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Max makes his living as a snatcher, jaunting back through time to retrieve Valuables for paying clients. He was in on the retrieval that brought Shakespeare back to twenty-second century. Only he never saw a penny on that retrieval. But this new job sounds easier, if not as promising. He’ll be jaunting back to WWII in an attempt to retrieve a famous French author-turned-flying-ace before he goes missing in action. A relatively simple task. But time itself is the Snatcher’s enemy. And the clock is ticking . . .

Originally appeared in Analog.


by Edward McDermott

Monday, June 14, 2179, Florida

“I’m a snatcher with four completes under my belt,” I said. “Fifty percent of snatchers don’t return from their first. Why? Because time is a malevolent killer that tries to eradicate us when we jaunt, but you know all that.”

The young guy in a suit with a banker’s drape and an undertaker’s color sense had wanted this meeting. Heaven help me. His name was Eric Walker. He heard my words and instantly forgot them. He’d just been waiting for his moment to talk.

“Max, I have a proposition for you,” he started.

“I’m listening. You arranged this meeting, so you know something about me. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?” I said, keeping my skepticism out of my voice. I heard three pitches a week, everything from total fantasy to forlorn hope.

“I know exactly when and where to make the snatch. I’ve got a buyer lined up. Quick and simple.”

I looked at him. “What have you got? Not the Valuable, but the rest. What’s the payoff?”

He squirmed a little. I knew it. A conditional one.

I laughed. “Let me tell you a little story. Did you know Shakespeare was a closet Catholic? In Elizabethan England, it made him as paranoid as a crank addict on a high.”

“I heard you were involved in that one.”

“Yeah. Ten man team. Pulled him out and substituted a mock corpse, then revived him. Not that he was worth a curse. Senile dementia, combined with oxygen deprivation made him good for nothing except touring and he sounded like a Dublin rounder so that failed too. Never saw a cent from it.”

“This will be different,” Walker said. He opened his briefcase and pushed a confidentiality agreement across the table for me to sign.

“I have funding for three jaunts and one retrieval. I have money for research and preparation, but not much. That’s all in the can. The payoff comes from intellectual rights and tours. The deal is contingent on revenues from those.”

“In other words, you don’t have much, do you?” I replied.

He didn’t look me in the eye. There’s a big difference between the man who carries the can and the one who hires him. He couldn’t do my job. On the other hand, I was looking for another jaunt. Maybe this one would be the big payoff. The right successful snatch could let me retire forever. Big risks, big rewards. I sighed again and pulled the confidentiality agreement over. I signed it and spat on the DNA Tab.

He carefully took the agreement back. He knew nothing was settled. I promised not to tell anyone his idea and not to work on snatching his Valuable for at least two years. He promised squat.

He put the agreement back in his bag and pulled out another package. I unsealed the flap and ruffled the pages. On the front page was a name: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Who the hell was he?

I started reading. He sat opposite to me, not moving, not saying a word. Good. He’d made the presentation before which meant I wasn’t his first choice. He’d been turned down by another snatcher. Twentieth century Europe. Hmm. Who had he gone to?

The best snatchers, the lucky and the strong, either retired, started their own companies or worked with top flight antiquities agents. What was the name of the fellow who brought back the skull of the Peking man? It didn’t matter now. I had to decide if this Antoine de Saint-Exupéry would do.

The first part was the bio on the Valuable. Airplane pilot, author. Romantic figure. Second Global War. French. The fellow’s books had sold well and still did. He died only a couple years after he wrote them. Another good thing.

The back-end money. A standard contract. For delivering the Valuable, we were entitled to an agency fee of 15 percent on all intellectual properties he created and all personal appearances. However, Walker had no numbers. I pushed it back.

“Vapor,” I said. “Smoke and Fog. You don’t have anything.”

“I have more than vapor,” he said hotly, “and you know it. He disappeared on July 31, 1944. Look at the publishing record. Two novels in a couple years before he died and five posthumously. One was a humdinger. He was at the height of his creative ability, not a retired burnout like Shakespeare. He speaks English as well as French. I have media showing him talking from ‘42.”

“The posthumous works are out of purview for this project.”

“Not at all. We bring him back. He can read them and say they were incomplete or incorrectly edited. We release a new, updated and authorized version.”

“And his death? His plane flies out on patrol and never returns?”

“Exactly. No mock body to produce. No dead man to revive. You can snatch him while he’s alive.”

