When I was a little girl, I couldn’t decide between becoming a famous singer-songwriter or a famous time traveler. Unfortunately, I chose songwriter first. My music career never got off the ground. In fact, it sank into a big, burning dumpster swamp that I don’t really feel like talking about. So, I spent the last of my schooling credit to just barely get an apprenticeship at the time alterations department. And anyway, that’s how I found myself in the Library of Alexandria about to kill Queen Cleopatra.
Loading bullets into a gun should not be that hard. But for whatever reason, my hands forgot their basic functions and I fumbled all the three bullets in between my fingers and onto the stone floor. Do you know how loud three falling bullets echo through the Library of Alexandria? Like someone throwing a handful of microids onto a loudspeaker. Plink! Plink! Plink! Two women in draping tunics glared in my direction, and I dropped to my knees to collect the rolling bullets.
“Sorry, sorry!” I whispered harshly to my mentor, Dr. Greggs. He all but rolled his eyes at me.
The women suspiciously returned to their scrolls. Good. Awesome. Hey, nothing to see here. Just a clumsy lanky girl from the year 2109, here to assassinate your leader. Don’t worry about it.
I tucked the gun under my armpit. I never know what to do with my hands, but when you’re trying to sneak around a modern gun through an ancient city, that makes it even worse. Dr. Greggs didn’t say anything, but I could tell by his unamused stone face that he did not approve of my armpit holster.
“Emmeline,” he said with a sigh. “Keep your weapon in your hand.”
I re-hid it in the folds of my toga and just sorta held it there. Dr. Greggs opened his mouth about to scold me and then his shoulders slumped as he gave up on trying to correct me.
“Let’s go,” he said. Dr. Greggs drifted through the stone library as if he belonged there. I followed behind, with a wad of toga over my gun hand and crouching slightly. Not because crouching is sneakier or anything, but because one of my damn ancient sandals was slapping so loudly against the stone floor that I had to redistribute the weight by waddling like a one-legged penguin.
Suddenly, Dr. Greggs ducked behind a giant Hathor statue. I tried to follow suit but almost gouged my eye out on the pointy exposed nipple of the sculpture. I stumbled over backward to join him. My sandal smacked against the ground again. Dr. Greggs shushed me. And I jabbed at my ill-fitting footwear in rebuttal.
“There she is,” Dr. Greggs nodded to the back corner.
I slowly peeked around the statue, taking extra care to dodge the dangerous stabby breasts. And wow, yeah, no kidding there she was. Cleopatra was only ten feet away hunched over a table, her dark curly hair gathered into a beaded headdress. A worn scroll rolled out in front of her. Everything about her was strong. Her sharp chin and her beautiful, hooked nose. Her oversized dark eyes, lined in the classic Egyptian style. A real goddess.
“This is the best chance you’ll have,” Dr. Greggs said motioning to two stoic guards, watching her from either side.
“What? Right now? Right here in the library?”
Dr. Greggs nodded. “This is as alone as she’s ever going to be.”
I cautiously checked both of the guards, but their eyes were glossed over with boredom. Imagine having to watch someone read for hours. They might as well have been part of the intricate carvings of the library.
I shakily unwrapped my gun from my toga. I exhaled and aimed at Cleopatra’s head.
Cleopatra cleared her throat and tucked a small curl behind her ear. She said something aloud in Greek, which I assumed was a joke because one of the guards cracked a smile.
I dropped the gun. “This— I mean, she’s just reading.”
“This is your opportune moment,” he said, egging me toward her.
“Emmeline,” he said, really punching the first syllable of my name. “If you don’t take your shot now, the guards will see you. They will take you away and mummify you alive.”
“You’re laying it on thick, Dr. Greggs. Sheesh, okay.”
I brought the gun back up to my eye and steadied. One quick pull of the trigger and it would all be over.
I relaxed my finger as a small Egyptian child made his way into her circle. A guard yelled something in Greek, but Cleopatra held her hand up. The child put a small blue flower on her table and she responded to him in Egyptian before he scampered away.
“Hurry,” Greggs coaxed me.
My shoulders scrunched around my ears. Suddenly, I stuck the gun back under my armpit and slipped around the giant bronze goddess.
