The couple turned their heads and looked at one another, she glancing down and he staring up on account of their relevant heights. A quizzical look passed between them and they turned slowly back towards James.
“Not Jehovah’s Witnesses then,” said James who prided himself on his quick uptake but mostly wanted to break the uneasy silence.
“No,” said the woman, slowly and carefully, almost concentrating on how the word formed and spilled from her lips. She smiled at this apparent success and continued in a more normal fashion: “You are James Trent of number three, Cosgrove Gardens.”
James looked at the number on his open door and then across the road to the sign attached to the house on the corner opposite. He stopped himself from instantly admitting that there was no fault in what had just been said to him. “What do you want with him?” he asked cautiously so that he could still claim any surprise inheritance or pretend he’d moved long ago depending on how this played out.
“We are the police,” said the male half of the couple.
“We are Temporal Causality Police from your twenty-seventh century,” corrected the female.
James nodded and sighed. “Of course you are,” he said with a slight smile. There was a drugs rehab centre three streets over and he’d encountered a scruffy, young man only last year who’d clearly fallen off the rehabilitation wagon and wanted to let the world know he was happy about it, as were the invisible, green unicorns on the rooftops. “Make sure none of the green unicorns get in your Tardis,” he said, and made to close the door.
The woman took her hand from her pocket and placed it on James’ arm making him flinch and step away; she had icy cold fingers and it was a decidedly mild March day. “We are here to arrest you,” she said firmly.
James felt certain that he must have misheard. “Sorry, you’re what police?” he asked, rubbing at his arm.
“Temporal Causality,” said the man with a smile and a nod, and he then fished inside his jacket pocket for a card which was held up towards James. It looked like metal with a fine, translucent mesh across its surface and seemed to flex slightly in the grip of the stranger; there were some markings too that might have been letters, words, and pictures but they seemed to shimmer like holograms and disappear from view when looked at directly.
James shook his head to clear the confusion. “You’re what?” he asked again. He hoped this was a new approach by the Jehovah’s Witnesses because nothing else made much sense.
“James Trent, you are accused of violating temporal causality by instigating two time leaps on consecutive days to the exact same chronojunction to perform contradictory causal actions.” The woman wasn’t smiling as she recited this apparently rehearsed phrase.
“I… what? How?”
“The time device you created, Mr Trent,” explained the man after a short nod of approval from his colleague, “has opened humankind up to all manner of wonders but it is not to be trifled with. Even you, its creator, are not immune from prosecution.”
“What?” splurted James. “I haven’t invented anything! I’m a bricklayer.”
“Come now, your history as a bricklayer is well-known, Mr Trent, but the insight that helped you bridge the gap of knowledge between quantum time and the workings of a toaster in a freezer after that most fateful New Year’s Eve party put that particular career behind you many years ago.”
“What?” said James again. Even he was getting tired of saying it.
“Enough,” said the woman forcefully but quietly. “We are here to issue an arrest. James Trent, on this local date of the ninth of March, two-thousand and nineteen you are hereby notified that…”
“It’s twenty twelve,” said James.
“What?” said the man. It made a nice change. He looked at the palm of his own hand and made a face. “Ah.” His colleague looked down at the palm too.
“Oh,” she added. “This can’t be good. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t receive a…”
“Eek!” eeked James, which made both visitors look first at him and then swivel quickly to look behind them at what it was that he was looking at in alarm.
“You are officers Qualm Three Four and Spinks One Nineteen of the Imperial Temporal Constabulary,” said the immaculately-dressed, well-spoken, muscular, orange mouse that blocked the pathway away from the house, “and I am here to effect judgement on a reality violation.”
“That figures,” said the woman. “It was an honest mistake though.”
“A mistake that has had terrible repercussions. We will need to render your life event to nothing; I’m sure you understand.”
“Now, wait a minute,” said the man, holding up a finger and wagging it in the large rodent’s direction. Nothing else was forthcoming as both the man and woman were suddenly no longer there. This left James alone with the newly-arrived thing.
“You’re a mouse,” said James quietly.
“Technically, I’m a giraffe,” said the mouse, “but it’s a little bit more complicated than that and a lot of it has to do with your invention of the Reality Rewriter in eight years time.”
“I thought I invented a time machine,” said James.
“Don’t be silly!” laughed the giraffe-mouse. “Time travel is impossible. Fortunately, it’s you who finally works this out many years from now and it’s why you then dedicate your life to constructing a device that will warp reality to your will, allow you to make anything possible, and yet still protect you from the changes wrought. The quantum time lessons you learn will set you on the right path but it’s only the start. Eventually, you will need a mountain of toasters to complete your work.”
“Should you be telling me all this?” asked James. “I mean… those two people… didn’t you erase them from history or something?”
“What two people?” asked the giraffe-mouse, genuinely interested.
“The man and the woman. They were just here. You accused them of a reality something and then they were gone.”
The giraffe-mouse clasped his hands together and closed his eyes for a moment. “That sounds plausible,” he said after a few seconds. “If you have already switched on the Reality Rewriter then it’s possible that you’re being protected right now against changes you’re making outside which would include me and these two phantom people.”
“Wouldn’t I know I’d done that?” asked James.
“You should,” agreed the giraffe-mouse, opening his eyes and looking into the man’s eyes. “Well,” he smiled, “in my reality you should.”
“What do I do?” asked James. He looked up and down the street. Everything else looked perfectly normal; it was just this small area of his world right in front of him that made no sense.
“Carry on as normal. Do the things you were always meant to do. It’s all you can do.” And with that he turned around, walked down the path, and wandered around the corner out of sight.
James stepped back into his house and closed the door quietly, then leaned his head against it and let out a deep breath. He would need to sell things, he realised, and he would need to start hitting the electrical retail stores. He should see if he could get in contact with the manufacturers too, he thought; he’d need a mountain, that’s what he’d been told. Things were going to change. Reality was going to change.
Had anyone been looking they might have witnessed a man and woman suddenly appear as if from nowhere just around the corner from Cosgrove Gardens. A second later a mouse in a suit walked up to them. It shimmered like a mirage and then became a tall, balding man who instantly rubbed his face vigorously.
“Itchy?” asked the woman sarcastically as she pulled out an ice bag from her pocket and threw it in a hedge.
“You be the bloody mouse next time Claire,” came the reply.
“Seemed to go well,” said the other man.
“Hmmm,” Claire answered, opening her handbag. “Vision cloaks and mutation projectors away now,” she commanded. The two men took out small, smooth stones from their trouser pockets and deposited them with their companion. “That will do for today,” she said, and the three started to walk towards a small, blue car parked nearby.
“You don’t think we’re going to an awful lot of trouble just to increase sales in our toaster outlet, do you?” asked the man who had only recently been a rodent.
Claire and the other man glanced at one another briefly. “No,” they said in unison.