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The System

Employee Number 1,842,713,227 looked around the interior of the Past Travel Assistance Office, or PTAO. The line extended behind him, down the hall, out the door and down the sidewalk. “I’ll be lucky to make it to the window by the end of my lunch 45-minute,” he said.

The speaker system played a continuous loop of Past Traveler helpful tips. “Remember to not change history too much,” the automated voice said. After a few seconds, the same voice said, “Always keep your receipts.”

“Next,” a voice from somewhere in front of him said. The line moved forward by a space equal to the thickness of one employee. Employee Number 1,842,713,227 lost count how many helpful hints he heard repeated while he moved up in employee-thickness increments.


The PTAO agent looked around to the next in line. “I said next.” Employee Number 1,842,713,227 felt a nudge from behind. He stepped to the small oval window. Out of habit, he stood motionless for the 7.5-second facial profiling scan. The PTAO planned to upgrade to a new instantaneous facial profiling model in six months.

A blue laser grid mapped the contours of Employee Number 1,842,713,227’s face, collecting data on retina response, bone and vein structure, pulse, respiration, heart rate, and blood flow, then calculated the variance in facial temperatures from a classified number of areas of interest on the face.

The System stored the data with the data already passively collected as Employee Number 1,842,713,227 waited in line. These parameters included posture, gait, posture and estimated reason for the PTAO visit.

“Please speak the phrase that The System is suggesting to you,” the agent instructed.

“The brown fox jumped —”. The System beeped, signaling that the voice recognition algorithm had heard enough.

The System stored the audio waveform with the DNA sample It had collected from the particles of spit contained in the exhaled air when Employee Number 1,842,713,227 spoke the requested phrase.

The System performed an analysis on all data from Employee Number 1,842,713,227, and compared results with archives on the employee and three generations of his family history.

All twenty-three lights along the counter in front of the agent illuminated green. The agent, out of obligation, read the note out loud that The System displayed below the line of lights.

“The System advises that your six-month Level I Efficiency Optimization Routine is due. The Level 1 procedure will correct up to three bad habits, and a classified number of work-related ones. Please acknowledge receipt of this advisory by saying or thinking yes.”


“Thank you. Your acknowledgement has been recorded in The System,” the agent said. “How may I help you,”

“I’m here to –”

“Oh, and The System says to remind you that your Past Travel vacation token expires tomorrow. How may I help you?”

“That’s why I’m here. I’d like to cash in my token. I’m here to report for my annual vacation moment.”

“Destination,” asked the agent.

“Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States.”


“June 12, 1780.”


“8:17 AM.”


“I hope to meet Thomas Jefferson, One of America’s Founding Fathers, and Third President of the US.”

“All confirmed correct by The System. I must remind you that this trip is designated for pleasure only. In no way are you to interfere with the course of history.”


“Please step on the platform to your left, and insert your token in the slot.”

Employee Number 1,842,713,227 did as requested. Once The System detected receipt of his token, the Past Travel platform began to vibrate and hum.

“Close your eyes and pull the lever when ready. Have a nice trip. Remember to keep receipts.”

Employee Number 1,842,713,227 placed both hands on the stainless steel lever, closed his eyes, and pushed. He opened his eyes to see Thomas Jefferson in Monticello, but only saw the agent.

“I said pull.”

“Oh.” Employee Number 1,842,713,227 pulled the lever. When the lever stopped moving, he opened his eyes to see the architectural marvels of Thomas Jefferson’s home. The wave of nausea passed quickly, as The System said it would.

The Past Traveler soaked in every exquisite architectural detail of Jefferson’s amazing home, which Mr. Jefferson designed himself, without the benefit of formal training or education in architecture.

The Past Traveler stepped forward and bumped into the edge of a small hand-carved wooden desk given to Jefferson as a gift from John Adams. The desk made a loud scraping sound as it scooted along the marble floor.

“Pardon me,” the Past Traveler said to the young servant girl sitting at the desk and trying to hang on. The servant girl looked down in embarrassment. She unrolled a parchment that smelled like ink.

The servant girl asked the Past Traveler to sign in. He did.

“Is Mr. Jefferson in his chambers this morning,” he asked.

“I know not sir,” she said. “The System is down for routine maintenance.”

“Next,” yelled a voice from the other room. The servant girl nodded and waved. The Past Traveler entered the next room and found himself in a grand ball room where even the slightest sounds echoed.

He stood on his toes and stretched from one side then another, trying to catch a glimpse of Thomas Jefferson through the partially open door ahead, but all he saw was a meandering line of people in front of him. Someone yelled next, and everybody moved up a distance equal to the thickness of one person.

Employee Number 1,842,713,227 felt refreshed and excited when he returned to work after his vacation moment. This was the closest he had come to touching history, without adversely affecting it, that is.

Now if he could only remember what he did with his receipts.

– The End –

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