“Emmeline!” Greggs whispered harshly.
I gestured for him to stay hidden as I crept closer to the pharaoh. She must have heard my stupid flapping sandal because her head shot up to look at me.
I cleared my throat. “Hey, uh, Cleo?” I asked my voice cracking.
She flashed a confused side-eye. The guards tightened in a step.
“Hey, first off it’s super amazing to meet you.” I grinned. “And also I just wanted to say, don’t date Julius Caesar, okay?”
She shook her head with her eyebrows furled.
“Or Marc Anthony. Definitely don’t date Marc Anthony,” I said.
She responded with a blank expression and muttered something in Greek.
“Look,” I knelt by her table. “I know what it’s like. I fell in love with a psychopath too. And you are SO much better off, trust me. You’re freaking Cleopatra! You don’t need a man!”
“Terminate the simulation,” Dr. Greggs called from behind me.
The library of Alexandria froze. Then blinked into a light grey void. I took off my virtual helmet in defeat.
Dr. Greggs stood in the white room, with his helmet under his arm. He neither scolded nor comforted me, just gave me that stern mentor face. I countered with a guilty smile, but when he remained unamused, I pouted out my bottom lip.
“I can’t use any of our simulations as a recommendation, Emmeline.”
I groaned, setting my helmet on the too-cold ground. “I’m a historian, not an assassin.”
“Well, with time travel those things have become a bit blurred,” Dr. Greggs hung the helmet on the wall.
“I hate my job.”
“No, you don’t,” he said softly.
Tears burned my eyes, and I lowered my head. Like a stab in the heart. Why did Greggs have to be right all the time? I sniffed and shook it off.
“They better accept my nonviolent mission proposal,” I said, turning to leave out the big swooshing doors of the VR rink.
“They won’t,” Greggs called after me in a sing songy voice.
“They better,” I called back over my shoulder.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH, 2109 – 8:45 AM
“You’re the newest apprentice for the time-altering department, right?”
Oh my Galactica.
Slap me upside my microchip hormone regulator and call me malfunctioned, because this was the best-looking man I had ever seen on this side of town. And he was calling out to me? That never happens. Not even on accident. I was not a call-over kind of girl.
For some reason I crumpled to one side and giggled. Well, it was more like a gargle than a giggle.
“Would you mind me asking you a few questions about time travel?” he asked, blinking his lovely dark eyelashes.
Finally, some great luck. I usually take the California Skyway in the mornings but decided not to renew my toll pass this year. I mean, if I were going to travel back in time I would have to get used to walking anyway.
I bounded over. Would this make me late to work? Undoubtedly. Was this guy’s bone structure worth it? Yes.
“So,” I slid in front of him as smoothly as possible. “What kind of questions do you have for me?”
Did you want the access number to link to my virtual mix-and-mingle account? Way ahead of you, you scoundrel.
“Hi, Stefen Broderick.” He introduced himself confidently over the distant buzzing of cars driving their owners to work. “I was wondering what’s your opinion on the violence perpetrated by time travelers?”
Uh-oh. Press. Abort! Abort!
“Do you feel like the killing of historical figures is truly necessary to create alternate timelines?”
The answer blurted out of me like an angry uncontrollable bubble of lava. I knew I had messed up. I knew I was putting my job in jeopardy by speaking out. But it was the truth. Stefen’s eyes glimmered with excitement.
“Can I get your name?” he asked, and activated his internal device, his “IND”. A blank screen projected from his chest and he started jotting notes down with his finger.
“Emmeline Mor,” I said and glanced anxiously at the time travel building where my colleagues were probably watching me spill my guts for a reporter.
Stefan tilted his chin and squinted as he wrote my name. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
This kept getting worse and worse. I tugged up the collar of my thermal-regulated vest. “Um, no, I don’t think so—”
He shrugged it off. “So, what can you tell me about these alleged murder missions? Are they true?”
Yes. Yep. Yeah. It’s true. Time travelers are basically government-hired murderers. I knew one traveler who kept George Washington’s wooden teeth on his mantle. Like an actual hunting trophy. Travelers were a large collection of psychopaths and there I was trying not to say anything too terrible about them so I could keep my ethically questionable job. This was the lowest of the low. Had I known that time traveling was violent like that, would I have taken the job? Of course not. But by then it was too late, I was trapped.
