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Disclaimer: This story was written for entertainment purposes only.  No profit is being made from it.  No infringement on anyone’s copyright is intended.

 

Note:  Don’t jump to any conclusions.  Please read the entire thing.

 

Causality Loop

By Sue David and Valerie Wells

 

“I’ll take it,” Starsky said, reaching for his wallet.  He’d wanted something new to wear as a necklace, and the unusual charm was just the thing he was seeking.  He liked wearing some jewelry, and his last necklace was recently broken in a scuffle.

 

The short, elderly store manager smiled.  “Would you like that wrapped?” 

 

“No, thanks, it’s for me.”

 

Even the old man didn’t know exactly what the necklace was or from where it came; he’d never seen the like.  He guessed it was a piece from South America, but it was neither old enough nor precious enough to be valuable.  He’d sold the amulet to Starsky for $20.

 

“Where’d you say you got it?” Starsky asked.

 

“A kid brought it in a couple of days ago.  Said it was his grandmother’s, but he didn’t know anything about it.”

 

Hutch was next door at Harry’s Deli, picking up their lunch.  Starsky had wanted to go in and check out the antique store since it opened the previous month, but he hadn’t been able to find the time until that day.  He paid for his purchase and immediately put on the necklace.  He liked the cool, white metal, and the almost iridescent stone in the center.  At first, he thought it was the same color as his eyes, but when he held it in his hands, he realized it was closer in color to Hutch’s.

 

The shopkeeper watched him walk out of the store, glad he’d been able to find something Starsky liked.  At first, he was sure the younger man would select the antique oriental necklace next to the blue one, but the unidentifiable amulet won.  The old man didn’t know that the boy who’d sold him that pendant hadn’t gotten it from his grandmother.  He had stolen it from someone.

 

By the time Starsky reached the Torino, Hutch was coming out of Harry’s with their lunch. Starsky leaned against the passenger side and waited for Hutch to get there, reaching out a hand to take the sodas away from his partner.

 

“Hey,” Hutch said, jerking his chin to indicate the new necklace, “looks like you found something nice.”

 

“Yeah, you like it?”

 

Hutch reached up with his free hand and touched it.  The bright sunlight practically danced from the cabochon stone and the metal was cool to the touch.  “Sure. What is it?”

 

“I don’t know.  Neither did he,” Starsky answered with a chuckle.  “Got it for a good deal. Only a double-sawbuck, including the silver chain.”

 

“Is the pendant silver?  Kind of looks like it, but it’s different.  Almost white.”

 

Starsky shrugged.  Hutch’s fingers felt a little tingly when he let go of the necklace.  He rubbed them together and climbed into the car after Starsky moved to the driver’s side.  Grabbing the mike, he logged them out for a meal break.  “Dispatch, this is Zebra 3.  Log us out Code 7.”

 

“Roger, Zebra 3.”

 

Starsky drove a few blocks over to a nearby park.  The day was nice and they sat in the Torino enjoying their lunch while they watched some school kids playing with what looked like a multi-colored parachute. 

 

“Ever wonder how teachers come up with all those ideas?” Starsky asked.

 

“I guess from the universities.  They research stuff and come up with new ideas all the time.”

 

After they finished their lunches, Hutch logged them back into service and they hit the streets.  Just as they turned out of the park they heard a call that a silent alarm had been tripped at a sporting goods store headquarters on Marshall and Vine.  Dispatch called for any available unit to respond without lights and siren.

 

“Zebra 3,” Hutch said as they swung in the middle of the street in an arc, “we are responding Code One. ETA two minutes.”  They were only a few blocks away.

 

Starsky drove around the back and parked on the store’s side street.  Since there was no way they could see what was happening without betraying their presence, Starsky agreed to take the back entrance, while Hutch went in through the front door, posing as a customer.  Starsky pulled his Beretta, clicked off the safety, and chambered a round.  As he rounded the back of the building, he felt a strange burning sensation in his chest.  He reached up with his right hand, rubbing the spot and noting that everything around him seemed somehow brighter than it had a few moments earlier.  He paused and closed his eyes to shake off the strange feeling.  The world went on tilt for a few seconds and when he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find himself back where he’d started, near the front corner of the building.  His gun was back in its holster.

 

“You’re losing your mind,” he mumbled to himself as he pulled his gun, clicked off the safety, and chambered a round.  The pain was gone and his vision was back to normal, so he hastened around the back of the building.

 

The rear of the building was a warehouse.  He found the bay doors open and slid along the wall inside to where he could see an access door to the store in front.  He looked around and the only workers he saw were on the other side of the building, having a smoke break on the loading dock.  They didn’t notice him.  Crouching low, he opened the door as small a crack as he could and slithered through it.  Though he was glad he’d not heard any shots fired, his partner was up front and vulnerable, and Starsky had the most awful sensation in his gut. 

 

Starsky heard a gruff voice say, “Put the money in the bag!”

 

Then, a young man’s voice, “But the cash register’s practically empty, mister!”

 

The next sound was that of a gun being cocked.  “If there ain’t enough in the register, open that safe.  Do it, or the pig gets it.”

 

Starsky’s heartbeat went into overdrive.  Whoever this was, he’d made Hutch and his partner was in trouble.  The fact that Hutch wasn’t trying to reason with the robber worried him.  Was he already hurt?  A quick check in the bubble-shaped security mirrors gave him a view of the gunman.  He was dressed in dark clothing and a ski mask. Starsky couldn’t see Hutch, but the perp had his gun pointed down toward the floor.  The only other person in sight was the store clerk.  They’d gotten lucky this time.  The store had no customers.

 

Starsky sneaked down the aisle behind the gunman.  He came to a rounder of wetsuits and ducked underneath them.  A peek past the robber’s shoes caught him a glimpse of his partner.  Hutch was down and his eyes were closed.  Shit.

 

“I don’t know the combo, mister,” the young cashier said.  His voice was shaking.

 

The robber never had a chance to make good on his threat.  Starsky was behind him with his Beretta against the man’s head before he had a chance.  With as much menace as he could put in his voice, Starsky said, “Ease back on that and drop it or it’ll be the last thing you do.”

 

The man released the gun’s hammer, then let it swing around upside down, dangling from his finger.  Starsky took it, slipping it into his pocket.  He had the robber on the floor, frisked, and handcuffed in moments.  He retrieved Hutch’s Magnum.  When he pulled the ski mask off of his suspect, Starsky knew how Hutch was made.  Nate Leonard was a hard case.  He was a suspect in a string of robberies, the last one resulting in an innocent bystander being killed, along with the store clerk.  The detectives had been looking for him for over two months without success. He must have recognized Hutch at once.

 

“Get on the phone, kid,” he said to the trembling clerk.  “I want some more cops here and an ambulance.  Tell the operator you have an officer down, here.”

 

“Y-yes, sir,” the boy answered.  He immediately obeyed.

 

Starsky rushed to Hutch’s side.  He holstered his Beretta and set the Magnum on the floor next to his partner. “Hey,” he said as he patted Hutch on the cheek.  “You okay in there, Blintz?”

 

He could see that Hutch wasn’t shot. Running his hand through the blond strands, Starsky found a lump on the back of the head.  Hutch groaned and pulled away from his touch.  He opened his eyes and looked up at Starsky.

 

“Good morning,” Starsky said, grinning.

 

“Owwww,” Hutch said.  “Guess I was made, huh?”

 

“Guess so.  You okay?”

 

“Yeah--” Hutch’s vision was clearing and what he saw behind Starsky nearly made his heart stop.  Starsky was mistaken when he thought the robber was alone.  Another man was coming up behind Starsky with a gun pointed right at him.  The look in Hutch’s eyes gave credence to the hairs rising on the back of Starsky’s neck.  Hutch reached for his gun, a motion the approaching criminal couldn’t see with Starsky between them.  At Hutch’s unspoken signal, Starsky dove to the side while his partner raised his gun arm.  The sound of gunfire was deafening.  Starsky grabbed for his gun and turned over to see his attempted murderer fall.  Hutch still had his gun up, pointing in the air above him where Larry Coopertino once stood.  Starsky checked the downed man and found him to be dead.  He put the second suspect’s gun in his pocket with the first. 

“He’s dead,” he said to Hutch, turning toward him.  Now, he could hear approaching sirens.  Starsky froze.  Hutch’s eyes were blank, and slowly, the Magnum slid from his grasp, clattering to the ground as he slipped back to the floor.  A rapidly spreading stain appeared on his chest.

 

“Oh, my God,” Starsky said.  He knelt next to Hutch again, the knee of his jeans feeling wet almost immediately.  Gently turning Hutch to his side, he saw a large pool of blood forming underneath him. The bullet had passed through Hutch’s chest, and blood was pulsing through the front of his shirt while it quickly oozed out the exit wound in back.

 

“Did you call an ambulance?” he demanded of the clerk.

 

“Yeah,” came the frightened answer.

