A Fix in Time
As soon as time travel became possible, of course there were people who would abuse it for their own purposes.
Luke Martin's job is to stop those people, and put the past back to rights. But what happens when he meets the man of his dreams in the past?
In the middle of a plot to change the past in nineteenth century London, Luke meets Edwin and must decide between a love that could put them both in prison, and the safety of the world.
Most people dreaded the end of their vacations, but Luke Martin wasn't like most people. He bounded into the high-ceilinged control room, grinning from ear to ear. "I'm back!" he announced. "I know you all missed me desperately."
Two or three people glanced up from their displays, but everyone else ignored Luke. They were used to his antics.
"No love? I'm wounded," Luke said, with mock sadness, and flopped down onto the lap of the nearest technician, placing himself between the readout and her face. "What did I miss, Rina?"
"The world stopped without you," Rina said, pushing Luke away. She was a short blonde woman, just on the edge of plump, but with a very pretty face. "Now get off, you're crushing me."
Luke pretended to look affronted, but got up. He was slender and not very tall--he obviously wasn't really crushing her. "Fine," he sighed dramatically, and walked over to the man seated next to her.
"No," the man said, scooting his chair up so that Luke had no chance to sit in his lap. "I'm working on a calculation and you'll mess me up."
Luke stood in the center of the office, hands on hips, and grinning. "I should have stayed away!" His multicolored hair hung in his face on one side, almost wholly obscuring it. Today it was blond in front and brown on the rest of his head. For him, it was sedate.
The man who had refused to let Luke sit in his lap answered without looking up, "You're not due back for three more days." He had long, ink black hair tied back in a neat braid--evidence of his Native American heritage.
"But I missed you so much, Carl!" Luke said. "Actually, the boss told me we might have something big coming up, that he needed my particular expertise for."
Carl rolled his eyes. "That's what I'm trying to work on. Albert said you were to go to his office as soon as you got in."
Luke glanced around the room. "Must be serious, then." Now that he noticed, there were more techs in the room than usual. Monitors flashed rows of numbers and colored graphs that meant little to him. He was a different kind of tech.
He made his way over to the corner of the large room, where a glass door stood open. He leaned his upper body into the doorway and looked in. "Albert, I'm here! The world is a safe place again!"
Albert, a large man with close-cropped white hair, looked up from several flat panels he was studying. He looked serious, but then he always did. "Luke. I'm glad you're here."
Luke's eyebrows rose. "You're never glad to see me. This really is bad." He sat down in a chair, which immediately conformed to his body, and leaned forward. "What's going on?" He absently-mindedly slapped away the arm of the chair--he hated the things.
Albert leaned forward and rubbed his temples. "Someone's messing with the timelines again, but this time way back. We're not sure what they're trying to do yet, or what to do about it. Meeting in ten."
Luke liked to think of himself as a detective. His formal title, like everyone else's, was "Technician." There wasn't a lot of crime in the world these days. At least, not overtly. But, criminals would be criminals, and as technology progressed so did the intricacy of crime.
As soon as time travel became a viable science, the government had tried to regulate it. At the time, they still weren't sure about the effects time travel could have, whether paradoxes could exist, and whether someone could really do damage to the future or the past.
They still didn't have all the answers. Scientists were still working on a unified theory of time travel. But, as with all scientific discoveries, people started using it before it was completely understood.
Of course, there were people who quickly figured out how to use it for personal gain.
So time travel was strictly regulated, which meant the formation of a whole new branch of the government, purely for enforcing those regulations. Once in a while, someone unauthorized would go back in time. Usually it was something easily sorted out, but the ramifications were hard to predict. The Time Travel Enforcement Department--TTED for short, or just TED--was formed to stop people from changing the past, or repairing the damage that had been done.
The problem, of course, was knowing what to fix and when to do it. Over the years some of the most brilliant scientific minds had written a computer program to model what would happen if an element in the past was changed. It was good, but not foolproof, and it was all they had. So far, between the program and human intuition they'd averted disaster.
Luke worked for the branch of TED dedicated to stopping the past from being changed, hopefully before any damage was done. There were only a handful of people authorized to go into the past, and Luke counted himself lucky to be one of them.
Now six people sat around an oblong table in the main conference room: Luke, Albert, Carl, Rina and two other specialists. The main screen showed a number of charts and tables, and Albert was explaining their importance. Luke didn't talk, just listened, absorbing everything. He soaked up all the information, some of it seemingly unrelated, and from there he usually came to the right conclusion.
This time, however, the answer wasn't coming to him.
He'd have to go back in time--that much was clear--to 1832 England, a period about which he had absolutely no clue. He specialized in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and felt absolutely in his element there. He'd even learned to play a musical instrument, the guitar, as part of one of his missions, and to his astonishment he'd been really good at it. He'd also picked up his hairstyle there.
