Time Keeps On Slippin'
rating: +10+x

The lab was empty at night. It was quite small for a scientific establishment, with only 6 rooms connected to a hallway with doors at either end. Not much was spent in the way of comfort and safety, with only a few wooden chairs in the break-room, and a single lock on either door.

A lock which was currently being broken.

A scratching sound could be heard coming from the north-most door. To any onlookers, the handle would have appeared to be moving by itself, slowly turning this way and that. With a satisfying click, the door popped open, and a man dressed darkly stepped inside. Wasting no time, he quickly walked over to the nearest room and began shoving lab equipment into a sack. Beakers and fragile things he left alone, but microscopes, thermometers, chemicals, screens and plates all went in the bag.

After finishing in one room, he went into the next and repeated the process. He was an old hand at burglary, and knew that you shouldn't waste time, even when there were no alarms going off. You never knew when someone might walk by.

As he neared the last room, he noticed a hatch in the wall. Unlike the rest of the lab, which looked cheap and rudimentary, this hatch was made of a smooth, shiny kind of metal. It's lock was more high-tech, but the thief had tools for hacking as well. After a few minutes work, it popped open.

Inside was a device unlike anything he had ever seen before. It was constructed of brass and leather, and had many small dials on it, as well as a lever-like object along its bottom. It also had several straps on it, as if it were meant to be worn on the hand. A ticking clock face was embedded into its main body, but the hands were in the wrong places.

As he scooped it into the sack, he felt a tingling sensation in his hand, as if the object had felt familiar. He was stared at it for a moment, then continued into the last room and finished his job.
He could inspect it further back home.

~

As he took a bite out of an apple, Jayun pondered the device he held in his hand. He had wondered at first if the tingle he'd felt had just been his imagination, but after going through the sack again at home, he had felt that same sense of familiarity in his hand. It was strange, and he knew that it shouldn't be possible. No explanation he could think of made sense.

So he gave up on explaining it.

He led a busy schedule, but he could afford a few hours to play around with the machine. The rest of the loot was safely stored away, and he knew where he could find a few scientists who wouldn't ask where the equipment came from.

He slipped his right hand through the straps and grasped the lever. The feeling of familiarity grew, and he moved his left hand to twist a few of the dials. His subconscious appeared to know how to work the device better than he did, and he did whatever felt natural. After a few seconds, no more adjustments appeared to be required. He pushed the lever and—

Blackness. It was as if the world had disappeared around him. He reached out to see if he could feel anything, but his arms wouldn't move. He tried opening his mouth to shout, but found he couldn't do that either. He began trying to scream, trying to move any part of his body, before—

He stumbled into the kitchen bench and fell over.

After lying on the floor for a while, his heart finally stopped racing, and Jayun stood up. He looked around. He was still in the same room, nothing had changed. He looked at the machine. Most of the dials appeared to have reset to their previous conditions. After thinking for a moment, Jayun began to twist the dials again. His subconscious had finally gotten around to telling him what the thing actually did, and this time he thought of the back door as he fiddled. He finished, and once again pushed the lever.

The same empty darkness surrounded him, but this time he knew what to expect. He couldn't move a single part of his body. After a few moments he realized this was applying to his chest too. He wasn't breathing.

He started freaking out, but before he could do so—

He was in an alleyway behind his home, facing the back door. There was no sound except for the ticking of the clock. Jayun went back inside, took off the machine, and began rummaging through his stolen goods for a few certain chemicals. He stored them in his pockets and left through the front door, on his way to a few potential buyers.

Unlike how some people would have acted in the situation, Jayun decided it would be best to let the matter of the device settle back for a few hours while he did some actual work. Selling scientific equipment with very few credentials was harder than you'd think, and he'd be lucky to pass off even a few microscopes. Chemicals were always the easiest though, for some reason.

He already had a few ideas regarding the device, any way.

~

Rrrrrrriinng! The alarm in the mall went off, as security officers noticed a young man shoplifting on the cameras. He seemed in no hurry to run, and continued to stow away valuable goods in a few bags.

By the time security had caught up to him, though, he was nowhere to be seen. When the camera footage was reviewed, the man had fiddled with something on his hand, then… just disappeared. There had been a brief rush of air, but otherwise nothing; he had simply been there one moment and gone the next. The staff had puzzled over the tape to no end, putting forth many theories as to what had happened, but eventually giving up and going home. Sometimes the unexplainable happened, and that was that. You couldn't spend your life worrying about these sorts of things.

This hadn't been an isolated event, though. Soon, over a period of months, all over the city, various stores and businesses had been stolen from. Even a couple of banks had reported thieves. All the accounts had had several things in common; the thief was a young man, he had bypassed all security, then disappeared after fiddling with something on his right hand. There had even been a news story about a "teleporting thief".

