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Literature / Chrono Hustle

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Chrono Hustle is an ongoing online short story series by Eric J. Barkman. It is about a time traveling con artist named Jack Masterson, and the TRD Agents (time police) who are after him. It updates monthly, and so far has a total of 14 stories.


Chrono Hustle contains examples of:

  • A Man Is Always Eager: Subverted when Jack refuses to have sex with Aphrodite.
  • Action Girl: Melinda and Mary are a lot better in a fight than Jack, who tends to try talking his way out of combat.
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  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: Averted. When Jack visits the Stone Age, he initially meets Neanderthals, but Cro-Magnons show up in the story as well.
  • Alternate Self: In the first story, Jack has a choice between going to the past or the future. He goes to the past. Then in the third story he sends a letter to himself, telling himself to go to the future, which ends up creating a second Jack, who does make that choice.
  • Ancient Egypt: The eighth story is set in Ancient Egypt. Jack meets Imhotep.
  • Anti-Hero: Jack Masterson.
  • Benevolent Boss: Harkon Smith.
  • Bounty Hunter: Elliot Bishop is a bounty hunter in the old west, in addition to working for the TRD.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Melinda was brainwashed by the TDD to bring them Jack and Mary in order to erase all of their memories of the situation in 2347, as well as capturing Aphrodite for some reason not yet revealed. They had also attempted this on her partner, the second Jack, but he was immune, unbeknownst to them.
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  • Coincidence Magnet: This is brought up in #8 in regards to how Jack seems to be visiting just the right time periods in the right order in order to avoid being caught. Melinda figures there must be something bigger going on than coincidences.
  • Con Man: The main character, Jack Masterson, is a con artist, although so far we've mostly only seen him do minor tricks rather than full cons.
  • Cool Pet: Trix the Triceratops.
  • Da Chief: Harkon Smith fits this role for the TRD Agents.
  • Darkest Hour: In #10, the main characters start out in the custody of the TRD, before being transferred to the TDD for mind-wipes. They manage to escape to 1942, but in the process, one of the characters is killed, one is gravely injured and, before he is able to receive proper medical attention, they are immediately arrested by Nazis, thus ending the first volume.
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  • Deus ex Machina: The 7th story, which is in fact title Deus Ex Machina, involves a situation where Jack Masterson is about to be raped by Aphrodite. He has no way out of the situation when suddenly Hermes, who had not been so much as mentioned up to that point, shows up. He doesn't actually save the day, but does provide enough of a distraction to give the rest of the main cast time to show up.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: Jack gets himself a pet Triceratops while in the Cretaceous.
  • Enemy Mine: Jack is running around the timeline, and Melinda has been assigned to capture him, but Jack doesn't want to be locked up, since they can't send him back to his own time. But then it turns out that there's some big conspiracy going on, and they end up working together.
  • Every Scar Has a Story: We don't get to hear the story, but Melinda uses the fact that she knows how Elliot got his scar, in order to get his daughter Mary to trust her.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: After visiting the Cretaceous era in #6, Jack and Mary get a triceratops that they use to ride around in different eras.
  • Experienced Protagonist: Jack is new to time travel, but an experienced con artist. Melinda is an experienced TRD agent who knows her way around the time stream.
  • Farmer's Daughter: Mary Bishop, although she dresses a bit more conservatively, and tends to wield a shotgun more than her father.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The ESS.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: It is eventually revealed that Jack is a Demi-God. His mother was a Goddess, while his father was a Human.
  • Hero of Another Story: There are several TRD agents who are briefly shown or mentioned, who are often dealing with other issues than the main cast. Special mention goes to Elliot Bishop who joins up with the main characters at one point, and then later goes back to his previous mission. In addition there are the characters in the various time periods who have their own things going on, such as the crew of the Space Station Oracle in 2347, or the Neanderthal tribe in the stone age.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Imhotep and Nikola Tesla are main characters, and a few other historical people pop up throughout.
  • Ignore The Fanservice: In the 7th story while Jack Masterson is attracted to Aphrodite, her beauty and nudity don't impede his ability to think clearly, and he is completely immune to her seduction powers.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Nicely averted... for the first six stories anyway. After that there are encounters with Aphrodite and Hermes, Imhotep, and Merlin.
  • Innocent Bigot: Mary Bishop is from the Old West, and is thus quite shocked upon finding out that the commander of a space station is a black man, only slightly less shocked than she was upon finding herself on a space station to begin with.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: In #5, Jack and Sesla are in the middle of sex when TRD agents teleport in to arrest him. Sesla is annoyed that they couldn't have waited a few more minutes.
  • Invisibility: Sesla has magic abilities allowing her to make herself and people around her invisible.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The TRD use this to protect the timeline be erasing memories people shouldn't have. The TDD on the other hand use this to keep themselves secret, as well as whatever it is they are doing to the timeline.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: In #10 the main characters are in a holding cell made with forcefields, including ERK-147 who is a maintenance bot. Jack figures out how to create a repulsor blast with ERK-147 tech.
