I had the surgery. It was extensive, they made little cuts all over my body and put a flexible unbreakable material under my skin. There was this old 2D movie I saw once. What was it called? The Terminator? Okay, yeah, like that more or less. And I guess that’s what they wanted all along.
The recovery wasn’t great. I mean, it was nothing abnormal or horrific or anything. Mostly it consisted of me not wanting to move a single pinky finger because every inch of me ached so much. And the doctors told me not to move an inch because the armor plates had to “settle”. Whatever that meant.
My mom brought meals in and out of my room. Each time was the same exact routine. She would pick up the plates, shake her head, and sigh heavily. “I can’t believe my daughter has a job that would require this kind of modification. I never would have allowed you to go if I knew.”
“It’s okay,” I would say. “It’s an extra precaution for all time travelers.”
Which was obviously a big lie. But I could only imagine the intense fretting my mom would have knowing that her daughter’s future fiancée was an anger issue poster child.
The first week after the operation, I regretted not opting for a virtual resort during recovery. I didn’t even know how boring life could possibly be. A mind-numbing melt into a giant goopy puddle kind of boring.
During the second week, I delved into The Beatles. I listened to each and every song John had ever produced, twice. And that was hundreds and hundreds of songs. How can someone die at forty and still have accomplished so much? And so much brilliant stuff? To be honest, as a songwriter, I felt pretty intimated trying to get inside this prolific brain of his.
Week four I had seen every documentary, read every book, and loved every song. Admittedly, I really loved the music. I did. I remember one day feeling like I was never going to be the same Emmeline ever again. A steel-plated robot who couldn’t even move. What if they had botched the surgery? What if the opposite effect took place and I was super fragile now? What if John sneezed on me and broke my arm or something? That was the day that I stumbled onto ‘Across the Universe’. And I cried. Frankly, I wept. I had no idea why.
Week five I was almost back to normal and anxious as ever to finish training and just move on with it. And by week six, I basically ignored the fact that I was still recovering and skipped into the time-altering department.
After seeing me all recovered and prancing around, the council probably realized that they had nothing else to hold me back. Finally, I got the message that I would be leaving on schedule. May 3rd. The very next day. I was both giddy and horrified. I read the notification, sank to my knees, and squealed so loudly that I think I heard my neighbor’s dog bark in reply.
I had to get ready. And not just ready in an about-to-change-history kind of way, but in an about-to-catch-a-man way. I called my hair girl, Marty, to get me an emergency appointment ASAP. I asked her to install a golden floofy hairdo onto my scalp port mod. One that would turn me into Bridgit Bardot, the European sex goddess of the late 50s.
When I sent the pictures of the messy blonde bun with long shaggy bangs, her reply was kind of hesitant. She said words like “unattractive” and “ratted” and “outdated”. Well, duh, Marty, I don’t want anything modern, that would probably scare them half to death. I wanted her to model me into John’s perfect girl.
It was going to be a while at the salon since she had to remove each piece of my artificial hair and install the new blonde ones. Ugh. Can you imagine getting this look at a fifties salon? Only having your natural birth-given hair to destroy as you did it. That sounded like a nightmare to me and I’m glad we didn’t have that inconvenience anymore.
I sat in a pleather low-back seat, overpowered by the perfume fragrances of the artificial hair. Hundreds of beautiful current-age hairstyles blinked on and off the walls. My chest tightened. I would not be walking out of there with any of those.
As Marty worked on my hair, she asked me about my mission, with her usual Southern drawl.
“So, you’re going all the way back to 1958 to date this guy?” she asked, chewing bubble gum loudly and snapping it as she talked.
“Yes and no?” Really no, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings for asking me something so dumb. “I’m just trying to alter history.”
“So, this beetle guy,” she continued. “What’s he like?”
“John Lennon? He’s um…” Wow, that was a loaded question. “He’s just this British guy. I don’t know. I haven’t met him yet.”