 

Hutch sounded like he couldn’t breathe, so Starsky pulled him up onto his lap to help.  He tried to put pressure on the wound, accepting a couple of beach towels hastily retrieved by the clerk.  Hutch pawed at him, making him let go of the one at his back.  Instead, Starsky braced that one with his thigh and took Hutch’s hand, as he seemed to want him to do.

 

“No,” Hutch said almost too quietly to be heard.

 

“Shhhh, everything’s gonna be okay.  You just hang on for the paramedics.”

 

“You... okay?” Hutch asked, meeting Starsky’s eyes with his own pain-filled ones.

 

“Fine.  You did great.”  He didn’t like Hutch’s color, or the sound of his breathing.  Starsky’s eyes opened wider when he felt warm wetness already soaking through the beach towel onto his pants.  Hutch was losing blood too quickly; the ever slowing beat of his heart pumping it through the mortal wound in his chest.

 

“Good,” Hutch said.  He pulled his hand out of Starsky’s and reached up for him.  Afraid of what his experience was telling him, Starsky felt a tear slide down his cheek and Hutch caught it with his finger.  He gently touched Starsky’s face.  “Wouldn’t change a thing, Starsk. You’re my best friend--” Suddenly, Hutch arched in pain, dropping his arm, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment and pressing his lips together tightly.  They were turning purple.

 

“No, Hutch.  Don’t say goodbye.  Don’t,” Starsky pleaded.  When Hutch opened his eyes again, he looked up at Starsky.  All he could see was a bright light and Starsky’s worried face. 

 

“No use. Not this time, buddy,” Hutch said.  When he opened his lips to speak, bright red blood ran from the corner of his mouth. 

 

Starsky didn’t hear the other cops storming into the store.  They were ahead of the ambulance by two or three minutes. 

 

“Hold my hand,” Hutch said weakly.  The light was already dimming in his eyes.  Starsky complied and squeezed it gently.  They both knew it was over, the ambulance wouldn’t make it. Like Hutch said... not this time.  Starsky shook his head, trying to deny the inevitable. 

 

“I can’t lose you.  Don’t go,” he implored.

 

Hutch was growing weaker.  He was trying to say something, but Starsky couldn’t hear.

He leaned close to Hutch’s face, maintaining his lock on his dying partner’s gaze.  “Worth it,” Hutch whispered.  “You’re safe.”  He reached toward Starsky’s chest, but Starsky didn’t let go of his hand.  Hutch put both of their hands over his partner’s heart and said, “Me and Thee.  Love you, Starsk.”

 

“I love you, too, Hutch,” Starsky said, unable to control his tears.  “Me and Thee.”  He knew there was no point in pleading anymore. Hutch was dying and he wanted their last moments together to not be spent with him begging his friend to stay. 

 

One of the uniformed officers got the living robbery suspect to his feet and started to hustle him out of the store. 

 

Hutch shook his head slightly.  He couldn’t talk anymore, but his meaning was clear.  Don’t cry for me.  I love you.

 

Starsky’s necklace fell out of his shirt and landed on their clasped hands.  The burning sensation was there again, this time lancing through his hand.  Both men saw a flash and their eyes met again.  Hutch’s lips moved, silently saying, “Goodbye.”  His face was dusky as Death gripped him.  His eyes closed and he went limp in Starsky’s arms.

 

“No,” Starsky said, reaching to feel for a pulse in Hutch’s wrist.  Nothing.  “Hutch, don’t.”  He put a hand on Hutch’s neck, still nothing.  His partner was gone. The location of the bullet wound and the amount of blood around the two men made it obvious that any resuscitation effort would be useless.  Nothing left to carry oxygen.

 

One of the uniforms opened the door for the paramedics, but they knew when they got to the downed officer that it was finished.  His devastated partner held him tightly in his arms.  He brushed his fingers through Hutch’s hair and rocked him. 

 

“My fault,” Starsky muttered softly. “Oh, God, babe, my fault.”

 

~*~*~*~

 

One of the uniformed officers who had answered the call, but arrived too late to help, watched with wide eyes as Starsky rocked Hutch's lifeless body. One of the paramedics reached out toward Starsky as if to pull him away from Hutch, but the uniformed officer stopped him.

"I know them," Officer John Brady said to the paramedic. "Leave him alone. I'll call his captain."

The paramedic nodded, and Brady went to his car to use the radio. His partner was interviewing witnesses and glanced at him as he came out of the store. Brady shook his head sadly and the other officer's face fell. Everyone on their floor knew Starsky and Hutch. Brady's partner excused himself and joined Brady next to the car.

"How bad is it?"

"Hutch is dead," Brady said, choking back the lump in his throat.

"Oh, God." Donnelley ran a hand over his eyes and then put that hand on Brady's shoulder. "You're calling Dobey?"

Brady nodded. "Starsky's a mess. He needs somebody who knows how to handle this. I can't help him."

Donnelley shook his head and turned back to his task while Brady picked up the mike.

"This is Baker 12," he said to the dispatcher. "I need a tac two patch to Captain Dobey. It's an emergency."

"Roger, Baker 12," she said. In a moment, there was a click and Dobey's voice came on.

"What is it?" he barked.

"Captain, this is John Brady. Starsky needs you. He needs you right now," Brady said, his voice trembling in spite of himself.

A moment of silence, then Dobey said, much more gently, "What happened, John?"

"It's ... it's Hutch, Captain."

Another silence, longer this time. "How bad?" Dobey said at last.

"Cap, he's, he's -- " Brady couldn't bring himself to say the words. He just gave Dobey the address.

"No," Dobey said slowly. "Oh, God. No."

"Starsky needs you," Brady repeated. "Please hurry."

"I'll be right there." Dobey broke the connection.

Brady went back to Starsky, who was still sitting on the floor, holding Hutch and rocking. Tears were flowing down his face, but his eyes were closed and he was making no sound. Brady knelt next to him and gently laid a hand on his back, but Starsky gave no indication he was aware the other officer was there.

It only took Dobey about ten minutes to get there. He had a light and siren on his own car, though he almost never needed them. He had called Huggy on the way to meet him there and on his way in, he instructed the other officers to allow Huggy past the crime scene tape to join him inside when he arrived.

Dobey walked in softly, as though afraid to startle Starsky. He stopped in his tracks at the sight of Starsky and Hutch, surrounded by blood, and met Brady's eyes. "I'll take over," he said quietly, and Brady rose and backed away. Dobey laid a hand on Starsky's shoulder. "Dave. Dave, it's Captain Dobey."

The only response was a slight tightening of Starsky's arms around Hutch.

"Dave, come on. Look at me." Dobey was insistent, but kept his voice soft and soothing.

This time, Starsky shook his head once from side to side. He made no other movement.

With Brady's steadying arm, Dobey got down on his knees beside Starsky and put an arm around his shoulders. "Dave. Son, come on. Look at me. Look at me." Finally, Starsky opened his eyes and looked at Dobey, and Dobey almost wished he hadn't. The depth of pain and loss in those eyes was almost more than he could bear to see. With tears in his own eyes, Dobey said, "You have to let them take him, son. Please. Huggy's on his way here. We'll take care of you."

"No," Starsky whispered, his voice almost unrecognizable. "I'm his partner. I'm supposed to take care of him."

Dobey glanced at Brady, who had given up trying to keep the tears at bay. "You always have," he said. "Now someone else has to do it. David, that's an order."

Starsky dropped his face into Hutch's hair and held on even tighter. "I can't," his muffled voice said. "Cap, I can't." He hadn't cried out loud yet, but now he did, a slight sob escaping in spite of his efforts.

Dobey moved his hand to Starsky's hair and let his own tears come. "Oh, Dave," he said, his voice shaking. Finally, he put his arms around both of them and simply held them, like a father would, and waited for Huggy to come. He didn't have to wait long.

Donnelley escorted Huggy inside and wordlessly pointed to the figures on the floor. Huggy squatted in front of Hutch and reached out to touch the blond hair with a trembling hand. "You lived and died bravely, my brother," Huggy said. "The world is a better place because you were in it."

At that, Starsky lifted his head and looked at Huggy, who returned the look steadily, his eyes wet but his face composed.

"It's time, my friend," Huggy said to Starsky. "He asked you not to mourn."

Starsky nodded, and another small sob escaped. At last, his arms loosened, and he gently laid Hutch on the floor and backed away. Dobey helped him to his feet and the paramedics moved forward with a stretcher. They very gently lifted Hutch onto it and draped a sheet over his body, but before they covered his face, Starsky leaned down and stroked his cheek. And he was the one who pulled the sheet up over Hutch's still face, gently smoothing it over him as if he were tucking him in for the night. As the paramedics lifted the stretcher to carry it outside, Starsky came to attention and saluted. Dobey and Brady, after a moment, followed suit. When the stretcher was gone, Starsky turned to Dobey. "I want to go with him."

"In the ambulance?" Dobey asked, dismayed. "Dave, I don't see why -- "

"Please."

