Leo watched Talie typing her scripts, her face glowing with excitement. He’d never before seen the media the way Aurora did. He’d always liked watching the news, especially the Tomorrow News Network, and as a kid, he used to play time traveler with an antique wristwatch.
Two hands planted themselves on Leo’s back and began to push. With his sister forcing him the whole way, Leo stumbled into the garden, over the turnips, to where Talie sat.
“Hi,” he said because he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Your father changed his mind,” Talie said, not looking up.
“Yes,” Leo answered.
“But he said we can’t move any furniture,” Talie added.
“Umm… yes,” Leo said.
“And you’re madly in love with me.”
Aurora groaned. “She already knew everything. I’m going inside.”
And so it came to pass that Leo’s ultimate dream, the fantasy that kept him up at night, became reality. He was alone with Talie. And he felt miserable. Not because he was nervous but because he felt guilty. More guilty than ever. His dream had come true because mother had died, her skull bashed in with a blunt object, her blood splattered all over her office.
“Where’s Mr. Cognis?” Leo asked, trying to control the sound of his voice.
“I sent him back in time to get video.”
“Why didn’t you go with him?”
“Because I knew you wanted to talk to me alone.”
Talie looked up, and Leo couldn’t escape her eyes. Her penetrating gaze held him captive, as though he were hypnotized.
“I want to be a journalist,” Leo blurted out, barely noticing the weird device in Talie’s left hand.
“You seem smart enough,” she said. “You could do that.”
“I want to be a time traveling journalist, like you.”
Talie smiled. “That’s a bit harder.”
“Mother was against it. She wanted me to be a scientist. An astronomer like her.”
“You’d make a lot more money,” Talie admitted.
“Money isn’t everything,” Leo said. “I want to see the things you’ve seen, go the places you’ve gone, meet the people you’ve met. That sounds much better than working in an observatory all night counting sunspots on Alpha Centauri.
“Last time I saw mother alive, we argued about this. I told her she couldn’t stop me. I was applying to journalism school. In a way, I’m glad she’s dead. Maybe I can start my career as a reporter in peace.”
Talie clicked a button on her device, and Leo realized it was a camera.
“No!” he said. “I didn’t mean it! Please don’t put that on the viewlink!”
Talie rose to her feet, slipping back into her shoes. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I already got your permission in the future.”
Talie snatched her umbrella from Leo’s grasp. She opened it and held it over her head.
“But… but it’s not raining,” Leo stuttered.
Talie winked at him. “It will be tomorrow,” she said, vanishing in a blur of unnatural colors.
* * *
In the morning, the June family ate breakfast in silence. Father wouldn’t acknowledge Leo’s presence at the table. Leo wouldn’t acknowledge father’s. Zeta and Aurora picked at their food, leaving most untouched.
As soon as the rain began to prattle on the roof, a knock came at the front door. This time father went to answer it while Leo glared at his cold cereal.
The news crew entered, laughing and chitchatting. They included a wide assortment of creatures: an insectoid, a mechanoid, a polymorphic elastoid from Planet X412. A Swarian slithered in, lugging equipment behind it. A pair of reptilians carried some large cameras, and Leo saw other machinery he couldn’t identify. For some reason, they also brought several grandfather clocks.
Father didn’t object when they started rearranging furniture, despite his earlier conditions. He didn’t even speak up when someone dropped mother’s glass model of Mars, cracking it. He just stood in the corner looking defeated.
Leo recognized Mr. Cognis. Another cyborg, a female called Macnera, issued instructions to the rest of the crew.
Talie came last, a butterfly-like alien fluttering about her. “All right, but don’t mess with my hair,” she told it. “I don’t want it all frizzy like last time.”
The butterfly answered with a series of angry chirps and began applying Talie’s makeup.
Two police officers arrived a few minutes later: Inspector Green and his partner, the detectives assigned to mother’s case. They demanded answers from Talie. She gave them none.
Like father, Leo stayed out of the way. He found a corner of his own and waited. He didn’t trust Talie anymore, and he didn’t want to be anything like her. Not a journalist. Not a time traveler. In fact, a career in astronomy sounded appealing now that he thought about it.
Still, he couldn’t help himself. He kept staring at Talie’s legs.
