When I was a little girl, I couldn’t decide between becoming a famous singer-songwriter or a famous time traveler. Unfortunately, I chose songwriter first. My music career never got off the ground. In fact, it sank into a big, burning dumpster swamp that I don’t really feel like talking about. So, I spent the last of my schooling credit to just barely get an apprenticeship at the time alterations department. And anyway, that’s how I found myself in the Library of Alexandria about to kill Queen Cleopatra.

Loading bullets into a gun should not be that hard. But for whatever reason, my hands forgot their basic functions and I fumbled all the three bullets in between my fingers and onto the stone floor. Do you know how loud three falling bullets echo through the Library of Alexandria? Like someone throwing a handful of microids onto a loudspeaker. Plink! Plink! Plink! Two women in draping tunics glared in my direction, and I dropped to my knees to collect the rolling bullets.

“Sorry, sorry!” I whispered harshly to my mentor, Dr. Greggs. He all but rolled his eyes at me.

The women suspiciously returned to their scrolls. Good. Awesome. Hey, nothing to see here. Just a clumsy lanky girl from the year 2109, here to assassinate your leader. Don’t worry about it.

I tucked the gun under my armpit. I never know what to do with my hands, but when you’re trying to sneak around a modern gun through an ancient city, that makes it even worse. Dr. Greggs didn’t say anything, but I could tell by his unamused stone face that he did not approve of my armpit holster.

“Emmeline,” he said with a sigh. “Keep your weapon in your hand.”

I re-hid it in the folds of my toga and just sorta held it there. Dr. Greggs opened his mouth about to scold me and then his shoulders slumped as he gave up on trying to correct me.

“Let’s go,” he said. Dr. Greggs drifted through the stone library as if he belonged there. I followed behind, with a wad of toga over my gun hand and crouching slightly. Not because crouching is sneakier or anything, but because one of my damn ancient sandals was slapping so loudly against the stone floor that I had to redistribute the weight by waddling like a one-legged penguin.

Suddenly, Dr. Greggs ducked behind a giant Hathor statue. I tried to follow suit but almost gouged my eye out on the pointy exposed nipple of the sculpture. I stumbled over backward to join him. My sandal smacked against the ground again. Dr. Greggs shushed me. And I jabbed at my ill-fitting footwear in rebuttal.

“There she is,” Dr. Greggs nodded to the back corner.

I slowly peeked around the statue, taking extra care to dodge the dangerous stabby breasts. And wow, yeah, no kidding there she was. Cleopatra was only ten feet away hunched over a table, her dark curly hair gathered into a beaded headdress. A worn scroll rolled out in front of her. Everything about her was strong. Her sharp chin and her beautiful, hooked nose. Her oversized dark eyes, lined in the classic Egyptian style. A real goddess.

“This is the best chance you’ll have,” Dr. Greggs said motioning to two stoic guards, watching her from either side.

“What? Right now? Right here in the library?”

Dr. Greggs nodded. “This is as alone as she’s ever going to be.”

I cautiously checked both of the guards, but their eyes were glossed over with boredom. Imagine having to watch someone read for hours. They might as well have been part of the intricate carvings of the library.

I shakily unwrapped my gun from my toga. I exhaled and aimed at Cleopatra’s head. 

Cleopatra cleared her throat and tucked a small curl behind her ear. She said something aloud in Greek, which I assumed was a joke because one of the guards cracked a smile.

I dropped the gun. “This— I mean, she’s just reading.”

“This is your opportune moment,” he said, egging me toward her.

“You can’t kill someone while they’re reading. That’s just rude!”

“Emmeline,” he said, really punching the first syllable of my name. “If you don’t take your shot now, the guards will see you. They will take you away and mummify you alive.”

“You’re laying it on thick, Dr. Greggs. Sheesh, okay.”

I brought the gun back up to my eye and steadied. One quick pull of the trigger and it would all be over.

I relaxed my finger as a small Egyptian child made his way into her circle. A guard yelled something in Greek, but Cleopatra held her hand up. The child put a small blue flower on her table and she responded to him in Egyptian before he scampered away.

 I grimaced.

“Hurry,” Greggs coaxed me.

My shoulders scrunched around my ears. Suddenly, I stuck the gun back under my armpit and slipped around the giant bronze goddess.