Dobey hesitated and Huggy, behind Starsky, nodded slightly. Finally, Dobey said, "All right. I'll come and get you."

Starsky turned and walked out, his head down.

"I don't think this is a good idea," Dobey said to Huggy.

"He's gotta do it, Captain," Huggy said. "It's the only way he'll feel like he did everything he could."

Dobey sighed and rubbed his head. "My God. I've always dreaded this day and I've always known it would happen sooner or later." He took out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes and blew his nose. "Come on, Huggy," he said. "We have to go get him."

The two men started out and Brady said, "Can I ask something?"

They stopped and turned to face him.

"How did you know Hutch asked him not to mourn?" Brady asked. "I didn't hear him say that."

Huggy shrugged one shoulder. "I just know. And he didn't have to say it out loud. He said it. Trust me. For all the good it'll do."

 

The ambulance crew was silent.  The medic who rode in back with Starsky knew both detectives from previous injuries and crime scenes.  He also knew how close the two men were, so he kept a careful eye on the one left behind.  Without the need for a siren, the silence in the ambulance was overwhelming.  Starsky sat where he could touch Hutch’s hair. 

 

As he absently ran his fingers through Hutch’s hair, under the sheet, Starsky said, “He saved my life.” His voice was quiet. “Dammit, Hutch.” 

 

Blood was beginning to soak through the sheet covering Hutch.  The medic reached in a cabinet for a blanket to put over him, to spare Starsky from having to see it.  Starsky put a hand out and grabbed the man’s wrist.

 

“Don’t, Gary,” was all he said. 

 

Gary looked at Starsky.  The hand holding his wrist was blood stained.  He started to say something, when Starsky started to tremble. What little color remained in the devastated face fled.  “Starsky, are you all right?”

 

Starsky’s ears were ringing and his vision was dimming.  The amulet around his neck suddenly seemed infused with electricity.  He remembered the burning sensation when the amulet had touched his and Hutch's clasped hands and he felt like he was being pulled through a hole in the ground.  “Gary?” he said weakly, letting go of the wrist and grabbing for the necklace.  Then, he stiffened and everything went black.

 

~*~*~*~

 

San Diego, California, May, 2062

 

The usual calm in the office was broken by a flashing red light near the ceiling and a computer voice announcing, “Breech.  Senior Team to the large conference room.”

 

Doctor Kelton Raj looked up from the coffee he’d just prepared, grabbed the mug, and headed for the conference room.  He’d worked with the University’s Anachronistic Studies department for the past ten years.  When the on site historical study project took off, he was there to see its birth.  He and the team of scientists he worked with were good at their jobs and took great pride in the project’s accomplishments.

 

When Raj was a postdoctoral student, he and a colleague made a startling discovery.  Probably through as much happenstance as foresight, he and Doctor Paula Brighton found something everyone told them was impossible -- a way back through time.

 

The two scientists developed an alloy that could be used in combination with a crystalline form found in South America to propel a human being into the past.  As yet, future travel was impossible.  Many theories existed about why, but Raj and Brighton believed it had something to do with what they believed was the fluid nature of time.  Only the past was set.  The future was laid out in infinite pathways.  Take a left instead of a right, the future changed.  Decide not to get on a train at the last possible moment, the future changed.  The university’s graduate interdisciplinary time studies program was filled with classes speculating on the nature of time, the ethics of the work, and the value of the discoveries.

 

Three years ago, a student decided to do his dissertation on the nature of crime in the twentieth century.  He believed that the more he could learn about it, the easier it would be for modern psychologists to help prevent violent crime.  When Kelton reached the conference room, he knew by the colors of the folders being distributed that the crime project was where they had a breech. 

 

“What do we have?” he asked as he took his seat.

 

Paula stood and said, “Lights.  Display file BC197580-A.”

 

The lights dimmed and the screens at the end of the room came to life with images.  The voiceover identified the scenes as being from the Bay City Crime Project, target period 1975 to 1980.  Christopher Duncan was the graduate student in charge of this phase of the project.  Somehow, he had become separated from his transducer -- the crystal and alloy combination that allowed him to travel to and stay in the past.  Safeguards were in place to determine when this happened and to correct it as quickly as possible. The traveler had a corresponding piece of alloy implanted under the skin.  The amulet would get warm and the stone would glow when the time line was active in unexpected ways.   

 

Paula turned to the group.  “Lights,” she said.  “I discovered when we first put together the transducer that keeping it apart from its implanted mate could cause the wearer to enter a causality loop, while the person with the implant would be unaffected.  That’s why we put the breech program in place.  According to my records, we’ve lost contact with Duncan.  His last transmission was dated June 14, 1977.”

 

“Do we need to send in a sweeper team?” Kelton asked.  Sweepers went back to the time in question to find the missing traveler and repair any detectable time line damage. This was the most serious breech they’d had.  No sweeper team had been deployed on earlier alarms for anything other than test purposes.

 

“No,” Paula said.  “First, let’s check with Records and Events.  We can have them run the comparison analysis to help us narrow down the search.”

 

“You’re hoping we can remotely deactivate the transducer?”

 

Jane Kopel answered the question.  “Yes. We’ve done it several times in test.  We’ve even developed a way to nudge the time line back into synch, if the breech isn’t too bad.”

 

Kelton nodded at her.  She was one of their most promising post docs.  Her work on the fail-safe procedures over the past two years was sure to prove invaluable in a case like this.

 

“Good job.  Go ahead.  I’ll be in my office when you have the list from SID.”

 

Several scientists had developed a computer program they could run to determine any damage to the time line.  The system was kept in a shielded vault.  The shielding was developed to block any changes to the time line.  Some of the older PhDs had joked that if they could just stand to live in the chamber, they might not age. The team called the computer SID, which stood for Specialized Interdiction Database.  The theory behind the database was a method to compare events and people in a time line to determine if there were any changes caused by a time travel mishap.

 

Another fail-safe they used was careful background checks of all study participants.  A complete genealogy was required to prove that individuals had no biological connection to the place they were assigned to study.  This was meant to help ensure that travelers would not go back in time and meet their own ancestors. The travel team wasn’t certain what might result from such a meeting.

 

Within an hour, SID had identified ten events, three deaths and one extended life that were out of synch with the original time line.  Another hour provided a list of descendants who might be affected by the alteration. 

 

The team met in the conference room again to look at the lists.  The purpose was to try to determine where they needed to make adjustments to repair history.  Four faces appeared on the screen with a list of their descendants below each.  Paula read the information off to the team.

 

“Subject one:  Larry Coopertino.  Thief.  Aged 40.  June 18, 1977. Gunshot wound.  Original date of death:  June 14, 1977.  Struck and killed by a bus.  No descendants in either time line.

 

“Subject two:  Mary Ignascio.  Prostitute, drug dealer. Aged 58. Extended life.  Originally stabbed to death on June 14, 1977.  New date of death: October 3, 2010.  Heart failure.  New time line produced eighteen descendants. All but one were members of a crime family.  SID reports a possibility of several deaths attributable to the family.  A longer analysis should be conducted of possible ramifications. No currently living descendants.

 

“Subject three:  Jack Williams.  Aged 38. Thief.  Extended life.  Originally died on June 21, 1977 from an infection after being shot in a robbery on June 18, 1977.  New date of death:  February 23, 1980 in a car accident.  No descendants in either time line.

 

Kelton whistled and pointed.  “Well, this is a mess.  What about those two?”

 

Paula continued, “Subject four: Detective Kenneth Hutchinson.  Aged 33.  Killed by a single gunshot wound, June 18, 1977.  Original date of death:  March 06, 2028.  Natural causes.  In the original time line, he was the father of two, born after the new DOD.  Eleven other descendants.”  She paused and looked at her data pad.  “Uh-oh.  One of them was one of our travelers.  Elizabeth Hutchinson, born May 10, 2039.  She was assigned to the Cuban Missile Crisis team.”

 

Naturally, none of them remembered Elizabeth Hutchinson.  She never existed in their time line once the change took place in the past.  They were pleased that SID had met the promise they hoped for when they designed the system. 

 

Resuming her recitation, Paula read, “The fifth subject was Detective David Starsky.   Died of multiple gunshot wounds August 28, 1977. Aged 34.  Original date of death:  January 16, 2028.  Natural causes.  Father of three, also all born after the realigned DOD.  Seven other descendants.  No one in the project this time, but one of them, Jacob Starsky, was a prominent police captain in Bay City until this morning.”

 

Several hours of calculations gave them what they hoped would solve the problem.  They would attempt to deactivate the transducer remotely.  If their formulas were correct, they could get it at the right moment to stop the damage to the time line.  They’d worry about what happened to Duncan after the repair was a success.   The team carefully analyzed their data and determined that although the catalyst was the first subject, the two policemen were pivotal. 

 

Paula pulled open the file on Detective Hutchinson and read the reports describing his death in a store robbery.  The accounts stated that he had saved his partner’s life before being killed by one of the robbers. 

