The artificial windows displayed the dark starless sky. I curled up on our built-in couch, while my mother tapped her foot from her stiff armchair. Que laid with his stomach on the floor, hand to the cheek, no doubt enjoying my mother losing her mind.

“It’s just not fair. How can you do this to me?” My mother’s performances were getting bolder and more over the top by the minute. “I won’t even get to see my own daughter’s wedding!”

“Mom,” I groaned. “I don’t have to go through with the actual marriage. I can still talk him into doing an art career instead of a music career… I just have to get the proposal to satisfy the council’s ridiculous made-up requirements. Proposal does not equal marriage.”

Mom sighed and leaned her head on her arm. “Why would you want to be engaged to a boy you’ve never met? That you don’t even love?”

“Mom! Mom… Mom.” I tried a couple of different tones to calm her lament. “I promise that I will never become Mrs. Emmeline Lennon. It’s a horrible tongue twister name. Trust me. I won’t.”

My mom shook her head and sighed. “I don’t like this.”      

Our housebot chimed for my mother to retire to bed. She dismissed it.

“So many years that I would miss!” She leaned her elbow on the end table and rested her fingers on her forehead. “I mean what if this boy did fall in love with you and you got married and had children and they grew up without their own grandmother. I don’t see why you can’t find somewhere here.”

A little acid found its way into my throat with that one. “I’m not going to have an interdimensional marriage with John Lennon, okay? No thanks. I’m just breaking up The Beatles.”

“You don’t really want to go through with this, do you?” my mother said rubbing a little circle on her temple. “You don’t really want to go all the way back to 1958.”

“1958 is a hydro propelled space dump.” My brother Que rolled onto his back. “I mean Disneyland is still this brand new, dinky outdoor park.”

“I don’t care,” I said picking at a hangnail. “I’m going to be in England anyway.”

My mom gasped at that. “Oh, Emmeline! With all that flooding and everything!”

“Not in 1958, Mom. That wouldn’t have been a problem for another hundred years.”

“You know, England was always at war with somebody,” she said, tugging her sweater around her neck.

“No, that’s America, Mom,” Que said, laughing.

Her mouth twisted all funny and she shook her head. “Well, they don’t even have nutritionally balanced food then. You’ll get scurvy. Or polio or something.”

“Gee thanks for the congratulations, Mom. So glad I have all your support.”  

“Well, I just don’t like the idea of you time traveling,” my mom admitted. Although, I had already heard this spiel several hundred times. “So far away, with no way to communicate with me.”

“Mom, it would be instantaneous for you. You wouldn’t miss me,” I said. “It’s a boomerang portal. I would go in one side and come right back out at the same exact second. Mission finished.”

“You know I read an article about a time traveler that never came back through the other side.” Mom nodded gravely at each of us. “He supposedly went to the middle ages, but after he stepped in. Nothing. No one came back out. The portal just shut.

“That only happened once,” I said, exasperated at this point. “Most of the time travel missions are completed safely.”

The housebot chimed again through our otherwise silence.

“… I don’t see why you can’t meet a nice boy from here.”

I groaned with every frustration in me.


After grabbing a quick box lunch from the vending machine, I walked into the department of time travel and headed to the screening office. What exactly were they screening me for? It’s not like there was a big concern for time-altering terrorists or something since that’s basically what they hire travelers for. And well anyway, I was still really upset that they were giving me such a to-be-failed mission.

Everything in the screening office was white and shiny like a VR arena. I squinted. The inner marbled lights on the floor gave me an instant headache and I just wanted to be done and out of there as soon as possible.

A woman with a tight decorated bun sat at the front desk. She was old and kind of doughy looking, which was odd. I wondered if her fat-burning modification wasn’t installed properly or something.

“Emmeline Mor,” she called, her voice both raspy and low.

I closed my eyes, remembering that my only solace would be that by this time tomorrow I would be through with screening. At least I hoped.

“Follow me, please,” she said in this irritated burnt-out kindergarten teacher kind of way.

We walked through the hall, surrounded by people beeping, ringing, and talking in loud professional voices. We stopped at a small room, in the corner sat an empty chair with a wired helmet.

“A lie detector test?” I snorted.

“Have a seat,” the lady said, using her IND to activate the lie detector.

My eyes shifted. Why did they want me to take a lie detector test? Were they kidding me? No doubt they were probing my loyalty after submitting that footage. Other than that, I’ve never as much broken a single rule in my life. The only thing I could possibly think of is when I accidentally entered an illegal address playing a stupid game of VR World roulette. I was only twelve! As if I were actually trying to get into some security training simulator.

“If this is about the Bouncers R Us… I really don’t care about breaking into cyber clubs.”

“Have a seat,” she repeated, her tone becoming even more irritated than before.

Ugh, fine. They know I sent the footage. I have nothing to hide. I sat on the metal seat and the woman strapped the helmet on me. Her breath smelled like Chinese food, but not good Chinese food more like a little Chinese food compost pile.

She sat across from me and turned on my helmet, which was too heavy for my neck. Her IND activated, but a giant grey square shielded the screen from my view.

