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Well, they had all four of us dead to rights. Me and Jack Killian and Monty Pendergast and Boots Finnegan. Stuck at the end of a dark alley on the worst side of Chicago with cops coming at us with guns drawn.

Killian fishes his piece out of his coat pocket, but the cops are too fast on the trigger, and he catches two in the chest. Monty gets a hole in his head before he can even go for his own gun. Boots gets his gat out and plugs a couple cops before they kill him, too. 

And I'm such a sap, I don't even have my gun. All I got in my hands is a box of Cracker Jacks. But Boots just killed two cops, and his pals want blood. I mean, even more blood. I got six different cops pointing six different guns at me -- and I know I'm gonna get my guts blasted all over this goddamn alley in about two seconds. 

And then this chick wearing a fancy leotard drops down from the top of the fire escape -- seven floors above us! -- and lands right between me and the cops like she just stepped out for a night on the town!

Me and the cops both are just staring at her like -- I mean, she just jumped off a fucking roof and survived! What the hell! 

"Grab some floor, old man," she says, cool as a cucumber, "And maybe I'll be able to get you outta here alive." 

And then she leaps toward the cops, almost faster than my eyes can follow. She does a weird forward-roll, almost like a cartwheel, and kicks one of the cops into another one, then pivots around and slams her feet into another one's side, smacking him hard against the alleyway wall. She's already back on her feet, grabs one of the cops by the back of his head and slams his face into her knee. 

But the last two cops got their guns pointed at her, and they start spraying lead. And she puts her hand out, and the bullets all bounce off a shimmering yellow shell that's suddenly visible around her.

The cops look like they never seen anything like this -- who can blame 'em, right? And then she jumps at 'em, drives her fist into the one's midsection and throws him at the wall, and hits the other one with an uppercut that knocks him right off his feet. 

Six cops in ten seconds? I don't think any of 'em are dead, but they sure ain't getting up any time soon. 

I finally get a good look at the dame. She don't look all that impressive. She's short, round-ish, brown hair and freckles. Weirdest thing about her -- other than that weird purple leotard -- is a shock of gray hair at her right temple like she's a witch in the comic books. 

She sticks her hand out at me. "Nice to meet you, Samuel Vincent Gallo. I'm Agent Catharine Haggerty." 

"Agent?" I say, taking her handshake. "You federal police? What's a fed doing fighting Chicago cops? And how the hell did you do all that weird shit?"

"That's a lot of questions I don't have time to answer, old man," she says. "Let's just say that all this gunfire has attracted even more police attention. We have less than a minute before even more officers come down that alley. Bad things will happen to you after that."

She points at the wall, and a weird golden door opens out of nowhere. 

"I'll help you escape," she says. "But you'll have to step through that door of your own free will. It's either that or getting gunned down by the police." 

"Listen, I don't know what's going on," I say. "What the hell is that door? Where's it lead to? Who the hell are you, lady?"

"Ten seconds, old man," she says as she walks through the doorway. "The door or death." 

I can hear the cops running down the street outside the alley. And she's right -- they'll shoot first, ask questions never. Fine, I choose the door. 

And what's on the other side of the doorway is... a hallway. A plain hallway with a glowing yellow paint job. Agent Haggerty is at the far end of the hall, looking back at me with a smirk. 

"Get the lead out, Gallo," she says. "We gotta get your paperwork done." 

"What paperwork?" I yell as I chase after her. "Where are we? How did you pull off those crazy stunts? What's going on here?"

We walk into a large room full of weird machines and windows and more people wearing fancy purple leotards

"Where you're at is Aeternitas Prime at the center of the Cosmic Clock," Haggerty says. "As for those so-called stunts -- a combination of 58th-century shock-absorbing fabrics, 28th-century energy shields, and 25 years of training with the best martial arts instructors history has ever produced."

"You're funnin' with me, right?"

"As for your paperwork, that's not really an accurate term, is it? Here, take this." And she hands me a golden metallic rectangle about the size of a detective novel. "See the black circle in the middle? Press your thumb against that." 

I push my thumb into the middle of the rectangle, and there's a high-pitched beeping noise. 

"Welcome to the Time Patrol, recruit," Haggerty says.

"The What Patrol?" I say. "The Time What?"

Haggerty tosses the metal rectangle to someone nearby. "Simone, that's Sam Gallo's recruitment paperwork," she says. "Make sure that gets into his file, or we'll have paradoxes to deal with. Schedule him for orientation tomorrow morning with Agent Majid, then his first day of training the day after that with Agent Zlatan. But for now, I'm taking him over to Beckett's Saloon for some celebratory beers."

"Affirmative, Agent Haggerty," comes the response. "And welcome back, Agent Gallo." 

