Carson was tired, in a hurry and didn’t have time for anyone’s shit. He cleared his throat and looked at the group of tourists gathered before him. No two looked alike. Not even close. They were an assortment of races, genders, heights, weights and ages. The only thing they had in common was they were each rich enough to take a vacation through time. He held up the clipboard full of rules in front of him. It had been a long time since he had to read from the list but he had learned long ago that some people had more respect for regulations when they came from a clipboard than from the mouth of an expert.
“The rules for time travel are as follows: First of all, we ask that you keep all hands and feet inside the machine at all times.” He smiled. Not because he wanted to, but because it said so on the clipboard.
A hand went up at the front of group and he knew this was going to be a long day.
He looked at the tourist, a rather dumpy looking young man that had no doubt made his fortune not interacting with the outside world. “Sir, why don’t we save all questions for the end, okay?”
The tourist dropped his hand and crossed his arms with a snort. “Really?”
“Yes, things will go quicker that way.”
“No,” the man persisted. “I mean really with the hands and feet thing? There’s not even a window on the machine.”
“No. Not really, sir. It’s supposed to be a joke.”
“But, it’s not funny.”
“I won’t argue with that.” He smiled and tapped the clipboard with his pen to get back to the rules. “You will need to remain seated and buckled into your seat until we arrive at our destination.”
Another hand went up and he tried to ignore it but the woman who belonged to the hand didn’t wait to be called upon. “Is that a joke, too?”
“No, ma’am. It’s no joke. Traveling through time can get pretty bumpy. Especially around 2016. We don’t want anyone bumping their head while we’re passing over the election. Now please let me get through the rules so we can leave on time.”
There wasn’t even a hand this time. Just a voice from the middle of the group. “Why does it matter what time we leave?”
“What do you mean?” Carson asked.
The voice sighed and continued. “It’s a time machine. Why does it matter what time we leave?”
“Because I’ve got other things to do today, okay?”
“But, it’s a time machine.”
“So, back to the rules!” Carson said as he adopted a more serious tone. “No killing anyone. This is important for several reasons. One, you could fundamentally alter history in ways you cannot possibly imagine. Two, it’s a real dick thing to do.” That part wasn’t on the clipboard. He just liked saying it to make the point.
He scanned the group and waited for the inevitable question. In the back a timid hand began to go up. Before the question could be asked he rolled his eyes and answered, “Yes. Even Hitler.”
“Because, it makes things worse. That’s why.”
“Worse? What’s worse than Hitler?”
“Two Hitlers,” he said.
“That wouldn’t happen.”
“Yes it would.”
“How do you know? Did you try?”
“Of course we tried. Do you honestly think we would build a time machine and not try to kill Hitler? It was like the second thing we tried after we made the time machine, okay?”
“What was the first thing?”
“It was a…it was a whole missed connection thing.” His voice trailed off. “That didn’t work out either.”
“We got a third Hitler. Okay, So no missed connections. And no killing anyone. Even Hitler.”
Another woman raised her hand.
He felt a headache coming on. He didn’t have time for this. “Because he affected millions of lives and, despite the most horrible horrors ever, a lot of the lives were affected in a good way. For example, your great grandparents may never have met if not for Hitler. It’s basically like that movie It’s A Wonderful Life…but with Nazis and genocide.”
“No, not that,” she said. “I need to use the restroom.”
“There will be one last trip to the facilities before we leave, ma’am. We ask that everyone do their best to hold it during our trip.”
“What if we really have to go?” asked a nervous man that—if IBS had a look—looked like IBS.
He stepped over to a table that held samples of all the emergency time travel equipment and snapped open a plastic bag. “Everyone will be issued one of these.”
There was a collective gasp.
A woman pulled her hand to her chest, clutching at pearls that weren’t there. “I am not going in one of those.”
“It’s for everyone’s safety, ma’am.”
“I can’t possibly see how,” she protested.
“I understand it may seem undignified but the truth is your excreta poses one of the greatest threats to the existing timeline. You may think it’s an innocent tinkle, but you’d feel pretty terrible to come back here and find out that your ‘harmless trip to the bushes’ wiped out an entire civilization. One single turd could undo time as we know it.”
The group laughed at this.
He slapped the clipboard against his leg and the laughing stopped. “This is some serious shit people.”
The laughing started again and the first man raised his hand again. “Now that was funny.”
The woman continued, “I don’t understand how my…my…can be so dangerous that I have to go in a bag.”
“Ma’am, humanity has spent millennia developing immune systems capable of resisting all forms of bacteria and disease. Going so far back in time and taking a dump in their front yard exposes them to all kinds of harmful things.”
“I just can’t believe that my poop is that much different than the poops of 1977.”
“It—“ He looked at the clipboard. “1977? Aren’t you all heading back to witness the birth of Christ?”