“Well, sure. But you must have picked up something reading all that stuff about him.” Marty flashed me a toothy grin in the reflection as she threaded another piece of blonde hair into my scalp.
“Well, he’s a genius for one. There’s no denying that,” I said. “And he’s, well he’s known for being… I don’t know how to say this. Like… feisty?”
“Feisty?” Marty laughed, her drawl really hitting that word.
“Rebellious, I guess?” I asked, squinting. “Anti-establishment. Stay in bed and grow your hair out.” I laughed.
“Grow your hair?” Marty asked as she threaded another lock in my scalp.
Marty blew a giant bubble with her gum. Pop! “Is he cute though?”
“Um.” I scrunched my eyebrows together and doubled back. Kinda weird thinking of a historical figure like that, but I guess everything about the mission was kinda weird. “In the beginning he… I guess, sure. It’s not like here, where everyone modifies their bodies to look perfect.”
“Well, do you have anything in common with him?”
“Uh…” Gee, Marty. Thanks for instilling such great confidence in me the night before I meet him. I now, feel totally prepared to bait my feminine trap with every allure of my bland personality.
“We both like music and songwriting,” I said. “But that’s not really going to help me with convincing him to give it up.”
“Hey, well, you gave it up!” she said adding the last piece of hair. “So, there ya go!”
“Right. Yeah.” I sank a few inches in the chair. Grateful to have that last bit of hair installed because I was ready to stop talking to Marty.
I transferred the money into her IND and left. The dim red sun dipped past the horizon. Six o’clock. In just twelve hours, I would be standing in front of a burning open portal.
As soon as I walked in the door of my house and Que saw me, all hell broke loose.
“What is that?” Que rested his arm on the banister of the stairs. “Wow. Did you get your money back at least?”
“Shut up! You little micro virus!” I said through clenched teeth.
“That’s alright, Emmie,” Que said, looking at his nailbed. “It’s not like your whole mission revolves around you attracting a guy or something.”
“Do you want a set of missing teeth? Because it sounds like you want a whole mouthful of knocked-out teeth.” I pushed past him on the stairs to go worry in private. But Que followed me to my bedroom where I slumped on my protein mesh bed.
“Am I stupid for doing this?” I asked him, although I knew the answer. “I mean, how am I really going to get this guy to propose to me?”
He shrugged and leaned against the doorframe. “You could always fake a pregnancy.”
“I’m not doing that.”
“It’s the 1950’s they don’t have a good way to double-check that.”
“Yeah, when nine months goes by and no baby comes out,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“So, alright, don’t fake it. Go through with the pregnancy then.”
“Come ON,” I said flopping forward on the bed. “Isn’t there some kind of male insight you can give me or what?”
Que gave me a curt nod. “Okay. Alright. Look. If you’re unsure whether he’s into you, just wait for the ‘twist and lean’.”
“The what?” I asked with squinted eyes.
“Twist and leeeeean,” Que sang to the tune of The Beatles’ Twist and Shout. Which probably would have been a great joke if it weren’t wasted on my blank stare.
“When a guy’s all smoked for you and he twists toward you and leans in,” he explained with hand gestures. My eyes shifted awkwardly and he took an incredulous step into the room. “You don’t know what a ‘twist and lean’ is?”
“I know this isn’t going to shock you or anything, but uh,” I swept my hands out and gestured at my body. “I don’t have a lot of guys twisting and leaning at me.”
Que stepped up to me and put his hands on his hips.
“So, let’s say this Beatles guy is sitting next to you like this…” He sat next to me on the bed all stiffly and awkward with his hands tucked between his knees. “And you start talking to him and he does this…”
Suddenly Que pulled his shoulder back until his torso was squarely facing me, then he leaned in a little too close.
“Okay, ew. Get away,” I said pushing his face out of my bubble and scooting as far over on the bed as possible.
“If he does that,” he said. “He’s a poor smitten bastard.”
“It’s 1958, Que! He’s not some hyper boner from the Virtual-gasm.”
