Well, if I thought I had wrecked the mission before, I had no idea how much worse things could get. I had gone from plan A to plan B to plan F. But the timeline had split. There was no denying that. And there was no going back.
The screen of my IND retracted and shut off.
“John,” I said.
He backed away from me, crawling on the ground. As freaked out as ever. Which, I mean, yeah. Who wouldn’t be? There was no earthly explanation for a video to be projecting from someone’s body in the year 1958.
“What are you, Em?” he finally got out. “You’re not human.”
I shushed him. “John, look I—”
If I told him the truth, for once, I might be able to help him. This might be the only way to truly get him to hang up his guitar. But I had to do it quick before Thorne noticed my camera off.
“It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to tell you the truth. The entire truth. The song that I played for you, the one about this place, Strawberry Fields Forever? … It’s not my song. It’s your song. You wrote it… In 1967… John, I’m from the future.”
John stared at me, motionless from the ground. I grimaced and held my hands by my sides.
“You’re bloody crackers!” John sprang off the ground to run away.
“Wait, listen to me!” I said. “I’m trying to save your life.”
I reactivated my IND and the garden lit up with a soft blue glow. I opened a small clip, The Beatles playing live on the Ed Sullivan show. When John heard his own voice he stopped and turned, ultimately entranced by the technology presented before him. There he was on the screen. Older, but still him. I knew from the look on his face that he had no choice other than believe me.
“Tell me everything,” he said.
I gave him the quickest run-down of Beatles history that I possibly could. Going through every major success and album that I could think of. It was a lot. A lot. And I didn’t have a whole lot of time to explain everything.
I pulled up a few pictures to show him. Ending with the Bed-In for Peace with Yoko. The same image that had given me the idea for the mission in the first place. John leaned forward examining every detail of it.
“You’d think after that many albums I could afford more than granny specs from the National Health,” he said his face close to the screen. He pointed to Yoko. “And who do I marry then?”
“Yoko Ono. You really loved her.” I scrunched my brows together. “I mean, you will love her… I mean you would have loved her.”
“But get a load of future me, Em! Look at them whiskers!” He put his hands on his knees, his nose practically touching the holograph. “If this is my honeymoon, how old am I when I finally get married? Fifty?”
“Um,” I shut off my projection. “Sometimes it’s best not to know too much about your own future.”
John slapped his knees and stood. “Alright, fine, I’m not that interested in me self anyway. Tell me more about the future! I want to know about it all. Is everyone a walking television set, or just you? Are you more machine than human?”
“It’s a little device that was installed when I was a young child,” I said making it as brief as possible. “I have other devices and body modifications too. Everyone has things like this in the future.”
“What else is there?” he asked, his eyes shining. “Have we made contact with things and beings from other planets? Have we finally ended war?”
“Okay, hold on,” I said, calming him down. “I don’t have a lot of time and I need to explain why I’ve been sent here.”
“I have a million and more questions.”
“I know,” I said. “But tonight, I have to leave it at The Beatles.”
“I can’t believe it! The Beatles! Six number one songs in a single year?” he said, excitedly and spun a full circle on his heels. “Masters of the British Empire! Ha! I’d like to hear what dear Mimi has to say about that one. Look where my guitar gets me then. You were wrong about that one! Weren’t you, Mimi?”
“John,” I tried to cut in, but he was floating away on cloud nine.
“To think of that! Us? Kids from Liverpool of all places! And we did this!” He put his fingers to his lips, a wild gleam in his eye. “How much money do we make from all that success? I bet we’re close to millionaires, am I right?”
“Uh, well…” I chuckled.
“Do we become millionaires, Em?”
I took a breath in. Not sure if I wanted to let him know or not. He froze waiting for my reply.
“You are worth more money than The Queen herself,” I said.
John’s smile dropped. In fact, he dropped. Right onto the grass, in shock.
“But you can’t have it, John. You have to give it all up.”
“What? Why?” he asked softly.
“I’ve been sent back in time to create an alternate timeline without your band,” I said. “If you don’t give it up on your own, you’ll be killed.”
I explained to him that he was now in an alternate universe, created to study the absence of his impact. I told him that if he couldn’t leave his band he would be killed for the study. Then I briefly touched on David Mark Chapman and how he would only live twenty more years if he pursued music.
He sat still and quiet for a while. It felt like an eternity. I knew that my camera was still off, and Thorne would begin tracking me any minute.
“That’s why you were trying so hard to get me to forget about music,” he finally said. “Is that why you were trying to start a romance as well?”
My heart stung. My eyes were still puffy from bawling earlier and I couldn’t believe they had any tears left to clog my ducts.
“Yes,” I said. “I was sent to wed you away from your music career.”
“Well, that explains a lot.” He nodded to himself. “None of the feelings were real then? Not even at Brighton? Just a wee little bit?”
“A wee lot little bit,” I said, my throat constricting. “I wasn’t trying to fall for you, but I did. I really couldn’t help myself.”
“Me neither,” he said with a slight chuckle.
I shut my eyes, too afraid to say what had to be said. “The only way to stop my mentor from coming after you is if you marry me.”
