Grade F is copyright 2016 Charles Rice.
Ever want to be a time traveler? Ever wonder what it's like to almost be a time traveler and wash out? Of course you haven't. Welcome to Grade F.
Tanya grinncd, "Look, read whoever the fuck you want. What do I care? All I'm saying is, he is most certainly not the greatest writer who ever lived. You like him because you are looking for some kind of truth and you think you find it in his work."
Connie barely held back her snarl. She hated her. Bitch was always late to class. Never seemed to do her homework and always had the wrong answer when she spoke out in class. Why- how- did she even pass?
"Scott Dorn is amazing. His use of meter, the way he alternates between vulgarity and formality-"
Tanya was still grinning, "Ohhh! What a fucking rebel!"
Connie was about to remind her about the rules for language in the Timelock when a red light went off. Totally silent. Then it went off again. Her heart skipped a beat and when it kicked in again, it was racing.
"That's the alert. What should we do?"
Tanya looked at the light and smiled a genuine smile, which was somehow even more annoying than her customary smirk, "Two graduated Keepers here. Looks like we suit up and roll out."
Connie frowned, "There's supposed to be a Senior Keeper on duty..."
Tanya interrupted her, "No, there's supposed to be a Senior if cadets are on the mission. We're not cadets any longer. We graduated 4 whole days ago. Two full-fledged Keepers can respond."
Connie started to say something, desperately wanted to find a rule she'd missed. A chance to tell her what a dumb jerk she was. But Tanya was right. She zipped up her silver camo suit and put her helmet on.
Tanya was already helmeted and through the portal. There was nothing to do but follow her. She certainly wasn't letting her through alone.
The moment she stepped through was like being smacked in the face. Even over the pollution in the air, and lord knows there was plenty of that, there was a smell of- sweat and just underneath that- sex- and a little beneath that- piss. Connie's training kicked in and she managed not to audibly gag. The camo would make them invisible but noise would carry.
Tanya coughed, "What a latrine. God this is where germs go to fucking die."
Connie punched her shoulder, "Shh!"
Connie could imagine Tanya smirking> She couldn't see anything other than a heat signature through the camo. Yep. When Tanya spoke she could hear that smirk.
"I cased the place. It's totally clear. Just us and the stiff. Where have you been anyway? It's been almost an hour."
Connie checked her watch, "No, like 2 minutes! Are you sure we're clear?"
Connie started to speak, then a rattle caught her attention from their feet. She jumped then looked down, "I thought you said we were alone!"
Tanya looked down, "I said there was a stiff. This is the day the idiot dies. He'd managed to roll over onto his side- an anomaly with a .03 variance occurance- that's what set off the alarm. I rolled him onto his back. He's currently choking on his own vomit. Don't worry, if he's even conscious, and I sure as fuck don't think so, he won't be reporting disembodied voices to his guru or whatever. And even if he does, he's high as fuck right now."
Connie was staring, silent, at the figure on the floor, "That's- that's Scott Dorn."
Tanya took her helmet and knelt down, "Oh Jesus! I do not recommend removing the helmet. Place smells even worse without the filter. Huh, you're right. Totally Scott Dorn. What's your chronometer read?"
Connie was too stunned to chide Tanya for removing her helmet, she was now partially visible, able to contaminate the time stream with a vision of a floating head. She tore her gaze to her chronometer, "July 17, 2204. This is Dorn Day. The day he died."
Tanya smirked up her, "There you go. Apparently in 1 out of 3000 or so time streams the fucker rolls over and disrupts the natural flow. Now that he's on his back he can choke on his vomit as ordained by Our Lord and Timekeeper, etc. etc."
Connie shook her head, "Wait, in some realities he lives?"
Tanya rolled her eyes, "No, he doesn't, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Keepers like us. In 1 reality out of 300 a Keeper rolls him onto his back and waits until he suffocates, then they- I don't know, go home and have a snack?"
Connie sputtered, "But- Black Market was just published! This is also the day his work gets out! Why would he kill himself now?"
The look on Tanya's face told Connie she was being naive. God she hated this smug bitch.