She cleared her throat and read off her side of the mysterious screen. “Are you planning on engaging in any kind of gambling or betting while in the past?”

“No.” I shrugged. Okay, this would probably be easier than I thought. The woman glanced at the results and then flicked her finger across the screen to the next question.

“Will you return with any unauthorized artifact for the purpose of monetary gain?” she asked.


She checked her screen and swiped to the next question.

“Are you planning to engage in a sexual relationship with Mr. Lennon or anyone from his time period?”

“Wait, what?”

My helmet made a crunching sound as I shot her a look. What kind of a question was that? Why would this be a part of the screening? Surely Thompson had something to do with that off-the-wall question.

“Okay, well, so…” I struggled. “The mission is to romance him but that’s not why I chose to do the mission or anything. I know it might seem like that and sure, there will probably be some hugging or hand-holding along the way—”

“Just say yes or no,” she said with no patience or emotion.

“Alright. No.”

She checked the screen, paused, brought her fingers to the air, and tapped out a message.

“Wait, what did it say? What did you just type?” I leaned forward in my chair, trying to see around the grey block.

“Would you be willing to protect yourself against all diseases that have not been eradicated in 1958?”

“Hold on, hold on. Go back to the last question. The answer is no!”

Instead of fixing my answer on the Lennon question, she brainlessly continued with the questionnaire. “If the mission fails, will you be able to eliminate the subject?”

My mouth bobbed open and shut like a fish. If I said ‘no’ would they fail my screening and deny me my mission? If I said ‘yes’ however, would it come up as a lie and they would still deny me? There was definitely a no-win answer. They could use my unsure answer as evidence toward their defense of not approving peaceful travelers.

“Do you want me to repeat the question?” she asked, blinking at me with her swollen puffy eyelids.

“I heard you,” I said as calmly as possible to keep the detector from picking up any nerves in my voice. I closed my eyes and relaxed my shoulders. “Yes, I would. IF the mission failed.”

She checked the screen one last time and nodded.

“Training starts tomorrow,” she said. “Be logged in to virtual training at eight. The time travel law class meets in person.”

“I’m approved?” I asked.

 “Time Travel Law meets in room B5.” She sent the schedule to my IND and showed me the door. “The schedule says eleven, but please be here by 10:45 at the latest. Dr. Thorne does not entertain any latecomers. He even locks his door, just so you’re aware.”

“No problem,” I said cheerfully. I wasn’t worried about any hard trainer. All my worry now channeled into whether or not I had lied about being able to kill. 


My time travel law class was supposed to start at 11 o’clock sharp. I showed up to class at precisely 10:44 and I swear to you that Dr. Thorne guy was out in the hall about to program the door to lock me out.

“I’m here! I’m here!” I called frantically to him.

He gave me such a stern look his frown alone had slapped me across the face. This guy had disapproving father written all over him. He had a suit and tie, which I don’t know if that’s a time travel thing or what, because men haven’t worn suits and ties in decades. He had thick dark hair that was perfectly slicked back, a meticulously trimmed beard peppered with gray and a brow so heavy it sat as a permanent V on his forehead.

Or maybe the dip of the brow was because I wasn’t as early as he wanted.

“And you’re Emmaline Mor I presume,” he said with a smooth and accusatory voice.

My upper lip scrunched up. Excuse me. I don’t know why being exactly on time would presume him of anything. And I also didn’t know why he had my name in his repertoire of people to presume things about.

“And you’re Thorne,” I said simply giving him an OK sign with my hand and clicking my tongue against the side of my teeth.

“You’ll call me Dr. Thorne.”

So, that’s how it’s going to be huh? Wow. Yikes. How long did this class run again?

“Dr. Thorne,” I corrected myself and slid past him, feeling all the icy death daggers spearing into me from his black soulless eyes.

I walked in to find fifteen to twenty other time travelers all sitting at their seats with their IND’s activated and plugged into the class’ demonstration board. Apparently, they too had been warned about Thorne beforehand.

As I took a seat, I scanned every single person in the room, wondering which one of the attendees would be my partner into 1958. There was one particularly beautiful-looking guy kitty-corner to my desk. Broad, sharp shoulders and full lips. I wouldn’t mind throwing myself into a portal with that specimen, wow. What a stallion.

As I was shamelessly staring at my dream partner, I got to thinking. How exactly does one get another person to fall in love with you? I mean, for example, this handsome guy in my Time Law Class had certainly caught my eye, but then what? How do normal people do this love thing? My go-to tactic is to run away and ignore my attraction until I give up on dating forever.

But if you’re actively trying to seduce someone, say one of the most successful musicians in the world, how do you even begin? You talk to them and say what? You spend time with them and do what? I was beyond inexperienced in the romance department and now an actual life depended on my flirting skills.

I rested my chin on my hand. If Mr. Sharp Shoulders were my partner, Lennon would not be at the forefront of my mind. That’s for sure.

“During your time in the past, you will be in contact with hundreds of items,” Thorne said, looming in front of the classroom. “Some of the items may be useless. Some items are things you would never see in this day and age. And some things you’ll have contact with… are extremely valuable.”