Strangely though, no actual evidence could be recovered of the crimes. All the camera recordings taken at the time showed normal activity when viewed again later. Many stolen goods had reappeared in their original shelves, as if they'd never been taken. Managers and shopkeepers, when questioned, said they couldn't recall any details about the crime, and would prefer to just move past the whole thing.

Some people, though, payed very close attention to the crimes indeed. They had all the tapes, all the eye-witness reports. They had waited until they were sure.

Now, they would act.

~

Jayun walked down the street, in broad daylight. He wasn't concerned. He'd made sure to cover his face while robbing, and even if someone did recognise him, he had an easy escape route. He tapped the metal under his sleeve. He only took it off for sleeping these days; it was too useful.

It was strange, he thought. While in transition (a phrase he had come up with after watching a cheesy sci-fi film), he experienced the seconds and minutes go by, and so did the hands on the clock. But the rest of the world didn't appear to change a bit. To eveyone else, he popped back into existence the moment he left it. It seemed that wherever the empty paralysing multi-dimensional void place he went to was, it lay outside of time as well as space. He supposed that explained why the hands were always wrong.

Still though, scientific quandaries aside, he was having the time of his life. No vault was locked to him, no bank inaccessible. He wasn't even stealing for money, he just did it for the thrill, and look on people's faces when he disappeared in front of them. This was his sort of life.

In the midst of his thinking, Jayun noticed something strange. Apart from him, there were only two other people on the street. One behind him, walking in the same direction, and one at the end of the street, just standing there. He slowly moved his hand to his sleeve,and pictured a location. He was probably just being paranoid, but—

The one in front pulled a black object out from their pocket and pointed it at him.

He wasted no time in pulling the lever, and he thought he heard a bang as he left them behind.

He had a minute to think about what he'd do next as he floated in the blackness. There were people after him. They somehow knew who he was, and what he looked like. They certainly hadn't looked like the police, and he was pretty sure pulling a gun on someone and firing without warning was illegal. He'd have to hide out somewhere, possibly leave the city—

The world came into view again, this time a small alleyway. He often used this place to escape, as it was located behind some of the major store-lines. The alley was a gap in the city, and it led nowhere. He didn't think anybody else knew about it.

Two more people in black proved him wrong on that count.

Before he could react, the one on the left raised their gun and fired at him. As he pulled the lever, he felt something hit his leg.

He hadn't had any time to think, so he had went with the first place that had come into his mind: his home. It was some way away, so he had a lot of time to ponder his next move.

Jayun wondered if his home would even be safe. These people, whoever they were, had somehow known about his hideout. Who's to say they didn't know where he lived as well? It would be too risky to stay there. He'd setup a few hidey-holes around the city, but not with medical supplies. He only felt a small tingling below his knee, but he was fairly sure that once he popped out of transit, it would start hurting.

After a little over 10 minutes, he had decided what he would do. If there there were already people there, he'd leave before they could shoot. If there weren't, he'd grab a few things, then leave. He was 99% sure they wouldn't know the location he was thinking of. He hadn't even used it yet.

After popping back into his kitchen, his leg immediately starting hurting. The pain bent him double, and it was all he could do to not scream. He rummaged in a few of the draws for bandages, before he heard footsteps running towards him. Before anyone had even come into view, he grabbed a few medicines and pulled the lever.

After a long wait in the void, he popped out into the basement of an abandoned house. He had been inside the house, as a guest, before it had been sold, and remembered seeing the basement door.

The basement was all but empty, with only a few shelves left around the walls. Jayun finally gave into to his leg and collapsed onto the floor. He sat up and began bandaging his leg. While it hurt like hell, he could still move it about like normal, so he figured the bullet hadn't hit anything important.

After he had patched himself up, he got up and went outside. He was hungry and thirsty, and he had never thought of keeping food in his hideouts. He had never thought anybody would be this good at tracing him.

In a nearby convenience store, he bought several soft drinks and chips with some money he kept in his pockets. He made sure to keep the device hidden at all times.

After quickly eating some of his snacks, and saving the rest for later, he decided it would be best if he left the city. He zapped himself to the outskirting suburbs, and caught the first outward-going bus he saw.

They'd never catch him now.

~

Over the next few months, many strange events were reported in the neighborhoods of several cities. Multiple gunshots were reported being heard around the streets, often coming from alleyways, yet whenever these were investigated, no one could be found in the area. Empty houses had litter found in them, and many families reported burglaries, despite not having left the house during the time before the burglary was discovered.

The reports always died down in a few weeks, before popping up again in another city, just as strange and diverse as before. People began looking out for anything strange, if their city was the one "under attack".