I didn’t have anything else to pursue at the moment, and I didn’t have enough to retire. Besides, there’s something exhilarating about snatching. In the old days, a snatcher tried for something, such as Homer’s sequel to the Odyssey. They said snatchers tripped over each other when the library of Antioch burnt to the ground.

Trouble was, there wasn’t much money in it. Less in old coins and postage stamps. The glory days of smash and grab died away. The only winners were the operators who made the jaunt possible. They took their money up front.

I signed a non-exclusive thirty-day contract.

The kid wasn’t one to waste time. Two days later, he held a meeting. I met the rest of the crew. Claude was the back end. He was the researcher and go-to guy. His job really began when I brought the Valuable back. Then he would be a combination of confidante and guard.

That other person at the meeting was Nichole. French. I thought from her accent south, Marseilles or Cannes, which education had never made Parisian. Young, early twenties with a heart-shaped face and with a slim build and short brown hair. I wondered why she was here. I hadn’t expected anyone else. I waited. Walker would tell us.

“Here’s the plan. On Monday, July 31, 1944, our target took off in an unarmed P-38 to recon German troop movements in and around the Rhone Valley from an airbase on Corsica. We know he drank heavily and was in poor health. He had limited mobility from previous airplane crashes. He couldn’t put his flight suit on by himself.”

The story got worse and worse. Drinking, poor health and he needed help to put on his flight suit. Would he be sober? Those old-time flyboys made their own rules.

“Max, you and Nichole will intercept him after he suits up, put a marker on him, and send him back. Nichole will get in his plane and fly out. You will leave the air base and proceed to a rented fishing boat and head out. Nichole will install an auto guidance system into the plane and bail out over the ocean. Max, you’ll track her and pick her up. Once you are both on dry land in Corsica, you’ll snap back home. Questions?”

“Why not fly the plane by remote?”

“Have to have a pilot in the seat. Otherwise, the ground crew will notice.”

I took another look. She stood tall but not 1.9 meters. If she had, she probably would be playing professional basketball.

“She could snap back from inside the plane,” I suggested, just to see what he’d say.

“Snapping from a moving object is dangerous. You know that. This is planned for two snatchers, you and her. One jaunt each.”

Budget constraints.

I shrugged my shoulders. If anything went wrong, I wouldn’t be the one in the middle of the sea, hoping for a pickup. “Better port us in a week ahead. I don’t know how much trouble arranging a boat will be. We’ll need papers and a cover story, especially to get onto the air base.”

Walker nodded. Nichole said nothing. Claude took notes.

After the meeting, she followed me as I walked along the street. I noticed, but pretended not to. I’d been shadowed by more dangerous, experienced people in different ages. I didn’t think she would stick an ice pick in my ear, at least not yet.

I took a shuttle to Saint Augustine and found a restaurant in the center of the old town. Even on a weekday, there was still a thirty-minute wait for a table. I stepped into the bar and sent a waiter outside with a note. She came in a little sheepishly ten minutes later.

“Lunch is delayed,” I said. “What would you like to drink?”

“The house red.”

I ordered two, saluted her with the glass and waited for her to start the conversation.

“You don’t like the plan?” she said after a sip.

“Ever jaunt before?”


“Then you don’t know what it’s like. Snatchers die. Snatchers disappear.”

“I can take care of myself. I speak the language. You’ll need that. I can fly a propeller plane and have qualified on a simulator for the P38. I also have a black belt in karate. You can’t do it alone.”

“Time won’t want us to change her. Papers could be wrong. He might refuse.”

“The papers would be your problem. He won’t refuse. That will be my problem. If you do not like the plan, go away and I will do it myself.”

I shrugged. Instead, I asked her about herself. We talked over lunch, walked around the shops of the old town, and had dinner. She was fun to be around.

A week later, we flew to Corsica and made our final preparations for the snatch. Claude had installed a comms system subcutaneously that let Nichole and I keep in touch at all times. It was connected into our voice box and our ears, and the transmit button was inside the left thumb.

I uploaded everything I could think might be valuable onto my memory implant. We changed into our 1944 clothes and stowed the papers Claude had prepared. I checked every detail on mine. Nichole didn’t. Finally, we jaunted.

Monday, July 24, 1944, Corsica

We had aimed for Wednesday but hit Monday instead. Imagine how far a photon of light can travel in a hundred and thirty-four years. I’d say a two-day error was bloody marvelous, especially since it could have been the Friday instead.

