Talking about the Job

Lance had told Aytise and Nigrantibus to meet him in Finnigan’s down the line to talk about being a Temporal Operative. He’d set it a few days from when he’d spoke to Aytise on the bridge of the Cabur, but he felt since he would probably be doing the training in this case, he should let them know what to expect from it. When the appointed day and time came he sat in Finnegan’s in the early hours of the afternoon when it was quieter and had the waiter bring over a bottle of scotch whiskey, single malt, of an excellent vintage. This was the real stuff too, not replicated. He knew he’d need a drink, you didn’t talk about things like this unless you had the option for a stiff drink.

After a few minutes, enough time for Lance to settle into his spot and enjoy a bit of his drink, Aytise and Nigrantibus strode in through the door, the large Space Marine following behind the cheerful Captain, surveying the room with a quick trained gaze before they both spotted Lance and walked over to him, sitting down at Lance’s table. Simultaneously greeting him. Aytise with a “Hello.” While Nigrantibus merely grunts a “Greetings.” Neither choosing to order anything.

Lance expected as much from Nigrantibus, he was like many marines of any kind he’d been around, a man of few words. He nodded at them both, “Thank you for coming, please, have a seat.” he said, assuming they sat down, he would then say, “I wanted to talk to you both about what being a Temporal Operative entails and the kinds of things you’ll experience, by telling you about missions that I myself and others on the team have been on.”

Aytise chooses to reply first, a quick reply bursting from him. “That is exactly what I hoped you would start with. Please, do tell. A few stories would definitely help enlighten us on what we would be asked to do.” Nigrantibus seemed content to stay silent for now, removing his helmet and peering at Lance with an interested gaze, having chosen to remove the helmet as a sign of his trust and interest in the topic.

It was at this point that Duke Blitz entered the bar with militaristic clothing, yet not bound to any specific faction or grouping. He sat down in a booth within earshot of the men’s conversation, yet far enough away not to be too noticeable. Certainly not within range of formal greetings. He simply orders a drink of unknown substance from himself, forming an unmarked black flask into one hand with a blue haze, as if a replicator was more mistic or flashy. He starts to drink, taking in much of the conversation by pure passing curiosity while staring at the news reel on the bars version of a television

Lance noticed Duke sit down but didn’t pay it much mind. If the man had wanted to join them he’d have let him but, perhaps he wanted to be alone? Didn’t change what they were discussing at all. So, Lance poured everyone a drink and then downed his, “Well, I suppose, I should start with the basics.” he considers this and began, “One of my very first missions…”

Lance begins to tell the tale…

The year was 1869 and a small team from the only ship Solas Tempus had at the time was called the USS Rising Sun. The ship looked like a frying pan upside down flying through space. She was underpowered and had some serious difficulties at times but it was home to the small crew that started it all. A group of scientists mixed with ex-Operatives for Section 31.

She arrived in orbit around Earth in 1869, tracking a signal to England at first. The reading was for a power signature ranging into subspace, which could not have occurred naturally at the time. Lance commanded the mission himself and they weren’t even sure they should you holographic projectors so ended up going old school with makeup and prosthetics to hide themselves. It worked.

It took months of sleuthing to track down the energy signature, it was always moving and people of the time didn’t really like to be bothered. They were in southern England and ended up in a rural area in the country, following the signal. When they found the man they were tracking, they got shot at from behind. Unable to return fire, Lance stayed behind to distract the attackers so his team to enter the nearby woods and beam out. He himself, however, got shot with a flintlock pistol. There were so many people around by this point, they couldn’t beam him out. Still conscious he gave the signal to leave him in place and he was taken to a cottage nearby where a local healer, what some might call a wise woman bandaged his wound up and made sure he wasn’t going to die.

The next day, still having to keep up the simple tricks they did to stay out of recorded history in any recognizable way, the team came back and with the help of the woman were able to track down the attacker as a relative of their target. Or, at least, a relative of the owner of the home their target was staying in. It was sunny day when they finally cornered him, got him to put the device down. The woman, her name was Vivian, decided to lurk along and see what everyone was up to. Lance and the others should have guessed this might happen, but it was early on in their adventures in time travel and no one thought to stay behind and make sure she stayed out of trouble.

Noticing she was there, their target shot Vivian through the heart and used the resulting confusion to escape. They had the device, but when Lance and two other team members went to help Vivian out, Candy who was also on the team gave them the revelation. She was meant to die that day, history had her dying in an accident with horse and buggy that same day. Not only had they altered history in being there, interacting with her, and not keeping watch over what she was doing. But they had to let her die, as it was part of history.

Lance down another glass of whiskey and orders himself a burger and fires after the story ends.

A sobering silence fills the air as Aytise and Nig digest the story. Aytise thinking of the emotional impact that the team must have gone through, realizing that they had both messed up and had to leave a new companion to die, while Nig merely accepts it as a necessity of the mission. Aytise eventually replying. “Well. That was certainly a… saddening story. To some extent. I’ve never had to face a situation exactly like that, before. I presume that kind of thing can be common to semi-common?”

He nods, “I told you that story for a reason though.” he pauses a moment to gather his thoughts, “There are a lot of jobs out there where a person does what needs to be done so the every day person doesn’t have to.” he looks at Nig for a moment as he says that, something unspoken. He figures that Nig has already crossed that line so far behind that he can’t even see the line anymore.

Having gathered his thoughts a bit, “The job of a Temporal Operative is one that mortals were never intended to have to deal with. In fact, the universe would be a lot better off if no one had ever discovered how to travel through time. We are biologically programmed to get attached to people, to form friendships and alliances. So it is very common to leave people you care about behind. Usually not dead, but you’ve always end up leaving people behind. A big part of the job is getting help from people without making a lasting impression on them.”

