Sometimes, for the good of the future, one person must pay the ultimate price.
|“451 South Folsom Avenue,” I muttered as I looked up at the building before me. The dark, somewhat foreboding structure stared silently back. A prime example of architecture for the time, it had four stories, tiny mirrors dotting a dark red front, and no personality whatsoever. It looked just like every other building on the block. If anyone had given a damn about the neighborhood they would have condemned them all. “Apartment 2A,” I finished. I shoved the slip of paper back in my breast pocket. I didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t like leaving things behind. It made little difference, granted. Even if the police did bother to investigate and stumbled across my note, they would never match the fingerprints. Still, best to not fall into sloppy habits.|
I walked up to the front door and pulled it open with the grating squeak of gears that have never tasted the sweet nectar of oil. It swung shut behind me, pushed closed by the night’s warm breeze. The building had one of those old-fashioned security doors that can only be opened if someone inside wants to let you in, but it had long since broken down. I pushed the dirty glass door open and entered a dimly lit hallway.
“2A, 2A,” I mumbled as I sought the nearest staircase. No sense risking the elevator. It probably didn’t work anyway, and if it did it might break down at any moment. I couldn’t be late. I patted my side pocket, and the reassuring weight of my pistol greeted me.
My name is Larry Kudock, and I am on my way to save the future. It won’t be the first time I have done so, and it probably won’t be the last. It’s what I do.
“Rebecca Barnett,” I whispered to myself as I opened the door to the stairwell. “2A.”
The date is August 18th, 1999, and I am in Chicago. The time is 9:47 pm. Rebecca Barnett will be in her room sound asleep. She is seven years old. Her mother works at a convenience store about four blocks away. She doesn’t know who her father is, and she never will. Therefore neither will I. To many she is a murderer. To some she is a hero. To me she is just another job.
I felt my gun press against my right leg as I made my way up the concrete stairs. The only light came from a single bulb at the top of the stairwell. I could see only a few feet in front of me.
In the year 2025 Rebecca will lead a revolution in downtown Chicago. The city will have fallen on wretched times, and poverty will reach new heights. Unemployment will rise through the stratosphere. The people of the neighborhood I am in will be starving. Rebecca will not be among them. She will be a successful attorney, and will use her wealth to help the people of her former community. She won’t buy them food, clothing or shelter. She will buy them weapons. She will lead thousands of armed, angry “demonstrators” into the middle of Chicago where they will open fire on streets and stores full of people. Thousands would die -- 3,456 to be precise. Rebecca will not be among them, either. Police officers, civilians, and her newfound militia will comprise that number. Rebecca will flee the scene shortly after the shooting starts. Nothing will come of it. No sweeping social changes will be made, and no new laws will be enacted. They will bury or burn the dead, destroy the guns, and an apathetic society will go on about its business. Thousands of people die for nothing, and all because of one woman.
I pushed open the door to the second floor hallway. Nobody there. I quietly read the number on the nearest door. “18A.”
I was born in the year 2135. When I was eighteen years old, scientists discovered the secrets of time travel. Government facilities have enormous arches that you can program to send those who pass through them to any place and any time in the past. I’m still not sure how it works. Hell, I don’t even know if they know how it works. But they did it, and we quickly discovered a couple of things, none more important than this: you can change the past. Paradoxes be damned, it would seem. You could go back in time and alter history. You could, for instance, travel back to the 1920s and kill a young German artist named Adolf. You could save thousands or even millions of lives by killing one person. That’s where I come in.
People often ask if the constant murders ever bother me. I have killed dozens of people since I volunteered for my job at the age of twenty. People say it should have driven me mad. They say I should care. I don’t, and I always give the same answer to their pleas for an explanation: it’s what I do.
“2A,” I said as I stopped before the door. I glanced at my watch: 9:53. I still had a few minutes. I pulled a skeleton key from my left pocket and inserted it in the lock. She had no deadbolt on the door. A quick turn, and the shoddy mechanism clicked. I quickly entered the apartment and quietly closed the door behind me. I pulled my gun from my jacket pocket and screwed a silencer into place.
