The hallway was long and empty with thick white carpeting that squished beneath her bare feet. Bright white light emanated from the walls and ceiling. She made her way casually towards a doorway at the end of the hall. Her long, pale fingers scratched the side of her head, remembering the feel of the hair against the powerful heat of the Javier Colony. Instead of the long strands, the fingers brushed the smooth, soft skin of her scalp. A door to her right opened to allow another girl to step into the hallway. The white light glowed against her identically pale skin.
“D,” The girl greeted and fell in step beside her.
“M,” D nodded. “How was your assignment?”
“Dirty.” M crinkled her nose. “Working on planets without electricity makes me thankful for The Commune.”
“Backwater junction assignments feel like they take weeks to wash off.”
“I’ve decontaminated twice and I still feel dirty.” M laughed, “It was hard work, with the unpleasant bonus of swallowing copious amounts of dirt, but I got it done.”
“Perhaps your next assignment will be with royalty to even it out.”
“From your lips to Mother Eternia’s ears.” M smiled, rubbing at her skin absentmindedly. “What about you? You were only gone for about an hour. So, like three days on planet? That’s a short placement.”
“Quick and dirty. Not dirty like yours, but you know what I mean.” D scratched at the phantom itch again. “I haven’t been on a really good engagement in months. I keep getting these piddley little assignments. I had to convince a woman to kill her child. I’m getting kind of boring.”
“What was your interference goal?” M glanced at her curiously. The details of other Travelers’ engagements were always a topic of discussion when they had some down time.
“Not totally sure, but the Master Veils must have thought it was bad to inject us into the timeline of someone so young.”
“How’d you get her to do it? The mothering instinct is so strong. I hate dealing with parents.”
“I was on Javier. I just fed on the religious fervor and convinced her the kid was evil. It was almost too easy.”
“You did that in three days?” M asked, impressed.
“Two actually. They tossed me on the damn planet while the family was out of town. I had to wait for them to get back.”
M shook her head. “No wonder the others look up to you, D.”
“The others might, but the Masters sure don’t seem impressed. If they thought I was doing a good job, they’d give me better engagements. I’m so bored; I’m really not giving it my best. I should have been able to do that Javier job in a day.”
They reached The Hub and let themselves in. Six chairs sat in a circle around a large, glowing orb in the centre of the room. Four of the six chairs were already occupied. Three boys and one girl, all with skin so pale it was nearly translucent and smooth, bald heads, waited patiently. Each wore the requisite white unitard over their smooth, formless bodies. The material did little more than protect from the bitter winds that occasionally swept through the facility. The room itself held only the plain silver chairs, the orb, and six handprints evenly spaced along the wall, one behind each chair.
D and M took the empty seats and smiled at their fellow travelers. D only recognized two of them. Life in the Commune was dedicated to work and assignments were handed out based on qualifications and availability. Friendship wasn’t exactly discouraged, but the periods between jobs were so short that there was little time to get to know the other members of the order. She and M had only become friendly after they’d been place together on an assignment to ensure the failure of a factory uprising on a planet in the middle of an industrial revolution.
The glass orb in the centre of the room began to swirl with thick white smoke. A sharp pop sounded and the room filled with a blinding flash of light. As the light in the room settled, D looked at her fellow travelers, their white eyes wide around pin prick pupils. The involuntary response to the light made everyone look expectant and excited.
The Travelers, or Veils as they called themselves, were tasked with the job of interfering with fate in the lives of specific individuals. D remembered the days when she had felt excited about her placements. Now, after working as a Traveler for decades, it felt like little more than work, especially with her recent assignments. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt excited about a placement. From inside the globe, the mist formed into thick white squares. As each one rose to the surface, a Veil would reach forward and pull their engagement papers from the top of the orb. When D’s rose to the top, she pulled the assignment into her lap and scanned the description.
“Faulery Valley?” D read the words waving across the page in front of her. She quickly scanned the sheet. “At Modare High? I’ve done this placement already.” Reaching forward, she tapped the globe with her blunt fingernail. “You gave me the wrong assignment. This one is complete.”
D had gone to Faulery Valley a few years earlier to help a young girl struggling to fit in with her classmates. Carly had always struggled, never seeming to find her groove. When D arrived, the girl had been desperate to make new friends. In her persona as Damhnait, D had tried to convince the little girl that impressing these girls would only get her into trouble. But Carly was determined not to be the loser they all thought she was. So, when they invited her over for a game of truth or dare, and promised her that if she walked across the rotted out beams of an old barn they would be her friends, she did it.
