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?”