Authors: Penny Kim
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This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Hay looked down at the irons encasing her slim wrists. After exhausting many hours trying to pick the lock, she sat motionless—head pounding from her labors. She studied the pile of hairpins scattered around the cell. Her maid used them every morning to keep her dramatic coiffeur intact, but they were of little use to her now. Her faith had bottomed out, like sand through an hourglass.
At least the web was safe.
Kanon had hidden it in the folds of her petticoat.
bent over her skirts, feeling for the device. Removing it with a shake, she fumbled over the interlocking braids. Finding the small reading pane attached to the base, the screen came to life. Anxiously, she read the scrolling message from Central Computer.
Blanket travel restriction
Time Travel Directorate is Closed Due to a Lapse in Federal Funding. All Employees Furloughed. Deployed Inspectors Should Remain in Place.
message had been on her reading pane ever since the government shut down a week ago, and every time Kanon saw it, she grew angrier.
“Blanket restriction my ass,
” she said aloud.
Her voice echoed in
the tiny cell, as her eyes adjusted to the glowing screen. She refreshed the page to see if there were any new messages. Nothing, save her previous messages appeared—each one more desperate than the last.
Time Location: Pre-Revolutionary France
Julius Arnold spotted. Please advise.
aptured, requesting permission to return immediately.
Must return to headquarters,
please send end points
knew a small contingent of essential personnel were still at headquarters. Why had no one responded? After all, she had identified Julius Arnold, the most wanted time travel fugitive. One would think there would be a way around pesky laws and regulations when someone was violent as Julius was on the loose.
shut off the screen, folding the web back in its hiding place. It was as useless to her now as the hairpins scattered around the cell. Webs only worked when the Directorate’s Central Computer programmed an end point, and Kanon had none.
trapped—held in the dungeons of Paris’ ancient prison, the Conciergerie. Kanon knew the location was significant. Although they were months away from the horrific French Terror of 1786, it was clear that Julius Arnold intended for Kanon to suffer firsthand in the atrocities—by being its first victim.
lightly, Kanon closed her eyes, praying it would all be over soon.
It was highly unorthodox for someone like Vin
Damato to be in front of Director Mark Hay, head of the Time Travel Directorate. Vin felt his inadequacy as Director Hay and his deputy, Chief Richard Smiley, exchanged pleasantries as if he weren’t in the room.
“So, fucking congress shuts us down because they can’t do the one thing they were elected for—pass
a budget,” Director Hay shouted.
eaning back in his ergonomic chair, he crossed his hands behind his bald head. His piercing blue eyes flashed with anger, but physically, he seemed relaxed and collected. His speech, however, was less so.
“Senator Smithfield can’t even wipe his own ass, and he expects us to prevent any sort of travel crime with half of our inspectors out to pasture and the rest
furloughed? The mission is at risk and all he is interested in is classified fucking briefings.”
“Senator Smithfield, protector of all things t
ime travel,” Chief Smiley said sarcastically, raising his thin eyebrows.
studied the relaxed demeanor of Chief Smiley, who always struck him as vaguely feline. A consummate clotheshorse, the rumor was it took him a full hour to get dressed. His wavy hair was always kept just so, his wire rimmed glasses spotlessly clean.
“Savior of the fucking universe,” Director Hay raged, letting his anger reach the tipping point as he slammed his fist down on the
blinked, looking from Director Hay back to Chief Smiley.
knew Director Hay had a tense relationship with Senator Smithfield, head of the Time Travel Oversight Committee. Every time Director Hay testified, it was made absolutely clear there was little love lost between the two. He had a better relationship with ranking member Schwartz. She was the godmother of his only daughter—Kanon, and probably the only reason Director Hay hadn’t been replaced as head of the Time Travel Directorate.
But their current predicament had nothing to do with Director Hay or his attitude towards Smithfield. The current budget debacle seemingly had no champion or grand villain—a classic Washington
D.C. cluster of epic proportions. When the federal budget bill got tied up in Committee, the fiscal clock ran out. It didn’t matter that Time Travel enforcement was a matter of vital importance. With the government out of money, inspectors were sent home just like everyone else.