Her cover was as a Free French attaché. I was a Stars and Stripes correspondent. We had the paperwork and the uniforms and two enormous bags containing everything we hoped we would need for the rest of the job.

The last recourse in a snatch is to snap back home. It has been done in the past. However, jaunt without the Valuables, and you don’t get a big welcome.

I let her do the talking in French, pretending to be an American, meaning I didn’t parlez Francais. Instead, I put my camera front and center and handed out American cigarettes.

They knew Americans in Corsica in ‘44. With seventeen airfields for American bombers, the Yanks called the island U.S.S. Corsica as if talking about an aircraft carrier. The 57th Bomb Wing and the 340th Bomb group flew B25s and B26s over France and Italy.

Naturally, the Free French had a presence. The Free French with Allied Air support had forced ten thousand German soldiers to evacuate the island. It gave de Gaulle a victory to call his own and the Free French Air force flew from this part of France.

The author was a military nightmare. He read while flying, sometimes delaying his landing until he had finished a chapter. He was also hopped up on pills, despondent and in constant pain.

Here I was on the U.S.S. Corsica surrounded by military types, all looking for anyone who wasn’t what they seemed. That described me.

After finding two billets, one for Nichole and one for myself, I rested my tired and weary leg. As the photojournalist, I was supposed to have been wounded. A stone in my shoe gave me a convincing limp, but after a couple of hours, it hurt.

Our next stop in Bastia was to see the commandant of Groupe de Reconnaissance GR II/33, Exupéry’s commander. He greeted us with Gallic charm and suppressed his annoyance at our presence.

“Mademoiselle, Monsieur. How can I be of assistance?” he asked politely enough.

Nichole began her spiel. It only took a few seconds to see the commandant purse his lips. Something had triggered a suspicion in his mind. Many of the Free French had spent four years in a confused conflict that felt like civil war. For them, the enemy was German, but Vichy France was a close second, and they had learned to trust no one. The comrade who had stood by your side during the phony war might serve Pétain and the Germans today.

I coughed and stood up, interrupting Nichole.

“Excuse me,” I explained in English. “The leg sometimes pains me.” I watched. The commandant understood some English. I took out my cigarettes and passed them around. The commandant accepted one but Nichole did not.

I told him I was there to take pictures and write an article about the work his pilots did in reconnaissance. His heroes flew unarmed planes over the Germans. I put the emphasis on heroes.

He leaned back and listened to me. When he opened his drawer and pulled out a bottle of cheap brandy and three glasses, I relaxed a little.

“Do you speak French?” he asked me as he poured.

“I can say vin, s’il vous plaît. Do I need any more? Miss Canard is here to translate.”

“Ah, Mademoiselle Canard,” he said. “Où êtes-vous née?

We were in trouble. His ears had found something wrong in her French. A language can change in over a century. Her accent was wrong.

I gave them both a look of incomprehension. I triggered my hidden transmitter and I whispered, “Quebec.”

“Quebec,” she replied, such an enormous lie that normally the commandant would have laughed. However, the Free French forces teamed with men and women who faced death if captured. Belgians, Alsatians. Quebec was part of Canada and so a legitimate birth place for combatants. More than one French speaker had changed his land of birth to Canada for the war.

He assessed her and finally asked us to continue. I gave him our cover story.

“What do you need?” he asked.

“A couple of passes for the gate. A chance to take some pictures. A little time to talk to your pilots.”

“Any pilot in particular?” he asked, confident of the answer.

I got huffy. “Yes, my editors expect me to talk to your war hero who writes so well. I want to do more. I’ll also talk to the 57th Bomb Wing. If you don’t care to have us around, just say so.”

Damn, the leg really hurt. Talk about method acting.

He laughed. “But of course you will want to interview Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. That you would want to talk to others tells me something about you.”

“I write my articles my way,” I responded.

He called to his secretary and arranged the passes. We were to return in the afternoon to pick them up. They were good for one week.

At night, after curfew, when the streets were blacked out in case of a German bombing raid, I slipped down to the docks. No longer the reporter with a limp, I wore a pea coat and a dirty fisherman’s hat. I knocked on a door without a number. When the voice inside asked what I wanted, I replied in Corsu, “I have business with Charles.”

Claude’s research had found half a dozen men who used their fishing boats to smuggle goods and people into and out of Corsica. Charles stood at the top of the list. He usually kept his bargains and he lived in Bastia.

“Charles is not here. Go away. Come back tomorrow.”

Damn. I needed a fishing boat out in the water to pull Nichole out.

“Tomorrow, at night?”


