Agent Simone watched as Professor Altman’s time machine touched down in its usual spot, the feeling of a violent rush of wind throughout the small space made Agent Simone squint as she marveled at what should have been nothing more than an object out of a dream.
Agent Simone and Layla’s hair appeared wind blown as Professor Altman’s papers he was currently scribbling on nearly flew across the room at the arrival of the machine, his quick reflexes pressing the papers down firmly as he grumbled in dismay.
Agent Simone had been tense ever since the team of civilians left in the strange contraption, though she could feel her rigid muscles relax the moment every member of her newly assembled team began stepping out onto the ladder Layla wheeled up for them.
Laughter filled the tense and once quiet area, no one member of the team wore any resemblance of doubt, fear, sorrow – much to Agent Simone’s amazement, everyone (including Ivan) were all smiles. There were zero indications of any fresh injuries or new ailments – she wondered if this was even reality at this point. Agent Simone was unable to recall the last time she saw any team of hers return from a mission feeling somewhat successful, let alone have them return with smiles on their faces.
“What the bloody hell happened?” Altman piped up, unable to keep to himself any longer. His face slowly eased itself into matching the teams bubbly, contagious smiles - a strange sight for the usually stoic gentleman.
Carter was already opening his mouth to respond to Professor Altman’s questions but an excited, practically bouncing Brackston cut him off before the soldier could breathe a word, “Never thought I’d be saying this in my life, but we saved the life of Albert fricking Einstein. Oh, and we traveled through time!”
Agent Simone merely looked at the team with her eyebrows raised, a small smile spreading on her face as Professor Altman met the response with a loud, hearty laugh.
Brackston made his way over to Layla’s side, embracing her in a hug as he planted a kiss to the top of her head – earning a wrinkled nose and a small laugh from his woman.
Carter, feeling surprisingly chipper, slowly turned to face Lula. He couldn’t imagine that she wasn’t feeling just as celebratory as they all were. He secretly hoped he would be able to steal a hug for himself but the smile on his face quickly vanished when he realized that Lula disappeared – and in her place stood the last person he wanted to see.
Ivan Hayes quickly noticed the smile vanishing from Carter’s face as he gave the soldier an innocent look and held up his hands.
“Listen, I appreciate the celebration – but I’m afraid, I don’t do hugs,” Ivan admitted, smirking smugly at the now irritable soldier. “But if you’re wishing to celebrate with someone special, Lula ran off to see if anything online showed that history changed at all.” Ivan nodded his head in the direction of where the hallway led to where some makeshift rooms were.
Suddenly, the time machine’s control room went from feeling lively and joyous, to all-of-a-sudden feeling serious and rather silent.
“Forgive me if I misheard, but I thought you said that you saved Einstein?” Agent Simone interrupted the silence, eyeing the three remaining time travelers.
Not a single one of them had a clue on how to respond – not everyone knew why Lula thought the way she did or why perhaps she felt that maybe history could have changed. Their influence should have been minimal in terms of history changing. Maybe they left a good impact on the world.
“Perhaps she’s just seeing if they were mentioned at all?” Professor Altman offered, “I mean, they did save the man’s life after all. Perhaps Einstein named an equation after them,” he teased but everyone remained quiet.
“This is just standard Lula,” Carter broke the silence finally, offering everyone a warm, reassuring smile. “It’s her job at the museum to make sure every piece of history is protected, right? Well, now it’s her job to make sure that history is protected so that it all happens as it should. I’m sure she’ll be back out in no time to tell us that we did the job well.”
Everyone silently agreed with Carter – whether it be through shrugging their shoulders, nodding their heads, or simply just wandering off without a word. Agent Simone had a feeling that if anyone was going to understand Lula Peterson, it would be her former high school sweetheart.
"Well, you all should get some rest... this thing is far from over and we have no guarantee that Whittaker won't try something again," Agent Simone explained, glancing over at Professor Altman. "You have my number. If anything happens, call me."
Everyone decided that instead of waiting around to hear Lula’s history lesson, they’d go on about their evening. Brackston and Layla ran off somewhere to discuss the excitement of meeting Albert Einstein, while Ivan padded off to take a shower and Carter disappeared someplace in the lab in search of food.