The nineteenth century? It was pretty much a complete mystery to him. But, he was good at what he did, and he knew he could pull off this job. Language, after all, hadn't changed all that much. He would study all the information they had on the era, and pretend to be from another country to explain any odd behavior or accents. It had worked every time before. It would work now.
The meeting wrapped up, and Albert pulled him aside. "Luke. Are you sure about this? We can get someone else to do it."
Luke flashed Albert his trademark brilliant smile. "You wanted the best and you got the best. I can do it, Al."
"Don't call me that," the older man said automatically, with the air of someone who's said the same thing many times before. "I promised your parents--"
"That you'd look out for me. Yeah, yeah, I know." Luke patted Albert on the back. "But, they're somewhere in Borneo or some damn place. Give me a shot. I can do this. I want to." He realized he really did. He wanted to prove that he could do something outside his usual area of expertise, to extrapolate his knowledge and display how well he could bullshit, to make it simpler.
Albert sighed. "Fine. Go home. Get some rest. You're gonna need it."
After a long evening poring over all the documents provided for him, Luke had a headache.
He had always been impulsive, but he was also brilliant, so most times he was able to figure a way out of the fixes he tended to get himself into. If he couldn't, he used his natural charm and dry humor to talk his way out of danger. He always had friends, and moved about in a group at school, but on the inside he was a loner. His parents were busy scientists who always brought their work home. Luke would sit and listen to them discuss their work on time travel research. By the time he was seventeen he knew more about the physics of time travel than most Ph.D.s. It was natural that he went into university to study physics, and do his graduate work in the subfield of time travel.
Luke's problem, though, was his impulsiveness and a certain lack of respect for the rules. He never got top grades because he was always a little careless with his equations. He'd take a shortcut, skip a step, and though he almost always got the answer correct, his professors noticed it.
He couldn't help it. His mind moved too fast, and he was already thinking about the next problem while he worked on the previous one. He also couldn't sit at a desk all day. He knew his parents wanted him to follow in their footsteps, but that meant basically being at a computer all day, every day. He knew he'd go mad.
He went through the motions only because his parents expected it of him, and he did enjoy the research.
Time travel technology was well guarded by the government, but if the technology existed, others were going to build time machines, too. So, there had to be a team of people keeping the danger in check. Most people, if they were going to go back in time illegally, would try to profit from it: manipulate the stock market in some way, or plant some information in order to make money. Luckily, it took a great deal of money and talent to master the technology, so problems had pretty much been nipped in the bud before they could become catastrophes.
TED was fairly a new organization, and as soon as Luke had heard of its existence from his parents, he'd known that this was what he wanted to do with his life. Finally, a way to combine his knowledge with a job that didn't keep him tied to a lab! His parents warned him not to get his hopes up, but he wouldn't even consider the possibility of not being accepted into the team.
Fresh out of graduate school, he became a federal employee just like his parents. His friends thought he was crazy--they had all gone on to high-paying jobs with private agencies, but Luke had never regretted it. He was damn good at what he did, and he enjoyed putting things to rights, back how they should be. He never told anyone that, though. It sounded silly even to him.
Not that there were many people to tell. Luke had had a few boyfriends and girlfriends, mostly in college, but he never felt the instant attraction that people talked about, or was portrayed in movies. He wanted it, though, wanted to be wanted that way. Wanted the kind of relationship that made you ache if you weren't with the other person. He wanted to be on fire for someone.
Now he was thirty years old, and had been working for TED for almost five years. His work took up most of his time. It wasn't just a nine to five job, and that suited him fine.
He finally closed his laptop and got up to stretch. He wandered over to a huge window in his living room that took up an entire wall. He'd had it installed himself; it hadn't been part of the apartment originally. Luke had a thing about having a view. He'd paid more to have an apartment with an exterior wall just so he could have this window. Most people were satisfied with a viewscreen that could show any view they wanted at any time, but Luke wanted to see what was really there.
It was late now, so all he could see were sodium-yellow lights that went on until they reached the water's edge. Off on the ocean there was the occasional bobbing light that meant there were boats out there. The water was a few miles away, so they were probably large ships holding thousands of people or tons of cargo. In the silence of his room he tried to imagine the people on those ships and the lives they led.
He sighed and finally went to bed. His mind was full of the past, and tomorrow things would seem a little clearer. His subconscious had a way of sifting through information while he was asleep, getting ideas that seemed like magic to other people. It wasn't anything special to Luke, it was just how he worked.
He slid into bed, wishing briefly that there was someone here with him. Not just for sex--he could get that whenever he wanted, in whatever flavor he wanted, real or virtual. Again, Luke was an anachronism. He preferred real people and real emotions. Maybe that was why he was still alone. Or maybe he just hadn't found the right person.