By Kathryn Lamont



It became apparent in the year 2700 that collective memories and artefacts would not be enough to remember the events of the past. If left unattended, a millennia’s worth of information, achievements and lessons would be lost.

 The solution, presented in the year 3021, was time travel. Brave men and women forsook their lives to catalogue and record the ever-growing history of the universe.

 The one cardinal law of time travel is simple: Do not alter the timeline in any way.

 Seasoned veterans will all agree that the role of a time traveller is to be an observer. You go to an event. You record what happens. You log it in the database.

 Anything more will result in your permanent termination. For the privilege of witnessing history come to life, you must first exclude yourself from the narrative. If you want to survive in the business, don’t alter the timeline. Full stop.

 * * *


Active Record Log 1011:

If you think that becoming a time-traveller is a solid career move, then don’t. Signing away your name, your home, your life—every interaction you’ve ever had with anyone ever… for what?

I know, I know, but the ‘glamour’, the ‘glory’—none of that exists. I’m sorry to be blunt, but the facts are all there.

You’re cut out of existence the moment you enter the program; memories wiped, documents altered, history re-written. Your life, death and accomplishments won’t mean anything to anybody because you are nobody. Just another passer-by in a crowd. A face nobody’s going to remember.

And the job? Sure, you might get some good memories out of it, but there’s nothing secure or consistent about it. I didn’t have a choice. I never did.

But if you’re reading this, it means that you do, and I urge you to take up another less dangerous profession.

My life was perfectly normal five minutes ago… and now? Let’s just say that it’s taken a metaphorical dive right off into the deep end of a septic tank. And I’ve done everything right too! Everything.

But that’s the problem with having your past, present and future selves constantly at the mercy of one another. One slip up from any version of you and you’re all dead. I guess that’s the thing—nobody thinks it’ll happen to them. Sure, unfortunate things can happen to everyone else, but not you. Never you.

Because… why would it? You’re careful. You’re smart. You’ll be fine.

Well, sorry to burst your pretty, little bubble, but I was the definition of cautious.

Day-in, day-out, I’ve dealt with the cases of people like Theodore Dutley.

Theodore’s life is ending this morning because of a scribble on the back of a notepad in Adelaide during the 3000s. He claims that he hasn’t done anything, and has never even been to Adelaide in that time.

But it was his writing, his special issue company pen. Upon further prompting, Theodore admitted that maybe in a future mission his pen stopped working, and he tested it on the pad as a reflex. He said we can’t possibly hold him accountable for something out of his control, let alone blame him for such a simple human mistake, could we?

He’s Sergeant Ten-One-Eight, he has thirty years of pristine field records under his belt, with never so much as a typo in any of his entries. I’m a bit of a fan, if I’m going to be honest. His signed trading card sits in pride of place at the top of my game deck.

But the company expects better from its employees. It does not deal in technicalities or special circumstances, and it never gives out second chances. So, when I saw his name on this morning’s agenda, I bit my lip, swallowed, and deleted everything in his file.

Once you’re marked, it doesn’t matter who you are. I mean, I’m Cadet Seven-Four-Five, but I am under no illusion that I am the seven-hundred-and-forty-fifth Cadet employed by the company. Not by a long shot. And if the company has its way, I won’t be the last either.

Maybe I’m just hardened because I grew up around the Red Unit.

They’re the board of judges, the table of jurors, and the team of executors all rolled into one. They showed me the reality that termination is a lot more common than most time travellers think.

That’s why I always promised myself that I’d never take up active field service. It’s too risky. I’d rather live in HQ and do administrative work. Your past and future self can’t accidentally kill you if you don’t give them the chance to.

I thought that made me safe.

I’m a ward of the company, and because of that, I’ve always grown up with the threat of sudden termination.

I’m the bi-product of two time-travellers who got too close, and their realisation that raising a baby and working for the company is near impossible.

My guardian, Colonel Six, explained when I was old enough to start asking questions that a baby is too much of a liability to take on missions, yet also too small to be left alone: You could have knocked something over, or dribbled, or trekked mud, then what?There are too many extraneous variables. Too much risk. No, keeping you would have been out of the question.

