Of course, Thorne would be in charge of shooting practice. I didn’t know why I hadn’t guessed that myself. And this guy was my partner on my non-killing mission. Sure. Yeah right. I could see right through this little game.
The apprentices stood at each section of their range. White virtual projections of human silhouettes all meandered about waiting to be shot up. Some walked casually, others sat and drank from a silhouetted coffee cup. The travelers each took their turns taking their shots. As each shot fired, the female voice of the simulator would announce their accuracy.
“Left ear. Twelve point five centimeters from target mark.”
“Miss. Thirty point three centimeters from target mark.”
“Right shoulder. Fifty-eight centimeters from target mark.”
I made absolutely sure to sit at the last range on the furthest end of the arena. I sat with my white earmuffs, spinning my gun on the small table in front of me. Just the fact that they were making me do this spoke volumes to how they thought my mission was going to go. And there was Thorne, my soon-to-be partner, barking lectures at every single shooter that missed.
After each traveler had taken their abuse, it was my turn. A white, androgynous figure speaking into an old standing microphone appeared on my range.
The sharp shoulders guy that I had previously hit on, leaned over to his friend and laughed.
“There’s the time travel mail order bride,” he whispered. Well, I wouldn’t call it whisper. I would call it a breathy shout from a big, oafish mouth. I can’t believe I was ever attracted to that guy. What a misjudgment.
“Emmeline,” Thorne said. “Let’s see what you can do.”
“Yeah, let’s see it,” Broad Shoulders said and crossed his arms. His friend guffawed and stepped around to watch.
I tightened my jaw as I looked at them. Then I picked up the gun, aimed and fired, without the slightest hesitation. The bullet flew through the projection, right in the center of his head where his two eyes would meet. The white silhouette fell instantly to the ground on his back.
“Target mark,” the simulator announced.
“Just because I don’t want to, doesn’t mean I can’t,” I said before setting my gun on the table.
The class reacted in a sea of “whoa” and “ooh”. Broad Shoulders tightened his grip on his gun and turned back to his own range. His friend laughed even harder.
“Wow! Hole in one, Emmeline!”
It really wasn’t a big deal. I used to play VR carnival games with Que all the time as a kid. The one where you fill the clown’s mouth with a water gun. Anyway, I forced myself to get surprisingly good at aiming once my brother and I started betting our household chores against each other.
“Impressive,” Dr. Thorne nodded. “I’d like you to try that one more time, if you would please humor me, Emmeline.”
I shrugged. “Sure,” I said lackluster, picking up my handgun.
“Command center,” Dr. Thorne said activating the simulator’s settings system. “Range 42. Please add realistic overlay.”
Suddenly my white silhouette turned from blank canvas to a fully projected John Lennon. It was the same Lennon with the suit and the sweeping Beatles cut, only this time he was holding a guitar and singing silently into a microphone.
“Resume.” Dr. Thorne commanded me.
I blinked at this now presented John in front of me, bent at the knees and bobbling up and down. I became more aware of the gun in my hand. The cold grip of the handle. The heaviness. I aimed at my target.
The AI John was completely unaware of his soon-to-be demise. I tried to estimate the same bullet path, but his head was tilted back and bouncing to the rhythm of his guitar. My finger readied on the trigger but didn’t squeeze.
I couldn’t stop the thoughts. The horrible things I had read. His shooting outside his apartment in New York. Four shots in the back and the stumbling into the building. The bleeding out in the police squad car on the way to the hospital. The hypovolemic shock, the blood-stained granny glasses, and the millions of people all around the world sobbing over a man they had never met.
I raised my arm to wipe the sweat off my forehead with my sleeve. I wasn’t a true marksman. And Thorne knew it. If I couldn’t take a shot at this realistic-looking AI version of Lennon, he had all the right in the world not to pass my training. It would probably save him a lot of time not having to waste his whole summer following me to 1958.
I had to prove how much I wanted this mission. I wanted it. I wanted time travel to change. I pulled the trigger.
Kablam! John groaned and doubled over, clutching his leg.
“Left hip. Ninety point four centimeters from target mark.”
I set my gun down so loud it clanked on the metal counter. The class didn’t laugh or react or anything, they scurried back to their own gun ranges, fleeing from the wrath of Dr. Thorne. His shadow darkened my range as he drew near.
“Ninety point four into the left hip,” he said dryly. “A miss like that is worse than not even shooting at all. Now you’ve alerted the target. Wounded him enough to know he’s in danger, but not enough of a wound to stop him from escaping.”
I took a deep breath and tried to sound like I wasn’t bothered at all. “A 1950s era revolver has a six-bullet chamber. I’m sure one of those other bullets would stop him.”
“One bullet should be enough.” He wasn’t so much yelling as just stabbing you with his attitude. Some people are like that. Attitude people. “In the field, you’ll learn that assassination requires a healthy dose of both precision and subtlety.”
Dr. Thorne stalked away to another student, leaving me staring at my gun.
Back in the haze of the virtual train hallway, I opened the door to AI Lennon’s cabin and stormed my way inside.
“John, can I ask you a question?”
He peered at me over his book as I sat on the seat right next to him.
“Listen, if you knew you had to die. How would you want to go?” I asked.
John lifted his eyebrows high into his forehead at the question. I ignored his classic cynical expression. And matched it with my own. No time for flirting practice, I had to worry about this mess now.