“Emmeline!” Greggs whispered harshly.

I gestured for him to stay hidden as I crept closer to the pharaoh. She must have heard my stupid flapping sandal because her head shot up to look at me.

I cleared my throat. “Hey, uh, Cleo?” I asked my voice cracking.

She flashed a confused side-eye. The guards tightened in a step.

“Hey, first off it’s super amazing to meet you.” I grinned. “And also I just wanted to say, don’t date Julius Caesar, okay?”

She shook her head with her eyebrows furled.

“Or Marc Anthony. Definitely don’t date Marc Anthony,” I said.

She responded with a blank expression and muttered something in Greek.

“Look,” I knelt by her table. “I know what it’s like. I fell in love with a psychopath too. And you are SO much better off, trust me. You’re freaking Cleopatra! You don’t need a man!”

“Terminate the simulation,” Dr. Greggs called from behind me.

The library of Alexandria froze. Then blinked into a light grey void. I took off my virtual helmet in defeat.

Dr. Greggs stood in the white room, with his helmet under his arm. He neither scolded nor comforted me, just gave me that stern mentor face. I countered with a guilty smile, but when he remained unamused, I pouted out my bottom lip.

“I can’t use any of our simulations as a recommendation, Emmeline.”

I groaned, setting my helmet on the too-cold ground. “I’m a historian, not an assassin.”

“Well, with time travel those things have become a bit blurred,” Dr. Greggs hung the helmet on the wall.

“I hate my job.”

“No, you don’t,” he said softly.

Tears burned my eyes, and I lowered my head. Like a stab in the heart. Why did Greggs have to be right all the time? I sniffed and shook it off.

“They better accept my nonviolent mission proposal,” I said, turning to leave out the big swooshing doors of the VR rink.

“They won’t,” Greggs called after me in a sing songy voice. 

“They better,” I called back over my shoulder.


“You’re the newest apprentice for the time-altering department, right?”

Oh my Galactica.

Slap me upside my microchip hormone regulator and call me malfunctioned, because this was the best-looking man I had ever seen on this side of town. And he was calling out to me? That never happens. Not even on accident.  I was not a call-over kind of girl.

For some reason I crumpled to one side and giggled. Well, it was more like a gargle than a giggle.

“Who, me?”

“Would you mind me asking you a few questions about time travel?” he asked, blinking his lovely dark eyelashes.

Finally, some great luck. I usually take the California Skyway in the mornings but decided not to renew my toll pass this year. I mean, if I were going to travel back in time I would have to get used to walking anyway.

I bounded over. Would this make me late to work? Undoubtedly. Was this guy’s bone structure worth it? Yes.

“So,” I slid in front of him as smoothly as possible. “What kind of questions do you have for me?”

Did you want the access number to link to my virtual mix-and-mingle account? Way ahead of you, you scoundrel.

“Hi, Stefen Broderick.” He introduced himself confidently over the distant buzzing of cars driving their owners to work. “I was wondering what’s your opinion on the violence perpetrated by time travelers?”

Uh-oh. Press. Abort! Abort!

“Do you feel like the killing of historical figures is truly necessary to create alternate timelines?”

“Not even.”

The answer blurted out of me like an angry uncontrollable bubble of lava. I knew I had messed up. I knew I was putting my job in jeopardy by speaking out. But it was the truth. Stefen’s eyes glimmered with excitement.

“Can I get your name?” he asked, and activated his internal device, his “IND”. A blank screen projected from his chest and he started jotting notes down with his finger.

“Emmeline Mor,” I said and glanced anxiously at the time travel building where my colleagues were probably watching me spill my guts for a reporter.

Stefan tilted his chin and squinted as he wrote my name. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

This kept getting worse and worse. I tugged up the collar of my thermal-regulated vest. “Um, no, I don’t think so—”

He shrugged it off. “So, what can you tell me about these alleged murder missions? Are they true?”

Yes. Yep. Yeah. It’s true. Time travelers are basically government-hired murderers. I knew one traveler who kept George Washington’s wooden teeth on his mantle. Like an actual hunting trophy. Travelers were a large collection of psychopaths and there I was trying not to say anything too terrible about them so I could keep my ethically questionable job. This was the lowest of the low. Had I known that time traveling was violent like that, would I have taken the job? Of course not. But by then it was too late, I was trapped.

