Year of the Cockroach

words by Chris Kelso | Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

The sound of cocktail jazz in my ears rouses me back into wakefulness.

Lying cruciform on a table of Burmese glasses, a waitress stands beside me. It’s a few moments before I feel the moisture on my fingertips and realise I’m knuckle-deep in her. She says something — I don’t hear what. The electric fan on the ceiling is drowning it all out. The whisky in my system has left the senses dulled. She dislodges me, moves away, and my wet hand flops limply over the table. I have felt the devil’s fingertips tickle the flesh around my ankles…

In 2061 the world is a pretty wondrous place, and I, being a complete cynic, am keen to escape it. You don’t have to tell me that my fate is a foregone conclusion.

I’m supposed to be a Time Detective, but I’d be lying if I said I still had an ounce of passion left for the job. Travelling through the fabric of time and space every single day is the most laborious, draining, unrewarding job a guy could hope to land, believe me — this is from someone whose previous job was as a corpse handler during the last Syrian conflict.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are people in this line of work who positively adore their job — take Deacon Fairfax, for example. He thrives on dilation, on crossing dimensions and radically altering the curvatures of past and future time-scapes. You take Deacon Fairfax out of his job as a Time Detective, however, and you’re left with one boring-ass motherfucker. I, on the other hand, am a man of numerous pleasures and pastimes. Who the hell wants to be transported to pre-Krakatoa Indonesia, I mean, really? Being a Time Detective only gets in the way of my true passion — being a full-time drunken deadbeat. My name’s Kip Novikov. I’m 46, divorced, bald and hopelessly addicted to all that’s addictive. I do not appreciate atomising my time.

I always keep the standard issue gun handy. It can’t hurt to have a photonic crystal machine capable of blasting wormholes in waterfront bars whenever an alcohol-fueled impulse to kill oneself comes crashing down — which they frequently do!

My Alert Watch goes off. I ignore it for as long as I can suffer the *bleep bleep bleep* — then I answer it.

“NOVIKOV, MOSCOW 2015, 9:45PM, PALEONTOLOGY MUSEUM, NOW!”

My scalp prickles with anger. I hate the little robotic voice telling me what to do all the time. I turn off the Alert Watch and keep my stare fixed on the burring fan blade above. Tucked into my belt is my photonic crystal gun. They want me to head to Russia but I can barely muster the motivation to lift my body from this table, never mind get up, retrieve my gun, set the digits to the relevant time/place/location, and push myself through a high velocity vortex. It’s just too much sodding effort. Then something rises from below. My gut violently contracts — I need to puke.

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In the bathroom the smell of urine is pungent, worsened by the malodorous air freshener fighting against it. Resting my chin on the filthy ceramic toilet bowl, the hot rust stink of blood hits me. In the murky toilet water I see my bile-rich vomit run-through with arterial red. I’m no doctor, but that’s never a good sign…

Suddenly, a Detective appears with his chronovisor down. Even the most timid and travel weary of officers are void of any malaise behind the visor. It hides the eyes you see — those wet eyes, a balcony to the bloodless, un-kissed lips… It makes us all look the same, makes us look cool, calculated, efficient. None of us are any of said adjectives behind it all.

He drags me outside where the weather is bone-achingly cold. Knelt on the gale-lashed sidewalk I spit out a gruel of blood and look up at the beleaguered Time Detective.

“What’s this about?”

His jaw line clenches, I just know that beneath the chronovisor is a stare completely divorced from reality.

“You’re going to Moscow Novikov.”

“Actually, I don’t think I will be. Don’t really fancy it, sorry.”

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He bites his bottom lip with a yellow, decayed incisor.

“You are going to Moscow.”

“Listen…” (I check his ID badge) “…Stemson, I’m sure you’re a great Detective. You look serious about the work, and I can tell you’re committed from that sex-starved desperation oozing from every pore in your face, but if you could just do me this one favor and fuck off out of my sight, it’d be greatly appreciated.”

“You ARE going to Moscow, Novikov!”

He cocks his photonic crystal gun and blasts a tear in the bar wall. He reaches down and seizes my collar with two industrial gloved bear paws.

“You need to go to Moscow, Novikov.”

With that, Stemson hurls me head-first through the wormhole. Looks like I’m going to Moscow…

***

A pair of snow-glazed boots appear inches from my face. From the government insignia emblazoned on the hem of his pant leg, I know already I’m about to meet a Russian Time Detective — Moscow branch. Then a large hand, one which could clutch an entire calf skull in its palm, offers to help pull me up. All Russian TDs look the same. The chronovisor is more elaborate (it has to be to accommodate their large heads and effervescent facial hair). Being of Russian lineage myself, you’d think I could relate to these ambivalent Eastern chaps in the brutish headgear. But as it happens, the only thing I’ve inherited from my grandparents Vlad and Greta Novikov, is their penchant for coma-inducing premium standard vodka (though, apparently Grandma Greta was once notorious for her wandering eye and frequent bed hopping — another habit I’ve become the heir to). I’m fairly British in most other respects — I attribute my cold sense of detachment to my mother’s side of the family from Allison Street, Govan. I dust myself off. Without warning, a booming Slavic accent emerges.