The way he stopped pacing and gave everyone this eye when he said that. Oh, my Galatica, this wasn’t a time law class, this was a trial in practice.

“Miss Emmeline Mor,” Thorne’s voice reverberated through the classroom and I scrunched down into my seat a few inches. “Could you please tell me when it is appropriate to return through the portal with an item from the past?”

I shifted my eyes. The attractive Broad Shoulders Guy turned and looked at me. Actually, everyone turned and looked at me, so that was cool. I couldn’t believe this guy was picking on me. And why? Is this because I hadn’t shown up earlier to his class? Was this going to be a forever micro-penis power struggle thing?

I cleared my throat. “So, uh, the appropriate time to bring an item?” He nodded and I shifted in my chair.

Look, I didn’t know. I hated when teachers did that. I had a virtual History teacher who did that every day. Ask the question in a way that’s like, ‘you’re supposed to know this’. How am I supposed to know the answer? Aren’t you my teacher supposed to be teaching me the answer? If I’m supposed to already learn all the coursework beforehand, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose? I mean, doesn’t that mean I’m basically doing your job for you?

I made my best guess. “The only appropriate time to bring an item back is when it’s explicitly part of your mission to bring back a sample.”

“Incorrect.” Ooh. And I could just tell that he enjoyed reprimanding me in front of Broad Shoulders. Making me look stupid in front of my gorgeous future partner and everything. “It is never an appropriate time to bring an item back from the past. Article Forty-Seven – Fifty-Three of the Protective Time Exchange Environments Act.”

“Okay well, trick question,” I said underneath my breath.

“And do you, Miss Mor, know the penalty of such an offense?”

Again, everyone twisted in their seats to face me. I pinched my mouth shut. “I don’t know. Probably some suspension or something.”

“You will go to prison,” Thorne said with a harsh nod. “You will go to prison and never time travel again. If you have a single penny or seashell in your pocket. You will go to prison for smuggling time-era sensitive material across the portal.”

I slumped further into my seat. Okay. Galactica. Why did he keep saying “you will go to prison” while making direct eye contact with me? 

“Before your return trip, it is imperative that you go through every inch of your bag, your clothes, your teeth. Because as soon as you get through to the other side, you will be detained by the portal customs. And they will go through every lining. Every stitching. Every single solitary seed pod and speck of grass that may have worked their way into the cracks of your shoes. They will find it. And you will not leave until you are devoid of anything from the past.”

Everyone was dead silent, listening to Thorne belt out each word and jab the air with his pinched fingers. Finally, after everyone was clearly too afraid to make a peep, I raised my hand.

He shot an eye at me. “Ms. Mor.”

I dropped my hand onto my desk. “Yeah, um, why though?”

His heavy brow sagged lower into his eyes. “Excuse me?”

“That’s— I mean,” I brushed a piece of crud off the desk. “I’m not trying to be defiant about the rules or whatever. I’m just wondering why it’s such a big deal. It seems like it would be valuable to us to have actual physical samples—”

“One. It’s an environmental hazard,” he said, holding up a big hairy finger. “Two. It would encourage travelers from using the past to import to the dark market.” He advanced until he was inches away from my desk. “And Three. Because it’s against the law. That’s why it’s ‘such a big deal’, Ms. Mor.”

His presence was so overwhelming, that I involuntarily slid up straight in my chair. “Gotchya,” I said quietly and gave him a pained smile until he went away.

I did not know it was possible to be a worse human than Dr. Thompson. Bravo. The rest of the class was just as equally awkward with this intense authoritarian dictator guy as a teacher. Most of the travelers were too afraid to make any comments. Thorne barked at us for the entire class period, calling on me specifically a dozen more times.

When he excused us, I tried to beat it out of there as fast as I could. But he called to me, “Ms. Mor, a word?”

A word? What, another thousand words to make me feel like an idiot? How many more words of this guy was I going to be able to take? I dragged my feet to his desk.

He glared at me from under two deep creases where his brows furled together. The cherry stench of his hair gel gagged me.

“I wanted to let you know that I’m assigned to be your partner in the Liverpool mission,” he said.

I stared at him with no expression. The reality slowly sank in. This guy was going to be breathing down my butt for a hundred days? Maybe even decades? There was still time to back out, right?

“Great.” I forced myself to smile.


The dining room was surrounded by four artificial windows which currently displayed the outside of the house. I once confronted my mother about why she chose to have artificial windows that displayed what normal glass would have anyway. All she said was she didn’t want to ‘bother cleaning it from the outside’. My mother, ladies, and gentlemen. What a character.

My mom ate daintily across the table in her usual garb, a sweater that choked as high on her neck and as low to her fingers as possible. Everything she wore was the same color of light grey. Her favorite color. That’s it. Light grey.

My sixteen-year-old brother Que sat adjacent to me; his nose dropped to a TV show displayed on the table surface. He was so distracted that he spilled a big glob of sauce right on the screen. As he wiped it off, he accidentally skipped ahead a few scenes and groaned loudly. My mother then snapped at him for watching his shows on the dining room table. A nightly ritual at the Mor residence.

“It’s all for the best, Emmeline, quit moping,” Mom said.