“I worked out a
bare-bones operational plan, we have three essential employees . . . ” Chief Smiley began.
“Three? I thought it was just you and me?” Director Hay asked, looking at
swallowed heavily, feeling himself flush as Chief Smiley explained.
one mission support staff we can declare as essential. Official government business is illegal in a shutdown scenario, meaning . . . ”
“Inspectors can’t travel. Yes, you don’t have to spell it out for me like I’m a fucking idiot
,” Director Hay barked, looking around for his reading pane.
He found it, slapping it on the desk
as a nun would a ruler.
“Every inspector deployed in the field must remain there, until the budget crisis ends,” Chief Smiley continued, ignoring his bosses’ rant.
“Excluding administrative training of course. Those inspectors are to finish their coursework and return to headquarters thereafter.”
placed one large hand on his forehead, pulling it down slowly before offering a primal grunt.
Vin and Chief Smiley straightened, preparing for his impending outburst.
“And they blame me when this happens,” Director Hay
cried, throwing his reading pane at them.
skid to a halt, landing neatly in front of them. Vin lost track of how many reading panes he had ordered for Director Hay. No matter how hardy and “robust” the reading pane was, Director Hay broke them in a matter of weeks. This one had a small crack in the upper left hand corner. Vin estimated it would be broken within the hour—a conservative estimate for a boss known for his energetic outbursts.
, Chief Smiley pulled the device towards him as Vin read over his shoulder.
Julius Arnold Spotted in Eighteen Century France. Government Shutdown puts Inspectors Lives, “Standard D” at Risk.
“Why can’t we
catch this fucker?” Director Hay asked rhetorically, wagging a thick finger at them.
Chief Smiley smiled in a conciliator
y manner. It seemed he could always outmaneuver whatever Director Hay literally threw at him. For being the number two in the Directorate, it was quite a feat. But even the finest of “yes man” tactics would not be enough to tackle the biggest problem facing the Directorate. As Chief Smiley scanned the reading pane, Vin reflected on the man at the center of this debacle.
A billionaire who made his money from mining personal data from reading panes, Julius was an early advocate of time travel. Hailed as the biggest invention since the dawn of time itself, Julius and his rich friends were delighted with what time travel could deliver. Because time dilation brought the present to a grinding halt, they could live years in the past, returning to the present with only hours elapsing. Of course, the government didn’t allow this, and Julius had been at odds with the Directorate ever since.
had proven to be a formidable opponent, merging time travel companies into a massive conglomerate. Controlling the corporate board, he made aggressive interpretations of the international regulations, traveling to restricted areas and overstaying with abandon. More troubling was his fetish for bloodlust—which he practiced to grisly effect during the most tumultuous periods of history.
The press corps gleefully reported all of it, along with the Directorate’s bumbling efforts to try and capture
Julius. Whenever their inspectors arrived on the scene, he was gone—always one-step ahead.
responded as best he could, collecting incident reports from inspectors and packaging the material for the international courts. As the profile of Julius grew, the good name of the Directorate went into a tailspin. For Julius was flouting the long-standing assumption that any travel to so-called “sensitive” areas of history would alter the present with catastrophic consequences. More startling was that none of his vicious exploits seemed to impact much of anything.
“What do the scientists say about Standard
D?” Director Hay asked, breaking Vin’s reflection with the vehemence of his tone.
After shifting in his chair ever so slightly, Chief Smiley responded.
“I’m still running the models, but there is no change, as of yet.”
“How is that possible? He is a sadist!” Director Hay barked back.
Vin’s mind connected the dots. It was an argument he had heard frequently in his debate-driven household.
“The reason time
travel is so regulated,” his mother always began, “is because the government doesn’t know anything about it.”
“That’s garbage,” his father would respond. “If you go back in time, you can significantly alter future events.”
At this, his mother would slap her reading pane down and give her husband an intense stare.
The universe corrects for all kinds of information—think of the millions of events that happen every second of the day—throughout history. It’s too much for any one event to have a particular meaning. The present will self-correct, like an average.”
“You can’t make a math problem out of this,” his father would reply, getting angry. “It’s playing God.”