“Vadeneyev, Boromir.” It’s only when I see his massive index torpedo point to the name badge on his breast pocket that I realise he’s telling me his name.

“Kip Novikov.” I feebly point to my own weathered badge.

“You must come with me to the Palaeontology Museum to meet your contact.”

An IRS-sized headache is dawning. Vomit rises to my esophagus, and I choke it back down. The sourness stays on my tongue in a way that almost makes me cogitate about the state of my life.

“Right, right. Lead the way.”

It occurs to me that I was born in 2015. The knowledge of this is as insignificant as my life is in 2061. It’s the Chinese year of the wood sheep, whatever meaning that may have. Boromir and I trudge through seven inches of snow towards Profsoyuznaya Street. The alcohol has more or less worn off; at least, it has subsided. The Russian air has a sobering effect on me. Our journey is silent, but my strength is returning.

***

We approach the red sandstone building, which looks less like a museum and more like an industrial factory. Plumes of smog gush out in a swirling maelstrom, and I wonder what its source could possibly be. It’s shocking to see the sheer dominance of Brutalist architecture in this country. Like Germany, Russia does little to banish their wretched reputation of being a truly humorless bunch.

“There is your contact.”

I squint through the blizzards haze and see a figure standing on the steps.

“Go to him. I must head back.”

Boromir about-faces and begins stomping through the snow dunes in the opposite direction. My contact is a tall, slender man. He seems oddly familiar. The closer I get, the less distorted his physiognomy; that pale, stretched face, a little younger than I remember. That distinctly European smell of cucumber peels and strained tea. It’s him. It’s my grandfather…

“Grandpa Vlad?”

“So this is what you look like as an adult?” He groans, making no secret of his obvious disappointment. “They told me you were a drunk and a phony. I thought they were just trying to make it easier for me.”

“Easier to do what?”

Grandpa Vlad is oblivious to the sense of bewilderment his words evoke. He brings out a long Russian cigarette and tries lighting it. The weather denies him his cigarette. The spark won’t catch on his lighter, and the dancing flame appears only for a brief second before disappearing in a single whisper. Frustrated, he puts the cigarette back in his pocket.

“Your father wanted nothing to do with this you know?”

“To do with what? What’s going on?”

“In your time, a nuclear disaster is nigh, the explosion will destroy Earth.”

“Okay…”

“I am to blame in a way, but more specifically, you are to blame, Kip.”

“Me?”

“You are the disruption to the non-linear system that triggers the eventual decimation of mankind.”

Through the mist of confusion a more recognisable emotion surfaces – that of umbrage.

“That’s a bit harsh!”

“Chaos theory, you are the Cascading Failure, Kip. When you travel back and forth through time, you are reinforcing the cataclysmic flaw you embody. But the British branch of TDs have given me this last opportunity to put things right. I had to be the one to do it in order to defeat the cycle.”

“To do what?”

The old man materialises a pistol from the depths of his trench coat. There’s very little remorse on his face, which is disheartening, I must say.

“How am I to blame? How can that possibly be my fault?”

“The details were never clarified — all I know is the world gets blown to bits, and it’s all your bloody fault.” Grandpa says everything matter-of-factly, like an Islamic scholar declaring fatwa.

“Time travel was only made possible in 2038, that’s 23 years away! How can you even be aware of any of it?”

“I was visited. They thought I was crazy. When I told your grandmother about the time traveling detectives she almost left me. I’ve seen the future, they showed me.”

“But Grandpa Vlad, I…”

“You have to be here in 2015, the year of your conception, for this to work.”

Grandfather raises the pistol to his head and pushes the nozzle hard at the temple. His finger squeezes over the trigger and the crack of fire echoes through the air. The old man drops to his knees, then doubles over again to make a perfect snow angel on the alabaster pavement. I look at my hands expecting them to begin fading away, the Grandfather Paradox complete. But nothing happens. I’m still here. Then it hits me like an anvil from the top story of a High Rise.”

Thank god for Grandma Greta’s wandering eye…

I see a wormhole form and a team of Time Detectives with high-powered government weaponry underarm. They’ve come for me. I start galloping through the thick snow, desperate to hold onto the pathetic excuse for a life I call my own. I may well be the lone component which sees our species doomed, but I’ve never been so charged and motivated. How typical of me. Give me a long life on a plate and I’ll crave death. Threaten to take my awful existence away for free at the expense of humankind’s eventual saviour and I want to go on surviving…

Chris Kelso is a 23-year-old writer, illustrator, editor, and literary agent from Scotland. His work has appeared in numerous publications across the UK, US, and Canada. In addition to working as copy editor for Eraserhead, Deadite, Polluto, Chomu, and Dog Horn Press, he also has two books set for release in 2012 (Schadenfreude and The Best Years of Your Life).

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