“My career is over,” I said, searing into my mother’s brain the grave reality of the situation. “I’m just waiting for the termination notice at this point. And then I’m really stuck. For life, you know. Because I already ruined the songwriting thing, and now time travel is out. What would I even do with my life? It was seriously choosing between being a dysfunctional adult with no hope of a future OR killing someone.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Mom said while scooping another heaping of veggie noodles onto my plate. Of the four recipes that Mom actually opted to cook herself. In her own kitchen. Without a Chef-bot. This one was decent.

“I mean, you can always get a job at Plate Tec. I’m sure Uncle Dave could find you something there,” she said.

I made a weird noise. Somewhere in between a sigh and a moan, but at least it got my point across. “I don’t want to work at Plate Tec, Mom. I don’t want to get a job just to have some job. You know? I want to do something that’s going to be fulfilling and make me happy. Like is that so irresponsible that I want to do something I’m passionate about?”

Que giggled his way into the conversation. “You’re not passionate about it. You keep calling modern-day time-traveling a ‘blood orgy’.”

“Okay, yes. I’m passionate about traveling the right way and setting it right,” I said, scooping the noodles into my mouth, succumbing to the buttery aroma. “But I can’t do that if they don’t accept this mission. Which they won’t.”

“Why don’t you go back to music then?” My mom asked. “I mean, couldn’t there be another opportunity for you there?”

“No,” I said defeated. “No, there’s really not.”

Our utensils clinked while Que’s obnoxious comedy rang out from the table.

“It’s all for the best, honey,” my Mom said quietly, leaving me to drown in my own sorrow and misery. “Who’s to say they’re going to fire you anyway?”

Well, considering I had sent an incriminating clip of one of the most powerful council members to a journalist, yeah, I would say that apprenticeship was gone. I did not share that piece of information with my family though.

“It was my last proposal, Mom. So yeah, I’m pretty much fired.”

“I don’t understand,” she said, resting her elbows on the table. “What was this proposal that they hated so much?”

“It was nothing… I was just going to alter the timeline by convincing this guy to be an artist instead.” I clamped my mouth shut, savoring the sweet and salty noodles in my mouth for as long as possible.

“How were you going to convince him?” Que asked, reading right through me.

I combed through the bottom of my hair. “I was going to… you know, flatter him a little bit. Flirt it up.”

My mother wrinkled her nose. “No, yeah, they’re right. That’s a weird plan. Very weird, Emmeline.”

“Eh, it could be possible,” Que mused with his hand on his chin. “I mean just because he made an impact on history doesn’t mean he can’t be swayed right? Who is it? Does he have a strong personality?”

I made a high-pitched laugh that ended in clearing my throat after my mom shot me a look. “Uh, I mean—”

“Who is it?” My mom demanded.

“Just some guy from the 20th century.”

“Is it Hitler? If it’s Hitler, you’re in a lot of trouble young lady.”

“Mom! It’s not Hitler.” I pushed my food away with my fork. “It’s… John Lennon, okay?” 

“Oh yeah, well, definitely not a strong personality at all,” Que scoffed. “Definitely swayable.”

“Shut up,” I grumbled while Que hummed a funeral dirge. I buried my head in my arms.

“Who, who, who?” My mom flapped her hand at my brother. “Wait, who is this?”

“Lead singer of The Beatles, Mom,” I said, trying not to make it a thing. “Didn’t you ever learn any old timey 20th century music?”

“It’s okay, Mom, here I’ll show you a picture of him,” Que slid his finger across the table and backed out of his TV show. He fiddled around until he found the album cover of Two Virgins, which also happened to be a picture of John and Yoko Ono butt naked.

“Ew, no! Stop that!” I hissed.

He swiped it over to Mom and her IND dinged.

“Don’t open that!” I yelled across the table. “You do not have to open that.”

She opened it, of course.

“Oh.” Her mouth twisted in undisguised shock. “Okay. Um… he seems… like a carefree person… a little hairy, though.”

“Uhhhh Mom!” I slapped my hands over my face and sank underneath the table while Que laughed relentlessly.

“It really, really is for the best Emmeline,” she said swiping the picture away with the back of her knuckle.


The first time I saw my IND footage on the news my heart dropped. What did this mean for me? Was I going to be in some serious trouble or what? They all knew what I had done. The only catch was that, unlike an undercover investigative journalist, I was still apprenticed there. For now.

That was my first reaction. My second reaction was complete vindication when I saw the picketers outside of the travel board building. And honestly, they did it to themselves. I didn’t say that historical figures weren’t people. Thompson did.

Also, it was quite a relief knowing that people agreed with me that murder is terrible. Because working as a traveler made me feel like I was going to lose my mind.

I knew I would probably be escorted out as soon as I walked into work, but I had to come back for my ceramic cat mug. Couldn’t keep her there all alone with those horrible people. As I walked the halls, I tried to keep a low profile. But the moment my squeaky shoe hit the third floor, Greggs flew open the door and called me into his office.

Third reaction. Heart sinking again.