“Well, if they successfully create an alternate timeline, they can study the effects that person had on history,” I said, trying to choose my words as carefully as possible. “So, they… eliminate… that person… to study the alternate reality.”
Stefan nodded slowly, and I don’t know who was more disgusted, him or me. “And have you ever performed this kind of… elimination?”
“No!” Tried not to shout, but that ‘no’ blasted a few decimals too loud. “In fact, I’ve proposed several alternative peaceful missions to the time travel council, so…”
“Really?” Stefan cupped his fingers to his chin. “And how many of those successfully created an alternate reality?”
I drew my lips tight around my teeth. “The council hasn’t actually accepted a proposal from me yet.”
“I see.” Stefan smirked. “So, you haven’t time-traveled at all?”
I did not need this soul-crushing defeat today. Seriously.
“But I have a proposal pending, so… you know, soon.” I carefully left out the fact that if they rejected this proposal, I’m pretty much as good as fired.
Suddenly his eyes lit up and gleamed. “Oh! I recognize you now! You were on Talent Search a few years ago. Uh, 2106 or 2107, right? You sang that song… what was it?”
“It’s not important.”
He snapped his fingers. “The song about the pig with no legs!”
“Yep.” Just kill me now.
“I saw you on the Top Ten Worst of Talent Search.”
“And your boyfriend dumped you on live stream, right?”
I internally crumbled as that unfortunate memory rang through my ears. My toad of a boyfriend I had been with for a year and a half telling me that he ‘just couldn’t be with someone who would write a song about a pig’.
“Traeger Baskins is an artificial butthole,” I said. “You can write that down and quote me.”
“I can see why you switched careers—”
“Do you want me to spell it for you? T-R-A…”
“So, in your opinion as an employee of the time alterations division,” he said, battering me from one subject to the other. “You would consider these elimination missions highly unethical?”
I had to take a sharp breath and trade one insecurity for the other. Of course, I considered the missions highly unethical, but that didn’t mean my missions had to be highly unethical. Why should only assassins get to travel through time? I worked hard to get to where I was and if I lost this job, I would be done. Seven rejected time proposals and a Hindenburg of a music career at only eighteen? I would have to spend a lifetime loading burger delivery drones and living out of a shoebox. And that was as good as a promise, every traveler knew that the council had both the ability to fire you and keep you from getting a better job or working for someone important. They were careful about keeping disgruntled ex-employees hush hush.
“Well, yeah, you know…” I struggled. “They’re not great.”
“Off the record?” he asked, his eyebrow raised.
“It’s pretty much an assassination ring,” I said.
Stefen smirked and nodded. He knew it, we all knew it.
“Well, if you ever want to put anything on the record,” he said, sending his information to my IND. “The Human Rights Committee is trying to open up an investigation on the council. Could be a big help with some traveler insight.”
“Thanks,” I said as I walked away from him defeated.
I felt weird. Empty almost. Maybe I should have put that on the record. I mean, what’s there to lose? Oh, just everything. I let out a deep sigh.
Please let them accept my proposal. Please, please, please let this happen.
I rubbed my forehead as I trotted up the steps to the giant glass doors of the building. When I touched the big brass handle, the glass lit up and displayed the time. 9:06 AM. Damn. Late as always.
I hobbled toward the elevator. The glass floor had been reprogrammed to have the ugliest shade of orange in swirling texture. I don’t know who was the programmer for the building environment, but the ‘ocean breeze’ air purifier of the lobby always clashed with the ‘cinnamon winter’ of the third floor.
Once I got into the office, IND’s were bleeping, and business voices were all a chatter. I could feel everyone’s jagged eyes on me as they passed, so I nodded, silently reassuring them that I hadn’t said anything incriminating. Although, yes, I kinda did.
I snuck by the wide silver door of my mentor’s office over the squeaky glass floor.
“Emmeline,” Dr. Greggs called me.
I pulled my shoulders up by my ears and cracked the door open. The lights of the office were dimmed which was a clear sign that he was having a stressful morning. The wall behind him had its usual slideshow of Time Magazine covers, including all the alternate events created by his mentees.