“I know it’s boring and it’s not a life with music. But whatever! It could be great! We could fake it together and you would live past forty! And you know, we could do whatever we wanted! We could travel to Aruba or anywhere in the world. It doesn’t even have to be real. We could fake through it—”
“I’ll do it,” he said.
My IND jabbed me with a buzzing hiccup. Dread washed over me. He was coming to kill John.
“Listen, we can make it out of this okay, but we have to act fast!” I said taking him by the elbow and moving him to a darker spot in the field. “When I activate my camera, you have to propose to me. And make it sound convincing enough to stop Thorne! Tell me that you’re going to give up music forever. Then we have to part ways. Don’t be around me until I know you’re safe. I have a tracking device on me, so I don’t want you anywhere near me.”
“I don’t…” John stammered.
“Okay, I’m going to count to three and turn on my camera,” I said.
“Wait, hold on, hold on, hold on, on, on!” He grabbed my wrists. “How am I supposed to ‘make this sound convincing’? I can’t do that. I can’t act at all!”
“Nice try,” I said. “You’ve been in six motion picture movies. Now hold still, I’m going to count to three.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m dead nervous,” he said to himself.
I held up three fingers. “One… Two…”
I pointed at him. Which made him laugh right at the same time I activated the camera. I gave him a stink eye. This isn’t a joke John, this is a bullet through your brain.
“Em, can I ask you something?” He still trailed a giggle although the tips of his fingers were trembling as he brought them to his chest.
What is it, John?” I could tell that my acting was no good either. My voice was all high and wispy. I held my breath and hoped that this would be believable enough.
“Let’s get married, Em.”
There was this awkward pause in the field. Crickets chirped. John leaned his head forward as if he were prompting me for my next line on stage.
“That’s not a question,” I said.
“True,” he said with an eye roll. “But if it were to be a question. What would your answer be?”
“I would say yes,” I said and smiled at him. “If, of course, you agree to give up your band.”
“Whatever you want, Em. I’ll get a bank job and turn thirty-five tomorrow if you’d like. Buckle down and be a Brummer striving for the rest of my life.”
“Don’t be sarcastic,” I said through gritted teeth. Pointing at where my IND was actively recording him.
“I’m not,” he said, fully in character now. “We’ll marry as soon as we can. I’ll get the things together. Tomorrow at ten o’clock. We’ll go down to the register office.”
My eyes bulged. Tomorrow? He was really playing the whole nine yards.
“Great,” I squeaked. “10 o’clock tomorrow.”
My leg muscles twitched, preparing to run far away from John so that Thorne wouldn’t have a way to track him.
“And Em,” he called after me before I could leave. I turned to face him in the dark field. “I’m real on that, if you are,” he said in a low soft voice.
Little electric currents ran into my fingertips. I searched his face for hidden meaning, but all he gave me was a quick little nod of his head. I returned the nod and then flew on my heels to find Thorne. I had to get to him before he got to John, or that would be the end of everything.
I quickly scaled the red iron fence. The scratches that I had gotten before were nothing compared to the careless bumps and bruises that were now forming on my knees and shins.
Where could I find Thorne? There had to be a way I could reverse track him. I was just about to activate my IND when a voice boomed through the dark alley.
“I wouldn’t use that in public, if I were you,” Thorne said as he moved toward me wearing a dark trench coat. “You should know better to be more careful. John could have seen you using it at any time.”
My heart leapt. He hadn’t figured us out.
“And I shouldn’t have to remind you about turning your camera off.” Thorne towered over me. “Once is a terrible mistake. Twice is a terrible offense. Your camera was off more than three times as long as it should have been.”
“I turned it off because John came to the field,” I said, trying to hide the quaver in my voice. “After he apologized, we ended up, you know… wanting privacy.”
“That’s a dangerous situation. We’ve been through this,” he said. “I’ll have to write a report on this once we’ve terminated the subject and sent you home—”
Thorne was unamused by the exciting news. “Why’s that?”
“He was so sorry about what happened. He vowed to give up his music for me. Surely, you felt the timeline split.” I gulped. “The mission was a success. We elope tomorrow morning.”
“And that’s what you want?” he asked, his face unmoving. “You want to be married to an abusive and unsuccessful man, spending the next fifty years discouraging him from his one true passion?”
“Well, jeez, when you put it like that…” I mumbled.
“What about McCartney?” he asked sharply. “You said he was a threat.”
He was a threat. Musically of course. His songwriting talent unmatched now that John was out of the way. Plus, not to mention that he would probably start a new band with George.
“Don’t worry about Paul,” I said, worrying about Paul. “They won’t be able to audition tomorrow and Paul will give it up once John is gone.”
“This is what you really want.” Thorne pressed, like the annoyed father pushing his own agenda onto a stubborn child.
“Yes,” I said, my whole chest tightening. “I want to marry John. I want to go forward with the mission I came here to do.”
Thorne’s mouth tightened. He scratched at his bristly chin.
“Fine,” he huffed. “You’ll marry tomorrow. But you will not at any point turn your camera off again. I’ll be watching.”
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