Copyright © SAMANTHA WINSTON, 2005.
All Rights Reserved, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.
The nurse in charge of freezing my molecules inserted a glowing needle into my arm and had me count backwards from ten. I got to zero and stared at her, perplexed. “Now what?”
I obeyed without question. Ten years of prison had left their mark.
Then a cold wave washed through me. I felt my blood freeze. No one had told me it would be so painful. My teeth chattered and the place where the needle was inserted into my arm ached and ached. The pain grew. Frost bloomed in silver flowers on my hands and face.
The pain was so intense I passed out. My last thought before I fainted was wry. The program was going to lose their corrector. I was dying.
* * * * *
I didn’t die. I woke up lying on my back in the middle of a large mud puddle. Rain pelted my face, and my body convulsed with painful tremors. For several minutes, I felt so awful I wished I had died.
Groaning, I rolled over and propped myself up on my forearms. My clothes were drenched and filthy. I tried to stand up, but my legs wouldn’t hold me. I crawled off the road and collapsed behind a large bush. I had no idea why I’d been beamed into the middle of a road. I could have been killed. I looked closer at the road and sighed. If anything were going to come down it, it would probably be an ox plodding before a heavy farm cart. The farmer would have been able to stop in time.
Unlike me. I hadn’t been able to stop my car in time. I’d killed a child, and I’d been punished with life in a reproduction prison where I spawned one hundred and twenty possible children. Every month an ovule was taken from my body and fertilized and the egg was implanted into an artificial womb. For ten years, I reproduced. I lay on a metal table once a month and donated an ovule, and in between, I worked at the prison library, copying ancient paper books onto gel matrix for safekeeping.
Then I’d been given a choice. Go back in time and change a mistake, or continue to live in a prison, in solitude, where my only jobs had been to produce eggs and reproduce books.
My mission now lay before me. I closed my eyes and tried to remember exactly what it was I had to do. Unfortunately, there seemed to be an empty space in my brain where all that information was supposed to be. I couldn’t remember the first thing about it. I shivered with panic and cold. If my mission failed, the Time Correction Foundation, the omnipotent TCF, would erase this portion of time and I’d be erased along with it.
I took several deep breaths and calmed my nerves. All right. It was coming back to me. I had to convince a young boy not to join the ill-fated Eighth Crusade and therefore save the future crown of France.
I huddled in the gorse bush and wiped the mud off my dress as best I could with my hands and thought of my mission. It had all happened because of a mistake. Time travel was reserved for a select few—highly trained journalists chosen to go back in time and interview famous people. The journalist who’d caused the error I’d been sent to correct had spoken of the crusade in front of a boy who should never have heard about it.
The careless man had taken holograms, as the regulations instructed, but he hadn’t checked to make sure nobody else listened to his interview with Queen Marguerite. Jean de Bourbon-Dampierre had been near enough to hear. On the hologram, he looked up from his reading as the journalist began to speak. Because of what he’d overheard, the boy had slipped out of his bedroom one night and run away to join a ragtag gaggle of youngsters on their way to save Jerusalem.
Jean would not do anything of note during his life, but his descendants would eventually rule France. By running away, he changed the course of history dramatically. I was supposed to find him and bring him back. If I succeeded, I’d be allowed to live the rest of my life in the thirteenth century. If not, I’d be erased, along with all the mistakes the journalist had wrought in only two sentences.
Just two little sentences which had been approved for the interview, for the queen, but not for Jean de Bourbon-Dampierre, visiting with his mother and sister at the court. “My Queen Marguerite, what have you heard of the crusade your husband, the king of France, has embarked upon? What about the group of youths calling themselves crusaders who have nearly reached the sacred Cathedral?”
The words had echoed weirdly around the room, and that evening Jean packed his meager belongings in a leather bag and clambered nimbly down a castle wall in search of adventure and a way to get out of his Latin studies.