“No,” said a man in the back. “We’re going back to see the world premier of Star Wars at Mann’s Chinese theater on May 25th, 1977!”
This got the group excited and they began to cheer. Several of the tourists began humming the theme song. The rest quickly joined in as he sorted out the information on the clipboard. He found the proper time requisition page in the back and brought it to the front.
“Okay,” he raised his hand to silence the crowd and had to shout over the excitement. “I apologize for the confusion. I’ve got the right information now and the good news is you can use any facilities you’d like.”
This got a bigger cheer than he expected.
“My apologies,” Carson continued. “Most people go further back. We don’t get a lot of people traveling to the late seventies.”
“It’s the only pure way to see the movie,” a large man in the front said. “Lucas ruined Episode 4 with his updates and Disney hasn’t done us any favors.”
He lowered the clipboard and eyed the large man. He wore a black button up shirt but he could see a touch of graphic sticking out near the top. He pointed his pen at the man. “What does your shirt say?”
“It doesn’t say anything,” he snorted. “It’s black.”
“I think it says he doesn’t care about his appearance,” an equally large man in the middle of the crowd said.
The man in the black shirt shot back. “Shut up, Michaels.”
He slid the clipboard on the table and walked up to the man. “It says Han Shot First, doesn’t it?”
“What? No. It—“ his argument trailed off as he clenched the top of his shirt closed.
“Sir, I’m going to need to see your t-shirt.”
The man sighed and unbuttoned his shirt and hung his head. It did indeed say, “Han Shot First.”
“You’re going to have to take that off.”
“Why?! Paradox Inc. did not spend billions in research and development to manipulate the time stream on the quantum level just so you could go back in time and spoil a movie for everyone.”
“What’s the big deal? People back then won’t even understand it.”
“Well for one, it’s rude. That should be enough.”
“Look if people can’t handle me being real, that’s their problem.”
“Yeah,” another man added. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Carson grabbed a sponge from a nearby table and held it up. “You see this sponge? This sponge was once Uri Kapeki. Uri wanted to be at the biggest party in history so he traveled back to 1933 to witness the end of prohibition. While drinking, he told someone that the gorilla dies at the end of King Kong.”
The crowd was quiet.
“So, now he’s a sponge.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
He shrugged and tossed the sponge back on the table. “A lot of history doesn’t make sense.” The sponge landed with a wet splat on the table and the crowd jumped.
“How did that make him a sponge?”
“Look.” He was never going to get through the clipboard. “The point is that it did and that time travel is very complicated. So don’t tell anyone that Han shot first.” He turned the pen on the rest of the crowd. “And I swear to God, if you tell anyone that Vader is Luke’s father or Leia’s his sister I will throw you back when people thought Episode 1 was going to be amazing.”
That shut them up but it didn’t make him any less angry. He began barking out the rules. “No interaction with yourself. No sleeping with your grandparents. No sleeping with yourself—weirdoes. No telling anyone you’re a time traveler. No telling anyone when they are going to die. No wagering on sporting events. Which reminds me.” He shuffled through the papers on the clipboard and found the information he was looking for. “Which one of you is Eckles?”
A hand in the back went up.
“Mr. Eckles, we understand you’re planning to sneak away from the show and invest in the stock market. If you go through with this you will be arrested immediately. This is your only warning.”
Eckles shifted uneasily from foot to foot. “How…how did you know?”
He swung the pen toward the time machine. “Because we’ve got a freaking time machine! We’ve already been on this trip once as a safety precaution.”
“When?” Eckles asked.
“Just now,” Carson said.
“No, when did you go?”
Carson dropped his head. He had been all over time and people were the same whenever. They always made him tired. “Just now. Just this second.”
“How come I don’t remember it?”
He threw up his hands in frustration. “Because it hasn’t happened yet. Look, don’t make me get out the diagrams. Just follow the rules and everything will be fine.”
Eckles made no further argument.
Carson lowered the clipboard. “Now that about covers it. Once Mr. Spoiler here changes his shirt, we can go.”
The crowd forgot their arguments and grew excited once more. There were a few ‘may the force be with you’s’ and a couple of them tried to start another round of the theme song. They were getting giddy when he heard someone say, “This is going to be lit.”
“Okay,” Carson groaned. “I need everyone to pay attention for just one more second.”
It took a few claps to get their attention but they finally quieted down and looked his way.
“No slang,” he said with a pointed finger. “If we get back and I find out that people have been calling each other Bae since the 70’s or claiming to have been woke since the Reagan administration I will personally beat you and drop your ass in 1384. Do we understand?”
They nodded and returned to a quieter level of excitement.
“Good. Now let’s all step into the—“
A door at the back of the briefing room opened and the receptionist waved to him.
“What is it?”
The receptionist tried to speak but before a word escaped his lips he was forced aside by two police officers.
Carson just hung his head. The headache had taken hold. This job sucked. “Dammit, Eckles.”