“Well, if they successfully create an alternate timeline, they can study the effects that person had on history,” I said, trying to choose my words as carefully as possible. “So, they… eliminate… that person… to study the alternate reality.”

Stefan nodded slowly, and I don’t know who was more disgusted, him or me. “And have you ever performed this kind of… elimination?”

“No!” Tried not to shout, but that ‘no’ blasted a few decimals too loud. “In fact, I’ve proposed several alternative peaceful missions to the time travel council, so…”

“Really?” Stefan cupped his fingers to his chin. “And how many of those successfully created an alternate reality?”

I drew my lips tight around my teeth. “The council hasn’t actually accepted a proposal from me yet.”

“I see.” Stefan smirked. “So, you haven’t time-traveled at all?”

I did not need this soul-crushing defeat today. Seriously.

“But I have a proposal pending, so… you know, soon.” I carefully left out the fact that if they rejected this proposal, I’m pretty much as good as fired.

Suddenly his eyes lit up and gleamed. “Oh! I recognize you now! You were on Talent Search a few years ago. Uh, 2106 or 2107, right? You sang that song… what was it?”

“It’s not important.”

He snapped his fingers. “The song about the pig with no legs!”

“Yep.” Just kill me now.

“I saw you on the Top Ten Worst of Talent Search.”


“And your boyfriend dumped you on live stream, right?”

I internally crumbled as that unfortunate memory rang through my ears. My toad of a boyfriend I had been with for a year and a half telling me that he ‘just couldn’t be with someone who would write a song about a pig’.

“Traeger Baskins is an artificial butthole,” I said. “You can write that down and quote me.”

“I can see why you switched careers—”

“Do you want me to spell it for you? T-R-A…”

“So, in your opinion as an employee of the time alterations division,” he said, battering me from one subject to the other. “You would consider these elimination missions highly unethical?”

I had to take a sharp breath and trade one insecurity for the other. Of course, I considered the missions highly unethical, but that didn’t mean my missions had to be highly unethical. Why should only assassins get to travel through time? I worked hard to get to where I was and if I lost this job, I would be done. Seven rejected time proposals and a Hindenburg of a music career at only eighteen? I would have to spend a lifetime loading burger delivery drones and living out of a shoebox. And that was as good as a promise, every traveler knew that the council had both the ability to fire you and keep you from getting a better job or working for someone important. They were careful about keeping disgruntled ex-employees hush hush.

“Well, yeah, you know…” I struggled. “They’re not great.”

“Off the record?” he asked, his eyebrow raised.

“It’s pretty much an assassination ring,” I said.

Stefen smirked and nodded. He knew it, we all knew it.

“Well, if you ever want to put anything on the record,” he said, sending his information to my IND. “The Human Rights Committee is trying to open up an investigation on the council. Could be a big help with some traveler insight.”

“Thanks,” I said as I walked away from him defeated.

I felt weird. Empty almost. Maybe I should have put that on the record. I mean, what’s there to lose? Oh, just everything. I let out a deep sigh.

Please let them accept my proposal. Please, please, please let this happen.

I rubbed my forehead as I trotted up the steps to the giant glass doors of the building. When I touched the big brass handle, the glass lit up and displayed the time. 9:06 AM. Damn. Late as always.

I hobbled toward the elevator. The glass floor had been reprogrammed to have the ugliest shade of orange in swirling texture. I don’t know who was the programmer for the building environment, but the ‘ocean breeze’ air purifier of the lobby always clashed with the ‘cinnamon winter’ of the third floor.

Once I got into the office, IND’s were bleeping, and business voices were all a chatter. I could feel everyone’s jagged eyes on me as they passed, so I nodded, silently reassuring them that I hadn’t said anything incriminating. Although, yes, I kinda did.

I snuck by the wide silver door of my mentor’s office over the squeaky glass floor. 

“Emmeline,” Dr. Greggs called me.

I pulled my shoulders up by my ears and cracked the door open. The lights of the office were dimmed which was a clear sign that he was having a stressful morning. The wall behind him had its usual slideshow of Time Magazine covers, including all the alternate events created by his mentees.

Behind the clear swivel desk sat my mentor. Dr. Greggs was shorter than me but had a 6’5 presence. He was the only person I knew, who opted to keep his natural hair and let it get all peppered and thin. That kind of confidence intimidated us all. I tried to give him the most apologetic frown I could muster, but he bested me with the same face.

