January 19, 2017
I know my story sounds crazy, but I need to get it down before I forget everything. This document will be my only record of what was, and what happened. In a matter of hours my mind will have absorbed and adjusted to my new reality, and the old reality will cease to be.
That’s what they told us during our basic training of course, when we were given both the theories and actual nuts-and-bolts of time travel. Twenty years ago I was a college graduate looking for a career in government service. Because of my graduate and post-graduate studies in nineteenth century history, with an emphasis on the American Civil War, the interviewer shuttled me over to what turned out to be the most secret black op of all, Project Yesterday. It is so secret even the President of the United States doesn’t have a need to know. (Some unscrupulous president might want to use it to go back in time and purposely alter history for political reasons, which, next to a giant meteor hitting Earth, would be the worst thing that could happen.) We were told Project Yesterday is a history project, studying every aspect of American and world history up to the present, so the definitive history of life on Earth can someday be revealed. (I think there is probably more to it than studying history, but it’s above my pay grade to know more than I am told.)
The basic science of time travel was originally developed by the Germans in the 1930s, but did not work until taken over by the Americans at the end of World War II. With captured German scientists and equipment, of course. It is terrifying to think of what would have happened had the Nazis gotten control of time travel.
We are not supposed to divulge any details of the Project under pain of imprisonment. But I felt it was important enough to risk even that.
Despite that, here is a very broad view of what my team of Temps (short for our title, Temperonaut) does. With any secret program and need to know, we are compartmentalized, and we don’t know what else is going on within the Project, just the work of our own unit. Our unit studies the Battle of Gettysburg. We record every second of the fighting from every angle possible. We have made a record of every soldier from either side, with photos and names, and every action, gunshot, saber rattle and death during the battle. It would be impossible to do it in Live time, so we operate under a different time system, where we are invisible to the participants of the battles. We call it Time Out. I’m a historian, not a techie, but from what I can understand, we are watching it from a time in between time. So we see everything as a tableau, soldiers frozen in the act, standing like statues. It took some getting used to, seeing minie balls hanging in mid-air, or exploding into some poor guy’s face, and us Temps moving between the action, taking pictures.
It was quite an experience the first time I stood in front of a guy with a stream of blood coming down his face from a bullet hole between his eyes. I took the pictures, and went through his pack or his uniform, looking for his name on a letter, or a bible with an inscription, or anything else that might give me his identity. We take DNA samples, too, with blood draws on everyone who participated in the battle.
We use special digital cameras, so when a soldier is identified, that information goes into the main database. Every picture taken of him uses facial recognition technology to identify him.
In my latest assignment, I was photographing a teenage Confederate rifleman, and there was a power glitch. That glitch meant that as I was photographing him Time Out suddenly went Live, and I was in the middle of the battle. In a sudden panic I dropped my camera.
It happens very rarely, but occasionally there is some overload or problem with the hard drive, and until it corrects itself, usually within seconds, those of us on the battlefield are suddenly in grave danger. Not to mention looking like apparitions to our subjects. We wear coveralls, helmets and masks to keep us from spreading our viruses, or from inhaling any 1863 germs. Detecting our presence can cause a distortion of the time stream, at least momentarily, so the software is supposed to correct it. This time that didn’t happen. I was photographing the kid from the front and when he went Live it shocked me. I jumped out of his way and dropped the camera. I dove behind a nearby tree, just before a shouting pack of a half-dozen or so riflemen ran by me. In about 30 seconds the computer came back on line, corrected itself and went back to Time Out. Even after a careful search I could not find the camera. Maybe one of the riflemen saw the camera and stopped to pick it up. Regardless of why, it was not there when I looked for it.
No one living in 1863 would know what they were looking at if they stumbled onto a digital camera. But we have to be very careful of what we are supposed to be constantly on the lookout for when introducing anachronisms into the time stream: the Bradbury Effect.
Do you remember that story by Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder”? In it some time travelers on a hunting expedition in the dinosaur era wander off a designated path and one guy steps on a butterfly. That changes history down the line. So when the main characters get back to their original time period everything is changed. They even have a new president, an “iron man.” Would the Bradbury Effect happen in real life? In theory reality would change in a way a person would be shifted into a new reality without remembering the old reality. That is how it was explained to us, anyway. But here I am, knowing I am proof of the Bradbury Effect, and hurrying to write it down before the alternate time stream in which I now find myself causes my brain to erase the old stream and let the new take over.
Which brings me to Live, right now. Before leaving the time travel facility adjacent to Gettysburg, I had to make a report and admit I lost the camera. My boss was not one bit happy about it. I got a lecture on abandoned anachronisms and what they are thought to do — and it made me think, am I really the first Temp to lose something in the time stream? —then he added another indignity. He put me on temporary suspension while the effect of my screw-up could be studied.
Well, he needn’t bother, because I can see the effect for myself, and that is why I have to write this before my brain adjusts to a new reality.
When I was last in 2016 it was the day of the general election. As I reported for duty, just before slipping back to 1863, the news was all abuzz about how the first female president was sure to be elected, and what it was going to mean. On the other hand, her opponent, a cranky curmudgeon with a bad comb-over hairstyle and an orange spray tan, would hopefully disappear into the night and never be heard from again.
All the polls said she would win. Everyone I knew voted for her. Everyone hated the orange man. They didn’t like anything he said or did. She was a shoo-in!
Imagine my surprise on coming back today and finding out there is no first female president. The orange-faced guy is now our new president. The inevitable question is, what the hell happened?
I sit here shaking. Something like that could not have happened had we not had an alteration to the time stream. It is my fault. I know it. My lost camera is the reason that this man is now President of the United States.
I do not think any punishment could be severe enough for putting this pumpkin-head in the top office of the most powerful country in the world.
The only solace I have is that within a very short period of time, as the theory holds, I will not remember being the cause, but until I blissfully lose this memory I offer here my mea culpa, and if allowed to go back to 1863, I promise this time I will attach my camera by a strap so I can’t lose it again. But then…how much worse could I confuse the time stream than what I have already done?
January 20, 2017
It is inauguration day and that man is now officially the President of the United States. Unfortunately, the part about having memories replaced when time changes occur is not true. I remember everything. I may have to live with this nightmare for the rest of my life.
Lord help us if that man in the White House ever finds out about Project Yesterday, and what he would do with it if he seized control of time travel technology. Remember what I said about it being terrifying if the Nazis had control of time travel?
Forgive me, America. Forgive me, world! I am the one who did this to you!
Copyright © 2017 Postino