s being cast in that movie was the element that stayed in O’Brian’s memory. His late wife, Francesca, had borne a close resemblance to the exotically beautiful actress. There were rumors that O’Brian had watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off over a hundred times since his wife’s death. Queenie, a TV-movie biopic starring Miss Sara as a fictionalized version of Merle Oberon, had gotten O’Brian interested in movies featuring that Anglo-Indian actress, who also reminded the deputy of his late wife. So evenings might find him watching The Scarlet Pimpernel, Wuthering Heights, The Private Life of Henry VIII, or First Comes Courage mainly for the chance it gave him to look at Miss Oberon in her prime.

“How about a TV series called Time Trax?”

“Yeah. Mia Sara was in that one, too. Played a Secret Service agent.”

“Before we go any further, Mike, I need you to sign this,” Jeffreys pushed a sheet of paper across the desk. O’Brian read it over, and looked up.

“Thirty years in prison for disclosing any information about this meeting?”

“What I’m about to tell you makes ‘Top Secret’ look like the front page of the National Enquirer. It’s absolutely vital that this information does not get out to the public. We know you’re trustworthy, Mike. The threatened prison sentence is just a way of letting you know how important secrecy is. If you’re uncomfortable, you can leave now, and nothing bad will be reflected in your record.”

“Can you give me a hint of what you’re asking?”

“You’re been selected for a special assignment. It’s volunteer. I can’t tell you more until after you’ve signed that document.


O’Brian looked down at the paper, then at Jeffreys.

“Signing doesn’t commit me to the assignment?”

“No,” replied Jeffreys, “just makes it possible for me to tell you what it is.”

O’Brian shrugged his shoulders, and signed. What did he have to lose? The way Jeffreys was talking, it was probably dangerous, but, lately, that suited O’Brian fine. It didn’t seem to matter whether or not he made it home anymore, now that he didn’t have anyone to come home to. If this assignment led to his being carried to his grave by six brother officers while “Taps” played on the bugle and “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, that just meant he’d be rejoining Cesca.

“Some other TV shows you might have heard of, Dr. Who, Time Tunnel, Quantum Leap, Travelers, Timeless, Continuum.”

“Seen Quantum Leap. Heard of the others.”

“What do they all have in common?”

“They’re all about time travel. I suppose next you’re going to tell me you’re sending me back in time to track down criminals from the past.”

“Not quite. If you accept this assignment, you’ll be sent back in time to track down criminals from the present who are hiding in the past.”

O’Brian was speechless for a few moments.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” he finally said.

“Dead serious,” said Jeffreys.

“Sir, I’m no physicist, but I’ve always been taught that time travel is impossible, that it’s been proved impossible mathematically.”

“It was publicly proven impossible to distract people away from the research.”

O’Brian sat silently for a few seconds, then said, “So, if I take this assignment, will I get issued a DeLorean?”


The United States Government had, O’Brian learned, been, in complete secrecy, developing time travel since the 1960’s. Though the “complete” secrecy wasn’t all that complete. When many people are involved in a project, absolute secrecy is impossible. As a consequence, television shows and movies about government-sponsored time travel projects, Time Tunnel, Quantum Leap, Timeless, had all made it onto the air, all deriving from, and expanding fictionally on, tiny bits of information about the real government-sponsored time travel project that had leaked out.

Many other movies, TV shows, novels, etc., utilized time travel themes, not necessarily involving government projects, Dr. Who, the Back to the Future trilogy, Time After Time, but still used tiny elements of the technology that had been developed as explanations for how time travel became possible.

This actually worked in the project’s favor, getting the public to generally think of time travel as a fantasy possible only in fiction. So the project continued for more than a half-century. But, just as the atomic secrets got out in World War II, the secrets of time travel technology got out. But not to a hostile foreign government. To a criminal entrepreneur who, for a price, a huge price, sent fugitives back in time to a place where, theoretically, they couldn’t be pursued. That racket was shut down fairly quickly, but not before several hundred fugitives were sent to various eras in the past. Able to hide, not only anywhere in the world, but anywhere in past history (time travel forward not, apparently, being possible). But records showed when, and approximately where, each fugitive had been sent. Now federal law enforcement was sending pursuers after them.