  • Love Goddess: Aphrodite
  • Loveable Rogue: Jack Masterson is a con artist who has no problem lying and cheating. But he does try to avoid hurting good people, and will help out people in need from time to time.
  • Magic Kiss: Sesla can learn or teach a language with a kiss.
  • Masquerade: The general public is unaware of time travel, something the TRD works hard to keep in place.
  • Missing Mom: Jack grew up not knowing who either of his parents are, although he has since learned that his mother was a Greek Goddess, although he still doesn't know her identity. Also no mention is made of Mary's mother, only her father.
  • Nerves of Steel: All of the main cast fit this, but it's especially notable with Mary Bishop. Jack Masterson is a con artist, and thus is used to thinking his way out of tricky situations. Melinda Summers is a TRD agent, and is thus trained to deal with all sorts of strange things. Mary, meanwhile, is just a simple farm girl from the Old West, who manages to deal with a crew of pirates when she accidentally ends up in that era.
  • Our Souls Are Different: In #9, the original Jack makes a deal with Merlin in the Middle Ages, agreeing to give him a Demi-God's soul in exchange for some information. He tell him it'll take some time to get the information, and to meet him in the year 3007, where the exchange will take place. So in the year 3007, Merlin takes Agent Jack's soul in exchange for that information, when he and Melinda show up. It's yet to be revealed what exactly a soul is, or what losing it even means as Agent Jack doesn't seem to be any different afterwards.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Jack tends to try talking his way out of problems whenever possible. So when he doesn't even try to do so at the start of the sixth story, Mary is understandably confused.
  • Out of Focus: ERK-147 became a main character after its introduction, but as time went on, it appeared less and less, and now it is essentially just Nikola Tesla's lab assistant, who only shows up when there is science/technology exposition to give.
  • Parental Abandonment: Jack Masterson has no idea who his parents are. He grew up in, and occasionally out of the foster system.
  • Physical God: Both Aphrodite and Hermes show up.
  • Plot Hole: In the third story, Jack Masterson hums a lullaby that his mother used to sing to him when he was a kid. The only problem is that it's later revealed that he has no idea who his parents are, having grown up in, and occasionally out, of the foster system.
  • Plot-Powered Stamina: The first ten stories take place over the course of a few days (from the characters perspectives anyway), but food and sleep are only occasionally mentioned.
  • Portal to the Past: The time doors can travel to multiple different times and places, but the time syncs up between all of them, so a day passing in one time equals a day passing in another.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: The TRD hire con-artist Jack Masterson, in order to help them catch con-artist Jack Masterson... time travel was involved.
  • Robot Buddy: ERK-147
  • Science Fantasy: While it starts out as a sci-fi series, it starts including fantasy elements as early as the 4th story, in which a powerful magic user is introduced, although it is mentioned by some characters that she is just a powerful psychic. In the following story though, it is confirmed by characters with more information that she is an actual magic user. And then the 7th story introduces Greek Gods.
  • Second Episode Introduction: The first story only introduced one main character, Jack Masterson. In the second, Melinda Summers was introduced, along with the organization she works for, the TRD.
  • Stun Guns: Stun guns are the weapon of choice of the Temporal Rectification Division. After all, when fixing the timeline, it's a lot easier to erase memories a person shouldn't have, than to program an entire lifetime of memories into a clone.
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: Jack is a con artist, who has picked up quite a few skills and knowledge over the years. Then he discovers he has the power to literally just know stuff out of nowhere, and it's sometimes hard to tell which is the case in any given situation.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Teleporters are regularly used on the space station Oracle in the 2340s.
  • Temporal Theme Naming: Melinda Summers.
  • The Social Expert: Jack Masterson.
  • The Trickster: In the 7th story, Hermes shows up. While it is his status as messenger of the Gods that is in play, his trickster tendencies show up as well.
  • The Wild West: This is one of the eras visited, especially seen in the third story.
  • Time Police: The Temporal Rectification Division in fulfils this function.
  • Time Travel: The time travel involves a set of doors in various different time periods which can be travelled between.
  • Token Non-Human: ERK-147, a maintenance bot.
  • Un-Paused: Aphrodite at one point freezes a bunch of the heroes in time. It wears off after some time, although at different rates for different people, and has them continue saying or doing whatever they were in the middle of, before realizing that they've since been moved.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: In #14, Jack takes advantage of the bureaucracy in Nazi Germany to get access to KOKON bases.
  • White Male Lead: The series is fairly diverse in it's cast but, while it isn't explicitly mentioned, Jack seems to be white based the fact that his race likely would have come into play otherwise when he went to the Old West.
  • Works Set in World War II: World War 2 is occasionally mentioned as one of the time periods the time doors can go to. Characters finally actually go there at the end of #10.
  • You Are Number 6: ERK-147
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