Behind the clear swivel desk sat my mentor. Dr. Greggs was shorter than me but had a 6’5 presence. He was the only person I knew, who opted to keep his natural hair and let it get all peppered and thin. That kind of confidence intimidated us all. I tried to give him the most apologetic frown I could muster, but he bested me with the same face.
“They’ve rejected your proposal. Again.”
Bad news already? I had only been here for thirty seconds. I pouted my bottom lip and sat across from Greggs. “What? But why?”
“They didn’t think ‘trapping John Wilkes Booth in a basket’ would actually create an alternate timeline.”
“But if you left him in there until the play was over…”
Dr. Greggs pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply.
“You’re incredibly imaginative, Emmeline. But, unfortunately, the time council isn’t,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, the missions that are accepted are usually assassinations of political leaders. Those are the biggest changes to history. The best alternate timelines to evaluate and study.”
“I really do think it’s possible to alter a timeline without killing someone,” I said, not about to give up. “I mean, the council should at least try!”
“In their mind, eliminating the subject is the safest way. Those are the timelines that the council wants to take risks on. It’s all about the money. They’re very conservative. I, for one, would love to see them take on an alternative mission. But it’s unlikely. They want the cleanest sample possible.”
“All of mine would have been clean!”
“Hello! That one had so much potential!” I said folding my arms. “They just didn’t like it because I didn’t mention the word ‘guillotine’. Buncha barbarians up there.”
“I don’t like this any more than you do,” Greggs said his voice soft and careful.
“Yeah, well, they’re so stupid not to approve a peaceful mission right now, because you know what I just heard…” I leaned forward and lowered my voice. “The HRC is trying to open up an investigation into these assassinations the council are approving.”
“Ah, really?” Greggs leaned in his chair and tented his fingers to his chin. “Now, that’s interesting! That would be tremendous if that investigation went through. But it wouldn’t help you now.”
My entire body sank into the seat. “Am I fired, Greggs?”
“It’s not looking good,” he said, with a sympathetic sigh. “I went and spoke with Dr. Thompson and the council. It took a lot of debate on my part, but they’re allotting for one final proposal from you.”
“Really?” I asked perking back up.
“They want it presented tomorrow morning.”
Back my body fell along with my jaw. They expected me to draft a travel proposal overnight. Yeah, they wanted me fired.
“Is there any way I could change the council’s mind?” I asked, nay begged. “What if I chose a really great and interesting subject. Do you think they would consider a non-killing kind of mission?”
Dr. Greggs gave me that closed mouth, top of his eyes stare.
“… What subject do you think is really great and interesting?” I asked.
Still the stare.
I groaned in frustration. “Come on! I only have one shot at this. I need to know what they’re going to approve!”
“It’s a make-or-break decision,” he said with a grim tone. “I think it would have to be someone of political interest. And a clean timeline alteration. I wouldn’t try for anything older than the 1800s, that’s a tough sell for a debut time traveler. Especially for someone your age. How old are you?”
“I’m eighteen,” I said, with all indignation, thank you very much.
“Hmm, any small experience could help you. What was your focus in secondary school? Political Science? European History?”
“Music and voice composition,” I mumbled. Again, that top of the eyes stare. His go-to face. “Well, excuse me for having more than one interest!” I said.
“They’re going to be looking at your experience,” he said with a big duh “stamped” across his forehead.
I snapped my head upright. “Hey, what if I targeted a musician?”
“That’s a tough call.” He shrugged. “If you can find a leader with some musical abilities, they might favor you. But…”
He trailed off. And I knew why. And the why made me sick inside.
“Greggs, what do I do?” I asked quietly.
“Honestly,” he said. “You’re going to go back to your desk and you’re going to find somebody you can kill.”
My stomach churned. I nodded, swallowed the dry lump in my throat and made my way out of his office. Outside, the other apprentices were still bleeping and chatting. I stared at the wall in a daze. Sensors tracked my eye and activated a motivational poster, the study of time is the most important work for mankind! I waved my hand to minimize the poster.
I didn’t want to kill anyone. And I didn’t want to ruin my life either. But even if I worked at Vega-Burger for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have ever hurt anyone. Although, if I didn’t go back in time and kill some king, another traveler would anyway. I shuddered. How was that an excuse for going through with it?