I slunk in and sat down sheepishly. Lights were at full capacity. No dimming for the daily stress headache of being my mentor. Very unexpected. Greggs sat across from me with his fingers tented.

 “How much trouble am I in?” I asked.

“This is…” Greggs stuck his nose into the cavern of his fingers. “This is fantastic.”

“What?” I asked blinking mindlessly at him.

“The controversy!” He grinned. “I’ve just gotten word this morning that the HRC is opening a full investigation into whether timeline alterations are violating human rights.”

“Oh, are you serious?” Woah.

“Thompson is expected to defend his case in court sometime the end of May.”

Double woah. And a nice little vindication cherry on top. I would love to be in the audience of that meeting. Watch him sweat as he tries to explain himself to a judge. Just like he made me sweat trying to explain my mission to him. Wouldn’t want to miss that cyber circus.

“You might have made a real change around here.”

My mouth fell open. Oh yeah, well that’s definitely what I meant to turn the video in for. Not because I was trying to be petty about my denied mission or anything. 

“Well, I hope so, because I’m probably going to lose my job over it,” I said, secretly hoping that Greggs would comfort me and tell me it wasn’t so. He did not.

“Whatever happens, it will be alright in the end,” he said. “Go back to your desk and work for as long as you can.”

I gave him a pained smile and scooted out of his office. The same old gloomy place, with the same stale motivational poster. A part of me was going to miss this dream. I really thought I could be a great traveler and that travelers were these noble historians. Like nerdy shining knights riding into battle or something. You know, a peaceful bloodless battle. Oh well, who wants to work for a murder ring anyway.

I went to my desk, but as soon as my back pockets grazed the seat cushion, Greggs called to me again.

“Emmeline.” His voice was more urgent this time. “Can you come back in here please?”

I grimaced. Slowly lifting myself back up as everyone turned to me and watched. I felt like an outlaw walking to the gallows with everyone jeering from the sidelines.

“Yes,” I asked, peering from behind the doorframe.

Greggs looked at me from behind an activated IND screen. “I just got a lengthy message from the council about you…”

I took in a sharp breath and slid into his office. “Can I have an hour to clear out my desk?”

“They accepted your mission.”

I snorted and pointed at Greggs. “Ha. Good one.”

“You begin training immediately. You’re scheduled to leave May 3rd for Liverpool, 1958.”

“What?” I was frozen. Dizzy. As if I were in the middle of a fever dream. I stumbled to my usual chair and fell into it. “You’re saying— wait, what? I don’t understand. Why would they do this?”

Greggs let out an unsettled sigh. “Probably to ease the pressure. Show the investigation that they are allotting non-violent missions as well as assassinations.”

“Oh, well, hey!” I said with a deep grin, leaning back and crossing my arms. Greggs didn’t share my celebratory expression, so I dropped it. “This is bad, right? This is a bad thing somehow?”

“Um…” Greggs scrunched his lips together. “Yes, it is.”

My spine stiffened to suppress a shiver. Greggs put his IND on display mode and brought up the letter from the council.

“The council sent me a ten-page report. Of all the added requirements for your mission.”

I didn’t even want to know. “What are the requirements?” I asked. 

“Er… well, for one…” Greggs hesitated. “You wouldn’t be going alone. This would be a co-mission with a partner.”

“Okay… so you would be coming with me, or…”

“No,” he said. “The council will choose the partner.”

I nodded slowly and sucked in through my teeth. “So, they don’t trust me at all. Okay. Fine. I guess I can understand where that comes from.”

“That’s not the worst of it,” Greggs said rubbing the back of his neck.

I closed my eyes and sighed. “Just say it. They’re going to make me shoot him, right?”

“The mission will not be considered a success until John asks you to marry him.”

Í snorted a laugh. “I’m sorry, excuse me?”

“If the mission is deemed a failure, then you are expected to terminate him,” Greggs said and cleared his throat as if he were pushing the words away.

I leaned forward and grabbed the IND display, yanking it toward my face to confirm this monstrosity of a requirement. There it was on a flickering IND screen. They were booting me back to 1958 to marry some dead musician. Okay, no. Worst matchmaking service ever. And I thought that was the worst thing…

“ONE HUNDRED DAYS!?” I deflated into my seat. “They’re only giving me one hundred days to complete the mission,” I said with no emotion.

“All missions have a required deadline,” Greggs said in an I’m-trying-to-be-helpful kind of voice.

“I asked for eighteen months.” I covered my face with my hands as dread sank into my chest. “So, basically what it’s saying here, is that I have one summer to get John Lennon to fall in love with me and propose to me or else I’ll be forced to kill him.”


“So, they’re sending me on a suicide mission. I mean a murder mission! They’re setting me up to fail!”


I couldn’t hold in the growl that was forming inside of me.

“Look at this list of conditions,” I said, zooming in on the part of the message in question. “Security screening, firearms training… They’re using me to make it look like they accepted a non-violent mission, but in reality, they expect me to kill this guy! They’re just adding one more knife into my side before I’m forced to quit.”