Timecop and Time Trax got it the most right,” said Jeffreys. “At least got what this assignment is about the most right. Law enforcement pursuing fugitives through time. In Timecop, though, the emphasis was on preserving the timeline, keeping bad guys from changing the past. Turns out the past can’t be changed. It’s already happened. Whatever someone from the present does in the past is already completed before he even makes his trip, so all anyone can do is fulfill destiny, so to speak. In this respect, Time Trax was a little closer to the mark. The job was apprehending fugitives, period. But in that one the cop was from the future, pursuing criminals from the future hiding out in the present.”

“Why me?”

“First of all, because you’re unattached. That’s ruthlessly using the death or your wife to our advantage, I know, but this is an important enough project that we have to be ruthless. Second, your major in college was history and you did your master’s thesis on the War of 1812. That thesis got you your degree ‘with distinction.’ So you’re familiar with the era, and, to a lesser degree, the place we want to send you to.”

“The era’s obviously the early Nineteenth Century. Where exactly do you want to send me?”

“Regency-era Great Britain.”

“Why not the States?”

“Oddly enough, criminals would rather go to a prosperous island nation that the war never really touches than to a place where enemy soldiers can burn down the White House. Go figure.”

“But that has nothing to do with my area of expertise.”

“Of course it does. You know that, from the British perspective, the War of 1812 was just a theatre of the larger, worldwide Napoleonic conflict, so you at least have background information. Plus you’re a horseman, so the standard means of transportation back then won’t be that hard for you to adjust to. You won’t have to learn a new language, though some of the colloquialisms might puzzle you at first.”

“How far reaching is this assignment.”

“We aren’t the only federal agency involved. The Bureau’s got agents pursuing UFAP suspects fleeing MA BARKER state charges. The DEA’s got a few agents pursuing drug fugitives who went back to before the Harrison Act got passed to get a leg up on the racket they’re already so familiar with”

UFAP, as O’Brian knew, was “Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution,” crossing a state line to dodge an arrest warrant from the state one was leaving. MA BARKER was a mnemonic that referred to the state charges for which UFAP was normally applied, murder, assault, burglary, arson, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and rape. They were the FBI’s meat. Other federal fugitives were the responsibility of the US Marshals. The Harrison Act was the first piece of anti-narcotics legislation passed by the US Congress in 1914, an act that eventually led to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, which evolved, over the years, into the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“Secret Service?”

“Don’t ask me why, but counterfeiters and people wanting to assassinate the President didn’t seem particularly interested in time travel. Neither did gunrunners, bootleggers, tax cheats, or even, and this is kind of surprising, terrorists. And now the opportunity’s closed down. Our job is to find the ones who’ve already made it into their historical hideouts. Interestingly, though we’re one of three US agencies, we aren’t the only country involved. There were a number of British fugitives who made it out, and the UK's got a few of their cops assigned to the project. If you accept, you’ll be working with a partner.”

“Where from?”

“The Met. You’ll be a deputy marshal assigned as an attaché to the US embassy under John Quincy Adams. He’s there as a Bow Street Runner, and he’ll arrange for you to get a warrant from the Bow Street Magistrate, too. Name’s Jack Grant. So, yes or no?”

O’Brian thought for a moment, and said, “I’ll consider it and get back to you.”


In the end, he went for it. But with some stipulations. For one thing, he refused to be limited to the firearms actually available in that era.

“I’m not going to bet my life on a single-shot black powder flintlock, and that’s flat. Nor even a double-barreled one for that matter. Nor even a pair of double-barrels. I don’t insist on a high capacity semi-automatic pistol, but I’m going to at least carry a pair of double-action revolvers, or it’s no deal. I’ll just say they were developed from a pepper-box pistol, which is more or less true anyway, and otherwise be vague.”

