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A new recruit entered the assignment office of the Temporal Confidence Agency. ‘We’re actually somewhat impressed with your performance, recruit.’ The Chronologer looked over the pile of reports from behind a gargantuan oaken desk tucked inside one of the many offices of the Temporal Confidence Agency, ‘And I think we might be able to offer you a position as one of our time enforcement officers.’
‘Now, before you accept, I must tell you that you might find some of this work a little, um, unappealing.’ The Chronologer’s face soured with the memories of what he had done for the agency.
‘In what way?’
‘Well, you already know about the agency prevents the timeline from being polluted.’
‘Yes, stuff like stopping the people who assassinate Hitler. No Hitler, no World War II, no cold war, no computers, and no time travel.’ The recruit rattled off the usual PR sound bite given by the Director at his frequent congressional hearings.
‘Yes, and stopping the people who think it would be a good idea to bring back dinosaur eggs. That’s never a good idea. There’s another side to the agency you might not be aware of. We’re in charge of keeping the timeline identical to what it would be at the point time travel was invented. Our official mission is to prevent history from advancing too quickly.’
This is something the recruit had never heard before. Everything he’d ever heard about the Temporal Confidence Agency was fairly harmless stuff. Everyone’s first trip was going back to kill Hitler, but put in the context of 20th century history, keeping Hitler alive was necessary; Dinosaurs were the same way. He’d seen the evidence of ecosystems ravaged by iguanodons and other herbivores.
‘So, what you’re saying is we can’t go back with the vaccine for HIV in the 1980s or something like that?’
‘Oh, HIV was nothing. You know what the worst was? Laplace. Some guy goes back to 1815 Paris, yells, ‘Negative Probabilities’ to Laplace, who stops in his tracks. ‘What the hell are you talking about?,’ and the guy just says, ‘negative probabilities’ again and runs off. Fast forward ten years, and quantum mechanics is figured out. Time travel is invented sometime around 1900 and then everything falls apart. The projected fix wasn’t pretty, either, but luckily I found some British soldiers marching off to Waterloo and paid a Sergeant to take care of the problem. Grape shot. Really messy end, all things considered.’
The recruit shifted in his seat, coming to terms with what he’d just been told. ‘Wait. I’m not quite getting this. You’re telling me we can’t have time travel discovered too early, but the only reason we’re doing this is because we discovered time travel at the time we did?’
‘Alright. Here’s another example. Have you ever heard of Hero’s steam engine, the ancient Greek steam engine that was basically a copper sphere with two nozzles?’
‘Yeah, it wasn’t really used for anything, though.’
‘That’s right. It was really just a curiosity in the real timeline. A good thing too. Someone had the bright idea to go back to Hero, tell him it could be used to pump water for irrigating crops, or milling grain. We had the industrial revolution by the year 200, we’re on Mars by the year 100, and we’re out of fossil fuels by the year 1300. It’s a modern dark age, and because the population was so small, there wasn’t any need to develop fusion power. So we’re out of fossil fuels with nothing to replace them with, time travel is never invented, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket.’
The recruit's mind reeled. Despite studying for the better part of two decades to get to get through the application process, he hadn't heard anything like this. Keeping time travel from being invented, sure, everyone could grasp the necessity of that. Keeping science, technology, and social progress from advancing too quickly? That's something no one had ever heard of.
"Well, yeah," the recruit shifted in his chair, 'It makes sense. If you're going to preserve the timeline, it makes sense to work from both ends."
"Good, we'll get you into training tomorrow. Need to do all the paperwork for HR and such. You can just show them this." The recruit was handed a small, teal, plastic card. "Found a bunch of them in a barn at 1790. Can't explain what they were doing there, so we had to collect them. Now, we're just using them as ID cards."
"What's with the skull pattern?"