Rain seeped through cracks in the roof, staining the ceiling sickly yellow. Droplets fell at regular intervals, splattering on the carpet. In the past, father would start yelling, using words his children weren’t allowed to repeat, then call the maintenance company to yell at them until a repairman came. Now… he sat on the sofa, his eyes lifeless, staring at the viewlink screen.
17-year-old Leo June watched his catatonic father and two younger sisters from a lonely chair in the furthest corner of the room.
“Daddy,” little Zeta said, “if I pray hard enough, will Mommy hear me in heaven?”
“Don’t be stupid,” her older sister, Aurora, said. “Mother was a scientist, so she didn’t believe in heaven.”
The Junes lived in Earth’s Sahara region. Geo-engineers had transformed the desert into a lush rainforest, leaving room for idyllic, planned communities. By the 25th Century, Sahara neighborhoods became famous for their congeniality and wholesome family values–a stereotype which did not apply to the June household.
Leo had been the only one to cry at mother’s funeral. Not because he’d loved her–she’d made that impossible–but they’d argued the last time he saw her alive. He’d slammed his bedroom door. He’d screamed his hatred at her, and she’d screamed back. In that moment, he’d wanted her dead.
Any rational person knew wanting something didn’t make it happen, but Leo felt irrationally guilty nonetheless. That was why he cried.
“This is the Tomorrow News Network,” a voice from the viewlink announced, “bringing you tomorrow’s news today since 27,000 years from now.”
“Shame mother never watched this channel,” Aurora said, rearranging herself on the sofa and managing to look even more bored. “Maybe she would have caught the report on her own death and avoided it.”
Father didn’t stir. His empty gaze remained fixed on the screen, though Leo suspected he didn’t really care about the news.
“It doesn’t work like that,” Leo said, his throat scratchy and dry. “They don’t let anyone know their own future. Mother would have only seen static.”
In response, Aurora stuck her tongue out at him.
“Two days ago,” the android anchorman said on the viewlink, “we reported the murder of Dr. Delilah June. Yesterday, she was in fact murdered, and today she was buried. Tomorrow, police will solve the case. We now go live to Talie Tappler for this special report.”
The signal cut to static, and someone knocked at the front door.
Leo’s muscles tightened, coiling as though he were ready to spring from his seat, yet he couldn’t move. One day into the future, Talie Tappler, the Tomorrow News Network’s best reporter, was explaining every horrid detail of mother’s death, but the June family was not permitted to watch. Or at least one member of the family was not.
Holding his breath, Leo glanced at father. No argument between Leo and mother compared to those between mother and father. They fought quietly with spiteful innuendo and passionate loathing.
Father’s eyes were no longer lifeless as he watched the static on the viewlink. Did he do it? Tomorrow, would the police arrest him for murder?
The knock came again. Three light raps against the front door.
Careful not to betray his suspicions, Leo rose from his chair. All eyes turned to him as he went to answer the door.
The exterior walls of the June house were made of smart-glass. Normally, the family could see the rainforest’s trees and ferns around them with digital overlays identifying plants and forecasting the weather, but since mother’s death father had turned the glass to maximum opacity. The wilderness was replaced by flat, black walls, like a prison.
Leo slid a finger across the door, and touch screen controls appeared on the smart-glass surface. He selected “open.”
Talie Tapper stood outside, an old-fashioned umbrella over her head and a mischievous grin on her face. “You must be young Leo June,” she said.
Her eyes, with their long lashes and violet hue, took Leo by surprise. They were even more beautiful in person. “Umm…” he said.
Talie’s smile grew wider. “I’m Talie Tappler,” she said, flashing a media pass. “This is my cameraman, Mr. Cognis.”
Cognis stood a few steps behind Talie, rain pounding on his bald head, trickling down his face and off the tip of his nose. His camera appeared to be surgically attached, bolted to his skull, the lens covering his right eye. His clothes, grey mesh and black steel, molded to his body like artificial skin. Cognis stared at Leo without blinking.
“Don’t worry,” Talie whispered. “He’s just a cyborg from the future.”
“Umm…” Leo answered.
Talie laughed. “May we come in?” she said, brushing past Leo and collapsing her umbrella. “Oh, and do something with this for me, thanks,” she added, shoving the wet contraption into Leo’s hands.
* * *
Most teenage boys kept secret photo galleries hidden somewhere: pictures of girls and various parts of their anatomy. Leo didn’t care for that sort of thing. He admired one woman and one woman alone, a woman of intelligence and sophistication–who happened to have an attractive anatomy as well. He kept pictures of her and only her stored on a micro-disk stashed under his bed.