"He's trying to celebrate, not kill himself. Both cocaine and alcohol feel amazing. Especially together. Alcohol eventually knocks you out. Unless you have some delicious cocaine of course. He knows he's about to be a rock star writer. Probably thinking about some hot writer groupies right now. This is an accident. Tragic, I guess. I mean whatever, he's got books and poems and even a dozen or so plays all over this shithole. It's not like his, genius goes unexploited by his agent and his asshole landlord. Your Western Canon will be just fine."
Connie couldn't help it, she smacked Tanya right in her smug face. Tanya's head snapped to the right, and a trickle of blood ran out of the corner of her mouth. She made no noise and if anything, her smug smile got more smug than ever.
"Who knows how much more he could have written! He's only 39! He could write for another 50 years at least. In some realities anyway. Maybe we should be visiting the ones where he lives and bringing his work back to the rest. Improving all realities."
Tanya was dead quiet. A quiet that made Connie realize how loud she was talking. Probably loud enough to be heard from the street.
"That's not what we do, Connie. Our reality is reality. You can debate philosophical bullshit all day long. When we return to the Timelock, there's no way to tell which reality we're returning to. The only way this works if they all line up."
Connie's gun was in her hand, "And sometimes Keepers come back alone too. Maybe I'll just keep saving him in every reality until no one knows any different."
Tanya looked at the gun, still dead quiet, ignoring the blood that dripped off her face and hung in midair, resting on her camo.
Connie pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. Not even a click like in the holos.
"Senior Keeper Tanya Robiskie. Keeper Connie Albright has failed final selection. Portal. Guardians respond. Muffle Keeper Albright."
Connie pulled the trigger again. She felt hands grip her from behind as the Guardians drug her back into the Timelock. She screamed about the world losing its greatest artist, called on the Guardians to side with her not some smug tyrant but no sound came out. Her helmet was preventing any sound from escaping.
Tanya reached down and checked Dorn's pulse. Almost there. She heard a scuffle on the stairs and put her helmet on, hissing, "Muffle Keeper Robiskie."
A man who, somehow, was more hideous and smelly than Dorn burst into the room, "Are you talking to yourself again you degenerate? Look I know you talked a big talk when you gave me that bottle last night, but don't think a bottle of grain'hol means you can..."
Tanya moved like a cat, taking slow deliberate steps. If he noticed the drops of blood hanging in the air. But no, whoever this delightful man was, he was distracted by sight and smell of Dorn. He'd finally passed and his bowels were emptying themselves on the floor. The smell was ridiculously strong.
"You fucking degenerate! My rent money better be here!"
Tanya quickly moved to a corner out of the way. The cameras in her helmet recorded the filthy man searching the room for Dorn's credit chit. She waited, only moving to clean the blood off her camo. After an hour, the smelly man returned. He collected Dorn's manuscripts. Dozens of them. He paused only to rip a handful of pages off one to wipe some shit off his boot.
Tanya let out an audible chuckle, but her helmet prevented anyone but her hearing it. Probably happened before. The Masters were wise. After the man left, the shit stained pages dropped on the floor, did Tanya move. She picked up the pages.
A door appeared on the wall leading to the street, then opened. Tanya stepped through and removed her helmet. The fresh air was maybe the best thing she'd ever smelled- no- tasted.
"Senior Keeper Tanya Robiskie. Former Keeper Connie Albright displays unacceptable sentimentality toward cultural icons. Readmittance not advised. Former Keeper Connie Albright also displays violent tendencies. Rehabilitation recommended. Log off."
The Timelock answered her in a lilting, feminine voice, "Acknowledged. Welcome home Senior Keeper Tanya Robiskie."
Tanya looked at the Master Chronometer in the Timelock. 12 hours. 6 to go. She looked down at the pages and held her helmet up off the table. After a few seconds she could see the pages, stains and all in her mind. She concentrated and soon the stains were gone.
Her eyes twitched and soon, beside the restored pages in her mind she saw different pages. Her eyes flicked left to right and the documents merged. She leaned back in her chair and started to read.
"Scott Dorn's unfinished mystery novel. They say all the clues to solve it yourself are in the lost beginning. My favorite novel by my favorite writer. Here's hoping for a quiet shift."