“Right, well, it was really a genius move,” Greggs said, scooting back his chair to grab a mug of coffee from the corner of his desk. “It’s a win-win situation for them. Either you decline and lose your apprenticeship or… you go, inevitably fail and end up having to kill Lennon…”

“And prove to the investigation that assassination is essential to time alterations,” I said flatly, finishing his sentence for him.

I pulled at the roots of my hair. How could I have been so dumb? Of course, Lennon was a good subject. But they were going to have it done their way, no matter what. I was a pawn in their little politics game. And I had put myself there.

“If I say no to this?” I asked.

“Then I doubt you’ll even have that hour you wanted to clear out your desk.”

“You know he’s only seventeen, right?” I asked all squeaky and strained. “The summer of 1958? Lennon is seventeen-friggin’-years-old! Is marriage even legal for him in the UK?”

“It didn’t say marriage, it just said a proposal,” Greggs said as he casually sipped from a coffee mug.

I doubled back, giving him one wide skeptical eye. “You actually think I can get a proposal out of him?” I asked.

Greggs shrugged and set his mug on the table.

“No, no, no. I can’t even get normal guys from here to look twice at me. Okay? It’s not in the realm of possibility.”

Greggs stared me down, tapping his fingers on his mug and I doubled back again.

“You actually think I can pull off this mission and call the council’s bluff?” I whispered. “Are you insane?”

“I didn’t say anything, I’m just sitting here,” he said with a laugh.

“You’re crazy if you think I’m going to accept some ridiculous spite mission,” I said jumping up from my seat and heading for the door.

“Shame.” Greggs shrugged a shoulder. “Because if you did pull the mission off, they would be forced to report that at the investigation.” 

I froze with my hand on the knob, pivoted on my heel to face him.

“Be pretty hard to defend all those assassinations if an apprentice proved it could be done in a different way,” he said with a knowing smile.

Yes, it certainly would. I slowly returned to the seat in front of his desk.

“Alright, so…” I brushed my hair off my shoulder. “When would training start?”


A bright mid-morning sun flooded through the wall of windows. My knee jiggled uncontrollably, as I waited to go in and defend my outrageous femme fatale mission. The outside foyer was uninviting. Harsh lighting in the marbled floor seared everyone’s eyeballs out of their heads. The thermal regulation must have broken because a freezing air current prickled everywhere my jacket wasn’t touching. 

The anticipation was excruciating, but in only a few short moments it would all be done. And I would be fired. Yay? I groaned and cursed my own cynicism trying to dream of the slightest hope I could possibly find in myself. There was nothing. The only thing I came up with was that whoever hired me next would not talk with the time travel council before making their decision about me.

My nerves gripped me tighter. I rubbed down my face. If only there were some way, I could show everyone how unreasonable the council really was. Some sort of proof to my next employer that my sacking wasn’t actually my fault. Maybe even some sympathy from my mother would be nice.

I looked around the room, no one was paying attention to me, so I activated my IND. “Camera on,” I all but whispered. A little red light blinked in the corner of my projected screen. It was recording.

Alright, there was a drop of condolence. Then at least I had something to prove from my side of the was-trying-not-to-kill-anyone argument.

A squishy-faced lady with a high red bun called my name. I hopped to my feet eagerly but as soon as my knees locked into place they wouldn’t move forward. Oh my Galatica. I could only imagine what they were going to think. Here she comes again with a new proposal to reject.

I tried to seem kind of confident, bouncing a little as I walked into a dim little room with no furniture except for a high desk where the three councilors sat. Why they had to sit at a tall desk, you tell me. I guess, to throw me off my game or remind me that they were so high above me. And trust me, I didn’t need reminding.

As soon as I walked in the room there was a collective groan from the three council members. I also recognized each of them from different presentations.

Dr. Allistar had her index fingers tented and pressed to her lips. Her haircut sharply framed her face. The kind of haircut that screams I make more money than you do so you should listen to me. Next to her was Dr. Cortez who reminded me of a newborn baby. All wrinkled and about to fall asleep. 

Dr. Cortez was one thing, but then Dr. Allistar was worse. Though the two of them combined were not as bad as old Dr. Thomspon whose frown stretched deep into his jowls like a frog’s mouth. When I saw he was on my panel, I knew it was over before it had begun. The air was thick with the stress sweat of a dozen other travelers who had come before me and already been turned away by Thompson’s froggy frown.

“You’ll be given a minute or two to propose the mission,” Dr. Allistar said. “And then the panel will ask you a few questions.”

The idea of the kind of questions that they were going to ask made my stomach twist. Really, the first one that came to my mind was, ‘so you agree we should fire you?’ I clamped my hands together and shook off my own inner negativity. It was time for this council to accept a mission that didn’t involve blowing someone’s head off. And that accepted mission was going to be mine. Right there and then.

With my new sense of confidence, I began my proposal.

“The Beatles is considered to be the most influential band of the 20th century, influencing not only popular music for generations but the counterculture of the 1960s.”

No reaction. Not a smidge of difference. Cortez made some kind of a snort as if he were snoring or something.

“Uh…” Galatica, I was nervous. My throat was constricting in on itself and none of the forced clearing could rid me of the feeling. “I’m proposing to create an alternate reality where they never succeeded in order to fully measure their success.”

