Oh, and there we were all in one place,
a generation lost in space
with no time left to start again.
So come on: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick!
Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
‘Cause fire is the Devil’s only friend.
– Don McLean (American Pie)
Not everyone felt or thought like Carmen. Not everyone bought into restoring original timelines. After all, original timelines could be painful, unfair and downright cruel.
Not everyone wanted to play by the Temporal Integrity Commission’s rules. Or, at least, they did not want to play that way every time.
And so there was another side. It was only loosely confederated, and grew and shrank as people felt cheated or disturbed by the original timeline, or as they saw the light of original timeline restoration. Or, perhaps, their lives ended.
And the other side was watching the entire hiring process. A promising adherent or two would be perfect. More would be a Grand Slam.
But one or two would do.
And so the other side decided on its own vetting process, which didn’t involve identifying talent – Carmen had already done that. No. The other side’s main task was to steal talent, and turn it to its own purposes, although it wasn’t above planting a candidate or two or twelve.
It was a loose confederation – barely together enough to be called a conspiracy. All they had was their mutual purpose in common. Their motives varied.
For some, it was a desire to do a perceived good and help humanity. For others, it was a desire to make humans superior to other species – a kind of descendant to the old Terra Prime movement, which had reared its ugly head a millennium before and had had as its aim the expulsion of aliens from Earth.
For others, the desire was to give their families some sort of an advantage by jiggering the past and placing, essentially, a thumb on the scale. Still others were romantics and just wanted to see lovers together. Yet others just wanted to see what they could get away with.
They called themselves The Perfectionists.
They had existed for as long as there had been a Temporal Integrity Commission, and they were at cross-purposes to it. For years, they had operated in as shadowy a manner as the Temporal Integrity Commission had. They had watched, but they hadn’t merely waited.
Instead, they had performed a series of tests. They had bent time in small, subtle ways, doing their best to make sure that it wouldn’t break. And so they had made a number of purely otric changes. Mussolini had a moustache – and then he didn’t. Jonathan Archer’s dog’s name was Porthos – then it was D’Artagnan, and then Aramis, and then Athos, and then back to Porthos again. Jean-Luc Picard became Jean-Claude Picard briefly, but that change was deemed too risky and so he was quickly restored to his original moniker. Some changes were almost whimsical, as they altered a world leader’s shirt’s color in an ancient photograph or switched the order of the songs played at the reception for a long ago, long-forgotten Royal Wedding.
And on and on, as small, subtle changes were wrought and, sometimes, put back. And sometimes not. The master time file could only be so big, after all, so not everything could be verified. Temporal integrity was slowly breaking down, and memories were becoming untrustworthy. It was the small differences, little things to make scholars and historical researchers go hmmm. It was much like a woman who’d colored her hair being asked if she’d lost weight – for most of the people who were looking – there weren’t too many of them, anyway – they knew there was some sort of a change. But they just couldn’t put their fingers on it.
The Perfectionists had changed time so much that some portions of some events just couldn’t be verified anymore, unless one went very far back and reversed it all. Had Indira Gandhi worn a blue sari on the day she was inaugurated? Or a red one? Or was it some other color? Did George Washington eat beef or venison the day before he died? Or was it chicken, or something else?
No one knew, there was no one to ask, and no one even knew that things were somehow amiss. And that had, initially, been enough for The Perfectionists. But now they wanted something more.
The movement was, as stated before, rather loosely confederated, but things were changing and a charismatic leader was emerging. This person had ambitions, and drive, and plans. This person wanted good, new technology, and skilled, dedicated operatives.
This person aimed to hit the Temporal Integrity Commission right where it lived.
Trichronium. It would be called trichronium. It was an interesting idea. At least, the engineer certainly thought so.
There were a few extant means of traveling through time. One was via the use of a time ship, like the HG Wells, which used dark matter for its propulsion, or the Audrey Niffenegger, which was of an older design and ran on chronitons. Another method was to use time portals, such as Richard had used to transport Jonathan Archer way back when. Yet another means was to crank a ship – it didn’t have to be a time ship, per se – up to Warp Ten. Yet another method was via time discs and another way was to use an organic portal like The Guardian to the Gate to Forever.
But this method was different.
It was a bona fide patentable idea. The method had two pieces. One was a Temporal Enhancer, which was worn on the wrist or held in one’s hand and was used to channel and direct the stream. And the other half was – true genius at work! – The use of an enzyme, a kind of drug. That was trichronium. The subject would swallow it, or be injected with it, and could be sent anywhere the Enhancer was set for. Someone nearby – unless they were in physical contact with the trichronium-swigging test subject – would be naught but a bystander. The engineer called it the Temporal Enzymatic Drive.
The Enhancer was useful, too, as it could remain behind while someone traveled, and it could be kept so far apart from all stocks of trichronium that no one would be able to connect the two components. Plus, a traveler could even be whisked – assuming trichronium levels remained high enough – from time to time without even stopping in the present. A trip spanning 2011 to 1939 to AD 79 to 2439 to 3109? Sure, why not?
To recall a traveler, all the operator would need to do would be to reverse the stream, and the traveler would be returned. Trichronium, like anything else, could not remain in a body forever, but the Enhancer would keep track of falling levels, and could automatically recall a traveler if it was getting to be too late. Then, another injection or another swallow, and the traveler could be sent back for Round Two if necessary.
Or, if the mission was accomplished, the Enhancer could automatically check for that and whisk the traveler back. No sense in dawdling.
The engineer smiled. It was a most excellent invention. The Perfectionists would love it.
Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
my hands were clenched in fists of rage.
No angel born in hell
could break that Satan’s spell.
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite,
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
– Don McLean (American Pie)