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October 2nd, 2015

Just This Once

JUST THIS ONCE
By Walter Lutsch

INSPECTOR
This is Inspector Lee McCauliff, investigating the incident that took place in the present time of October 8th, past time of June 23rd 2014. This is subject interview... 3, could you please state your full name and position for the record?

KAYLIN
My name is Kaylin Pierce, I am the Risk Assessment Manager for the Seattle branch of Time Treks International.

INSPECTOR
And could you repeat for the record your history with Time Treks and your position’s responsibilities.

KAYLIN
Well, I’ve been with Time Treks for the last six years, I began as a Trek Host when I was 17 and then was promoted to Shift Leader, Manager and finally to Risk
Assessment Manager. My position oversees the development of new group
Treks, as well as custom experiences and assesses their potential liability before any approval is made to begin work on a project.

INSPECTOR
And in your estimation, the custom experience labeled "Project 6121" was free of risk to participants and the company?

KAYLIN
No, we didn’t say it was free of risk, in fact—

INSPECTOR
Let me rephrase. You and your project team approved the construction of Project 6121 after the customary review period, is that correct?

KAYLIN
Yes.

INSPECTOR
Thank you. Now, for context, please explain how this custom experience was intended to run.

KAYLIN
Well, the customer approached us with a desire to see her best friend. That friend had died of cancer four years ago, and our client wanted to see her again. She suggested a date, June 23rd, 2014, and we explained the process by which we would review her request and approve or reject the concept. So, we started our research--
INSPECTOR
We’ll get to the review process later, for now could you please just take us through the way the experience was supposed to run.

KAYLIN
Of course. Our client would, using a simulation chair, control a drone who would enter a park in which the target spent about an hour on that particular day. Our client would sit on a bench opposite and observe her friend for the duration of the experience, until the
target left the park. At which time we would transfer control of the drone and maneuver it out of sight for transport.

INSPECTOR
Could you detail the safety precautions that Time Treks uses for these kinds of experiences?

KAYLIN
Well... to begin with, no one ever actually goes back in time, with the rare exception of one of our technicians. This is mandated by law. Our drones are transported instead and controlled remotely by the client.

INSPECTOR
And the drones have specific directives that prevent a client from doing certain things?

KAYLIN
Exactly. The drones are programmed with their target prior to the experience, and cannot approach within ten feet of that person. They have no speech capabilities, so a client cannot interact with the target. And even if they tried, our technicians can take control of the drone at any time.

INSPECTOR
And yet, in this instance, the client did indeed manage
to interact with the target.

KAYLIN
Yes. In a way.

INSPECTOR
So let’s get into it. You were in the control room during this experience. Is it common for the Risk Assessment Manager to be present?

KAYLIN
Sometimes. A member of the Risk Assessment team is always present for the execution of a project they approved. It can be anyone on the team, and in this case I was interested in overseeing the experience.

INSPECTOR
Could you please describe what happened in detail?

KAYLIN
Where would you like me to start?

INSPECTOR
Begin when the client took control of the drone.

KAYLIN
Alright. Well, this client had been on previous Treks, group ones, before now, so she had no trouble with the drone calibration; which we always do away from people.
So, she took control of the drone on an empty side street, performed all the calibration tests and walked toward the park, just as planned.

INSPECTOR
And I’m told that this particular drone was costumed as an older, blind gentleman.

KAYLIN
Yes. We picked that costume to allow the client to stare at the target without arousing suspicion or paranoia. Many of our costumes that involve close proximity to a target are depicted as blind or in some other way have the movement of their eyes obscured.

INSPECTOR
Please continue with what happened.

KAYLIN
Well, the client followed the plan for a full half hour. She took the drone into the park, made a circuit of the walkway and then sat at the bench across from the target.

INSPECTOR
And the technicians began to relax.

KAYLIN
Well, yes. In the very few times anyone has tried to do something contrary to the Project Plan with a drone, it’s usually been early on. Not to mention that, with
the safeguards in place, we didn’t think there was anything our client could do that would affect the target. At least, not without us catching on to it and preventing it before she could go through with it. If you want to write a message in the sand, we’re going to know you’re doing it and take control of the drone before you’ve finished your first letter.

INSPECTOR
Please describe what happened next.

KAYLIN
Well, the location the client had picked is a park in Kirkland, on the waterfront. Even today, in addition to the lawn spaces, it has a pier for boating. The client had asked to walk along the pier as the drone left the area, explaining that it was a special place for her. We didn’t think anything of it, and it was part of the plan.