* * *
“Attention!” the female cyborg said. “Synchronize your watches. Things might get strange in here, and we don’t want any space-time distortions to go unnoticed.”
Father had changed into his old military uniform because someone from the news crew told him to. Zeta had put on what she called her “Sunday best.” She kept fiddling with the bow in her hair. Aurora dressed the same as every day, and Leo chose to follow her example, wearing an ordinary, long-sleeved shirt and trousers.
They all sat in plush, blue chairs lined up along the northeast wall. Someone had programmed the smart-glass to display the clockwork logo of the Tomorrow News Network behind them.
“Five seconds,” the cyborg announced. “Four, three, two, one…”
Talie began: “There comes a point when friends and family can no longer refer to a person in the present tense, can no longer say ‘he is’ or ‘she is’ but ‘he was’ or ‘she was.” That time has come for Delilah June. She was a scientist, an astronomer, a war hero, and something of a rebel. She was a wife and mother of three. Everything about her belongs to the past. Delilah June was murdered.
“The question today is, ‘Why?’ For answers, we must turn to the future.”
The alien behind the central camera began to zoom out, including Inspector Green in the shot.
“Thomas Green, inspector level six in the African Continental Police,” Talie introduced.
“I’m not a level six inspector,” Green said, sweat pooling on his forehead.
“Not yet,” Talie corrected.
Inspector Green cast a nervous glance toward the cameras.
“Inspector, could you describe the murder scene for us?” Talie said.
“Ms. Tappler, I… I have some questions of my own,” Green said, checking his palm-sized data-pad. “Your report aired yesterday, but no one in our department was able to view it. We tried random calls to the public, but no one we contacted was able to see it either.”
Talie rolled her eyes. “Yes, we had to censor our broadcast to most of Earth because of you. You’ve irritated many of our viewers.”
“Who killed Dr. June?” Green demanded.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. You won’t understand until you hear the stories her family will tell.”
Leo watched the polymorphic elastoid manipulate a control panel with its gelatinous appendages, switching from the central camera to a shot of father and the three children then to a close-up of Green.
“A lab assistant found the body,” Green said. “Dr. June had been bludgeoned to death in her office. Her desk was tipped over, and we found glass fragments everywhere. A DNA analysis found traces of her husband’s genetic material, but the sample may have been contaminated by Dr. June’s own blood, or it may belong to one of their children. We’re still conducting further tests.”
“Would you describe this as a crime of passion?” Talie asked.
“I can’t describe a motive without identifying a suspect, but yes. Given the brutality of it, I might call it that.”
“Thank you, Inspector Green.”
Talie walked toward the family, all the cameras tracking her.
“Mr. Ursus June,” she said, smiling at father, “did you know your wife was pregnant?”
“No,” father said.
“Does it surprise you?”
“No. Delilah always wanted four children, and she always got what she wanted.”
“Mr. June, planetary law restricts the number of children a family may have,” Talie said. “You paid a substantial fine for having a third child, and the fine would have been much higher for a fourth.”
“We can afford it,” father said. “I wouldn’t kill my wife over that, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Given the law,” Talie said, “why did your wife want four children?”
“She disagreed with the law. When we got married, she told me she thought the two-child rule was outdated and inhuman, and she said she planned to violate it. Not just with a third child but a fourth too.”
Talie grinned. “Sounds like a stubborn woman.”
Father didn’t respond.
“Mr. June, tell us how you met your wife.”
“It happened thirty years ago. I was a pilot in the Space Force, and the Earth Republic was at war with the Hykonian Technocracy. My squadron was stationed in the Yola System, right on the front lines.
“The Hykonians had a new, secret weapon, some kind of missile that screwed with our sensors. Instead of detecting one projectile coming at us, we detected millions, and we couldn’t find the real one among all the false signals. We lost ship after ship, fleet after fleet. The Hykonians destroyed the entire third armada in one battle.
“Then Delilah came, leading a team of elite scientists. I still remember the first time I saw her, sitting at the officer’s table in the mess hall with this pompous smile on her face. We called her the astro-bi…”
Father stopped. He seemed to abruptly remember his children were listening.
“We didn’t call her anything nice,” he said instead.
“For some reason, I caught her eye. She ordered me to report to her office and told me point blank she intended to marry me.