 

Sighing, she closed his file and opened the one on Hutchinson’s partner.  The reports indicated that Detective David Starsky was placed on leave follow Ken Hutchinson’s death.  He returned to desk duty just over a month after the shooting.  After watching him carefully for a while, his captain paired him with another officer and allowed him to go back on active duty.  From all accounts, when the two cops where caught in a dangerous situation, Detective Starsky sacrificed his life for his new partner.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Hutch came out of Harry’s with lunch. Some people walked in front of him, blocking his path.  When they passed, he looked toward the Torino and was surprised to see Starsky leaning against the rear fender, in obvious distress. Bent at the waist, his head down, Starsky’s right hand was on his leg, the left up to his chest.   Hutch rushed to his side, setting their lunch on the sidewalk and reaching out to steady him. 

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked anxiously. 

 

Starsky didn’t answer right away.  He was almost gasping for breath.

 

“Starsky!” Hutch called insistently. 

 

Looking up at his partner, Starsky was relieved when Hutch’s voice sounded close as the buzzing stopped in his ears.  His vision cleared and the wave of dizziness passed.  “Yeah,” he said softly. “‘M okay”

 

Unconvinced, Hutch said, “You sure?  You’re whiter than Uncle Olaf.”

 

Starsky laughed at that.  Considering it a good sign, Hutch helped him stand, reaching around to open the passenger door.  Ignoring the weak protest from Starsky, Hutch insisted that he sit. “What the hell was that all about?” he asked, looking intently into Starsky’s eyes to be sure they were clear.

 

“Dunno,” Starsky said.  “Guess maybe I should’ve eaten today.”

 

“You didn’t eat any breakfast?”

 

“No time.  We had to be at that meeting so early, I’m lucky I got in a shower before work.”

 

“More like I’m lucky, buddy,” Hutch teased.  “I’ve got just the thing for your blood sugar.”  He handed Starsky some food and a soda.

 

“Hang onto this for a minute.  I can’t drive this way,” Starsky said, extending the food back to Hutch.

 

“You’re joking, right?”  Hutch asked, his eyebrows climbing.  “I’ll drive.  We’ll go over to the park and eat.  Then, if you’re looking better, I won’t drag your ass to the doctor.”

 

“Funny.”

 

Before he shut the door, Hutch noticed the new necklace Starsky was wearing. “Hey, looks like you found something nice.”

 

“Yeah, you like it?”

 

Hutch reached up with his free hand and touched it.  The bright sunlight practically danced from the cabochon stone and the metal was cool to the touch.  “Sure. What is it?”

 

“I don’t know,” Starsky said, slowing down his speech pattern slightly.  “Neither did he, I only paid twenty dollars.” He was having the strangest sense of déjà vu.  He looked over at Hutch, who hadn’t noticed the change in Starsky’s tone; he was too busy looking at the necklace.

 

“Is the pendant silver?  Kind of looks like it, but it’s different.  Almost--”

 

“White,” both men said at the same time.

 

“Starsk?”

 

“I don’t know, but I just got the weirdest feeling we’ve had this conversation before.”

 

Hutch let go of the necklace and stood up straight on the sidewalk, putting his hand on his hip.  “You sure you didn’t bump your head or something?”

 

“Just go to the park,” Starsky ordered.

 

Starsky called them out on a meal break, while Hutch walked around to the driver’s side of the Torino.  “Dispatch, this is Zebra 3.  Log us out Code 7.”

 

“Roger, Zebra 3.”

 

Hutch drove them to the park, where they sat and talked about the school children they were watching, and how teachers thought up creative things for them to do.  Starsky was looking much better, so Hutch backed off and let him take over driving again.  Shortly after they logged back in they got a call for a probable robbery in progress. 

 

"All units. All units. Silent alarm triggered at Marshall and Vine. Play It Again Sports. All available units, respond Code One."

 

Hutch picked up the mike. "That's us," he said to Starsky. Into the mike, he said, "Zebra Three. We are responding. Code One. ETA two minutes."

 

Starsky swung the car into a U-turn and sped toward the sporting goods store. When they arrived, he parked the car on a side street out of sight, but that meant they couldn't see what was happening inside.

 

"You take the back," Hutch said, checking his gun. "I'll go in and pretend I'm a customer."

 

"Hang on," Starsky objected. "We don't know what's going on in there. You could be walking into a mess."

 

"You got a better idea?" Hutch asked. "Backup'll be here any second."

 

Starsky sighed. "No. Okay, then. Let's go." He turned toward the back and Hutch put his gun away, leaving his jacket unbuttoned so he'd have quick access to it when or if he needed it, and started toward the door. Whistling, he strode in and was immediately confronted by the robber.

 

"Gimme that gun, Hutchinson," Nate Leonard snarled at him, holding his own gun in both hands pointed right at Hutch's heart. "You ain't foolin' me none."

 

Hutch had no choice but to comply, but he knew Starsky and the backup units couldn't be far away. He pulled his gun free from the holster gingerly and handed it over to Leonard.

 

"Now get over there," Leonard ordered him, gesturing toward the frightened clerk.

 

But Hutch rushed him, hoping to overpower him, and Leonard, expecting this from his past dealings with Starsky and Hutch, sidestepped the detective and cracked him on the back of the skull with the handle of Hutch's own gun. Hutch went down in a heap and was still. Leonard turned back to the clerk.

 

“Put the money in the bag!” he ordered the kid, who was trembling and pale.

 

“But the cash register’s practically empty, mister!” The clerk was almost sobbing in fear.

 

Leonard cocked the hammer back and aimed it at Hutch's head.  “If there ain’t enough in the register, open that safe.  Do it, or the pig gets it.”

 

The kid opened his mouth, but Leonard felt cold metal against his temple and heard Starsky's voice in his ear. "Drop it or it'll be the last thing you ever do."

 

Leonard obeyed and Starsky took his gun and Hutch's before cuffing him and roughly shoving him into a sitting position to one side of the checkout. Then he knelt beside Hutch. "Call the cops and an ambulance," he said to the clerk. "Tell them you have an officer down."

 

The kid turned to the phone just as Starsky found the nasty lump on the back of Hutch's head and Hutch came around.

 

"Good morning," Starsky said with a grin. "You okay in there?"

 

"Owwww," Hutch said, wincing and reaching for the sore spot. "Guess I was made, huh?"

 

Starsky would have answered, but just then Hutch spotted Leonard's accomplice, behind Starsky.

 

"Starsk!" Hutch pushed Starsky aside to safety and raised his gun to fire just as the accomplice squeezed off a shot. Hutch returned fire instantly as he felt a burning flash of pain in his midsection. Starsky recovered, his gun at the ready, but there was no need. Larry Coopertino was dead. Starsky scrambled over there to make sure and turned back to Hutch.

 

"You got him, partner," he said, but froze when he saw the look on Hutch's face. "Hutch?"

 

Hutch was finding it almost impossible to breathe. His entire torso felt like it was on fire and he couldn't get enough air. He tried to speak, to reach out to Starsky and tell him something was wrong, but he couldn't. He felt the gun fall out of his hand and dimly heard it hit the floor, but his brain didn't seem to be working right. He sank to the floor just as Starsky reached him.

 

"Oh, my God." Starsky's voice seemed very far away but even through the fog, Hutch could hear the fear and despair in it.

 

"No..." Was that his own voice? It didn't sound like his.

 

Starsky pulled him up onto his lap and he felt something press against his back. It hurt, but in a vague way, as in a dream. He tried to shake his head. He didn't want the thing pressing against his back, but he couldn't say so. Somehow Starsky understood. The pressure eased and Starsky's arms went around him, holding him.

 

"You... okay?" Hutch asked, trying hard to focus his eyes. They wouldn't obey. Starsky was a blur of blue eyes and curly hair above him.

 

"I'm fine," Starsky said urgently. "You did great."

 

Hutch felt the wetness of his shirt and realized he was very, very badly injured. He blinked again and tried to focus on Starsky's face and finally managed to do it. Starsky's eyes were wide with fright and a tear rolled slowly down his cheek.

 

"Hey," Hutch said. "'S okay. You're ... safe."

 

"Hutch," Starsky said, tears forming in his eyes, "don't talk like that. Hang on, babe, the ambulance is coming."

 

Hutch shook his head. He knew now he was dying. He couldn't feel his legs and his vision was going dark. It was harder than ever to get enough air.

 

"No," Starsky whispered, pulling him closer. "Don't leave me. Hang on!"

 

"Too late." Hutch tried to wet his lips and reached blindly for Starsky's hand. Guessing what he wanted, Starsky met him halfway. Hutch couldn't squeeze, but he tried, and he lifted his eyes to Starsky's face again. "My best friend," he ground out, barely able to make the words audible. "I'd ... do it again. Love you, buddy."