Professor Altman was muttering to himself again, back to scribbling notes and doodles on his papers – just as he had been doing long before the team returned from their mission.
When Agent Simone was content from her rounds, making sure that no one needed her any longer she prepared to take her leave to head home.
She was one task away from making it out the door when from the hallway a pale, somber Lula with wide eyes returned from her rather long history recap.
It didn’t take a genius to put together that something was seriously wrong with the historian.
“Lula?” Agent Simone questioned, her voice soft. “What’s the matter?”
Professor Altman drew his attention from his papers at the sound of Agent Simone asking the question and he focused his tired eyes onto Lula. Taking in the way the younger woman was shaking as she held tightly onto a book in her hands. A slight glassy haze was building up in her eyes.
“When we rescued Einstein – it was almost too easy. The man we saw? He tried to take him out in the lobby. Very public, very exposed... but no matter how sloppy Whittaker was with this mission, we saved Einstein.” Lula explained, her voice shaky.
Agent Simone failed to understand how this was necessarily something worth being upset over – she questioned if maybe the historian was overworked from her first mission and was already in need of a break.
“Lula, I’m not sure I follow-”
Lula flipped open the book she was grasping in her hand to a page with a grainy black and white picture. It pictured Albert Einstein holding an umbrella as he was walking with a group of well dressed, suited men in nice hats. To the left of Einstein was a familiar woman – the only woman in the entire shot.
“Is that Autumn?” Professor Altman startled the two women, neither one of them realized he had been peering over their shoulders for the past couple of minutes.
Lula stared at him grimly, her jaw clenched as she looked back at the book in her hand.
“Based on the picture you showed me, I believe so. This picture is dated April 7, 1921 – five days after we saved Einstein. We took out the man that attempted to take him out. She knew we were onto them. Why continue to pursue taking out Einstein?”
“What makes you think that they did?” Agent Simone pressed, looking for more answers.
“Because history changed,” Lula let out a shaky breath, forcing herself to look Agent Simone in the eyes. “Everything pretty much remains the same at first – Einstein stays in America for two months and everything from 1921 on has remained the same as far as I could tell, until...” she shook her head, disbelief flooding her mind at how quickly everything was shifting.
“Some changes were noticeable earlier on, but those changes were very, very minor. In 1929, Einstein attended a German Assembly which is one of the only known moments in history that Einstein crosses paths with H.G. Wells.”
Professor Altman perked up instantly at Lula’s last statement, excitement crossing his face at the name drop.
“H.G. Wells? As in the author behind ‘The Time Machine’?”
Lula took Professor Altman’s excitement as just a simple reaction to recognizing the famous author. That, and the fact that the two men shared a similar desire for creating a time machine. Though Professor Altman took his creation to literal levels that someone like H.G. Wells could only dream of.
Nodding solemnly, she continued on with her history lesson.
“If I remember correctly, Einstein and Wells never interacted beyond that point – at least, as far as we all know. Einstein throughout the years befriended other influential people and inspired some big movements that shaped history. But something has changed – Einstein made it a point to seek out Wells at the assembly, something about needing his help to build transportation through time.”
Agent Simone shook her head. Suddenly her brain felt as if it were going to go into overload trying to understand what might the concern be at this moment.
“So Autumn encouraged Einstein to build a time machine? What does it really matter, if they already have the one Professor Altman designed? You’re losing me here Lula-”
Professor Altman couldn’t help but laugh – as if the two were left out on something that only he knew the answer to. In Lula’s case, this was no doubt the truth.
“You’re joking, right? Agent Simone obviously knows but forgot the answer to this one. How else do you think I got the plans to build my machines in the first place?” he challenged, crossing his arms over his chest.
The sound of someone clearing their throat caught the attention of the three of them, forcing them to look over at the pained, horrified expression that belonged to none other than Brackston – who had been listening in silence.
“Professor Altman,” Brackston licked his lips nervously, amazed at what he had just heard. “You designed your machines... Not Albert Einstein. In fact, the only help you had was from-”
“The Whittaker Foundation?” Professor Altman finished, nonchalantly.