The bureaucracy, uncharacteristically, relented. O’Brian settled for a matched brace of S&W Model 586 .357 Magnum revolvers, with four-inch barrels. The wooden grips were customized. He backed these up with two Harrington and Richardson single-shot twelve gauge shotguns. With the rifle stocks removed, the pistol grips smoothed out and strengthened, and the barrels sawed off down to the wooden frame, the two weapons, when loaded with rifled slugs, made formidable horse pistols, carried in scabbards on either side of his saddle.

The saddle was another bone of contention.

“I’m too big for an English saddle,” O’Brian insisted.

“But western saddles didn’t exist. It’s an anachronism that people will notice,” said the equestrian historical consultant.

“Latin American vaquero saddles did, and western saddles were developed from those. I’m Mexican on my mom’s side. Mexican and Indian. I can just say I used a vaquero saddle as a model, and had this one customized. Again, that’s more or less the truth, anyway.”

Despite the persuasive efforts of the historical wardrobe expert, O’Brian had his own ideas about what he’d wear.

“I’m not wearing knee-length breeches, and that’s flat. I’ll wear trousers and riding breeches. And I’ve got to have belts, or I’ve got nothing to hang my holsters on.”

“You can use shoulder holsters, doubling as suspenders.”

“Still have to have something to attach them to. I’ll say it’s a style that’s popular in some parts of America.”

And the high hats so popular in the Regency era were similarly rejected.

“Something with a lower crown and a wider brim,” he insisted.

“You’re supposed to be a Regency era gentleman, not a cowboy.”

“I’m six feet four. In that era I’ll stand out enough already without having to wear a hat that adds a foot to my height. Besides, I’ll be out riding. Shades are out, so I need something to keep the sun out of my eyes.”

Raised on a farm from the age of about eight, after his father had retired from the US Merchant Marine and bought agricultural property in his home state of Maryland, O'Brian insisted on selecting his own small remuda of horses to take with him.

“I’m not going to learn how to ride there,” he said. “And I’m going to make sure I have a group of reliable horses, big enough to handle a rider my size, before I get there.”

This made sense, and since horses hadn’t changed that much, none of the historical consultants gave him an argument.

Finally, after months of preparation, he was ready to leave for London, circa 1816.


The time machine he was issued, for all the complex science behind it, virtually none of which O’Brian could understand, was surprisingly easy to use. Well, after all, O’Brian knew very little about auto mechanics, but he knew how to drive a car.

It was just a matter of entering the exact location, date, and time, then hitting the “ENTER” button. A portal appeared in front of the machine through which the traveler simply stepped to enter a different place and time. It was essentially like entering the website you wanted, then stepping right into the screen that suddenly appeared. O’Brian stepped through the portal leading his three horses, laden with all his luggage, hit a few more buttons once he was on the other side, closing the portal, and looked around.

He was in a wooded area, about five miles outside of London. Remote enough that his entry through the portal, seemingly out of thin air, was unlikely to’ve been observed, but close enough to the Metropolis that he wouldn’t have far to ride.

“Afternoon, Mate,” said a friendly Cockney voice. O’Brian turned around and saw a tall (though not as tall as him), slender, sandy-haired man with a craggy face standing there holding his horse by the reins. “You’d be Deputy Marshal Mike O’Brian, I’d reckon.”

“That’s right,” said O’Brian.

“I’m DI Jack Grant, Scotland Yard Flying Squad. More recently a Principal Officer at the Bow Street Police Office. Bow Street Runner to the general public.”

“DI,” O’Brian knew, was an abbreviation for “Detective Inspector,” a rank roughly equivalent to a lieutenant of detectives in an American police force. A high enough rank to give him some clout, but low enough that he’d still be, or at least still could be, a street cop. He had the look of someone more comfortable out on the beat then behind a desk.

O’Brian shook hands with the British cop, “I’m hoping to get an appointment there myself.”

“Already set, mate. Check in at your own Ministry, than come down to Bow Street and Magistrate Read’ll administer the oath. The ‘Ome Secretary’s already issued you a warrant that gives you authority all over the Kingdom.”

“Nice to have the skids greased.”

“We aim to please.”