Yet, once again, no solid evidence beyond mere memory could be found. No photos or videos existed, and the most official accounts of such events were on internet forums. Many dismissed it as a hoax, or as a stunt by some political party.

The attackers were good at their job.

For they didn't merely try to catch the thief. It was their efforts that insured nobody knew for sure what they had seen and heard. They worked efficiently and ruthlessly, and managed a complete suppression of information.

As the number of cities "attacked" grew though, he began to get on their nerves. It didn't normally take them this long to catch their prey.

~

Jayun tossed and turned in the bed, only half-asleep. The last time he had slept, the people in black had been knocking the door down by the time he'd grabbed the machine.

He didn't take it off to sleep anymore.

It was ridiculous, he thought. Ridiculous and unfair. Sure, he'd stolen a lot of stuff, but who would ever go to this much trouble to catch someone? They might not have succeeded in that, but they sure had succeeded in making his life a living hell.

His leg twinged. The pain had died down, but had never gone away completely, and he suspected it never would, while the bullet was still there.

The worst part, he thought, the absolute worst part, was that they always managed to track him down. It didn't matter where he went, even if he didn't venture outside the entire time, they still found him.

He sometimes wondered if he should give up, just give them the device they wanted so much.

But he suspected they wouldn't just let him go after that. They didn't seem like the forgiving type of people.

He rolled around in the bed, trying to relax without sleeping.

Well, tomorrow he'd be leaving this place, this whole continent altogether. It'd be hard for them to get around in a place like Asia, and he could move easy. Eventually, they'd have to give up.

After all, nobody could care that much over a simple device, could they?

~

As it turned out, yes, they could. What the thief didn't know was that they didn't need to follow him; they already had people in Asia, keeping an eye out for them. They had people everywhere. They needed people everywhere. They had gone to more trouble over less than a working teleporter, and they didn't stop.

He tried numerous times to give them the slip, but they always found him. Even after he'd gotten the bullet out, they kept on searching, not letting him rest. They had many people, and he was but one. They knew he'd have to give up sometime.

Except he didn't.

The months stretched into years, and the chase continued. The thief escaped to more continents, only to find them waiting for him.

Yet he kept running, kept blinking into the ether before they could stop him. This was strange behavior to them, but they couldn't stop in their mission. They believed in what they did, as much as a priest believed in their god.

As time went on, they noticed a change in the thief's appearance. He grew a beard, his hair turned white, he didn't walk straight. They knew this wasn't an attempt to disguise himself. They estimated that for every day he spent in the world, he spent 6 in the void. His age was beginning to catch up to him.

Despite this, though, he still did not submit.

But they had him now. The chase would only take a little bit longer…

~

Jayun lay under a tree. It wasn't the best of hiding spots, but he knew he'd have at least an hour before they came this way.

He knew their tactics. Not that it helped.

The sun was up, and it was a beautiful day. He took a moment to appreciate the nice weather, the cool air, and the trilling birdsong.

He had to take moments like these when they were available.

Most of his waking mind was spent in blackness. And sleeping, for that matter. He'd long since decided to do all of his sleeping in transit, so that he'd be awake when he arrived. It was one of the habits that had helped him evade capture for so long.

And what a long time it had been indeed. According to the newspapers, it had only been 9 years ago that he had come upon the device in the lab.

It was more like 60 to him.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd taken it off. The skin underneath the straps had turned into scar tissue, and there was an ugly red line along his palm where he pulled the lever.

He wasn't even certain why he ran anymore. Somewhere, he knew, he had relatives. He had tried reaching them, in the relatively peaceful times, but they had always been nearby, waiting for him to reveal himself. The best he had managed was a voicemail, and he wouldn't be surprised if they had never heard it.

He knew he should get up, find somewhere more secure, have some food and water. But the ground was so soft, and he just wanted to sleep…

~

In a secret location, there was a scientist. She had been put on the project only at its very end, yet had been asked to write the report. Typical bureaucracy, she thought. She hadn't even seen the man before they'd caught him. She took a sip of the coffee in front of her and looked at her work:

"The object came to the attention of The Foundation after a series of seemingly impossible burglaries. The Foundation examined CCTV footage and noticed an individual, believed to be the object's creator, disappearing from sight shortly before each burglary. The individual appeared to be using the object for short jumps to access inaccessible locations. The Foundation pursued the individual across 3 continents over a period of 9 years before the individual was finally found having died of old age due to extensive use of the object in ████████, ████████."

Silly, really, that she had to censor the name of the place. But everyone who'd read the report knew where they'd got him, so she supposed it didn't matter.

She clicked the save button and went to the cafeteria. Within an hour, the matter had left her mind.

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