Brackston nodded, almost afraid of what was to come out of Professor Altman’s lips.
“And who do you all think Albert Einstein was? He was a member of Whittaker’s organization, of course!”
The color could be seen draining from Brackston’ face, but Lula’s eyes were already glancing through the pages of the book she brought out for them all to see.
“That makes so much more sense,” Lula mumbled, flipping through the book.
“What makes sense?” Brackston chided her, irritation rising in his voice. “From what I saw, we saved Einstein from Autumn. Are you meaning to tell me that Whittaker decided to start their organization decades earlier instead of in the 1970s? If so, why?”
Lula shook her head side-to-side as she flipped through the book, and landed on the page she was finally looking for.
“You weren’t here when I brought it up but I was researching Einstein’s connection with H.G Wells...”
“You mean the man that basically made time travel with the concept of a time machine famous?” Brackston scoffed, shaking his head. “The man is a fictional Sci-Fi author, Lula.”
“And who do you think inspired Einstein to pursue time travel?” Professor Altman shot back, his voice firm. “Wells acknowledged Einstein’s theory about the fourth dimension, about the three planes of space, and the fourth being time?”
Lula grew irritated with the two bantering and slammed her book shut, creating a loud echo that shut the two scientists up. Agent Simone secretly gave the historian props for getting flustered and putting an end to the two arguing.
When Lula was content that the two were done with their spat, she let out an irritated huff – before continuing on.
“Sometime after 1931, Einstein’s behavior changed. Einstein, as we knew him, was a pacifist. Wanted peace, not war or violence... But he was also a violinist – never went anywhere without his violin. But someone takes Einstein’s place sometime after 1931 because Einstein is anything but those two things after that year,” she explained, looking between the three of them.
“Fantastic. So Albert Einstein was pro war and anti violin. What does any of that have to do with Wells?” Brackston questioned, eyeing Professor Altman suspiciously as he wandered off to his library in the corner of the lab.
“Other than the fact that Einstein wanted Wells to help him build a time machine? I’m not really sure. All I know is that Wells was supposed to die in 1946 but he disappeared in 1932. Seemingly dropped off the face of the earth. No one knows what happened to him-”
“I have a theory,” Professor Altman cut Lula off abruptly.
Making his way over to his bookshelf, Professor Altman gingerly plucked a book off of the shelf with ease. Turning back towards the group, he watched as Lula flinched when he tossed the book to the historian. The action almost caused her to drop the book she was already holding.
“You have a theory?” Brackston snorted, shaking his head. He could hardly believe how screwed their life was becoming – the biggest peeve being that their first mission ended up being a failure after all, one that resulted in Professor Altman being more annoying than usual.
Professor Altman ignored Brackston’ retort, placing his focus onto explaining the book that Lula now held in her hands.
“There are many theories as to what really happened to Wells. The most logical theory states that he met a beautiful mistress, which was pretty much standard Wells. However, this mistress was different. Some think they started a new life together...” he shrugged, tapping on the book he gave to Lula. “This book elaborates on that theory, and I quite like it the best. It makes the most sense. The author claims it to be pure fiction but to me, it all adds up. Some strange English bloke appears in some small hick town in Ohio, goes by the name of Henry Filby. Opens a bookstore as a cover, calls it his ‘Keystone’ – whatever the hell that means.”
Lula’s eyes scan the pages as she flips through the book Professor Altman tossed at her. Inside was a series of entries and images from what were imagined as if they were from Wells himself – all under a different alias entirely.
“So you really think H.G. Wells left London behind, moved to Ohio, and opened a bookstore, sharing an alias with one of his fictional characters?” Brackston asked in disbelief, peering at the book over Lula’s shoulder before glancing up at Professor Altman. “Professor Altman, have you been drinking again?”
Professor Altman opened his mouth to respond but stopped when he saw that Lula was intently staring at a particular page in the book. The historian’s eyes were roaming the page, her eyebrows knit together as her lips parted in surprise.
“This book talks about Whittaker,” she mumbled, turning the book towards Professor Altman. He looked just as unsurprised by this statement as he had been by everything else she threw at him the last few moments.