I suppressed every feeling I had inside of me. Anger, disappointment, embarrassment, horror, fear, hunger, everything. I pushed it all away and made myself an empty steel robot. A terminator.
Everyone went quiet as I walked to my desk. I knew they didn’t like me. Really the only person who tolerated and believed in me was Greggs’s. Everyone else kept our superficial conversations to a bare minimum.
“Rejection does not control you Emmeline. You can do this,” I whispered to my ceramic Siamese cat mug. My only friend here.
I sat down and activated the search on my IND.
“American presidents with musical talent,” I dictated aloud. The search engine pulled up a few results. Ronald Reagan played the piano. Bill Clinton played the saxophone.
“Historical figures with musical talent?” I tried.
Albert Einstein, a decent violinist. Huh. I didn’t know that. Getting rid of the theory of relativity could be an interesting enough timeline to study. I had my IND add him to my list of possibilities.
I spent the next forty-five minutes scrolling through different options. A lot of dead white guys who had side music hobbies. I sighed. Maybe the music thing wasn’t going to cut it.
I slumped into my chair and let it wobble back and forth.
“…Musicians who became world leaders.” I half-heartedly dictated to my IND.
It was a hodgepodge of dumb answers. I sank further into my chair because this was hopeless and giving up was looking great. I was about to get fired anyway.
Before I shut off my IND, one line in the search caught my eye. John Lennon’s songs became anthems for the counterculture movement in the 1960s. Anti-War, eh? That’s some politics right there. I opened the article.
“Oh, this is the Beatles guy, right?” I said aloud to myself as I leaned forward.
The IND processed my voice and brought up a general description of The Beatles. Most influential band of the 20th century. Huh. That would be a good timeline to alter and study.
My IND added John Lennon to the list of interests.
My list was now only two people long and I could feel myself cringing. Certainly, they would be interesting subjects, but could I really kill them though? I mean John Wilkes Booth was an actual murderer and the best I could come up with was to trap him in a basket. These two on my list had made a positive impact on the world, taking that away would extra hard.
But this Lennon guy would get shot anyway, right?
I whimpered aloud at the thought as I searched through images of John. Flicking them away from me in the air to get to the next one. Um, first impression of him: a lot of eyebrow and a lot of scowl. Finally, I came across a picture of him lying in bed with a Japanese woman. The sign behind them read, “Bed in for peace.”
When I expanded the article, my IND brought up the information.
JOHN LENNON 05271967
John holds a ‘Bed in for Peace’ protest for his honeymoon with his second wife Yoko Ono.
I snorted to myself. I should do that. Lay in bed until the council agrees to stop killing people. I popped open a paper can of ‘Shorty-Hash’, my all-time favorite shot of caffeine despite my co-workers complaining that it smelled like a burnt birthday cake. And maybe it tasted a little like that too. But, so what? Still better than my taste in men.
I took a deep swig and then out of complete curiosity I had my IND expand the information about Yoko Ono.
Yoko Ono is a Japanese American artist and musician, best known for being the second wife of John Lennon, founder of The Beatles. A lot of controversy surrounded her in her lifetime, and many speculated that she was the cause of The Beatles splitting ways.
Their love broke up The Beatles? How very Romeo and Juliet of them.
I swirled my drink in its can as I looked at the picture of Yoko, her hands daintily placed on the bedsheets. That seemed like the least fun honeymoon ever. A room full of reporters filming you sitting somberly in your bed. Good for her though, I thought to myself. I mean if she did break up that band, she was able to make a significant impact across the world without killing anybody. All she did was get a guy to fall in love with her.
I stopped swishing my drink. My eyes widened and I sat forward.
I could do that.
I could be Yoko. But before Yoko. Before The Beatles are even The Beatles. I could stop them from becoming famous. Create an alternate timeline without them and measure how much of an influence they really were.
And John Lennon wouldn’t get shot. EVER. Not before The Beatles. Not by a deranged fan in 1980. Not ever… By altering the timeline, I could save his life.
I set my Shorty-Hash down so quick, little sprinkles spurted from the hole in the top. I got to work, pulling up a blank document in my IND and drafting a time-travel proposal.
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