By Katie Hanna
“For the last time, Mr. Hernandez,” I enunciate, poking savage holes in my lime-green blotter with my peacock pen, “you cannot land in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.”
“Killjoy,” mutters the time traveler on the other end of the phone. “All I wanted to do was have a look around.”
“Do you call seven failed attempts to assassinate Grigori Rasputin after we made the mistake of approving your flight plan to 1915 Russia, a ‘look around,’ Mr. Hernandez?”
He sighs. “You read my file, huh?”
“The Green Room keeps detailed case records for a reason, Mr. Hernandez,” I retort. “We cannot be liable for damages when you get in a fistfight with Martin Luther.”
Hernandez adopts a tone of injured dignity. “I would never sue the Green Room, ma’am.”
“That’s what they all say.” My sniff suggests a strong dash of vinegar and cynicism. “Please stand by while we calculate your new flight plan.”
I cast a bleary eye over my surroundings, the buzz and hum of the busy office. The Green Room lives up to its name, from the sea-foam wallpaper to the olive drab of our Victorian coats and skirts. The Green Room changes its dress code every year to match a new era of the timeline. This year, the staff chose Victorian.
I turn my attention back to my desk. I’ve got the same equipment as every time travel agent: a secure phone and a switchboard that sends travelers hurtling through the time vortex with a single pull of the correct lever. The phone is chartreuse, the switchboard a sober military green. I’ve even got a t-scope, or “temporal scope,” which scans available timelines for appropriate destinations. Just put your eye to the little glass aperture, and whole worlds unfold inside.
With another vinegar sniff, I bend over the t-scope and flick through my options.
“Hm.” The Byzantine Empire, eleventh century, is open at the moment. I spot a nice Romanesque villa by the Aegean Sea, spring herbs in the kitchen garden. An old man, clergy by the look of him, snores gently in the sunshine. Nothing ever happens in the Byzantine Empire. Which would make it the perfect place for young Hernandez… if it didn’t bore him to death first.
Bright-colored, bloody scenes blur as I click the knobs on the scope, mumbling to myself. “Thirty Years’ War, Boer War, Boxer Rebellion…”
“You’re sending me to the Boxer Rebellion?” Hernandez’s voice bears the inflection of a child handed five dollars and ushered into a candy store.
My peacock pen quivers in my wrathful grasp. “I am doing no such thing, young man.”
I take three seconds to inhale, fixing my gaze on the cool sage walls. The Hernandez account has been the bane of the Green Room for months. I will master it. I will.
“Why not Wittenberg?” Hernandez wheedles. “I promise I won’t make a mess, and if I do, I won’t hold the organization responsible.” A coaxing grin bleeds into his tone. “That’s fair, wouldn’t you agree, ma’am?”
“I would not.”
“Killjoy.” That seems to be the most stinging insult in his arsenal.
My fingers wrench the t-scope knobs with a little more force than necessary. Hernandez, confound him, doesn’t understand my dilemma. We talk about our responsibility to our clients, our responsibility to avoid lawsuits… but our deepest responsibility is protecting the timeline.
The Green Room handbook—which I know by heart, thank you—is very clear. Never send a troublemaker to a trouble zone. Any disturbance could snuff out a key historical figure before their time. And regardless of my personal feelings towards Dr. Luther as a proud Irish Catholic, that isn’t supposed to happen.
The glass lens of my t-scope focuses on a sharp image.
It’s a girl in a prison cell. Her white mob cap and flowing skirt locate her in eighteenth century Europe, even before I read the text at the bottom of the screen. Paris, France, July 1793. Charlotte Corday.
Of course I know Charlotte Corday. I’d be a pretty poor time travel agent if I didn’t know one of the most polarizing female figures of the French Revolution. Stabbed Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub in hopes of stemming the violence of the guillotine. Charlotte herself was executed only a few days after. She showed no fear.
Sounds like somebody else I know, a treacherous voice murmurs in my ear.
Never send a troublemaker to a trouble zone, the handbook whispers louder.
But Charlotte Corday already made her mark on history. Whether she lives or dies, the timeline is secure.
So, the treacherous voice demands, why not let her live?
“Hm,” I repeat, tapping the blotter with a thoughtful fingernail.
“Mr. Hernandez,” I lower my tone so I can’t be heard at the adjacent desks, “if I send you on the mission of a lifetime, will you promise to take a nice long vacation by the Aegean Sea?”
“The—mission—of a—lifetime?” he squeaks.
“You’ll be extracting Charlotte Corday from a French Revolutionary prison,” I mutter out the left side of my mouth. “Information packets will be available on your ship, as usual. Make it quick, though. You and Charlotte will be sent to the Byzantine Empire immediately afterwards. Because—”
“—nothing ever happens in the Byzantine Empire,” we finish in unison.
Hernandez starts to chuckle. “Ma’am, I never knew you had it in you!”
“I don’t,” I hiss, biting back the smile that threatens to crack my frosty face. “I’m doing this for Charlotte. And you will never speak of it again.”
“You got it, boss.” He’s still snickering. “French Revolution! A pretty girl! A prison break! Christmas came early! I’ll tell you what, ma’am, I don’t know how to thank—”
I hang up the phone.
Shaking my head, I reach for the green metal switchboard.
“All’s fair in love and time travel,” I remark to no one in particular…
…And pull the lever.