“Subject of elimination?” Thompson asked, in the most patronizing, I’m never going to approve you kind of way.

“The subject I’ve chosen is John Lennon.” I pulled my hands behind my back and cleared my throat. Here comes the bomb. “But the mission I’m proposing does not involve elimination.”

They all had this expression as if I had finally delivered the punchline they were expecting. Thompson head whipped up so fast, his wispy hairs fluttered into his face. Allistar brought her clasped hands to her chin. Cortez’ beady little eyes snapped open as if he had woken suddenly.

“If you are not proposing to eliminate John Lennon, er,” Dr. Allistar fought for the words. “Then how do you propose to effectively stop the success of The Beatles?”

“Will you be trapping him in a basket throughout the sixties?” Thompson grumbled under his breath. The others laughed.

The muscles in my arms tensed at his joke. I hid the irritation in my voice as I continued.  

“Through my research, I noticed an unexplored trend throughout History. One extremely successful factor that has been yet to be explored in timeline alterations. And that factor is…” I could hear the waver in my voice, my tongue felt fat and, in the way, choking me as I swallowed. “That factor is the influence of romantic partners.”

The panel exchanged glances. Worse than usual glances. It was Talent Search all over again. I wanted to blush and shrink out the door.

“I’m sorry, what do you mean by that?” finally Allistar asked.

“I mean that… a romantic interest can influence someone to change the trajectory of their partner’s life,” I said. “In this specific case, giving up music.”

Alistair tucked her short hair behind her ear. “Romantic partners, as in spouses? Girlfriends, boyfriends?”  

“Yes. Anybody.” I tucked my hands further behind my back, sweat was dewing in my palms. “A look into history you’ll notice this theme comes into play repeatedly. Cleopatra’s influence over Caesar and Marc Anthony. I mean even King Edward the Eighth abdicated the throne for a woman, you don’t get much more history bending than that,” I said with a slight laugh that Thompson didn’t share.

“So why didn’t you choose King Edward? Or Caesar? Or any of them? Why chose to target a rock n’ roll band from the 20th century?” Thompson asked with his usual burnt disposition. I could tell by the way he sneered at the words rock n’ roll band. This guy was not at all going to be moving this mission forward.

“I mean, it seems to me that picking a political leader such as one you’ve named, would have been a stronger subject to alter,” he said.

Wow. Dr. Greggs was right. They weren’t in the market for anything remotely new.

“Well, a quarter of a million people sang his song at a protest against the Vietnam War. So, yeah, I’d say that’s some leadership,” I said, irritated that I was actively teaching history to the freaking time council. “Not to mention that Lennon in particular has been proven to be very… influenceable by romance specifically. And that was why he was chosen to be the first timeline altered this way.”

“And who do you propose will be this influential romantic partner?” Thompson asked and turned his nose down at me.

“Well, m-me. Me. I was… going to do it.”

Another awkward silence did not bode a lot of confidence in me. Finally, Thompson leaned back and rubbed his chin. A loud disapproving sigh escaped his nose.

“Okay,” he said, slowly. “The major problem that I see with this is that, the end goal is not measurable. Um, this… falling in love. It’s a bit wishy-washy to me. How do we measure that he has fallen in love and set aside music?”

“Uh, when the band breaks up.” Okay, I wasn’t trying to sound so passive-aggressive, but I couldn’t help it.

“But what’s to stop him from becoming a famous musician without The Beatles?” Allistar asked, her voice was cold like steel. “I mean, I really don’t see anything standing in his way as soon as you leave.”

“Well, yeah.” I clenched my hands tighter together. “That’s why I wouldn’t leave him in that case, I would analyze the changes made throughout the years while keeping a close eye on him.”

“Does that mean marrying him?” Allistar asked.

Wow, no, not at all. I couldn’t keep my eyes from bulging out of their sockets. The rest of the panel stared at me waiting for my response.

“Uhhhh,” I said with a slight laugh.

“In those days, it was very common for people to give up their dreams to start a family,” she said. “I believe that’s why they called it, ‘settling down’. Isn’t this the alteration you’re proposing?”

“That’s…” I stammered. “That’s not part of this specific mission.”

“I see you’re proposing to arrive in early January of 1958.” Cortez finally had something to contribute. I startled at his voice. I didn’t even know he was awake. “But you claim that the ‘point of momentum’ is in July of 1958, when John Lennon’s mother dies.”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“Most travelers arrive at the point of momentum,” Thompson said, bowling over Cortez.

“Right,” I nodded. “The reason I’m proposing an earlier arrival time is because I’m not eliminating him. It’s a bit more delicate than that. I’ve given myself six months to get to know him. Six months to get him to fall in love. Six months to break up the band. It’s a tight timeline, but I believe it’s doable.”

“Why is the mother dying the point of momentum? That doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with his influential music career.” Cortez said flatly. I pursed my lips. This was going even worse than I had imagined. Hello burger drones.

“The reason I chose that event to focus on is because, first of all, it’s right before he meets his future wife Cynthia,” I said. “It’s right before he falls back from art school and becomes more serious about music. Because of this tragedy, he became really vulnerable. It’s the right setting to open up to a girl and fall in love. I mean, he basically did anyway. I just want to beat her to it.”

