by Al Sirois
Chit and Teeth, searching for food in the sewer beneath Dixwell Avenue, pressed close together when a light appeared ahead of them where none had been a moment earlier.
They stared, amazed, as the air split open and what they at first took for a large rat stepped into the filthy water.
“Goddammit,” it muttered, lifting a dripping foot. “Bloody primitive sanitation systems.”
Chit, always braver—or less cowardly—than his brother, hailed the newcomer, who was larger than they and therefore due their respect. “Uh, sir? Where, where did you come from? We thought we were alone down here.”
The big rat faced them, eyes glowing with malice. They realized that this was not a normal rat. “Hello, midgets,” he said. “The name’s Kronkheit. As to where I’m from…” He sniggered. “You haven’t got the mental equipment to understand.” He pulled a small flask from a pouch or pocket, uncapped it, and took a swig.
“What’s that?” Teeth asked.
“Shut up,” Kronkheit explained, replacing the flask. “Come on.” He splashed off down the sewer pipe, trailed by the two smaller rats.
Chit nudged his brother. “Let’s get away from this idiot.”
“No, I want to follow him,” said Teeth. “There’s something about him, you know?”
Chit swore rattishly. “He’s put you under a spell!”
“No. He’s got something, is all. What do they call it? Camouflage? Crapulence?”
They tramped along, Teeth and Chit trailing the larger rat, or whatever it was. Kronkheit paid them no attention, muttering and swearing to himself.
“He’ll pay,” Teeth heard him say. “They’ll all pay.”
“Uh, sir?” Chit ventured. “Do you mind telling us where, where we’re going.”
The stranger whirled round, fists clenched. Chit noticed for the first time that the visitor had opposable thumbs. Uh-oh, he thought. That can’t be good.
Kronkheit advanced on the brothers, fur bristling. Chit and Teeth cringed. Kronkheit started to snarl, then paused.
“So? Fair enough, mousehole,” he said. “I come from a future time. I was genetically modified with human cells, so I’m a hybrid. A very smart hybrid.”
Teeth and Chit exchanged a glance: What is this lunatic talking about?
“The experiment that produced me also produced another hybrid, Algernon, from a different family line. We hate each other. He’s an animal, that’s all; an animal. He calls me a mutant, the scum!” He snorted. “As if! Algernon keeps himself well-guarded, as do I, so I can’t kill him. But I can get at his ancestors! The lab next door to mine was working on tachyonic displacement, you see.”
“Time travel, peabrain. When I broke out, I snagged their experimental portable console.” He patted his side, where his pouch was. “That’s what got me here. I’m here to kill Algernon before he’s even been born!” He resumed walking. “I found out he comes from a line of sewer rats spawned by a rat named Chatter, who was born in this moment-point. I’m going to find him and kill him.”
Teeth’s mouth fell open in dismay. “Chatter? But that’s—”
“It’s what?” Kronkheit growled, not bothering to turn around.
Chit stared at Teeth, mouthing ‘our cousin!’
“N-nothing, nothing really,” Chit said.
Kronkheit didn’t bother to reply.
“We gotta do something!” Teeth whispered to his brother.
Not being tacticians, the only thing they could think of was to gang up on the invader. They stopped walking. Kronkheit, hearing the cessation of their steps behind him, turned to face them.
“What is this?”
“You-you … you’re bigger than we are but there’s two of us,” said Chit, baring his long, sharp incisors. Kronkheit, he had noticed, did not have large teeth.
“So?” The hybrid dug into his pouch once more, withdrawing a little electronic control. He pushed a button on it. Instantly a second Kronkheit appeared. The two nodded once to each other, then waded in. Moments later, the brothers lay sprawled in the filthy water.
Kronkheit’s twin vanished. “I can move two minutes ahead or back in time by pushing one of these two red buttons,” he said, displaying the device. “The black one will return me to my own time, when I’m ready.”
Chit and Teeth goggled at him. “Magic,” Teeth murmured.
“It’s science, you stupid mousehole.” Kronkheit sneered. “Time-travel. I’ll show you. Stay where you are.” He trotted off down the tunnel a few dozen yards. Brandishing the electronic pad, he pushed a button, and vanished.