Colonel Six, who’s raised me since I was three days old, is the current second-in-command for the Red Unit. Company higher-ups tend to be the ones who adopt us wards.

He’s the silent, stoic type who rarely cracks a smile, but I suppose people wouldn’t really appreciate a chatty executioner, now, would they? I snooped in his file and found that his birth name is Arthur Trent.

Wards don’t have birth names because, as part of the contract our parents signed, we’re assigned a company number in-utero. But sometimes when we’re alone, Colonel Six calls me Gracie. I think he finds it less of a mouthful to use when he’s calling for me across the apartment.

Colonel Six has a notebook filled with thousands upon thousands of lines, tucked away in his desk drawer at his home office. Each line represents a person he’s terminated, and he’s only been a part of the Red Unit for a decade. Lines are the only things that prove those people existed: a small pen mark in a greying man’s secret book.

He brought it out once to show me when I was caught up in the romance of being an actual field recording time traveller, not just a company desk worker.

 I don’t want to see you become one of these lines, Gracie.

And that grounded me fast, so ever since then he’s been training me how to stay safe.

 Don’t go on any log missions, even the ones in the same year as now, he’d tell me over pancakes.

 Never go anywhere near an active time traveller, he’d mumble at lights out.

 Don’t go snooping. Keep your nose to yourself and your business as your business, he patted my shoulder as he set me to work as his in-office underling, tucked away between computer screens, filing cabinets and coffee machines. He taught me code, how to access and update the company’s system. And every night after work, while we co-piloted a small double-seater home, he told me all about the final showdowns of the latest travellers he’d terminated:who they were, what they’d done, where and how they’d got caught. And I would nod along like I hadn’t already read their files over my lunch break instead of just deleting them like I was supposed to, and he would be satisfied that his tales of horror were what would keep me from straying off our perfectly charted course.

But there are never any guarantees.

That’s why, five minutes ago (while Colonel Six was off with the rest of the Red Unit terminating Theodore Datley, and I was deleting files) my life changed.  I received a message from Cadet Seven-Three-One.

Cadet Seven-Three-One, or Max, is a ward like me. Her guardian is a scouter, scouring history for markings made by time travellers and noting any points of contamination he finds. As a result, Max has the most updated information on who’s about to end up at the top of the Red Unit’s hit list.

 Gracie, you gotta check this out! The best I’ve seen yet!

Attached was a picture of a piece of graffiti on the back of some scummy bathroom stall. To the untrained eye it would have been nothing special; just another message on a wonky door already jampacked with phone numbers, doodles and inspirational quotes.

 1989, Memphis. You know where.

But to those in the know, it was practically suicide. A blatant taunt to the company.

Here’s the thing. While Max sent me this as a joke—taking the piss out of someone stupid enough to leave a trail—it wasn’t just another dumb Time Traveller’s stuff-up this time. I had to go see it in person, all the while praying that it was just some perverse prank and not a cruel trick of fate.

It was the first time I had ever flown a company ship anywhere through time and space. But here I was… and there it was.

In a foreign train station’s public bathroom, thick black marker sliced into the paint-chipped door; unmistakably a message from a time traveller… and undeniably in my handwriting.

It was confirmed moments later when a buzz came through my planner and the name ‘Cadet Seven-Four-Five’ came up as an updated addition to the Red Unit’s morning agenda.

The ground wobbled.

I found myself sliding down onto the bathroom’s sticky floor, collapsing on top of a pile of soggy toilet paper and ripped tampon wrappers. I have never been to Memphis. I have never left, nor have I ever had any plans to leave the year 4008. I have walked the straight and narrow for the first seventeen years of my life. Yet here I am, sitting with the growing realisation that I am completely and utterly screwed.

But about to die?

I swallow the bile in my throat and think about the single pilot ship parked just outside the station’s platform. I think of Colonel Six who taught me to fly.

 No. No way in hell.

 * * *

 An unexpected error occurred with Active Record Log 1011.
Log disconnected.
Attempting to reconnect in 3…2…1

File lost.
Last known coordinates:
35.1495° N, 90.0490° W. on Single Pilot Ship F-trot 22AC
Agent number:
Cadet 745
Cadet 745 is marked for permanent termination

Agent status: Administrative Assistant, Red Unit.





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