“My concern here, is that a proposal like this may have some ulterior motivations behind it,” Thompson said his fingers spread and jabbing at the screen displaying my proposal. “What I see here is a young girl. Former musician. Trying to have a relationship with John Lennon. Quite frankly, we don’t entertain travelers who want to live out their sexual fantasies.”

I had to contain my gasp and straighten my knees to keep them from buckling under me. How could he suggest such a thing? That I would be suggesting such a thing? He really thought that of me? That I would be up late at night getting all hot and bothered thinking of time travel liaison and then actually have the kahunas to draft a proposal about it.

“That’s not what this is!” 

“Well, I’m saying there’s reason to suspect ulterior motives,” he said with a sturdy tight stance. “Now, I’ll admit that the subject could be worth our time to study. Although this falling in love and giving up music. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me. I think elimination, in this case, would be the only way to get a clean sample.”

“Now wait a minute,” I said, not even sure at what point to defend myself. “I know that this council has faced a lot of backlash with just killing historical figures right and left. I’m proposing a plan that would back away from that. Show everyone that you can alter time without spearing someone through the head, you know?”

“And I do like that aspect of your proposal,” Allistar said, her voice still as cold as before. “But as much as it’s forward-thinking—”

“It’s not realistic,” Thompson cut her off. “I don’t think that a boy would give up a life of success and money for a whirlwind romance with a girl.” 

“Well, I disagree with you,” I said, no longer playing in passive aggressiveness. “Maybe you don’t get the kind of messages sent to your IND. But I can tell you, that for a seventeen-year-old boy, it is the exact perfect motivation.”

Allistar and Cortez simultaneously sighed.

Thompson tromped over my answer. “Not interested. Too vague. Too risky. But also, too boring.”


 “Thanks for your time,” he said, but adding a slight eye roll before minimizing my proposal off his screen. “We’ll notify you.”

The great wooden doors open and Ms. Squish Face led in the next sorry contestant.

“Wait, now hold on here,” I said, holding up my hand to the next traveler.

The three behind the big, tall desk greeted me with such shock and disrespect. But I was not backing down from this. Because for one, no, I was not going to let this go. This was all I had left of my time-travel career. And for two, he was wrong anyway.

“I just don’t feel like you gave my idea a chance,” I told him point-blank. “I really do think I can change a timeline with… a more positive measure.”

“I’m not interested in changing timelines with positive measures,” Thompson said without slight exasperation.  He then quite literally waved the next traveler to come and take my place. My bottom lip clenched over my teeth. I was not about to be picked off like some mosquito. No sir, I wasn’t. I held my ground.

“You not being interested in changing is not a good excuse for murdering people,” I half-blurted out.

There was this strange gasp, and I’m not sure if it were more of a gasp or a grumble. But there was definitely a reaction in that room. Allistar, Cortez, Squishy and the traveler all exchanged looks with the highest of unease. Thompson kept his icy glare on me.

“We’re not ‘murdering people’, because they aren’t people,” he said with hardly any tone in his voice. “They’re shadows of the past. We’re simply redirecting these shadows so we can learn from the path they take. Removing them from that existence doesn’t remove them from our existence. In fact, it changes nothing. They’re already dead. They still lived a life and made their impact here.”

“Mmm-hmm.” I cupped my chin with my fingers and squinted. “So, you’re saying that murder is totally fine as long as it’s in alternate realities.”

“I’m saying that in alternate realities it doesn’t matter. It’s an alternate reality. We don’t have to play by the same rules that we do here.” Now his tone was spiking in range, with pinpricks of irritancy all over his words.

“There’s no law in time travel, eh? Then why do you make all the apprentices take law classes before they travel? Kind of a waste of time if you ask me.”

I knew I was pushing it, but I could not stop myself. One rejected proposal too many. Thompson didn’t answer me, he merely nodded for the next traveler to take my spot. Fuming, I marched straight out of that room.

Angry tears welled in my eyes and I was not going to cry in front of any of those other travelers. I dodged left into the private bathroom. The door clicked shut and I slid down the wall and stared at the geometric lights in the ceiling.

My energy was gone. I didn’t feel like walking home, I would have to send for my car to come and pick me up. I projected my IND. That little red light blinked at the top of the screen.

“Great,” I said dryly. “Camera off.”

That whole proposal had been a disaster. My huff of a laugh echoed through the bathroom. If I ever wanted to prove how hard I tried, I had something to back me up. I may never be able to get around the council when it came to another job. But hey, at least I had this footage of Thompson’s blatant disregard for human life.

Wait a minute. I had footage of Thompson’s blatant disregard for human life.

I pulled up the footage and scrolled back to before I had stormed off. And there it was. On camera as clear as day. I played the footage and Thompson’s voice rang throughout the bathroom.

“We’re not ‘murdering people’, because they aren’t people.”

A small smirk tugged at the corners of my mouth. What was the name of that sexy journalist again? Stefen Broderick? I found his information and then without hesitation, I clipped the recorded conversation and sent it to him.