 

"Hutch! No, don't say goodbye," Starsky pleaded, the tears escaping from his eyes and rolling down his face. "You're gonna make it. Stay with me, now, you're gonna be fine."

 

"Me and thee," Hutch said, no longer able to focus on Starsky's face. He had to depend on the feeling of Starsky's arms around him, the scent and awareness of his partner's nearness, now.

 

"Me and thee," Starsky repeated, his voice shaking. He could see what Hutch had guessed and accepted first. Hutch was dying. As he leaned closer to him, the necklace fell out of his shirt and brushed their clasped hands. There was a little spark of light and a moment of searing heat.

 

Hutch knew where Starsky's face was, even if he couldn't see anything but a fog now, and he raised his eyes. As strongly as he could, he telegraphed, Please, don't mourn. Go on. Live for us both. He heard a sharp intake, a suppressed sob. Suddenly a sharp pain sliced through him and he arched, groaning. Starsky's arms tightened.

 

Breath was almost impossible now. Hutch tried to draw in air one last time. He wanted to say goodbye. He couldn't. He went limp in Starsky's arms.

 

"Oh, God," Starsky whispered, dropping his cheek to the blond hair and closing his eyes. "Oh, my God." Hutch was gone. "It's my fault," Starsky whispered into Hutch's hair. "This is all my fault."

 

Trying to revive Hutch was out of the question.  Starsky knew from the way the blood pumped out of his partner that there was nothing left to save.  He’d seen it too many times.  When they arrived, the paramedics knew it, too.  They stood off to the side with the uniformed officers, helplessly watching.  No one could do anything for Starsky.  He sat on the floor with Hutch in his arms, quietly rocking him.  He wouldn’t answer anyone and he shook off all attempts to reach him, or to touch his dead partner. 

 

Starsky repeatedly muttered, “I’m sorry.”

 

“Starsky?” Officer Brady tried again, not really expecting an acknowledgement.  He didn’t get one.  He saw his partner walking back in through the front door and stood up from his crouch to see if Captain Dobey was on his way.

 

“He’s coming,” Donnelly said, shifting his gaze between John’s face and Starsky’s.

 

“Does he know?” Brady asked.

 

“No.  He’d already gotten a call to come down here.  I didn’t want to put that out on the radio.”  When he saw how badly Hutch was wounded, another officer had called for Dobey.

 

Brady nodded.   “You want to wait for him, or stay with Starsky?”

 

“I’ll wait.  Shit, man, I can’t believe it.” Donnelly shook his head and went back outside.  The paramedics followed him.  They were standing in a huddle when Captain Dobey arrived on the scene.  As soon as he saw the paramedics standing around looking helpless, he knew it was bad.  He’d passed the Torino on the way to the parking lot.  Although he couldn’t be sure who was wounded, the other officer had just called in the message without identifying the victim, Dobey’s intuition caused his stomach to flutter.

 

“Donnelly,” he said in greeting. The look on everyone’s faces told him he didn’t need to ask how bad it was.  “Who?”

 

“Hutch.”

 

“Oh, no,” Dobey said.  “Starsky?”

 

One of the paramedics said, “He’s bad.  If you can’t get through to him, we may have to sedate him.  He won’t let anyone near them.”

 

“Is he hurt?” Dobey asked, concerned that Starsky might also be injured and not receiving treatment.

 

The two paramedics looked at each other soberly, before one answered.  “Not that we can tell, but there’s so much blood.  Can’t say till we can get him to let us touch him.”

 

Dobey understood.  “Let me try.  Donnelly, I want you to go down to The Pits. You know Huggy Bear?”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“Get him here yesterday.  I’m going to call him right now.” In response, Donnelly sprinted for his squad car.

 

Captain Dobey got a patch through to The Pits.  Huggy answered cheerily. “Who is there lookin’ for the Bear?”

 

“Huggy, it’s Captain Dobey.”

 

Dobey’s tone told Huggy that whatever he wanted wasn’t good.  “Which one is it this time?” Huggy asked.

 

“It’s Hutch.” Dobey took a deep breath before he finished.  “Huggy--”

 

“No,” Huggy said.  “Don’t tell me that.”

 

“I’m sorry, Huggy.  I’ve sent a black-and-white for you. Will you come?”

 

“Starsky?”

 

“I haven’t seen him, but they’re telling me it’s bad.  We need you.”

 

“I’m there,” Huggy answered.  He hung up the phone, and dashed for the door.

 

Captain Dobey looked around at the stricken faces.  This never got any easier.  He spared a thought for his own partner, murdered years ago.  Dobey knew how much that had hurt.  A few steps in through the front door, he caught sight of his best detective team -- one in the beginning stages of severe grief and the other gone forever.  He stood there, shocked and horrified by the amount of blood and the scene before him.  Starsky had Hutch’s head in his lap and he was swaying back and forth while saying something too quiet for Dobey to hear from where he was.  Hutch’s gun was on the floor a short distance from them, and Starsky’s lay on the ground on his left side.  Officer Brady was leaning close to Starsky, saying nothing, but conveying his support.  Dobey sent up a silent prayer.  Please help him, Lord. Give me the strength to help him. 

 

Dobey leaned toward one of the other officers and quietly asked what had happened.  The answer didn’t surprise him.  “Witnesses say Hutch saved Starsky’s life.  Neither of them saw the other suspect.  He was gonna blow Starsky away, but Hutch saw.  Oh, God, Cap.”

 

The big man crossed the room and stood beside and slightly behind Starsky.  Brady looked up at Dobey, seeing his intention to take over in his eyes.  He stood up and backed away while Dobey moved to kneel beside Starsky.  “Dave?”  Dobey could now hear Starsky softly saying, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”  He looked him over, but couldn’t see an injury.  The blood must all be Hutch’s.

 

“Dave?  It’s Captain Dobey.  Look at me.”

 

Starsky tightened his grip on his partner, but his eyes remained closed and he didn’t answer. 

 

“Dave, come on. Look at me."

 

This time, Starsky shook his head, but Dobey persisted.  “Come on, now, look at me.”   He put a hand on Starsky’s shoulder and squeezed, trying to turn him slightly, but Starsky was frozen.

 

“It should’ve been me, Cap,” he said without looking at Dobey.

 

“Hutch was doing his job, Starsky, protecting you.” 

 

When Starsky looked up at him, his eyes full of loss, Dobey was undone.  The tears he’d tried so hard to keep in check started to flow.  No matter how many times this had happened in his career, losing one of his men was heartbreaking.  Especially when that man was a good and trusted friend. 

 

“But I didn’t protect him,” Starsky answered.

 

The lump in Dobey’s throat made it almost impossible to speak.  “Son, we need to let him go.”

 

“I can’t, Cap.  He’s my partner.  I’m responsible.”

 

“You’ve always taken good care of him, Dave, but now we have to let someone else do that.”

 

Starsky bent over Hutch, putting his face in the blond hair with a sob.  “I can’t!  If I let him go it’s all over, Cap.  I’m sorry, Hutch.  I’m so sorry.  Why’d he do it?”

 

Dobey put a hand down on Hutch’s cooling shoulder and then wrapped his other arm around Starsky.  “He did what he had to, Dave.”  Looking down at Hutch’s still face, Dobey said, “He’s safe, Hutch.  You did all right.”  Then, turning his attention back to Starsky, he said, “Give me your weapon, Dave.”  He extended his hand to receive it, not wanting to just reach for it and spook Starsky.

 

“I have to protect him,” Starsky said, almost incoherently.

 

“He’s in God’s hands, now,” Dobey soothed.  “Give me your weapon.”  Starsky nodded and picked up the Beretta, putting it in Dobey’s hand. 

 

Starsky’s tears flowed as he sat that way for long minutes until Dobey finally heard the approach of a squad car.  He hoped it was Huggy.  The paramedics had already moved toward them twice, but Dobey made them back off with a glance. 

 

When Huggy Bear reached them, he made no effort to stop his tears.  He tried to keep it low key, but the tears were beyond his ability to prevent.  This was a day he hoped he’d never see.  He squatted down next to his friends and put one hand on Hutch’s chest, while the other barely touched his hair.  "You lived and died bravely, my brother," Huggy said. "The world is a better place because you were in it.  We’ll take care of your partner, now."

 

“Starsk?” Huggy called.  “It’s time, bro’.  He doesn’t want you mourning.  You know that.  Let them take him, so we can take care of you.”

 

Huggy got through to him.  Starsky sniffed, and gently laid Hutch on the floor.  Bloodstains Huggy knew were left by Hutch’s fingers when Starsky bent down to where he could reach him accompanied the grief on Starsky’s face. He was relieved that it meant Hutch had the time to say goodbye to his best friend.

 

Seeing the progress, the paramedic put away the syringe he’d prepared in case they needed to put Starsky out to do their jobs.  The two medics stepped in with their stretcher and they carefully placed Hutch on it with Starsky’s help.  He reached out and grabbed the paramedic’s arm when he tried to cover Hutch’s face with the sheet.