Later that evening, the two cops were relaxing in rooms that Grant had obtained for them in the Westminster area. O’Brian was catching up on “current” events by reading some of the local papers. An item on the front page of one of them caught his eye.

“Jack,” he said, “there’s a piece here about the Bombardment of Algiers by the Royal and Dutch Navies.”

“Yeah, so.”

“So it says that the commander of the action was Commodore Frederick Wentworth.”

“And so he was.”

“Well, that can’t be.”

“Why not?”

“Because Admiral Edward Pellew, I think he was the Viscount Exmouth by this time, commanded that action. It was one of the highlights of his career.”

“Not ‘ere, mate. In this universe, that commodore’s the one who rescues all those Christian slaves.”

“I’ve never even heard of this Wentworth character.”

“He’s the one who married Anne Elliott, the baronet’s daughter.”

“What the hell are you talking about? Who the hell’s Anne Elliot.”

“The lead character in Jane Austen’s last novel. Jesus, Mike, didn’t they tell you? That’s an ‘ell of a thing. This isn’t our Regency England. This is the one from Jane Austen’s books.”

“Jane Austen’s books?”

“You’ve never read one? Seen any o’ the films or TV plays?”

“No. Always managed to avoid her. Cesca liked ‘em. But she could never convince me to try ‘em.”

“That surprises me. In the 21st Century UK, Jane Austen’s still probably the single most-read novelist. Well, except for J.K. Rowling. Has been since the 1990’s. How’d you manage to escape the virus?”

“I’m inoculated to romance fiction. What do you mean we’re in the England from Jane Austen’s books.”

“Well, we’re on an alternate earth, the one her novels take place in. Only 'ere they’re not fiction, like they are in our Earth. 'Ere they’re real life events.”

O’Brian jumped up from his chair and yelled, “That son of a bitch!”


Jeffreys had seen the time portal machine in action the day before, when O’Brian left. But seeing one of those portals suddenly appear in his own office was disconcerting, to say the least. It was window-sized. Big enough to talk across, but not climb across. On the other side was Mike O’Brian.

“How are you, boss?” said O’Brian. “Just wanted to let you know that I’ve changed my mind about that assignment. I’m turning it down.”

“You can’t.”

“Sure I can. This was a voluntary assignment that I took on the understanding that I’d be told all the salient details. I wasn’t. So I’m rescinding my voluntary acceptance. If you want to make a problem about that, I’ll turn it into a resignation. Effective immediately. Up to you. But you better tell the next deputy you try to dragoon into this job about this salient detail you decided leave out when you were persuading me. What the hell were you thinking? Were you just hoping I wouldn’t find out?”

“Look, it was one of those need to know things, and the higher-ups told me you didn’t need to know. Apparently we can send people into the past, but not into our past. Somehow, without our trying to, we got the ability to send people to the past of alternate universes that are fictional in our universe.”

“Alternate universes, huh? Do I look like a character from a DC comic book, for Christ’s sake? Tell me, is the Flash in this universe Barry Allen or Jay Garrick?”

“I can’t help it. These fugitives didn’t escape into our past, but into pasts that are fictional from our perspective. That’s the way it is.”

“Fine. In that case why, for the merciful sake of Gentle Jesus Christ, did you decide to send me to the Universe of the Queen of Chick-Lit? If you had to send me to the Regency era, why not the Regency of Patrick O’Brian or C.S. Forester?”

“It doesn’t work with historical fiction.”

“What do you mean?”

“Historical fiction, oddly enough, is just fiction. It only exists in the author’s head. Contemporary fiction, at least for some really special authors, seems to be tuned in to alternate universes where these stories actually take place. We could probably send you to the universe where Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin takes place, but not Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.”

“OK, so O’Brian and Forester are out. Why not Frederick Marryat?”

“Who the hell’s that?”

“Napoleonic Royal Navy officer. Wrote military novels based on his experiences. Forester and O’Brian were both influenced by him.”

“This might surprise you, but the criminals who paid to go back in time, weren’t anxious to serve on Naval vessels during a time of war.”