The beam had broken under her weight and she’d fallen nearly two stories. The popular girls had run away, laughing, not even pretending to check if Carly had been injured. If D hadn’t been there, Carly would have died. Her job had been to save that young girl’s life. She remembered every detail of that assignment. Even though she’d completed far more challenging tasks, had been forced to endure much harsher climates, that job had stuck with her. The sadness in that little girl’s eyes had haunted her for a long time afterwards.
“By the mother, what is going on?” She mumbled when the light within the orb faded and went black. The handprints on the wall began to glow, all of them, except hers. She watched one of the boys make his way to the wall behind his chair. He placed his hand against the glowing print and closed his eyes. The light from the wall moved into his fingers and hand, then slowly up his arm and over his body. Soon he was engulfed in a cocoon of white that flared quickly before winking out of existence, taking the boy with it. One by one, the others took their places and transported to their engagements. M was the last to leave. She gave D a quizzical look before placing her hand on the wall. D shrugged and remained in her chair, waiting. It was obviously a mistake. Veils never completed the same engagement twice. She’d already saved this child’s life, why would she need to do it again?
“Unless…” D grabbed the misty white paper from the top of the orb and looked at the time stamp across the bottom of the page. Normally, she didn’t review the specifics of the timeline; she simply absorbed the summaries. They gave her all the information she needed about how to behave during her assignment. She paid attention to directives and goals, but not time and age. Time meant nothing to a Veil. They could encounter five different time periods in the course of a single day at the Commune. And there she found the difference. She glanced at the wall behind her. The handprint she’d used so many times in the past was still flat, dull silver. She wasn’t ready yet. D placed her hand against the top of the orb and concentrated on accessing the required file.
She’d only done this once before, and it had been under the guidance of a more experienced Traveler. There was little reason to revisit previous assignments. She focused on the memory of watching Carly place one foot in front of the other as she balanced on the beam. D could feel the fear as clearly as if she was still there. Carly’s dull brown hair caught on a gust of wind that blew through a hole in the old barn’s roof and flew in front of her face. Her tiny hand reached forward to swat it away, distracting her from her concentrated balance. She teetered on the edge of the beam for a moment before she caught herself. She glanced back at her new friends, eyes wide with relief, a big smile plastered across her face.
D had watched from her hiding spot on the ground as the other girls crossed their arms, smirking at Carly. “You should just fall. No one likes you.” One of them had yelled as the others laughed and the four girls had jumped on the end of the beam. Carly’s smile crumpled as the beam shook beneath her. She tried to run for safety, forgetting where she was. Her feet had met thin air and she’d plummeted to the ground.
Manipulate climate and gravity was a regular part of completing assignments. The travelers were encouraged to use persuasion and influence, not direct use of power, but sometimes it was too compelling to take the easy route. D preferred the challenge of manipulating people into doing things, so she rarely used her powers. Before this engagement with Carly, it had been over a decade since she’s bent the laws of science. But this time, nothing she’d said had gotten through. Nothing had broken through the sadness, so D had broken her personal rules. To save a child’s life the only way she knew how. She pushed a wave of heavy air towards Carly, slowing the little girl’s decent and pushing her towards a pile of old burlap sacks against the wall. The sound of her small body hitting the ground, the crunch of broken bones, was too much for D. The memory echoed in her ears as the orb beneath her fingers began to vibrate. She opened her eyes to see a sheet of ice blue paper rising to the surface.
She grabbed the sheaf as soon as it touched her fingers and placed it next to her new assignment. She compared the two sheets of paper. She was definitely going to the same place but a different time. Six years after her previous visit. D took a deep breath and looked at whose life she was supposed to interfere with this time, hoping she’d misread the first time. Maybe it was a different Charlotte. No, definitely Charlotte Perkins. Drat. Objective – Prevent extermination. Double drat.
“Mother Eternia, I guess this is your way of telling me to watch what I wish for.” D closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. She glanced over her shoulder at the wall. There is was, the white light glowing in the shape of a hand, waiting for her to accept the assignment. D pressed the white assignment sheet against her uniform, waited for the mist to dissolve and the information to be transferred into her cerebrum. Once the details of the engagement were in place, she pressed her fingers against the slot perfectly fitted to her hand. Felt the tingle move into her fingers and slowly begin to crawl up her arm. It encompassed her like a second skin, even more tangible than the skin-tight uniform. She took one last deep breath before the cocoon encompassed her entire body and transported her.