The Time Travellers Committee - Entry for the Harry Styles Competition

My entry for the Harry Styles competition. Inspired by the phrase, "Sign of the Times"

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1. The Time Travellers Committee - Chapter 1

My name is Meera Chester and I am a time traveller.

At eight years old, I was rescued from my brown box hidden in the alleyways of the city where I would crawl to of endless days of searching for food. I thought I was going to the “scary place” where they beat children and parents hurt you, but I was taken here: TTC. The Time Travelers Committee.

I had heard about time travelling. I remembered hearing friends in the playground talking about Doctor Who and even read a book about it for one of my English assignments, but that was before I became the orphaned homeless girl who ran away from foster care. That was before I learnt that time travel was a myth and there was no such thing as fairytales and magic.

But now I’m here, ten years later and moving up the cooperate ladder. I’m special, they tell me. They were tracking me ever since my introduction to foster care and spent that year of my homeless life trying to find me. I don’t know what it was that made the TTC want me. Maybe it was my intuition, although I didn’t get good grades. Maybe it was because of my tragic past, even though I hate it when it’s used as an excuse for greatness. This isn’t the kind of place you ask questions. I learnt that the first time I was introduced to my boss, William James. They sat me in a big leather chair in the fanciest room I had ever seen and tried to explain how they travelled to different times to alter government plans and prevent attacks we don’t know about today because they were prevented back then. I listened patiently for what felt like hours before slamming my small skinny hands on the table and telling them I’d rather sleep on the streets then spend another minute listening to their lies and disillusionment.

They locked me in a cell for a week before trying again and the same process repeated itself for a month before I got the bright idea to ask for proof. The moment I was whipped back to the night my parents died in the car crash and watched myself crumble with grief over the news, I sold myself to the company and never looked back.

That’s what led me here, today.  Or in the past for everyone else. It’s 1942 and I’m standing on the balcony of a house in Germany, watching the Nazis march along the street. I’m wearing my protective necklace which prevents them from seeing me, so I have nothing to be worried about. I’m not here to stop the war. We can’t impact major events, but we can impact the little events that have a butterfly effect.

My project is a man named Jonathan Carter. He’s an 80-year-old man that dies this night at the hand of muggers in desperate need of money for food. His death was an accident, I know that from repeat travel to this time to get a broader understanding of the situation, and for documentation sake. It was two teenage boys who were the culprits. They were homeless, much like me and they saw Jonathan as an opportunity to last another night without starving to death. A German-born man with a relatively nice property, Jonathan has money and they knew it too. But it was not their intention that he should die. Their impatient shove that sent him flying backwards and hitting his head on the pavement was what ended his life quickly. That’s why I’m here to stop it.

The wind has picked up so my black hair whips around my face. I quickly pull it into a lazy ponytail and swing my bag over my shoulder. It’s heavier than usual. The two teenagers who killed this man are important to the story that is history and the world. It’s not their time to die either, especially from starvation.

It’s late evening so mostly everyone is inside. Those outside either have a death wish or are homeless and abandoned by their families. As I pass a couple of them with their telltale signs of long jackets, hunched figures against doorways and curled up for any warmth they can get, I hand them items of food from my bag. There’s nothing special that could alert them from the future. There’s no brands and minimal packaging.  I took the liberty of making sandwiches and bagging up single pieces of fruit into paper bags. I don’t want any alert to be raised.

I’m not far from the place of the crime, only a couple of land blocks. I want it done quickly though. Intervention can be difficult, especially in the day time and more public. In that way, I am advantaged with the dark skies. I’ll need to make myself visible, but the less they see me, the better.

I reach the corner of the street and glance around to check the coast is clear before pulling the protection necklace from around my neck. It sends a shiver down my spine as my vulnerability is almost tangibly felt. I gently place the necklace into my chest pocket and make sure I zip it tightly. I’ve only lost the necklace once before, but luckily I had a travel partner with me. The TTC can trace me though and if I’m not back in the time limit, they’d come looking for me. I would rather not go through that trouble, especially not during World War II.

I stride around the corner, feeling confident. I’m dressed for the day with a long skirt and my bag is fashionable for the time. The only thing I haven’t corrected is my hair, but I decide there’s not enough time to fix it and it’s not that noticeable anyway.

Right on schedule, I see the old man emerge from the street with his two arms full with paper bags. Even with the distance, I can hear him chuckling at whatever his friends had told him as he passed their company. My eyes narrow in on the two teenagers who seem to peel away from the alley walls, following after him.

It’s sad to think that they’re so hungry that they’d attack an old man in an open and relatively busy street. Maybe they felt that jail time would be better than starving to death, maybe they had no fear of the Nazis. Some stories cannot be known.

I watch as they approach the man, both failing to acknowledge my presence. Jonathan rounds on them, glaring and snarling, trying to hold his bags out of their reach. Before they can push him, I say loudly,

“Are you boys hungry?”

