CHAPTER TWO

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.”

“What?”

 “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.

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