“They’ve rejected your proposal. Again.”

Bad news already? I had only been here for thirty seconds. I pouted my bottom lip and sat across from Greggs. “What? But why?”

“They didn’t think ‘trapping John Wilkes Booth in a basket’ would actually create an alternate timeline.”

“But if you left him in there until the play was over…”

Dr. Greggs pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed deeply.

“You’re incredibly imaginative, Emmeline. But, unfortunately, the time council isn’t,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, the missions that are accepted are usually assassinations of political leaders. Those are the biggest changes to history. The best alternate timelines to evaluate and study.”

“I really do think it’s possible to alter a timeline without killing someone,” I said, not about to give up. “I mean, the council should at least try!”

“In their mind, eliminating the subject is the safest way. Those are the timelines that the council wants to take risks on. It’s all about the money. They’re very conservative. I, for one, would love to see them take on an alternative mission. But it’s unlikely. They want the cleanest sample possible.”

“All of mine would have been clean!”

Greggs pulled up my previous proposal on his IND and read, “Switching Robespierre at birth and letting him grow up with a nice Canadian farm family…”

“Hello! That one had so much potential!” I said folding my arms. “They just didn’t like it because I didn’t mention the word ‘guillotine’. Buncha barbarians up there.”

“I don’t like this any more than you do,” Greggs said his voice soft and careful.

“Yeah, well, they’re so stupid not to approve a peaceful mission right now, because you know what I just heard…” I leaned forward and lowered my voice. “The HRC is trying to open up an investigation into these assassinations the council are approving.”

“Ah, really?” Greggs leaned in his chair and tented his fingers to his chin. “Now, that’s interesting! That would be tremendous if that investigation went through. But it wouldn’t help you now.”

My entire body sank into the seat. “Am I fired, Greggs?”

“It’s not looking good,” he said, with a sympathetic sigh. “I went and spoke with Dr. Thompson and the council. It took a lot of debate on my part, but they’re allotting for one final proposal from you.”

“Really?” I asked perking back up.

“They want it presented tomorrow morning.”

Back my body fell along with my jaw. They expected me to draft a travel proposal overnight. Yeah, they wanted me fired.

“Is there any way I could change the council’s mind?” I asked, nay begged. “What if I chose a really great and interesting subject. Do you think they would consider a non-killing kind of mission?”

Dr. Greggs gave me that closed mouth, top of his eyes stare.

“… What subject do you think is really great and interesting?” I asked.

Still the stare.

I groaned in frustration. “Come on! I only have one shot at this. I need to know what they’re going to approve!”

“It’s a make-or-break decision,” he said with a grim tone. “I think it would have to be someone of political interest. And a clean timeline alteration. I wouldn’t try for anything older than the 1800s, that’s a tough sell for a debut time traveler. Especially for someone your age. How old are you?”

“I’m eighteen,” I said, with all indignation, thank you very much.

 “Hmm, any small experience could help you. What was your focus in secondary school? Political Science? European History?”

“Music and voice composition,” I mumbled. Again, that top of the eyes stare. His go-to face. “Well, excuse me for having more than one interest!” I said.

“They’re going to be looking at your experience,” he said with a big duh “stamped” across his forehead.

I snapped my head upright. “Hey, what if I targeted a musician?”

“That’s a tough call.” He shrugged. “If you can find a leader with some musical abilities, they might favor you. But…”

He trailed off. And I knew why. And the why made me sick inside.

“Greggs, what do I do?” I asked quietly.

“Honestly,” he said. “You’re going to go back to your desk and you’re going to find somebody you can kill.”

My stomach churned. I nodded, swallowed the dry lump in my throat and made my way out of his office. Outside, the other apprentices were still bleeping and chatting. I stared at the wall in a daze. Sensors tracked my eye and activated a motivational poster, the study of time is the most important work for mankind! I waved my hand to minimize the poster.

I didn’t want to kill anyone. And I didn’t want to ruin my life either. But even if I worked at Vega-Burger for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have ever hurt anyone. Although, if I didn’t go back in time and kill some king, another traveler would anyway. I shuddered. How was that an excuse for going through with it?