In my time we have more effective ways of opening locks. We have more efficient means of killing people, too, but I like to work within the guidelines of the time I find myself in. If I am going to kill someone in the 20th century, I want to use a gun. For someone in the 8th, I like a sword, but that’s not always efficient. Sometimes personal preference has to give way to being a professional. Besides, I didn’t want the police finding a body scorched by a disruptor or something. That would raise some serious questions.
The apartment had few furnishings, and I made my way past the dingy couch and small television in the living room with ease. A small, cramped apartment, it had almost no floor space despite the meager fixtures. I opened one door: bathroom, and not a very clean one at that. Still, I’d been to worse places in the time period. Rebecca’s mother tried her hardest to make a decent life for her daughter. She worked three jobs, and she stuck money away for Rebecca’s education. She was a good student, and she got into college quite easily.
I opened another door slightly and peaked inside. It was a very small room -- not much larger than a walk-in closet -- and it had an occupant. I stepped into the room, leaving the door open behind me. There was enough light shining through the single window that I could see around me: a bed, a tiny dresser, and a chair. The closet door was open and I saw a few cheap dresses hanging from wire hangers. I pulled the chair away from the dresser/desk, and sat down next to Rebecca.
She was an attractive little girl, with long, dark locks that rolled down her cheeks. She lay on her stomach, with her head nestled in her pillow and one hand under her chin. I reached out with my left hand and brushed a few errant hairs away from her mouth. Her eyelids twitched as she dreamed, and the blanket rose and fell with each breath. I wondered what she dreamed about. Did she have any idea what havoc she would wreak in the future? Had her soul already been corrupted by deeds she had yet to commit? I smoothed her hair back from her face entirely, careful not to wake her. I wanted her to be asleep when I did it.
I pulled my hand away and glanced at my watch: 10:01. I checked my gun. A round rested in the chamber. I loved 20th century weapons. They had a cold effectiveness to them that had given way to bright lights and whirling gizmos in my own time. Slowly, I leaned forward and cocked it. I took a slow breath and aimed. Rebecca continued sleeping calmly, totally oblivious to what would happen. A second passed in silence, and I fired. My gun gave that interesting pop that silenced ones do: like a cork being ejected from a bottle of champagne. A grunt answered my action, but Rebecca never opened her eyes. I stood and walked to the door, the smoking gun still in my hand.
The man I had just shot lay there, gagging softly as his life slipped away. He held a small disruptor in his right hand, but did not appear to have the strength to use it. I didn’t know his name. I never knew any of their names. I bent down and pulled the disruptor free before placing it in my own pocket. Apparently he had none of my qualms about using weapons from the future. He stared at me, wide-eyed, and his mouth opened and closed several more times. He might have been trying to tell me something. Maybe he wanted to warn me about what the girl would do -- about the people who would die because of her. I really didn’t care.
I reached into his right pocket where I saw a large lump. I pulled the device free: a heavy cylinder with a transparent middle and red mist swirling inside. A digital readout on the top read 8/18/1999 - 10:00 PM. Personal time machines were so damned heavy, but at least they were easy to track. I put it in my own pocket and placed my gun in his after wiping my prints clean. I wiped a bit at the soot on the floor where the time machine had dropped him off. Arch transport left no traces. Personal machines scorched the ground. I picked him up and hoisted him over my shoulders. I would dump him in a back alley somewhere. The police wouldn’t bother to investigate. They rarely did.
I glanced back at the room as I prepared to leave. Rebecca still lay there, sleeping peacefully. I wondered, for a brief moment, what would have happened if he had killed her? Would he have prevented thousands of deaths and somehow brought about a greater future? Would one of those people, who would die in twenty-six years, have made the world a better place? I closed the door quietly behind me and carried my fellow time traveler across the apartment. No sense pondering such things. My job is to protect the future. My job is to keep things the way they are. If that means killing some renegade “do gooder,” so be it. I can live with that. It’s what I do.