“Fine. Why did it have to be the Regency? Why not the Old West of Owen Wister? I’m a federal marshal. I’d’ve liked being a marshal during the Frontier Era. Why not the Prohibition/Depression era of Dashiell Hammett? I’d’ve liked being a gangbuster in the 1920’s.”

“Once again, Mike, we sent officers to the eras, and universes, where criminals paid to go. And, hard as it may be to believe, none of ‘em were particularly anxious to go up against the Virginian or the Continental Op. But going up against Lizzy Bennet or Fanny Price or Catherine Morland? That suited ‘em just fine. Didn’t you notice anything about the fugitives on your list?”

“Actually, they all seemed pretty eclectic. Organized crime figures. A few bikers. Surprised there are bikers who even know who Jane Austen was. Quite a few professional armed robbers. A fair number of non-professional offenders.”

“And what’s the one thing they all have in common.”

“Oh. Y’know, that never occurred to me until this moment.”

“So it’s finally dawned on you?”

“Whatever their specialty is, they all have at least one act of sexual violence on their record. And for some of them, that is their specialty.”

“Bingo! And now they have a whole universe of gentle, pretty, potential victims to choose from. And that’s in addition to the home grown sex offenders that are already there.”

“That’s all the more reason why you should’ve told me. Knowing their motivation would’ve made it easier to track ‘em. I could’ve read some of the books, maybe seen some of the films, to get familiar with the people I’d be running across. And it should’ve been obvious that I was bound to find out eventually, once I got here. Whoever it was that decided I didn’t need to know, when it was inevitable that I’d eventually find out in any case, was stupid.”

“No argument, Mike. But those things I got were called orders. They didn’t give me any choice.”


Over the next month, O’Brian read all six of Jane Austen’s novels, plus completions of her unfinished books, Sanditon and The Watsons, plus her extended short story, Lady Susan. He was surprised to find that, notwithstanding his contempt for what he called “chick-lit,” that he enjoyed them all immensely. He also played, on his battery driven laptop, DVD’s of the 1995 serialized TV production of Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 TV-movie (released to theatres in the States) of Persuasion, the Oscar-nominated Sense and Sensibility, and a half-dozen other Austen adaptations. He liked them all, but, perhaps because there was a realistic grittiness to Persuasion, perhaps because the military and naval background spoke to him in a way the other films didn’t, enjoyed that one the most.

Once he felt truly grounded in Jane Austen’s world, he and Grant went out hunting bad guys. They caught a pair of bikers stalking a parson’s wife, Mrs. Frances Bertram, and sent them back to the 21st Century. They caught a serial rapist on Grant’s list who was stalking the young wife of a retired soldier, Mrs. Marianne Brandon; he resisted with deadly force, and they just turned his body over for an inquest, without the lady ever even knowing she was the skel’s target. They caught a child molester in Lambton who was figuring out how to get the three-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley away from her nurse, again without the Darcys ever knowing their little girl was in danger.

And, some four months back, while working on a completely different case, O’Brian had, purely by chance, come upon what seemed to be a highway robbery in progress, intervened, put a dozen bad guys in the ground (including one from his list and one from Grant’s), and met a jaw-droppingly gorgeous woman, a woman who seemed to have no notion of just how beautiful she was, and felt an instant connection.

And now, this cop from the future (or, from his perspective, the present), had come to realize that he’d fallen in love with someone who was not merely from a whole different world, but literally from a whole different universe.

And on top of that, he was slated to meet a wife-beating brute for the sole purpose of giving said brute a clear chance to kill him just to prove to a bunch of people he didn’t even care about that he was a worthy representative of his country.

And he was pretty sure that the lady he’d come to love would not just disapprove, strongly disapprove, but, what was worse, be severely disappointed in him.

And it all could have been avoided if he’d just told Jeffreys, “No,” when he was first asked to volunteer.



The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (6th Installment)

Jim D.February 21, 2018 04:10PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (6th Installment)

Shannon KFebruary 23, 2018 01:44PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (6th Installment)

KateBFebruary 21, 2018 05:29PM

Re: The Predator, the Prey, and the Protector (6th Installment)

LisaWFebruary 22, 2018 04:55PM


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