I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck,
But I knew I was out of luck
The day the music died.
– Don McLean (American Pie)
The Commission wasn’t in a building or on a planet at all. It was actually located on a ship, but the ship’s location, of course, was classified. It could, and did, travel, but the ship usually remained just outside of the Milky Way galactic barrier, blending effortlessly with other vigilant ships, protecting the Milky Way from potential invaders from Andromeda and Triangulum and elsewhere.
The ship’s name was designed to not betray its purpose. In a fit of whimsy, it had been dubbed the USS Adrenaline.
Carmen’s plan was to interview the group and the individuals. Any quick rejections would simply be beamed back. They didn’t wipe memories or anything, but there was little for anyone to commit to memory at such an early stage in the proceedings.
Anyone going to the second round was supposed to meet with Otra. For her part, all was going pretty well. When one candidate pronounced her name as if it were the Spanish word for other, Otra gently corrected – “no, it’s pronounced like Sinatra, but without the sin,” That worked, and broke the ice.
But it was for the next round, when Kevin was in charge, that he heard two of the male candidates snickering about her, and referring to her as a salad head. Two more out.
A break was taken, and Kevin ended up taking some questions. Candidates filed in and out of the room. He was tired and the change didn’t register with him immediately. It was so subtle, but something was off, like, well, Kevin didn’t know what. But it was off. He had enough of a presence of mind to alert Carmen, but she couldn’t see it. Otra was similarly puzzled. Then they thought a bit. It took a while, but they finally spotted it. There was a Mexican woman – Marisol – and she’d had on a fuchsia scarf. And now the scarf was purple.
Time was represented by a master file, deeply and – allegedly – perfectly encrypted. The encryption algorithm changed by the hour. You’d have to know Klingon, higher mathematics, Welsh and the timing of the seemingly random neutron pulses emitted by the Andorians’ home sun in order to even have a prayer of breaking it – and then you’d only have an hour to crack it, for the encryption would change again, and you’d suddenly need to know Egyptian hieroglyphics, the rainfall totals for the biggest city on Vulcan during the 27th century and the names of all of the American First Ladies in order to break the new code. And, once an hour had elapsed, you’d need to know formal (not conversational) Witannen, the names of everyone serving on the USS Arizona at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and some other painfully obscure bit of arcana. And on and on.
Its integrity was further protected by a temporal force field, but that had only been invented in the 2900s. If enough from before that were changed, one could, theoretically, break the force field by causing it to never be invented in the first place. The Temporal Integrity Commission had put its own thumb on its own scale by assuring that, in several different scenarios, the field would still be invented and put it into place, although generally earlier or later than in the original history.
The Commission itself was protected by a similar field, as were its employees, so most temporal irregularities did not affect it or, at least, didn’t affect it appreciably. Hence the changing of candidate Marisol Castillo’s scarf from fuchsia to purple was a cause for some concern. But at least employees like Levi and Otra and Carmen – they appeared to be safe.
Marisol denied changing her scarf, so Kevin ran out to the Control Room, as quickly as his massive bulk could take him. He ran the calculations and called in Otra. Something had been changed, and it wasn’t just a scarf.
A check of the time ships revealed that the old Audrey Niffenegger had been run, and recently.
With little to go on, Carmen had to stop the interviews and possibly scrap the entire hiring process, a thing she was loath to do. But then there was the slightest of clicks, and the power was cut to everything but Life Support. When the lights came back on, the fuchsia scarf was restored, and Marisol seemed as puzzled as they were.
“Check,” That was all that Carmen said to Kevin. She gave the psychology and medical candidates over to Yarin and returned to the other remaining candidates, “How often do you lose power?” asked one of them, a man of Indian extraction.
“But it does happen,” he persisted.
“Not too often,” she was distracted and really didn’t want to be doing damage control. When her communicator chimed, it was a huge relief.
It was Kevin, “Found it.”
“Ah, good,” she said, and then closed the connection, “It looks like that’ll be all for today. We’ll get you back, and let you know soon. Thank you,” Candidates gone, Carmen found Kevin, “Well?”
“It’s weird,” he said, “The change is Pre-Warp, twentieth century.”
“Yes. And you’d think it wouldn’t do much of anything. But it does.”
“It also – it was a positive act, at least it was initially. Three lives were saved. Whoever did this, they were trying to do something good, I figure.”
“One of our candidates?”
“Possibly. Either acting alone or with someone already here. Not necessarily a team member, of course, although probably.”
“And they used the interviews as a cover?”
“Yeah,” he said.
“Not necessarily – Levi’s not known for his positive, helpful acts.”
“So it could be someone like Otra.”
“Maybe. My real question is whether either of them had an accomplice.”
“Katzman? Yarin? Daniels?” Carmen asked, “I’d rather it wasn’t you.”
“It ain’t me, babe,” he said, “I dunno. It’s probably not Rick, I figure. He’s a good soldier and doesn’t do these kinds of things.”
“Yes. He’s not an unselfish acts kind of a guy, either.”
“I found a note, too,” he said, “It was put on the Audrey’s hard drive via an encrypted PADD message, so it wasn’t necessarily sent by an insider. The author’s unknown, of course. This encryption will be tough to break.”
“Get on that when you can. In the meantime, these kinds of positive acts, well, they can destroy the timeline.”
“Not to mention overpopulate the Earth, or Terra, or both.”
“What, pray tell, was the good deed?” Carmen asked.
“Three musicians in 1959 died in a plane crash. Except now, they never did.”
“Why the devil would our good little Boy or Girl Scout care?”
“I don’t think they do. I think this was more of a test.”
“Yeah,” Kevin said, “To see if it could be done, and how long it would take for us to figure it out. Kind of to see if we’re paying attention. And how fast we can fix it.”
“How bad are the damages?”
“There are lots of them,” he said, “But Otra would know best.”
“Assuming she’s not involved, then I agree, she’s our best option.”
“And the candidates?”
“I say, we watch them all. Go ahead and hire as planned, and watch the others as well.”
“And fix this when?” Kevin asked.
“Today. We’ll send Rick, of course. Levi is a terrible liar. I think all we need to do is wait.”
I started singin’,
"Bye-Bye, Miss American Pie."
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
And singin’, "This’ll be the day that I die.
"This’ll be the day that I die."
– Don McLean (American Pie)