[Disclaimer: The story that is about to unfold is completely fictional – any resemblance to actual or existing fictional people, places and/or events is purely coincidental.]
Writing Prompt #11: 33%
Emerson Barlow leafed through the latest report and frowned. While the report contained a plethora of complicated words, its findings were clear. Efforts to restore the timeline reached an impasse, despite the meticulous research the Council of Sages conducted to pinpoint the exact moment when history diverged from its true path. A mere 33 percent of the discrepancies purged, achieved at a high cost for many of the operatives recruited for the job. By restoring history to its proper order, their existence forfeit once they achieved their goal. Emerson turned to the sideboard, reached for a fresh bottle of scotch, and poured a liberal amount into his glass. He uttered a silent prayer for the lives lost to the ether of time – he drank to remember and to forget.
The sound of heavy footfalls interrupted his moment of solace, causing him to replace the half empty bottle on the sideboard. He smoothed the wrinkles from his suit and sat on the edge of his desk, hoping the meeting would be brief. An imposing shadow filled the threshold before entering the room, followed by a smaller, slender figure. Emerson sprang to his feet and reflexively stood at military attention – this was unexpected.
“Countess, what an unexpected pleasure,” Emerson bowed his head, greeting his unexpected (yet esteemed) guest. “I trust your journey was a pleasant affair.”
“Spare me your false courtesy, Barlow – it reeks of sycophancy.” A sharp retort emerged from the Countess Natasha Blackhampton, entering the room with great authority. “The Council is concerned with the lack of progress in the task you claimed you could resolve within the specified time frame.”
“The Council is aware of the complexity of the task and the intricate steps needed to complete the mission. I had imparted as much when I agreed to undertake the job.” Emerson retorted, his instinctual apprehension vanishing. He would not tolerate an affront to his abilities from anyone, regardless of their stature. “There were… unforeseen complications which needed to be eliminated before the mission could proceed.”
The Countess crossed the room, inspecting the wastebasket overflowing with empty bottles. She signaled her companion to remain at the threshold as a subtle warning for him that escape was not possible. She glared at the rumpled-suited man, apprehensive yet proud of his self-proclaimed talent. So much potential wasted on such a mundane task – nevertheless, the Council demanded results. “The Council believes these complications preventable and resolved before they had a chance to emerge.” She approached Emerson and glared into his eyes. “Our very existence depends on removing the impurities from the timeline – your life will be forfeit if you cannot deliver on your promise.”
Without waiting for a response, the Countess exited the room, her hulking companion trailing behind her. Incensed at the implied threat, Emerson grabbed the bottle he had been drinking and flung it towards the open door.
“Throwing a rare bottle of single malt away so flippantly,” A familiar voice emanated at the threshold instead of the sound of shattering glass. “Surely things are not so bad as that?”
“Giles, I might have guessed,” Emerson exhaled, his anger subsiding. “What brings you out of hiding? I thought the Council had a price on your head.”
Giles Kendrick strode into the room, closing the door behind him. “I risked a run-in with those Council thugs to warn you.”
“Warn me about what?” Emerson felt a slight shiver ripple through his body. He knew Giles’ reputation as an information hub, with his elite network of spies and informants. He knew everything about everyone, and was willing to sell that information to the highest bidder.
Giles surveyed the room, searching for any surveillance devices. He directed an energy beam at the angel figurines in the bookshelf with his flash pen; he then replaced the bottle of scotch on the sideboard. “The historical purity meter will never exceed thirty-three percent – they’re sending out incompetent operatives as a method of selective population control.”
“That doesn’t make any sense – why would they…” Emerson stopped, realizing the truth behind that outrageous statement. He noticed the subtle spike in number of variances after each mission, but attributed them to random chance, coincidence or a simple miscalculation. After all, analyzing causality and its consequences was not an exact science. “It’s a test.”
“But at whose bidding? Who ultimately benefits from these missions?” Giles stood by the window, gazing at the amber sunset. “Why did they choose you to lead this project?”
“I volunteered my expertise to reach the Council’s objectives in purging the flaws caused by the Alliance.” Emerson retorted, his role was vital, and would garner the accolades he richly deserved yet consistently denied. “In the end, everyone benefits once the Alliance’s manipulations are eradicated.”
“What makes you think it’s the Alliance manipulating the timeline?”