 

“I need to do it,” he said. After brushing his hand across Hutch’s cheek, Starsky pulled the sheet over his face.  “I’m going with you,” he told the paramedics.

 

Dobey said, “Starsky, I don’t see why--”

 

“I can’t do anything else for him, Cap. I’m not letting him take this last ride alone.”

 

Dobey and Huggy helped him to his feet again.  Starsky stood, squaring his shoulders.  He walked out behind the medics, unassisted.  They loaded the stretcher into the waiting ambulance.  When Starsky reached for the doorframe to boost himself up, he saw another of those strange flashes of light.

 

“What the hell?” Huggy mumbled.  He’d seen it, too.

 

Starsky gasped once as the feeling of electricity sizzled through him, and the necklace around his neck grew hot.  He reached for his chest, not responding to the frantic inquiries being fired at him by his friends.  Feeling an inexorable pull, Starsky fell into darkness.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The team’s attempt to repair events without sending back another traveler failed.  They weren’t sure if their timing was off, or if they were simply unable to deactivate the transducer.  Although certain things were different, the outcome was the same.  Both police officers were dead within months of each other and the time line was still disturbed.  The decision to send a sweeper team seemed unavoidable.

 

“I have two men briefed and ready to go,” Paula said, presenting the folders to Kelton and the rest of the senior staff.  “They’ve been drilled repeatedly, and they’re ready.”

 

“Good,” Kelton said.  “What’s next?”

 

Paula explained that the sweepers would go back to a point a few hours before they lost contact with the traveler.  They had instruments to help them home in on the transducer’s signal, and they should be able to find it.

 

“They are in the staging area, waiting for a green light,” Paula concluded. 

 

Kelton furrowed his brow.  “You’re sure they can do it without interfering more?”

 

This was one of the program’s most important precepts.  If a traveler died in a way that didn’t interfere with the time line, the only thing the team was allowed to do was observe the situation and reacquire the transducer.  The possibility existed that some interaction with a person from the past caused the traveler’s death and also interfered with the time line.  If the death was what caused the problem, the sweepers could make adjustments to prevent it.  Their highest priority was to make certain the time line remained intact.  If the situation, and the traveler, could be salvaged, the team would make a decision about whether he would remain in the past or return to their time.

 

“They know.  They’ll wait to see how the traveler and his transducer became separated.  They’ve been fully briefed on the parameters under which they can interfere if Duncan has died.”  That established, the senior staff voted to proceed.

 

When sweepers Cary Levine and Ed Fulton arrived in Bay City, their equipment read the time as nine o’clock in the morning, June 14, 1977.  At least the first part of the process had worked as planned.

 

After turning on the detection equipment, Cary announced, “I have a signal.”  He pointed out the direction and the two sweepers set off on their search for Christopher Duncan. 

 

Several hours later, they found their target.  He was seated in a coffee shop in what Ed had decided must be the seediest downtown in history.  They hung back, even though Duncan didn’t know either of them by sight.  A sweeper team had to consist of people who didn’t have a relationship with the traveler to provide the best assurance they’d be able to resist interfering.  Through the restaurant’s window, they watched Duncan communicate with base.  That transmission matched their time log.  Soon after, the man stood, tossing some money on the counter in front of him.  He left the diner, with the sweepers on his tail.

 

Duncan walked several blocks and turned up a side street peopled with winos, drug addicts, prostitutes, and bored citizens who couldn’t be sorted into categories.  A door opened and a woman walked out onto the sidewalk.  She spun around to yell some colorful words at someone inside what was probably a windowless bar.  After extending her middle finger to the unseen target of her ire, she turned and sashayed down the sidewalk.  Duncan was less than a block from her. 

 

Cary and Ed watched the scene before them in a combination of dread and pure fascination.  Cary said, “I think this is it.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Just a feeling.”

 

Several things happened in swift succession.  The traffic light just behind Duncan turned green and a city bus lumbered into the intersection.  The woman walked across an alleyway.  Just as she stepped up onto the opposite sidewalk, a man in dark clothing dashed from that alley and ran up to her, grabbing her purse.  She turned to fight him, but the man pulled out and opened a switchblade.  In the blink of an eye, Duncan started toward them. 

 

“Hey!” he called to the assailant. 

 

The dirty, wild looking man stopped his motion to stab the woman, instead bringing the sharp blade up to cut through her purse strap.  He snatched it from her and turned to escape the advancing traveler. 

 

Duncan was faster, and he reached the thief before he could run.  They began to tussle and the sweepers saw Coopertino drop the purse and grab Duncan’s shirt in one fist as he used his other hand to sink the switchblade into their target’s chest up to the handle.  He pulled the knife out and let Duncan go, yanking the amulet off in the process.  Ignoring Mary Ignascio’s screams, Coopertino stuffed the glowing, warm necklace in his pocket, scooped up the purse, and ran behind the departing Number 41 bus.  He quickly lost himself in the crowd across the street.  The passing bus had hidden their view of the fight and he got away cleanly.  The sweepers quickly discussed what should happen next.  They glanced around and ducked into the alleyway.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Cary and Ed walked up behind Duncan just as he stepped into the block where Mary Ignascio was about to be attacked.  They had made all the adjustments they needed to make to return right before the interference happened.

 

“Chris Duncan,” Cary said.

 

No one knew his name other than fellow time project workers, so Duncan was a little startled.  “Yes?”

 

“We need to speak with you for a few minutes,” Ed told him, carefully showing him his time project identification.  “You’re about to interfere with the time line.”

 

“What?  I can’t believe that. I’ve been so careful.”

 

The two sweepers moved back against a building, pulling Chris Duncan along with them gently.  “Watch,” Cary said.

 

A woman walked across an alleyway.  Just as she stepped up onto the opposite sidewalk, a man in dark clothing dashed from that alley and ran up to her, grabbing her purse.  She turned to fight him, and the wild looking man pulled out and opened a switchblade.  Duncan looked at Ed, who pointed first at the advancing bus, and then back at the crime being committed in front of them.   

 

Mary Ignascio fought her assailant, who stabbed her with his switchblade and jerked her purse from her as she fell.  He wanted to get away quickly so he turned to bolt into the street.  When he did that, he ran directly in front of the Number 41 bus.  Duncan gasped as the man was struck, and run over, dying instantly.

 

“I’m sorry,” Cary said. “Your instincts took over and you saved that woman.  Because you did, two policemen died long before their time and other time line shifts also happened.”

 

“Oh, my God,” Duncan said.  He was trembling and white as a sheet.

 

Ed patted his shoulder and said, “It’s okay.  You have to be careful, though.  Can you handle it, or should we take you back, now?”

 

Duncan shook his head.  “No, I can do it.  I’m so sorry.  My God.” 

 

At the sound of sirens, they all decided they’d better leave before they were further entangled.  They walked a few blocks and found an incongruously placed park.  The four square block patch of grass included a mosaic tile fountain that had been still for many years.   They all sat on the edge of the fountain and talked about the situation.  When they were certain Duncan was all right, Cary and Ed wished him luck and walked him back to his apartment before they returned to the future. 

 

~*~*~*~

 

Dave Starsky walked into the antique store and stopped three feet from the front door.  Suddenly, he felt hot and a little dizzy.  He closed his eyes briefly, fighting off the strangest sensation. 

 

“Are you all right, sir?” a kind voice asked. 

 

Shaking his head a little, Starsky said, “Yeah, I think so.”  He raised an eyebrow as he studied the speaker’s face.  “Have we met?” he asked.

 

“I don’t think so,” the man answered.  “I’ve only been open for a month and I haven’t seen you in here.  I just moved down from Seattle.”

 

“Huh,” Starsky replied. 

 

“May I help you with something?”

 

“I’m looking for a necklace,” Starsky answered.

 

“Something in particular?”

 

The dizziness was passing, but Starsky still had an odd buzzing sound in his ears.  “You have anything kind of unique?  Maybe an antique, but not too pricey.”

 

The man showed Starsky to a case.  Looking down into it, he had another wave of dizziness.  His glance through the display left him with the strangest impression that something was missing.  “Uh, do you have anything else?”

 

“No, this is our entire collection of necklaces.”

 

For some reason, Starsky was expecting to see a brightly colored blue stone in the collection.  He couldn’t explain it.  “Nothing in a blue stone?”

 

“No, sir.  I’ve told you, this is all I have,” the man said, beginning to lose his patience with this customer.  Instead of waiting for Starsky to make a selection, the proprietor made a suggestion. 

 

“This looks like something you’d enjoy,” he said as he reached into the case.  He pulled out a leather cord threaded through three metal disks.  He was right; Starsky did like it.

 

“That’s pretty cool,” he said with a smile.  “What are they?”

 

“Chinese I Ching coins,” the man answered.  “If you wear them, they are supposed to bring you prosperity, good fortune, and protection from negative forces.  They’re also used to divine fortunes.”