“If Brackston would have given me a bloody moment to talk, I could have told you that. While the author never addresses them by their proper name, she does list off a lot of unnerving similarities. More alarmingly, she lists Autumn’s plan to plant someone in history to take Einstein's place,” he explained. “I’ve been on Agent Simone for a little while about this now. I think the author’s life could be in grave danger but since you all were busy-”
“Wait. Too busy to do what, exactly?” Brackston interrupted. “What are you talking about? And how exactly have you been on Agent Simone about this for a while if we’ve barely known her for a week?”
Professor Altman almost seemed pestered that Brackston had interrupted for what felt like the hundredth time. Once he realized that Brackston’ interruption was due to a result of genuine confusion, he felt himself relax a bit.
“To save the author’s life. I fear her story might have put her on a very dangerous radar and I think that Whittaker will fear that she’ll expose them,” he sucked in a heavy breath, dropping his voice so that only the three of them could hear his last words. “I fear that they might have Autumn try to cross her off.”
Professor Altman’s statement brought a heavy feeling over the lab - one that forced Agent Simone to remain on site later than she originally planned.
It was true, Professor Altman had been on her about sending the team out to at least investigate into the author for a short period now. However, the mission seemed pointless and her team of time travelers were wrapped up in more serious matters.
The author owned a small bookshop in the same town that her story and alleged H.G. Wells theory talked about, making the work of fiction seem hardly credible.
To keep Professor Altman off her back, she sent an undercover agent to keep an eye on the author a few days ago. She never thought much about it but she had not heard from the agent since his first day - resulting in an unsettling fear to wash over her. Seeing now that Lula returned home with facts that the team returned to an altered timeline, one that heavily connected Wells to their previous mission… the agent felt she could no longer ignore Professor Altman’s pestering concern.
Agent Simone had Lula roundup Carter, Layla, and Ivan while she made an attempt to reach out to the agent she sent to monitor the author but much to her dismay, the phone went straight to voicemail. Something was wrong.
Agent Simone hung up the phone with an irritated scowl, turning just-in-time to see that she was being watched by the entire team with questioning, exhausted eyes. Something told her that they were not going to be thrilled with what she was about to do.
“I need to send you on a mission,” she began, ignoring some of the confusion that washed over the three members who were not present for the previous conversation that took place. “It was made known to me that a civilian published a fictional book that might have made pretty accurate theories and connections to Autumn Whittaker’s plans… Professor Altman feels that the woman might have put a target on her back.”
Carter scoffed at her remark, earning a few shocked sideways glances from other members of the team. “So, what? Homeland Security can’t babysit a feeble author?” he retorted, finding the situation to be more of a joke than a matter of seriousness.
Agent Simone’s stern, grim expression was enough to wipe the smile from the cocky soldier’s face.
“I sent someone from Homeland Security undercover to just keep an eye on things, to make sure she was alright and asked him to alert mif anything were to come up. I’ve been unable to reach this agent.”
“So, what? You think sending the four of us to defend this author is really any better than an army of your own agents?” Carter challenged her, all sense of sarcasm was replaced with an edge to his tone.
Agent Simone straightened her posture, tilting her head up to get a better look into the eyes of the usually smug soldier. She got his message loud and clear - this wasn’t what they signed on for. She invited them all in originally to protect history but now as time went on, the rules of the game were quickly changing.
“I think sending anyone to protect someone who isn’t an essential figure to history at this point is a risk,” she admitted, shrugging her shoulders. “But Lula has brought it to my attention that protecting this author might have direct links to your previous mission. You said you saved Einstein, protected history but Lula swears that history already changed. I don’t only want you to protect this civilian, I want you to find out what connects her to your previous mission.”
Agent Simone looked between the four time travelers, settling on each one of them before she continued. “I have no clue what the hell we’re in for but I fear that none of this is purely a coincidence. I am making arrangements for you to spend a brief period of time getting acquainted with the community.”
“And just where are you sending us, Simone?” Ivan finally spoke up, after being silent for the entirety of this conversation.
“I suggest packing some warm clothes. I hear that Ohio can be chilly this time of year,” Agent Simone admitted, before wandering off to ensure that she had everything worked out for the team’s arrival.