I left.

Wednesday, July 26, 1944, Corsica

The trick with time is to create as few eddies as possible. Do nothing that will disturb it, and what will disturb it can be anything. Don’t swat a fly. Don’t open a window. Don’t talk to people. Don’t eat the food or drink the water.

However, we couldn’t. We had to be out, going around, talking to people, conducting interviews, and shooting pictures.

Nichole and I returned to the air base. The commandant’s aide accompanied us. Was he to keep us out of trouble or to keep tabs on us? Was the commandant suspicious?

As soon as the camera came out, everyone wanted to be in the pictures. The American Bomber flyboys were especially bad. The pilot, the tail gunner, the engineer, and the ordnance specialist all felt they were part of something incredible and noteworthy. I smiled and snapped the shots and promised to send them prints, knowing I never would.

That day the air was so clear you could see to the edge of the horizon. The kind of day you let down your guard.

After lunch, the daylight raiders landed. A B-26 Martin Marauder touched down. One of the wheels on its landing gear blew. The plane swerved, jolted and turned into a juggernaut grinding across the field at 140 miles an hour.

Nichole froze. I didn’t. I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her with me behind a hanger door. Time had started to play. Parts of a propeller shattered as it touched the ground, becoming flying daggers. In all the chaos, the aide stood transfixed by the scene as shards of metal flew past him and buried themselves into the hanger walls, only inches from where Nichole and I cowered.

The ambulance and the fire trucks raced into view. In moments, the B-26 was covered with foam, its crew pulled to safety, and its carcass dragged to the side of the runway. Other bombers had to land.

“A miracle no one was killed,” the aide said, as he found us.

“Yes,” I replied. “However, I think we should stop for the day. My leg can’t take that kind of pounding.”

“Certainly. If you had not moved so quickly, you might have been hurt. Shall we continue tomorrow at 0900?”

Back at the billet, Nichole accepted a substantial glass of red wine, which she gulped down. “You saved my life.”

I just nodded.

“No, really. If you hadn’t pulled me down, I would be dead this instant. It all happened so suddenly, a freak accident.”

“There was nothing freak about it. Time wants us gone.”

“You keep talking about time as if it has a malignant presence. Do you actually believe there’s an intelligence trying to destroy us?”

“Think of the common oyster. No brains. Yet if a grain of sand irritates it, it produces a coating that eventually turns the grain into a pearl. We know there’s a conservation of history. Otherwise, a time traveler could never return to the future he or she had left.”

“So history protects itself.”

“Yes. Try to go back to kill Hitler as a child and lightning might strike from a clear blue sky or worse. There have been rumors, but nothing else because no one has returned.”

“Could they have changed History? Is that why they didn’t return?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I suppose it’s possible. However, look at how time tried to remove us, for simply walking and talking to people. This room we’ve rented. Space is at a premium on Corsica. Who had to be displaced and what must be done to return the flow of history to its original course? The sooner we leave, the less we change.”

She shivered. “What can we do?”

“Imagine you’re a mouse in the house with a hungry cat. You hide, touch as little as possible. That’s why I brought the food and drink we have. If possible, I like staying in abandoned buildings when on a mission. Stay off the road and watch out for freak accidents.”

I gave her a second glass of wine. The first day you nearly die is unique. Reaction had set in and her hands were shaking. I really hoped she wouldn’t throw up.

“Sometimes,” I continued, “it works in our favor. Once we send the Valuable home, time will want to help us complete the cover up.”

“So until we tag him and press the, button, it’s hunting us.”

“More like scratching an itch. The less we irritate it by changing anything, the less it reacts. I think of time as an impersonal force trying to set things right and killing me is the easiest way.”

After that, we didn’t talk. She put down her glass, took me by the hair, and kissed me with the passion of a survivor. We made love in the afternoon and slept afterwards.

In the evening, I searched for Charles, who was still missing. I didn’t catch up with him until Friday night. With U.S. dollars in my hand, he agreed to take his boat out on Monday night. Somehow, it didn’t make me feel any better.

Monday, July 31, 1944 at 6:30 a.m.

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, was scheduled to fly his unarmed Lockheed P-38 Lightning on a reconnaissance flight. He would never return.

Nichole and I found him already dressed in his flight suit, reading a book. Because of previous injuries, Exupéry needed help to change. I smiled to see he had already changed. One less person to worry about.

Now some people talk with the Valuable and try to convince them the future offers them something. Stupidity. If they don’t agree, you have to use force. I walked over to him, and my tranquilizer shot dropped him instantly.