"Ix-nay, Simone," says Haggerty. "This Gallo is still a recruit for another four quantum cycles. Better make sure we keep him in Stack 7-6G to make sure there isn't any cycle slippage."

"Lady, I have no idea what's going on," I say as I follow her down another hallway. "Are you guys federal cops or Ringling Brothers?"

"We're the Time Patrol, Gallo," she says. "We hunt down the threats to the timeline and make the multiverse safe for everyone. We exterminate the Time Flies, incarcerate rogue time travelers, destroy the Chronovores, and stop the various schemes of Empress Chronala and Tempus Rex, the Time Dictator."

"You're cracked," I say. 

"It'll all make sense before long," she says, steering me through another door in the hallway and into what looks like an old dive bar. "But first, we'll get some drinks in you to celebrate your recruitment."

"Agents!" says the bartender. "The usual?"

"Not today, Dominick," Haggerty says. "A glass of thousand-year-old bourbon for me, but this Gallo is a Quantum-1 original, so he won't be able to handle the hard stuff. You got anything on tap from the early 20th century?"

"I can get you a few bottles of Falstaff's from 1946," he says. 

"That'll do nicely," Haggerty says.

And in an eyeblink, she's got a glass of dark bronze liquor in front of her, and I've got a bottle of beer that's apparently from two decades in the future.

"Welcome to the Patrol, recruit," says the bartender as he moves off to serve some customers dressed up like Redcoat soldiers. 

I take a sip of this weird future beer. Tastes pretty much like a regular bottle of Falstaff's, I guess. 

"Okay, I guess I accept that this isn't some scam," I say. "It ain't like I have money, and even if I did, this is way too much effort for any gag. So why me? Why pull me out of that alley and not Jack or Boots -- or anyone else?"

"Well, we only recruit people who've vanished from all historical records," says Haggerty. "Your partners in crime and the cops in the alley all had their deaths noted in historical records -- last night for your friends and the two police officers, and a decade or three later for the cops I stomped on. You, however, had no further records anywhere in history. A fully mysterious disappearance. And that, combined with your current skills and the ones we know you'll pick up later, made you someone we wanted to recruit."

"Wait, you mean I'm never gonna get to see my mom again?" I say. "You mean my mom is never even gonna find out what happened to me? Then put me back. I'll take my chances with the cops." 

"What's done has been done, old man," she says. "We all miss the families we left behind, and the reason none of us go back is because it's literally impossible. This'll be covered in detail when you take Melendez's classes on time theory and paradoxes. You'll understand it then. All I can tell you is that the past is past -- even when we have the power to change the past."

"So was this the plan all along? Kidnap me into a job as a cop in a Weird Tales story? I guess you're gonna be my drill sergeant now." 

"No, actually, that'll be Sgt. Creeder, who's been the head drill sergeant around here as long as anyone can remember," she says. "The fact is, you won't see me again for another dozen or so years."

"You really think I'm going to stick around this joint for another 12 years?" I say. "I'll figure out a way back home." 

"Hilarious," she says, knocking back the rest of her bourbon. "And someday, you'll agree with me. So lemme tell you how your own future's going to play out. You'll spend the next month or two furious about having to get trained as a time cop, and then you'll adjust to it and start to enjoy it. You'll finish training and chronal studies over the next 18 months -- relative, of course, because time operates differently from this end of the equation, and you'll mostly quit aging anyway after about a year on the job -- and you'll spend another few years working support on missions before you're promoted to agent status yourself."

"Or I can sneak my way outta here," I say. "And I can go back to Chicago and see my mom and my sister, and go back to shaking down drunks." 

"And after you've been an active agent for a few years, you'll get an assignment to go recruit a new agent," she says. "Staten Island, mid-March of 1774. Some poor kid who went to see the doctor and got into way too much trouble before you heroically extract her and introduce her to the whole wide universe and the entire amazing timestream, along with the incredible fun there is in beating up time-traveling Nazis and Spartans and neo-Saturnians. And then, blah blah blah, she eventually saves you from a bunch of cops while you whine like a little bitch." 

"Hold it, how am I gonna recruit you after you've already recruited me?" I say. "Don't mess with my head like that, Haggerty. That shit's impossible." 

"Whatever, old man," she says as she gets up to leave. "I'll send Simone to direct you to your quarters. But you know, I'm glad I got to meet this version of you. It's always good to be reminded that even the best of us had to start from the bottom."

"Hmph. Well, thanks."

"I wasn't talking about you, Gallo," she says with a nasty grin. "I'm the best agent this outfit has ever seen, and you better remember that." 

And she walks out of the bar laughing, and I realize I'm gonna really have to work my tail off if I'm ever going to have a chance of being better than she is...

catharinehaggertyquest