“The twist and lean is timeless! That is a universal man beg for ‘please have sex with me’.”
“Well, I need the man beg for ‘please marry me’.”
Que gave me a deep grimace. “Fake pregnancy,” he whispered.
I threw my pillow at him. “You are no help at all!”
I ran my fingers over my new locks of hair. Each strand seemed like a blade of grass it was so thick. I didn’t feel like myself. And I didn’t look like myself anymore. How could I ever fit into the 1950s? How could I pull off this whole ridiculous mission?
“Que,” I said quietly. “I’m scared. What happens if this guy doesn’t like me?”
Que shrugged. “Well, what’s not to like?”
I tucked my hair behind my ear and smiled. “Thanks,” I said.
“Hey, wait, I got you something,” he said. “Something to take with you on your trip. Or mission thingy. Whatever.”
“Really? You got me something.” I eyed him suspiciously. “Alright. Let’s see it.”
He grinned and flopped onto my bed, getting his dirty shoes all over my covers, thank you so much. He activated his IND. “I know they gave you a new IND and you might not have access to everything. So, I compiled some footage of our favorite memories. That way you have at least something to remember 2109 by.”
Que began the movie, which was of the two of us on hover jets over Big Bear lake. We were trying to tag each other with lasers. A stupid game we invented as kids.
I melted. “Que. That’s so sweet.” I grabbed him and gave him the tightest hug. He was a crazy brother who said rude things, but that was somehow part of his love-ableness. And I was going to miss him something terrible.
He downloaded the videos into my IND, and I had him with me. At least in video form.
Lying in bed that night, I felt sick. A slow-burning nausea that stayed with me and grew each hour that ticked by. Finally, sometime before sunrise, I sat in bed and opened my IND, determined to get my jitters out.
I opened a blank page and made two columns. PRO and CON.
“Okay,” I sighed to myself. “Here we go.”
PRO. I get to time travel.
I mean, obviously, this was the biggest carrot they were dangling in front of my face. How can anyone pass up an opportunity like this?
CON. I might have to murder someone.
I groaned. Yeah. I mean, pretty much. There it was in black and white. Was the adventure of time travel worth taking someone else’s life? I underlined the word “might” and moved on.
PRO. Whether or not I shoot someone I’ll get to keep my job.
I really did not want to spend every day slogging to Plate Tech, counting down the hours and the days of the weeks until I go home and sleep. I re-read this pro, grimaced, and added “Probably” at the end.
CON. If I fail to get the proposal, the council will keep killing people like it’s the right thing to do.
And let’s face it, there was no way I was actually getting a proposal.
PRO. If I do get the proposal though, the council will be forced to change their policies. I would be saving hundreds of lives.
I would be changing this world and all the alternate worlds for the better. A real, honest-to-goodness change. It would be cowardly not to go forward with it, right?
CON. If I do get the proposal, I’ll have to figure out a way to break up with him that would somehow prevent him from returning to music. And CON, if I can’t, then I’ll actually have to follow through with the marriage.
I rubbed my hands down my face. “What in the actual hell am I doing?” I groaned.
CON. He could be ugly and smelly and rude, and a cynical ass and I’ll have to pretend to like him. I’m not that good of a liar.
I drew in a slow deep breath and hesitantly added another one.
CON. His anger issue thing is a thing.
Okay, so far, a lot of cons.
But PRO. I get to witness real actual historical things! Musical ones!
Also CON. One time in a VR hunting simulation, I shot myself in the leg to get out of shooting a mother bear.
Not really related so I deleted it.
PRO. The council has already spent millions of dollars to calculate the exact coordinate to burn the portal and you kind of can’t chicken out at this point.
Was that even a pro?
CON. That other traveler didn’t come back that one time.
My spit tasted sour. Probably from the already forming ulcer burning through my stomach. My screen shut off and I climbed under my covers, staring at the soft swirling galaxies projected on my ceiling until the edge of sunlight displayed on the artificial windows. I got up, put on my tweed skirt, and got ready to face the portal.