Then I robbed his body. First, I took the silver identity bracelet bearing the names of Saint-Exupéry and of his wife Consuelo from his wrist. Next, I ripped a swatch of his flight suit. I tossed them to Nichole. I took his wallet, his watch, and his wedding ring.

I heard a knock at the door. Time’s final attempt?

I attached the snap back home device and hit the, button. Exupéry was now in the future, and time had to work with us.

Nichole had changed into her flight suit, identical to his. She slipped on the flesh-colored mask that covered her entire head. This hid her hair and gave her Exupéry’s receding hairline.

I handed her his book. “Remember. The mechanics are used to warming up and testing his plane. Just don’t walk too spryly. He’s survived more than one plane crash.”

Another knock on the door.

“I know,” she replied. “I fly, install the auto pilot, and use the parachute. You’ll pick me up. Stop worrying.”

I couldn’t. Time had its own sense of what was right. The mission wasn’t over yet. Instead, of saying anything, I left her there and limped out. The commandant’s aide waited for me. When he asked, I simply said Nichole was a pretty girl and the hero wanted to talk with her longer. Evidently Exupéry had been no more the faithful husband while on Corsica than he had been throughout the rest of his marriage.

I returned to the billet to clean every trace of the future from the space. As I worked, I heard Nichole through our private comms system say, “Lift off completed.”

Next, I heard, “Auto pilot installed and activated. I’m approaching the jump site. Preparing to eject.”

“Nichole, remember to be careful of the horizontal stabilizer.”

“I know. I’m here because I can fly this beast. Damn.”


“The canopy is jammed.”

“Blow it.”

“With what?”

“Hold your dark gun right up to the canopy. It should have enough power to create a fracture. You can smash the rest out of the way.”

“One second. Did it. Oh damn.”

“What is it Nichole? What’s wrong?”

“My parachute is caught. Damn. The cord was snagged and it’s all out. I’ll have to repack it first.”

With the parachute partially deployed she couldn’t jump. The fabric would catch on the horizontal stabilizer and drag her to a watery grave when the plane crashed.

I consulted my memory implant. There. “You have two chutes, the primary and the secondary. Which one has deployed? If it’s the primary you can get free of it.”

I waited desperately for an answer. More than one problem. Sometimes trouble does come in threes naturally but it usually means time has taken a hand in the game. What did it want? The Valuable was gone. There was nothing it could do about that. What did it want?

“Found it.”

“Nichole, I want you to slow the plane down, but keep it over 110 MPH. Then disengage the autopilot and ditch in the sea.”

“That wasn’t the plan.”

“To hell with the plan. Once you get down, snap yourself home. I’ll have your GPS and do the same. Odds are I can mount a sea rescue in the future.”

“Three days either way. That might leave me in the water for six days.”

“Or I’m sitting there waiting in a boat when you finish the trip.”

“Let me try the canopy once more. Heh, it’s unjammed.”

Was time letting go to keep us from diverting the plane? Had the dart jarred it loose? I didn’t know what to say or what to suggest. I had everything packed in the carry bag. I could hit my snap back switch and be gone in an instant.

“I’m going for the jump,” Nichole said. “Wish me luck.”

“God speed,” I prayed.

“I’m out, on the left wing. Just have to let go and the wind should carry me off, under the stabilizer. Here goes. Huhhh. It worked. I’m clear of the plane. Pulling the ripcord now. It’s deploying. Damn, it’s tangled.”

“Snap back home now. I have your location. I’ll meet you there.”

“Okay Max. Just in case, I don’t make it. I had the time of my life here with you.”

“We’ll do it again. Promise,” I said. I captured her location and snapped back.

Tuesday, August 17, 2179, Corsica

“Claude,” I called. “Nichole’s in trouble. Here are the coordinates. See what you can do. Don’t just stand there.”

Claude stared at me, the sadness in his eyes. He looked away, and I knew. Three days plus or minus. Fifty percent chance. Nichole had rolled the dice, and they had come down wrong.

“How long?”

“She snapped back two days ago. Her chute never did deploy,” Claude responded. “I did my best, but I didn’t get there for two hours. Too long with the internal injuries she had.”

I sat down on the floor, my legs dead under me. I remembered her face. I remembered the dinner we had in St. Augustine and the wine in Corsica. I remembered the way she felt in my arms and the taste of her lips. All gone. Such a terrible loss.

Time’s a murdering monster.

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