INSPECTOR
At 4:25 local time, the client directed the drone to kick the tie-off post at full strength, rupturing the artificial skin and damaging the metal casing. A split second before your technicians assumed control, she directed it to walk off the pier.

KAYLIN
Yes. The leg was damaged both by the impact and by the water, as the casing had been fractured. We were able to get the drone heading back to shore, but progress was slow and it looked ungainly due to the damaged limb. This attracted the attention of the target, who immediately made the decision to leap in after the drone.

INSPECTOR
According to the file, you knew that the target had been a lifeguard for four years prior to approving the project.

KAYLIN
That’s true, but it wasn’t like we knew what the client was going to do! Even with the pier thrown in, we had no idea that she’d put everything together the way she did!

INSPECTOR
I’m just setting down the facts. The target jumped in the water and helped the drone swim back to shore.

KAYLIN
Yes. We had to override the speech lockout and make up something on the fly to explain the drone’s behavior.

INSPECTOR
So the drones do have speech capabilities.

KAYLIN
Well yes, but not as part of the user’s experience. There’s no microphone in the simulation chair, no button on the UI that says talk. We use it in emergencies when someone in the past time addresses a drone.

INSPECTOR
Understood. The target and the drone make it to shore. How did this end up altering the timeline in the way that it did?

KAYLIN
Well... that’s the, frankly, brilliant thing about her plan. She knew that we wouldn’t have allowed her anywhere near the client’s diagnosis of her cancer or her death. She also knew that she couldn’t communicate with the target. But when the drone and the target made it to shore, paramedics were waiting to check everyone out. And it turns out that that date, June 23rd, 2014, was the perfect time for a routine checkup to catch the
target’s cancer. In the original time line, the target didn’t go in for a check up for another year, by which time it was too late. But thanks to the incident at the park, the medics advise her to see her doctor the next day. The cancer is caught in time, and after chemotherapy, the cancer was eliminated.

INSPECTOR
And that brings us to the crux of the situation. This building, as well as most government buildings and specifically the agency I work for, are all shielded from changes in the timeline in the event that something like this should happen.

KAYLIN
Well yes, although there’s been research to suggest
that the shielding doesn’t last for more than a few
days.

INSPECTOR
Indeed. Everyone in this building, everyone in every governmental building, can access their secure records and see that Sara Cooke of Everett Washington died on September 15th 2019. But right now, today, Sara Cooke is alive and the general public doesn’t know that she shouldn’t be. Moreover, she is at this very moment waiting in the lobby of this building to collect her friend, your client who is being held on charges of interference with the timeline.
...
Do you understand what this means?

KAYLIN
I know that someone has to decide what to tell the public. By rights my client should be arrested and thrown in jail. But a temporal crime has never actually gone this far before. And what do we tell her friend? "Sorry, you’re supposed to be dead, and your best friend will serve out a life sentence for having changed that?"

INSPECTOR
Are you suggesting that your client be set free? She’s broken nearly a dozen laws and changed the timeline for everyone not in a shielded building.

KAYLIN
True, but our records indicate that nothing large has changed in the timeline. Sara Cooke is alive, and that’s mostly the only difference. And since it’s recent, there aren’t children or other ancestors to affect. Not to mention that once my client leaves this building, she’ll have no idea of what she’s done or that her friend was ever dead. In a certain sense, it will be like the crime never happened.

INSPECTOR
But a crime has been committed.

KAYLIN
I know. And maybe this will result in more stringent oversight of Time Treks and governmental regulations regarding time travel. But if the research about our shielding is correct, we won’t even remember the crime in another day or two. All that will be left to mark the change is what we choose to put in our secure files.

INSPECTOR
You’re suggesting we don’t put anything in the files. That we allow this event to be erased from everyone’s memory?

KAYLIN
... Yes. Or maybe just that an event occurred that forces Time Treks to tighten up our policies, preventing something like this happening again. I’m not arguing that we ignore this, or that it become commonplace but... I’ve watched dozens of grieving family members take a trip back in time just to see their parent or grandparent or sibling one more time. And every single one of them has to wonder if they could use that opportunity to extend their loved one’s life for even a single day longer.
Just this once... in this supremely rare circumstance, when nothing except this woman’s life is at stake, I’d like the answer to be yes.

The End