"This is not 1988 technology." I turned the plastic rectangle over in my hand. It almost looked convincing, which meant it had been made to pass for normal in this time frame. The kid squirmed in my grip. "It doesn't belong here. Tell me where you got it and I'll let you go." He pointed down the street and tried to bolt again when I looked, but my fingers held tight on his shirt, which was slowly changing colour with the warmth of my hand. "I need an address."
"Last warehouse on the dock, third door. Let me go!" I released him and he stumbled to the ground before scurrying off around a corner.
This is what I do. Since time travel opened up for exploration and science, then recreation, people have been trying to make a quick buck from suckers in the past, and people like me have been trying to stop them. They try selling knock-off souvenirs from the future in small market stalls, maps to locations of future events and, most dangerous of all, stock market and sports event results. They caused the 1929 market crash before we caught them. I'm not letting that happen again.
What I'd found this time was a sophisticated tech smuggling ring. They had been selling these cheap electronic slates as reading devices, but with custom cases so the natives figured it was some upcoming tech that had been leaked, stolen or scrapped. But the colours on the screen were too bright, the battery life too long and the whole thing too light-weight. They were also running a version of Linux that wouldn't be released for another thirty years, so there's that, too, in case the rest of the evidence was in doubt.
The warehouse door was open, and the place was cleaned out. There was packing material strewn everywhere. Whoever was selling contraband here is gone now, but leaving in such an obvious hurry, they'd have to have made mistakes. As I sifted the ground for evidence, I found a crumpled cigarette packet of a familiar brand. The expiry date printed on the back placed it a year into my own future. I know immediately who is behind this, and where he is likely to head.
In the early days, time travel was restricted to scientists, and nobody was allowed to travel forward, except to return to their own time. It was easy to control when the equipment was the size of an airport and it cost more than a small country to run. Then some bright spark stole a better model from the future, which they reverse engineered, rinse, repeat, etc. We're in a bad time now, with briefcase machines, but it's going to get worse. When the tech is small enough to implant, we'll be too far up a certain creek to ever paddle ourselves back home.
I find him at a storage locker. There have been storage lockers here for over 20 years already, and there will be for over 150 more. It's a convenient reference point for my old partner, Tom. The door is closed but not locked, and as I roll it up, I see him hastily packing a crate full of boxes that say "VCR" on the side. He turns to face me as the sound startles him, and I call his name for added effect.
"Tom! Stop right there."
He does look at me, and pauses momentarily, then sees that my weapon is not drawn. Rather than stop to discuss this, he turns back and keeps packing without a word.
"Tom," I repeat, "You have to stop this, now. What's come over you?" He watches me cautiously. As I draw my weapon, Tom drops to the ground behind his crate. There is a flash of light and an ozone smell, then he is gone. At least the crate is still here, but now I have a fugitive to track down, and no idea where he might be going. Well, maybe some idea. If he's selling VCRs, then I bet he's gone to the 1970s.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - This one is based, in part, on a dream I had.
PPS - My subconscious has good ideas, now and then.