“So he went two minutes back in time?” Chit said. “To assist himself in the fight?”
“This is insane,” Teeth said as Kronkheit rematerialized, moments later.
Chit ran a paw through his fur in a grooming gesture. “We gotta think of something. I can’t look forward to mating with Squeak-Squeak if this nut kills her brother.”
“The family will be devastated!”
“What are you two whispering about back there?” Kronkheit yelled. “Come on, we’ve got work to do!”
Chit thought harder than he ever had in his life. It made his head hurt. He didn’t understand the concept of “future” very well, but it was clear even to him that Kronkheit came from somewhere else and needed to get home after he killed Chatter, in order to enjoy an Algernon-less life.
So, if he doesn’t have that travel-time thing, he won’t be able to get back home. All we have to do is get that dingus away from him, smash it, and he’ll be trapped.
The idea seemed sensible but he needed to talk to Teeth about it. He slowed his pace, allowing Kronkheit to draw a few paces ahead. Chit cleared his throat and, when Teeth glanced at him, jerked his head off to the left.
Pressed close to the pipe’s slimy wall, Chit explained his idea.
Teeth scoffed. “If we smash it, won’t he be stranded here with us?”
“Oh, yeah. Right. There is that.”
Chit tugged at his brother’s arm. “Okay, I have a better idea. Come on, before he misses us.” They hurried after Kronkheit.
“What’s your idea?”
“Just follow my lead.”
“Ah, okay, Chit.”
Chit drew up beside Kronkheit and grinned at him.
The mutant cast him a sidewise glance. “What?”
“I just wanted to say how privileged we are, to be working with you.”
Kronkheit’s fur smoothed down a little. “As you should be,” he said. “Stick with me, boys, and I’ll take care of you.”
Chit put a paw on Kronkheit’s shoulder and moved slightly behind him. “Oh, we believe it, sir!” He quickly dropped down on all fours behind Kronkheit.
Teeth, recognizing the gambit, pushed the hybrid as hard as he could, knocking him backwards over Chit and into the sewer water. Kronkheit spluttered and gasped as the brothers jumped him.
Teeth found the pouch, and jammed his paw into it. Kronkheit squawked his outrage. Teeth seized the travel-time control and pulled it out.
“Use his finger to push the button, Teeth!”
“Right!” Teeth seized the hybrid’s hand and squeezed it tight against the black travel time button. “Bye, baby!”
Kronkheit wailed, fading away. Teeth snatched at the little device. “Ouch!”
“What? What?” Chit demanded.
Teeth stared wonderingly at his paw. “It’s like I grabbed a live wire,” he said. “Look! My fur’s gone all white!”
“Wow.” Chit examined his brother’s paw. “It’s like it’s gotten years older in two seconds.”
“Weird.” Teeth looked closely at the travel-time machine. “Well, we have this, anyway … he’s gone and won’t be back.” He ground the thing into the mucky water under his feet.
“I sure hope not.”
“So, where were we?”
“Looking for something to eat?” The brothers resumed foraging.
“At least Chatter’s safe,” Teeth said.
The sound of someone crying further down the pipe caught their attention. Chit cocked his ears. “Hey, that sounds like Squeak-Squeak!” He and Teeth hurried toward her.
Squeak-Squeak threw herself at Chit, sobbing. “Chatter, Chatter!”
Teeth felt his heart sink. “What’s wrong?”
“He was up on the street digging into some garbage when a dog caught him!”
“You mean he’s…?” Teeth couldn’t finish the sentence. He looked at Chit. Their eyes went wide.
“So Kronkheit was wrong,” Chit said to his brother over Squeak-Squeak’s wails.
“Yeah. Huh! It was Squeak-Squeak he should have been worried about all along, and not Chatter.”
“Bet he won’t be happy.”
Al Sirois’ fiction has been published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Amazing Stories, Flash Fiction Online, Mystery Weekly, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Everyday Fiction, among other publications in print and online. His story ‘In the Conservatory’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Other published works include a children’s book, Dinosaur Dress Up (Tambourine Press / William Morrow), several novels of horror, a graphic novel, and a fantasy novel, The Bohemian Magician. Follow his work on his website.