I suppressed every feeling I had inside of me. Anger, disappointment, embarrassment, horror, fear, hunger, everything. I pushed it all away and made myself an empty steel robot. A terminator.

Everyone went quiet as I walked to my desk. I knew they didn’t like me. Really the only person who tolerated and believed in me was Greggs’s. Everyone else kept our superficial conversations to a bare minimum.

“Rejection does not control you Emmeline. You can do this,” I whispered to my ceramic Siamese cat mug. My only friend here.

I sat down and activated the search on my IND.

“American presidents with musical talent,” I dictated aloud. The search engine pulled up a few results. Ronald Reagan played the piano. Bill Clinton played the saxophone.

“Historical figures with musical talent?” I tried.

Albert Einstein, a decent violinist. Huh. I didn’t know that. Getting rid of the theory of relativity could be an interesting enough timeline to study. I had my IND add him to my list of possibilities.

I spent the next forty-five minutes scrolling through different options. A lot of dead white guys who had side music hobbies. I sighed. Maybe the music thing wasn’t going to cut it.

I slumped into my chair and let it wobble back and forth.

“…Musicians who became world leaders.” I half-heartedly dictated to my IND.

It was a hodgepodge of dumb answers. I sank further into my chair because this was hopeless and giving up was looking great. I was about to get fired anyway.

Before I shut off my IND, one line in the search caught my eye. John Lennon’s songs became anthems for the counterculture movement in the 1960s. Anti-War, eh? That’s some politics right there. I opened the article.

“Oh, this is the Beatles guy, right?” I said aloud to myself as I leaned forward.

The IND processed my voice and brought up a general description of The Beatles. Most influential band of the 20th century. Huh. That would be a good timeline to alter and study.

My IND added John Lennon to the list of interests.

My list was now only two people long and I could feel myself cringing. Certainly, they would be interesting subjects, but could I really kill them though? I mean John Wilkes Booth was an actual murderer and the best I could come up with was to trap him in a basket. These two on my list had made a positive impact on the world, taking that away would extra hard.

But this Lennon guy would get shot anyway, right?

I whimpered aloud at the thought as I searched through images of John. Flicking them away from me in the air to get to the next one. Um, first impression of him: a lot of eyebrow and a lot of scowl. Finally, I came across a picture of him lying in bed with a Japanese woman. The sign behind them read, “Bed in for peace.”

When I expanded the article, my IND brought up the information.

JOHN LENNON 05271967

John holds a ‘Bed in for Peace’ protest for his honeymoon with his second wife Yoko Ono.

I snorted to myself. I should do that. Lay in bed until the council agrees to stop killing people. I popped open a paper can of ‘Shorty-Hash’, my all-time favorite shot of caffeine despite my co-workers complaining that it smelled like a burnt birthday cake. And maybe it tasted a little like that too. But, so what? Still better than my taste in men.

 I took a deep swig and then out of complete curiosity I had my IND expand the information about Yoko Ono.


Yoko Ono is a Japanese American artist and musician, best known for being the second wife of John Lennon, founder of The Beatles. A lot of controversy surrounded her in her lifetime, and many speculated that she was the cause of The Beatles splitting ways.

Their love broke up The Beatles? How very Romeo and Juliet of them.

I swirled my drink in its can as I looked at the picture of Yoko, her hands daintily placed on the bedsheets. That seemed like the least fun honeymoon ever. A room full of reporters filming you sitting somberly in your bed. Good for her though, I thought to myself. I mean if she did break up that band, she was able to make a significant impact across the world without killing anybody. All she did was get a guy to fall in love with her.

I stopped swishing my drink. My eyes widened and I sat forward.

I could do that.

I could be Yoko. But before Yoko. Before The Beatles are even The Beatles. I could stop them from becoming famous. Create an alternate timeline without them and measure how much of an influence they really were.

And John Lennon wouldn’t get shot. EVER. Not before The Beatles. Not by a deranged fan in 1980. Not ever… By altering the timeline, I could save his life.

I set my Shorty-Hash down so quick, little sprinkles spurted from the hole in the top. I got to work, pulling up a blank document in my IND and drafting a time-travel proposal.

The next three chapters are available on my Patreon for only $1. Otherwise, until next week!

Subscribe to be notified by email when the next chapter posts


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.”


 “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.


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?”