 

“Are they expensive?” Starsky asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.

 

“Oh, no.  I can let you have that with the leather cord for $10.”

 

The man smiled as Starsky handed him the money.  “Would you like that wrapped?” 

 

“No, thanks,” Starsky replied.  Suddenly, his voice became quiet and he slowly added, “It’s for me.”

 

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

 

Starsky nodded.  “I just have the weirdest feeling I’ve done this all before.  You know, déjà vu?”

 

The elderly man laughed.  “Oh, that’s all.  Happens to me all the time.”

 

When Hutch returned to the Torino, he found Starsky sitting in the passenger seat, leaning against the doorframe, pale and broken out into a sweat.  He was instantly concerned.  The last time his partner looked like that, he had a high fever and chills.

 

“Hey,” Hutch said, his voice concerned.  He reached out to touch Starsky’s forehead.  He was cold and clammy, not feverish.  “You okay?”

 

Starsky opened his eyes and said, “Damn, Hutch.  I feel funny.  I keep having these sort of dizzy spells.”

 

“What?  You were fine fifteen minutes ago.  You coming down with something?”

 

“I don’t know.  Maybe I just need to eat.”

 

“Didn’t you eat today?”

 

“I didn’t have time.  Now that I think of it, I was so beat last night I crashed without eating dinner.  Must be getting old.”

 

Hutch handed their food and sodas through the window and walked around to the driver’s side.  If Starsky wasn’t planning to drive, his blood sugar must be seriously low.  “You know you can’t go that long without eating.  I’ll drive over to the park, but don’t wait, huh?  Dig in.”

 

“‘Kay.”

 

They were just finishing their lunch when the dispatcher called for all available units to respond to a two-eleven at a sporting goods shop a few blocks away. Hutch handed Starsky the last bite of his burger and stuffed the soda cup between his legs as he started the car. Starsky picked up the mike.

 

"This is Zebra Three. We are responding."

 

"Roger, Zebra Three. Code One."

 

Starsky stopped his free hand in the act of reaching for the siren button. "Ten-four, Control."

 

Hutch turned the Mars light on, anyway, for part of the trip, to keep traffic out of their way, and Starsky took it out of the front window a block from the store. Hutch stopped in the alley behind the shop. "I'll go in the front and pretend to be a customer," he said to Starsky. "You come in the back, quietly, and sneak up on the bad guy."

 

"Hold on just a minute," Starsky objected. "We can't see what's going on in there and what if there's more than one bad guy -- " He broke off and put a hand to his forehead. That strange buzzing was back in his ears, and he felt as if he knew what was going to happen if he let Hutch go in that store. And it wasn't good.

 

"You okay?" Hutch reached out and touched Starsky's cheek. It was cool, but his eyes were a bit glassy. "You don't look okay."

 

"I'm fine," Starsky said, trying to shake it off. "Tell ya what. YOU go in the back and I'LL go in the front."

 

"What difference does it make?" Hutch demanded. "We're wasting time."

 

"I've got a bad feeling about you going in the front," Starsky insisted.

 

"Okay, whatever," Hutch said, puzzled. Starsky wasn't acting a bit like himself. "YOU go in the front. But let's GO, huh?"

 

Starsky nodded, checked his gun, and dashed to the front corner of the building. He waited just a moment to make sure Hutch was in position, then strolled in through the door. And froze. Nate Leonard was standing by the counter, holding a gun on a terrified young clerk. No point in pretending to be a customer now. Leonard and the two detectives were well acquainted.

 

Leonard caught sight of Starsky at the same moment and reaching out, grabbed the clerk's shirt front and dragged the kid half across the counter, using him both as a shield and a hostage. He laid his gun barrel against the kid's temple. "Hand over your weapon, Sergeant," he snarled at Starsky. "Where's Blondie?"

 

"Home sick," Starsky said, keeping his eyes trained on Leonard's trigger finger. "Getting low on horse again, Nate?"

 

Ignoring the question, Leonard snapped, "Bullshit. He's here someplace. You better tell me where, or I'll pop this kid, I swear I will. Hand over your weapon!"

 

Obeying the pleading, frightened eyes of the young clerk, Starsky reached for his gun very slowly, listening hard for any sound of Hutch's approach. Come on, partner! Hurry up!

 

Just as he pulled the gun free, Hutch slithered up behind Leonard and simply knocked him in the head with the butt of his Python. Leonard slid to the floor, out cold. The kid scrambled back behind the counter, almost in tears. Hutch grinned at Starsky. "So much for him, huh?"

 

Starsky let out his breath and returned the grin. "Took ya long enough."

 

"Sorry. I didn't want to give him any warning I was back there," Hutch said, a bit petulantly. "I heard his voice and knew he'd made you and I also knew HE'D know I was here somewhere. You gonna read him his rights?"

 

Starsky chuckled and reached into his pocket for his cuffs just as some instinct warned him. He whirled and shot at Leonard's partner, who had appeared from out of nowhere and had his gun trained on Hutch, just as the other man squeezed off a shot at Hutch. But the impact of the bullet hitting him threw his aim off, and the man went down in a heap, shot through the shoulder, his gun falling and skidding across the floor. Starsky was at his side in one leap, using the cuffs to secure him instead and scooping up the gun. He turned to say something to Hutch and was terrified to see him lying on the floor, with a spot of blood on his jacket. "Hutch!" He scrambled to his feet and hurried to him.

 

"I'm okay," Hutch said, his voice tight with pain. "Got me through the arm. Think it went through, though. Thanks, buddy," he added, meeting Starsky's eyes. "A few inches to the left and --"

 

"Don't say it," Starsky interrupted, his heart pounding. "Don't even think it." He handcuffed the unconscious Leonard and gently pulled Hutch's jacket sleeve back. The bullet hadn't penetrated after all; it had only grazed the lower part of his arm. But Hutch was right. A few inches to the left and that bullet would have hit him squarely in the midsection, and there would have been little anyone could do then. Starsky pulled a bandana out of his hip pocket and used it to bind up the wound. "You'll be fine," he said, his voice still shaking. "Kid, call an ambulance, will ya? Tell 'em to send two and that there’s an officer down."

 

“Starsky, I’m fine, there’s no need for all that.”

 

His answer was a glare from Starsky that caused him to give up on trying to change his mind. “Go!” Starsky snapped at the confused clerk.

 

The clerk nodded and turned toward the phone just as two uniformed officers barreled through the door, guns drawn.

 

"It's all over, guys," Hutch said, trying to sound cheerful in spite of the pain in his arm. "Wanna handle this piece of garbage?" He nudged Leonard, who was coming to, with his foot.

 

John Brady looked from one of them to the other, noting the bloody bandana wound around Hutch's arm. "You're hurt, Sarge."

 

"Flesh wound," Hutch said. "I'll live. We've already got an ambulance coming for him," he nodded toward Leonard's cohort, "and all that's wrong with Nate, here, is a bump on the head. Take him down and book him for armed robbery and we'll handle booking this creep."

 

"No, we won't," Starsky said, still trembling from the near miss. "You're going in the other ambulance, buddy, and don't even try to argue with me. That was too close."

 

Hutch gave Starsky a quizzical glance. It wasn't like him to still be this shaken after all the shouting was over. "I'm okay," he said softly.

 

"But you almost weren't," Starsky hissed back. "I've had a bad feeling all day that something awful was going to happen, and like we've been through all this before. We ain't takin' no chances. Ambulance. No argument."

 

Hutch cocked an eyebrow at him, but shrugged. "Okay, okay." In the distance, he heard the sirens approaching. "But he goes first," he said, indicating Leonard's partner. "He's hurt worse."

 

"All right," Starsky agreed.

 

The first ambulance beat the second by about five minutes, and the paramedics had Leonard's partner, Jack Williams, loaded and ready to go by the time the second one arrived. Hutch was getting pale and Starsky wouldn't let him stand up. He insisted on handling all the details while Hutch sat still and waited for his turn. Hutch sighed but didn't argue. He'd rarely, if ever, seen Starsky in this kind of mood and he decided it was easier to let him have his head.

 

The second ambulance arrived and one of the paramedics was a friend of Starsky's from high school.

 

"Listen, Pat," Starsky said as soon as he saw him, "you ride in the back with Hutch, huh? Don't take your eyes off him. I gotta bring the car or I'd ride with him myself."

 

Pat stared at him. "He's not in any danger, David."

 

"I got a bad feelin', okay?" Starsky said impatiently. "Please. Humor me."

 

Pat shrugged. "Sure, okay. Don't have a kitten." Then, as Starsky started to turn away, he reached out and snagged his jacket sleeve. "Hey, Dave, somebody gunnin' for you or something? Do I need to worry about an ambush?"

 

Starsky shook his head. "No, it's not that. It's just a feeling. I can't explain. Just take good care of him."

 

Pat nodded, and Starsky went over to the ambulance and poked his head in the back. "I'll be right behind you."