“If you had a choice… would you rather be shot and have it over right away. Or would you rather say be poisoned? Like maybe someone slipped something into your tea and you just got a little flu for a few days and then died. But it was less gory, and you could say goodbye to your loved ones and everything,” I said, staring at him intensely. “Would you prefer that?”
He smirked. “I think I’d prefer to be bludgeoned over the head for several hours. Really slow and painful like.”
“C’mon! Be serious, John!”
“Serious? How do you expect me to be serious, barging in with a question like that?” he asked with a giggle.
John slipped a bookmark into his novel and set it down. I had never had a simulation where he set that darn book down. Hmm. In fact, this was the longest I had ever held a conversation with the Lennon bot.
“Alright then,” he said. “I’d like to pass away in me sleep at eighty years old.”
“I wish you would, John.”
Dr. Greggs appeared at the door of the train car. “Emmeline, can you meet me for a minute in my office?”
I took off my VR helmet and hung it on the wall. Then I walked across the big cold floor and out the wooshy doors.
I paid for a personal transport stall to take me all the way to the department of time travel. When I stepped into Gregg’s office his lights were dimmed again. Not great. I sat in my usual chair and scrunched my jacket sleeve in my hand. What thing would I be in trouble for next? Missing the AI Lennon so bad he needed a virtual hip replacement?
“Emmeline,” Dr. Greggs sat across from me. “In your acceptance letter, there was a list of conditions expected to meet before you could travel to the past.”
“Yes…” I said suspiciously. Oh, crap. Thorne was going to fail me. Of course, he was. I knew it. I knew he hated me right from the start.
“That list also mentioned that there could be potential body modifications required for the mission.”
This was not actually about Thorne? Whew. Well, that was a relief. I guess?
“Yes, I remember. That’s not a problem.” It wasn’t. I wasn’t a body mod purificst or anything. I already had the standard twenty to thirty that kids my age have. The IND, the teeth alignment, the nutritional balancer, the fake hair, eyesight correctional, eyelash simulator, skin regulation and all the other ones you get from the doctor before you go to public school.
“For this mission, the council requires an armor body mod.”
I actually laughed. “What? Why?”
Dr. Greggs tented his fingers across his desk. “The council requires this type of mod when the historical subject is deemed as having ‘dangerous behavior’.”
“You mean the ‘Give Peace a Chance’ guy?” I asked smirking.
Greggs didn’t return my smirk, so I wiped it off my face.
“Yeah, okay,” I said quietly.
“Did you read the notes?” he asked.
“Yeah, I read them,” I said waving my hand. “But I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal.”
“Did you read about the DJ at McCartney’s birthday party?”
I snorted and rolled my eyes. “That was this one little itsy, bitsy time.”
Greggs rested a fist on his cheek. “I think you know it wasn’t just one little itsy, bitsy time.”
I sighed deeply. “It wasn’t that bad.”
Dr. Greggs twisted in his seat. His IND activated and John Lennon’s deep voice filled the room.
“That’s why I’m always on about peace, you see. It’s the most violent people that go for love and peace. And I sincerely believe in love in peace. But I am absolutely a violent man who has learned not to be violent. And regrets his violence.”
The recording ended and was replaced with an awkward silence.
I swiveled in my chair. “Well, okay, see? He regretted it.”
“Emmeline,” Dr Greggs started in a warning tone.
“Well, come on! It’s not bad enough to get an entire military grade body armor. I’m not going back to the time of the dinosaurs or something. This is bonny ol’ England in the late 1950s.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Greggs said tapping the side of his hand on his desk. “If John Lennon has recurring reports of violent behavior, that’s not something that I, as your mentor, will take lightly. If you aren’t willing to take the precaution to protect yourself an aggressive person like that, I can’t send you back.”
I huffed so heavily it blew the hair around my face. I slumped hard into my seat.
“How long is recovery from that kind of procedure?”
Dr. Greggs shrugged. “Six weeks for the armor. A day or two for the new IND.”
I raised an eyebrow. “The new IND?”
“You’ll receive a new security IND to go with the body armor,” Greggs said standing from his desk and pulling up an image on the smart wall behind him.
“What’s wrong with the one I have now?”
“Well you’ll need a camera that can run 24/7 for documentation,” he said, showing me the device that they were about to put inside me. “Not only that, but a camera that can run a constant live feed to your partner, Dr. Thorne.”
I groaned at the sound of his name. We hadn’t even stepped through the portal and this guy was already becoming a Thorne in my side. “A constant live feed with that creep? What about when I have to get dressed in the morning or something like that?”
“Well, you can always override the camera with voice command,” he said. “But if you go longer than fifteen minutes with the camera off, it will activate the tracking device.”
“What tracking device?”
“If anything were to happen to you, and the camera is off longer than it should be, your device will send a signal to your partner with your location. You’ll be able to know when your partner is actively locating you, because when his tracking software is running, your device will vibrate. That way if anything were to happen to you, you’ll know when help is on its way.”
“Nothing is going to happen to me, but I appreciate the thought.”
I didn’t appreciate it, but whatever. Obviously, they were trying to get me to quit. Scaring Greggs into giving me an extensive modification surgery and postponing the mission another six weeks. Well, I wasn’t going to quit. I was going on the mission dammit and I was not going to kill John Lennon.