Now Leo could look at the real woman herself: the real Talie Tappler. She stood there, dressed in her traditional blue skirt-suit, a purple ribbon tied around her neck, her golden hair falling in sassy curls. She’d even let him hold her umbrella, and he clutched the damp, dripping thing close to his heart, unwilling to ever let it go.
“I’m here to do a report on your wife’s death,” Talie said after introducing herself to father. “I’d like your permission to bring a larger news crew, about a dozen people or so. We’re doing this talk-show-style right here in your living room!”
“No,” father said, glaring at the floor.
Talie shrugged. “You’ll change your mind. We’ll have to move furniture around for our equipment, and the lighting could be better. Mr. Cognis?”
“We’ll need to raise the ambient illumination by 30%,” the cyborg said. “Six omni-lamps in a semi-circular pattern will suffice. Diffusion will be set to 75%. I recommend using the northeast wall as our backdrop. Also, we will have to fix the leaky ceiling.”
Talie explored the room while Cognis spoke. She picked up a smart-glass model of Earth from the mantle. It belonged to mother, part of her collection of model planets. Talie rotated it in her hand, watching with amused disinterest as the glass animated clouds and hurricanes in the planet’s atmosphere.
“This is exciting,” Talie said, setting the Earth back in its place. “This is one of the strangest stories I’ve ever covered, and I bet none of you can guess who the killer was.”
Talie glanced at Leo, a cunning grin on her lips.
Aurora yawned and stared at the viewlink as though she found static interesting, but beneath her apparent apathy she was listening. Zeta peeked at Talie from behind the sofa. Leo held his breath and clutched the umbrella tighter, oblivious to the water soaking his shirt. The three children knew what this meant. Within twenty-four hours, mother’s death would make sense, and the murderer would be exposed.
Father trembled with fury. “I said no.”
“And I said you’ll change your mind,” Talie replied.
Father leapt to his feet, a vein pulsing in his forehead. “Get out of my house!”
Aurora jumped in surprise. Zeta ran to her room. Leo stepped forward, ready to defend Talie, but of course she could handle herself.
“Mr. June,” she said, her sunny mood undiminished, “I’m a professional time traveler, and I’m telling you for a fact you will change your mind.”
Father clenched his fists. Leo saw murder in his eyes, but Talie turned her back on him. She strode to the front door, the cyborg following.
“Your umbrella?” Leo asked, reluctantly holding it out for her.
Talie stood for a moment in the open doorway, looking back at Leo, and winked. As if on cue, the rain stopped.
* * *
Forty minutes later, Leo went outside, still carrying Talie’s umbrella. He couldn’t bear to put it down.
He found Talie on the bench in the family’s vegetable garden tapping away on her data-pad. She sat with her legs folded under her, her shoes lying in the grass. One bare foot dangled free, the toes curling and uncurling as she worked. Leo noticed a single wrinkle on her brow, but rather than detract from her beauty it marked her concentration, and he felt afraid to disturb her.
Leo heard footsteps crunching in gravel behind him.
“I’m impressed,” Aurora said. “Even I wouldn’t say something so cruel to father.”
Father’s word was law: no reporters, no news crews. But Leo lobbied for the law to change. In the end, he’d asked father, filling his voice with accusation, “What do you have to hide?”
Father had served in the Space Force once, fighting in the Hykonian Wars. Age had stolen his strength, his muscles had softened, his belly had grown fat, but he remained a soldier, always disciplined, always vigilant. But to be asked such a question by his own son–the old man had nearly wept. Leo had never seen a soldier look so fragile.
“Well, go tell her the good news,” Aurora said.
Leo took a deep breath to steady himself, yet he couldn’t move. An impassible barrier separated him from Talie.
“Oh, I get it,” Aurora said. “My big brother has a crush on the hot blonde from the viewlink.”
“You turn eighteen next month. You’re almost legal!”
“Shut up!” Leo whispered.
“I always figured you’d go for one of the good girls, but Talie Tappler’s pretty evil.”
“What do you mean?”
“Mother’s dead,” Aurora answered, “and who turns up but the media ready to televise our grief. Or lack of grief in some cases. The whole galaxy gets to see our messed up family at this vulnerable moment in our lives. Worse: they already did because of this time travel nonsense.
“Why doesn’t your girlfriend tell the police who did it and spare us the talk show circus? I’ll tell you why. She wants ratings. Seems selfish to me, if not evil. But what do I know?”