“Which is what they said about stem cells, remember?” his mother would respond.
her viewpoint was in the minority. Everyone knew time travel to alter present events was harmful—his mother just loved to play contrarian. Vin was certain the process by which the Directorate regulated time travel was sound. It had to be! It was set by the world’s top scientists and mathematicians—using an algorithm within the Directorate’s Central Computer.
The models were
built to predict the changing of world events. Set at zero, or no impact, any movement away from the marker was referred to as a change in Standard Deviation, or “Standard D” for short. The term stuck, and now the Standard D tracker appeared everywhere, from weather and traffic reports to the international marketplace.
This was why
Julius Arnold’s actions were so terrifying. No matter how many places he traveled to, or how much evil he inflicted on those poor souls in the past—Standard D held fast.
As Chief Smiley babbled on about mathematical equations,
Vin’s attention wandered to the photo pane behind Director Hay’s desk.
It featured images of his beloved daughter, Kanon. Sharing her father’s icy blue eyes and golden skin, she certainly stood out among the Directorate’s newest crop of inspectors. Vin wondered how she got through inspector training. In fact, most of the Directorate wondered.
Hay engendered hate from his colleagues as only a woman of privilege in a position of power could. Soon after arriving at the Directorate, she was dispatched to the most sought after location—Versailles in pre-revolutionary France.
It was a stark contrast to
an analyst like Vin, whose primary responsibilities included whatever Chief Smiley needed doing. This was government, after all, a variety of programs supported the inspectors—from maintenance on the web apparatus they used to travel, to the tracking of Standard D. It was administrative shit work, and Vin feared it was the only thing he was good at. He was a paper pusher, not an inspector. And as time wore on, he began to resent it more and more.
Until that morning, when
he was summoned to Director Hay’s office. Vin wondered if it was merely to watch Chief Smiley debate Standard D with the Director.
The possible switch to a newer model might . . . ”
Chief Smiley was unable to
finish his point as Director Hay leaned forward, slamming his fist down on his reading pane. The device cracked neatly in half. Director Hay took one piece of it and threw it against the wall.
flinched and Chief Smiley, purportedly used to the Director’s little outbursts, continued the discussion.
. . . result in some interesting analysis. Where Julius Arnold is concerned, the press reports are accurate—we have received information that he is in pre-revolutionary France.”
“Continue,” Director Hay replied calmly, revived from his outburst.
the broken reading pane in front of him, Chief Smiley pushed it away. Pulling out his own device, which had nary a scratch on it, he activated the 3-D screen.
alert came in yesterday. It was sent from our inspector located in that area of responsibility.”
“Where is she?” Director Hay asked pointedly.
“Er, we’ve lost communication. It seems likely that given Julius Arnold’s past exploits, he is looking to enjoy the slaughterhouse that was the French Revolution from a privileged position. The inspector is in great danger.”
heart beat harder as he listened. Chief Smiley paused to take a breath, and Vin felt Director Hay’s agitation increase.
“Spit it out,” Director Hay barked.
“We must conclude Julius Arnold has taken the inspector into custody—I’m not sure how he identified her,” Chief Smiley finished.
Director Hay ruminat
ed on Chief Smiley words before snapping to attention.
can we do under a government shut down? All available inspectors are forbidden to travel,” he said, looking around his desk.
Chief Smiley pushed
his reading pane towards him with a pacifying smile.
time travel code, we are authorized to take any action to recover an inspector, especially in conjunction with an offender like Julius Arnold. There is a catch,” Smiley paused, adjusting his shirt collar. “Under the government shut down, all inspectors are prohibited from traveling. We have only three essential employees, you, me, and . . . ”
my hands are tied. Is there anyone in the field that can help?” Director Hay exploded, tossing the pane back at Chief Smiley in anger.
Chief Smiley watched as it thudded to a halt near his chair, gesturing for
Vin to pick it up before responding.
“We have someone in London, but
I’ll remind you again inspectors cannot travel.”
, I assume you came here with a solution, not a problem for me to solve,” Director Hay barked.
“Of course,” Chief Smiley replied.
Though narrow in most aspects of his life, Chief Smiley knew Director Hay inside and out. He obviously had found a loophole. Smiley folded his hands together, ready to deliver his coup de grâce.