They whirl around, eyes crazed and poised in defence.

“What do you want?” one of them snarls and I reach into my bag in answer, pulling out the two paper bags I made sure to save for them.

“You should have enough to eat for one meal in there,” I explain to them as I place them in their hands. “There’s a little bit of money too to tide you over for a couple meals, but it won’t last long. Use it to get yourself somewhere where food isn’t as scarce.”

“Are you a Nazi spy?” one asks suspiciously but I can see that regardless of my answer, they’ll eat it.

“No,” I tell them gently. “I’m just here to make a difference.”

The two boys look at each other, conversation passing through their eyes. With a nod of thanks, they take off running down the street with the paper bags clutched to their chests like precious gems.

“I can’t think you enough, miss,” Jonathan startles me, reminding me of his presence. “I thought they were going to attack me.”

“A little help goes a long way,” I nod politely. I want to tell him he should share what he can, but I know he’s got a wife and five children at home, probably waiting for the food. Even if he is better off than most, food is still expensive, especially with a lot of children. “I should be on my way, Mr Carter.”

His confusion alerts me of my mistake and I quickly turn and walk the other way, cursing myself under my breath.

“Wait!” Jonathan calls after me. “Do I know you?”

Rounding the corner, I quickly pull the protection necklace from my breast pocket and throw it around my neck. It’s not a major slip up. He’ll probably forget about it in no time or assume he’s met me in passing before. I’m weary though and just want to get home, so I tap the oval pendant which opens at my touch, revealing a tiny button. Pressing it, I quickly close my eyes as I’m taken back to the twenty-first century.

I arrive in the silver room where I go for my travelling. This guarantees that I’ll return safely, rather than in groups of crowds which has happened to people before. No one can enter the room whilst I’m travelling. I look over at the far wall where a mirror shows me my frazzled state. Behind that mirror will be a team of workers, documenting my return and actions. Everything is done carefully here.

The door opens behind me, startling me and I quickly plant a smile on my face. I’m glad that I’m done with this project, but I know that means they’ll be throwing me another one immediately.

“Mission success?” William James asks me. No ‘how are you?’ or questions about my wellbeing, it’s all about success here.

I nod in confirmation and tell him about my slip up, but he doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I have a new project for you,” he tells me, just as I’ve suspected, “but I think you should take a break for a week or two. Maybe do some light travelling so you can relax and have fun.”

He acknowledges my open mouth with a chuckle.

“You aren’t a slave, Meera dear. I’ve just realised how much we’ve overworked you and thought it was about time we show you the fun side of travelling.”

“Why now?” I ask once I’ve gotten over my surprise. “It’s been ten years.”

“None of us had the time to take you on leisure trips and you certainly couldn’t travel on your own, being underage. Since you’ve just turned eighteen, however, I thought it were about time. Consider this a gift from the committee.”

I thank him, but I’m off in my head, considering all the places I could go and see. I’ve always loved the Jane Austen era, a lady I had the pleasure of briefly seeing before I had to return to my task of preventing a family house being burnt down with my travel partner Carissa at the time. Maybe I could go there? Or the Tudor era. Or the West.

So many options.

William must see my head whirling with possibilities because he smiles.

“You can leave when you wish.”

“What about now?” I blurt out without thinking. It’s not abnormal for me to travel immediately after arriving from another project, but I had planned to take a small break and take a nap.

It can wait,” I tell myself. I’ve just always wanted to travel without having to worry about the responsibilities of work.

“If you wish,” he waves his hand dismissively. He’s a busy man with plenty of people to work with. I can see I’ve taken up most of his time already. “I’ll notify the attendants of your travel.”

“Thank you, mister James,” I tell him, but he’s already left the room, slamming the door closed behind him.

I quickly move to the control panel next to the door. Here I input date, time and location. I’m just preparing to type something in when my eyes fall on a file Mister James probably dropped on his way out.

Scooping down to pick it up, I know I shouldn’t read it, but I can’t help but let my eyes skim over what I see. It’s the profile of Jonathan Carter. My mission has been a success because the dates of his death have changed. Only by a couple years, but it means he had a longer life and that makes me feel slightly happy.

I don’t actually know much about him. Usually, I just get the minimum details I need and get to work. Sadly it’s not uncommon for me to see the people I work to protect, rescue and prevent as burdens that I need to hurry up and deal with. I’ve never really taken the time to fully consider them and their life.

I see that Jonathan was born in 1862 in a town called Cochem. I start to read more about him, but without thinking, I turn back to the panel, scanning for a function I had only seen used once before.

As I glance at the various dates that appear in the file, I input them into the system. That way, each time I finish at one destination, when I press the button, I’ll be taken to the next until I return back to where I am now.

I don’t know the significance of the dates, but I confirm my destinations before I can take the time to think about it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m tired in general or I’m specifically tired of this company, but I just want to go.

I press the button on the necklace and blissfully feel myself falling back in time.

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