 

Hutch waved a hand in acknowledgement, and Starsky backed away and gestured to Pat to get in.

 

Despite his best intentions, Starsky was several minutes behind the ambulance. He'd been stuck at a red light.

 

As he waited at the light, he caught sight of a billboard advertising some sci-fi movie. There was a photo of a man and woman, dressed in Star Trek-style clothing, and the woman was wearing a light blue amulet on a chain around her neck. Suddenly the buzzing was back in Starsky's ears, and his vision wavered and swam. He couldn't take his eyes off the amulet until the car behind him honked impatiently and he realized the light was green. He shook off the feeling, beginning to feel worried about it, and drove on.

 

By the time he made it to the hospital, Hutch was already in the treatment room and they wouldn't let him go back there.

 

The duty nurse in the ER was well acquainted with both of them and she was firm. "He's not in danger," she said, repeating what Pat had told him. "If he was, I'd let you back there. But it's just a matter of patching him up and giving him some antibiotics. You'd be in the way. Now sit down."

 

But Starsky couldn't sit still, not until he saw Hutch and knew he was all right. He kept hearing Hutch saying "love ya" in a harsh, raspy voice, and seeing blood all over his midsection, and knowing the words really meant "goodbye." He didn't know where the vision was coming from, but it was real enough to touch, and it scared him to death.

 

So, instead of sitting still, he paced back and forth and back and forth until the nurse threatened to tie him to his chair. Attempting his usual attitude, he grinned and said, "Kinky. Let's go," but his heart wasn't in it, and she knew it wasn't.

 

"I know you're worried," she said gently. "But he really is going to be fine. It's not even a serious wound. He'll be out in a little while and ready to go home. Honest."

 

Hutch emerged a half hour later, still a bit pale, but none the worse for wear. "I'm fine," he said the moment he caught Starsky's eye. "Doc gave me a shot, and my ass hurts a lot worse than my arm. What I want now is some dinner. You game?"

 

Starsky met him halfway and did his own examination visually. Hutch had a large white bandage around his arm, but his eyes were clear and his skin was cool. "Sure. We'll get Chinese on the way home."

 

Hutch shook his head. "Nope. I want a steak. Huggy's."

 

"I think you need to take it easy, buddy," Starsky began, but Hutch shook his head again.

 

"I'll take it easy AFTER I eat. I'm starved. Huggy's."

 

Starsky didn't like it, but he had to admit, even to himself, that Hutch looked fine. "All right, all right. But we go home right after and no arguing."

 

"I won't argue, Doctor," Hutch said with a wicked grin.

 

"Bastard," Starsky said, laughing. "Let's go."

 

While they were waiting for their food at Huggy's, Hutch leaned forward and said, "Okay, out with it. What's with you today?"

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Don't give me that," Hutch said. "You're acting weirder than usual, and that's pretty weird. You wouldn't let me go in the front at the two-eleven. You acted like I was dying with this," he held up his bandaged arm, "you're staring at me as if you think I'm gonna disappear or turn into a pumpkin or something. What's up?"

 

"I don't know," Starsky said honestly. "I've just had a bad feeling all day, and it has to do with you getting hurt. Getting hurt bad."

 

Hutch shook his head. "Are you psychic now or something? I told you, I'm fine."

 

"I know." Starsky sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I keep thinking I know what's gonna happen next, like déjà vu, and then I get this weird buzzing in my ears. While they were workin' on you in the hospital, I kept imagining you all covered with blood and dyin', and it wasn't like imagining it so much as it was like a memory." His voice shook slightly.

 

Huggy brought their food in time to hear that last part, and he plopped the plates down on the table with a thud. "I had the same feelin'," he said, jumping in uninvited, "when I saw Blondie waltz in here with the white flag on his arm. Like I remembered him getting hurt a lot worse, and me and Dobey havin' to scrape you off the ceiling and haul you home."

 

Starsky stared up at him. "Yeah ... that's right. I was holding his ... his ... holding Hutch, and you two made me let them take him."

 

"I figured I must've dreamed it or something," Huggy said, giving Hutch a nudge so he'd scoot over and Huggy could sit down in the booth, "but if you did, too -- " He frowned. "That don't make no sense. How could we have had the same dream?"

 

"Maybe you took the same drugs," Hutch suggested. "Sounds like a bad trip to me." He grinned.

 

"Very funny, partner," Starsky growled at him. "I'm tellin' ya, it's weird."

 

"That's the word for it," Hutch agreed. "Both of you are weird." He started eating, and after a moment, Starsky did, too.

 

Starsky was eating, but he and Huggy were both looking at each other anxiously and glancing at Hutch repeatedly.  Sighing, Hutch asked them both, “So, does this weird feeling you two have mean you’ll be looking at me like I’m going to drop dead any minute for a few more days?”

 

Starsky stared at him, wide eyed.  “That’s not even a little funny, Blondie.”

 

Huggy agreed. “No, it ain’t.”

 

Hutch smiled at them both.  “I’m sorry.  I’ll be just fine.  This is just one of those things.  Okay?”

 

“I’m still watching you.  You’d do the same thing if you felt this way.”

 

“No, he wouldn’t,” Huggy said with a smirk. “If he felt like we do, Hutch’d cuff you to the inside of the Torino.  Wouldn’t be no ‘watching’ you.”

 

Before Starsky could say that was a good idea, Hutch silenced them both with a look.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The debriefing went well and the team took comfort in reading the reports.  “The time line has been restored,” Paula said as she turned off the images on the boardroom’s display and turned on the lights. 

 

Raj said, “I think we learned some valuable lessons from this incident.  We might not get this lucky the next time.  I want everyone to read and re-read these reports.  If you compare the restored time line to the reports from SID, in the altered time line Larry Coopertino lived just long enough to kill Detective Hutchinson.”  He stopped a moment and glanced at his notes.  “Coopertino originally died before the robbery, meaning Nate Leonard had to use another partner to commit the crime.  Jack Williams wasn’t destined to kill the police officer.”  Raj looked around the room with satisfaction as the meeting attendees shook their heads and muttered in amazement.

 

He continued, “Meet back here tomorrow at ten, and be prepared to discuss additional fail-safe procedures for the remaining projects.  I’m not ready to pull the other teams over this, but I want everyone’s input on how to improve the process before any additional studies will be approved.”

 

The staff filed out of the room, except for Cary, Paula, and Kelton Raj.

 

“Can I have a word, Doc?” Cary asked.

 

“Certainly.  Is something wrong?”

 

Cary said, “No.  It’s hard to believe the loss of one person could cause such a big impact on the future, isn’t it?  What I mean is, did the entire thing really hinge on the premature deaths of those policemen and the extended life of the thief?”

 

Paula smiled at the young man.  “Haven’t you heard that no man is an island?”  Seeing how perplexed Cary was, she continued,  “Every life touches so many others.  If we learn nothing else from our studies, we need to learn that.”

 

“Yeah,” Cary agreed.

 

~*~*~*~

 

Eventually, Starsky got over his unease.  Hutch did his best to keep the mood light, and before long, even Starsky had to admit that it was foolish to worry about something that never happened.  Regardless, Starsky continued to question feelings of déjà vu and the nature of time.   

 

“I’m just saying, what if I’d never been born, Hutch?”

 

“Your mother would have had to teach someone else how to make knishes?”

 

“Ha, ha.  Don’t you ever feel like you’ve done something before?”

 

Hutch chuckled, thinking of the numerous times he and Starsky had discussed such things on long stakeouts.  “Yeah, all the time.”

 

Realizing what he meant, Starsky said, “Aw, you know what I mean--”

 

“Zebra 3,” the radio interrupted.

 

“Zebra 3, go ahead,” Hutch replied.

 

“Confirmation on your suspect, Marty Rob.  You had the right street.  The number is 2135, Apartment 18.”

 

They were sitting outside a rundown apartment building, waiting for a confirming address to serve their warrant.  The address they were originally given was 2185.  “Roger, that,” Hutch said. “We’re going in.”

 

Crossing the dark street to the apartment building in front of them, Starsky was several steps ahead of Hutch.  They had dealt with this suspect on several occasions.  He was considered armed and dangerous.  A few days earlier, at another address, Rob avoided them by running down a fire escape.  He had also taken several shots at Starsky, narrowly missing him.  Tonight’s plan was for Hutch to go in the back while Starsky went in through the front of the building.  Suddenly, Hutch got a strange feeling.

 

“Hey,” he called softly to Starsky, who turned back toward him.  “You go around back, I’ll go in through the front door.”

 

“Why?” Starsky asked.

 

“Just do it, huh?”

 

“But, why?”

 

The two men stood in the shadows on the sidewalk beside the building, speaking in quiet tones.  “Don’t you think that’s a strange question, coming from the king of ‘What if’ questions and funny feelings?  Humor me.”

 

Starsky had to concede defeat on that one.  “All right, but be careful.”

 

“Always, partner.”

 

The End     

 

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