At Lance’s pointed look, Nig offers a small affirmative nod, his small way of acknowleding the truth of Lance’s thoughts, Aytise in his own world as he formulates his own reply. “And yet it falls to us to do it and I dont see anyway around that. It sounds to me like one of the hardest parts of the job is what you are describing here, but if it has to be done then so it must be done.”

He nods slowly, “It is. There are procedural elements that must be followed, of course. Learning those can be difficult but they are not difficult to do. Things get hairy sometimes, and you have to think on your feet, it’s a lot to keep track of then.” he nods slowly, “But that’s not a lot different from just being a soldier or a covert operative.” he finally gets his food and gets a few fries before he continues, “There’s also a lot of old fashioned sleuthing, patience, waiting, and watching. It’s an interesting mix of the basics of police work with elements of covert and deep cover operations. You’ve got to know how to get information out of people, but you’re cut off so you’ve got to figure out how to use that information on your own.” he nods slowly and considers a bit - taking a bit of his burger and washing it down with the ice tea (not the scotch). “One of the reasons why we Operatives have the reputation we do is, you’ve got to have a hard head, a thick enough skull to work a problem because it needs to be worked and know you’re right when you’re right and know you’re wrong when you’re wrong. Follow your instincts, no matter what.” he laughs a bit, “I suppose I should tell you about the lighter side too.”

He takes another bite as he collects his thoughts about a Temporal Operative named Ethan that he’d like to tell them about - this gives them a chance to respond.

“Well.” Aytise says with a glance at Nig, seemingly a little unsure of how to reply. "I’d say those are certainly things that I guess I would just have to adapt to. Though I’m used to that, anyways. " The reply is short but Tise is busy just listening as well as he is able to.

“We al do.” is all Lance can say about that, “On the lighter side, there is a man named Commander Ethan Finn, he’s one of our younger Temporal Operatives. We had to send him to a planet in the mid 21st century, the population was made up of clans at the time and someone had accidentally carried out a slingshot maneuver nearby, crashed on the surface.” he nodded at all this and then said, “So Captain Finn does his job but in the process he has to live and work with the locals of a particular clan. Now unlike previously we have a few more tools to discover the extent of potential temporal contamination, and it turns out that the clans don’t talk to each other much and their histories are largely oral, though they are about pre-industrial in technology at the time.” He takes a breath and gets a drink, “They gave him a girl, to keep, for saving their village.” he takes a drink and waits for their reaction to that.

Aytise had perked up at the mention of the tools for detecting temporal contamination but was about to just prompt Lance to continue when, surprisingly, Nig beat him to it. “A girl? Hmph. What a way to complicate matters. What happened next to your operative?”

He chuckled softly at this, “Well, he doesn’t know we know. We sent him directly from there to another mission. He hasn’t filed a proper report yet, that’s not unusual though, making a proper report is a long process and when we send an Operative back to back, often the reports don’t get filed until they return.” he chuckles a bit, “We’re monitoring the situation through HAL, who operates kind of like a Temporal big brother, making sure that we are aware of potential issues even with our own Operatives.”

He pauses again to eat some more, “Back to the serious though, HAL is really the backbone of a lot of how we become aware of issues. We’ve installed HAL hubs throughout the timeline, in secret. Even have teams that live in certain periods of time in order to maintain the hubs and keep them secret. HAL himself, as an AI, is aware of information spanning multiple timelines in multiple regions of the timeline. So now when we encounter a person, we can get a pretty good idea of how critical that persons path in the timeline is.” he lets that sink in a bit, “So yes, to answer your question that you haven’t asked yet, HAL monitors everything that we can hook him into. Now, since HAL is sentient and such a vast intelligence, we’re able to keep eyes off things that we don’t need to know about and still maintain operational awareness of what we do know about. In most cases HAL knows of a potential timeline problem before a temporal wave is created.”

He lets all that sink in too. It was a lot to digest and he knew it. “Operationally we have long term operations that monitor situations that have been flagged as potential problems, since sometimes when an accidental incursion happens, it is better to leave it in place rather than risk further contamination, especially if major contamination is unlikely. Then we have response teams, such as Team Sigma, that are sent in for an active temporal event. Now, it’s a little hard to grasp some of our self-imposed logic. We deal with teams leaving as running the clock concurrently, so if a team is gone for 3 days in the past, they return to their time of origin, 3 days later. We used to have people return to the moment they left, but we found that it caused some minor issues in the temporal field near the point of return. That’s all hard to explain without getting deep into theory and such.”

Aytise and Nig both have very different reactions to this info about HAL, Aytise looking impressed and even saying as much while Nig narrows his eyes in a suspicious look, a sentient AI of that magnitude something that would definitely be labelled as a threat, though the look passes after only a few seconds, fading back to an attentive gaze and nothing less, Aytise saying* Well HAL certainly is more…in-linked to your operations than I gave him credit for, though it certainly seems to have been useful for you so far. Now, I’m a little rusty on the theorems of Time travel, but wouldnt an Operative returning sometime just AFTER they left be enough time distance to make the temporal fields remain stable? Let’s say, an hour or two difference, I’d say? Though I guess i should definitely defer to you on this subject seeing as you have actually travelled through time while I have merely read some theories."

Lance nodded, he saw the look on Nig’s face, he was an observant bastard… Of course Nig understood the danger that HAL could pose, which meant he’d have to address it. Still, teal with the simpler issue of Aytise’s question first; “Well it goes into part of how we tell if someone is displaced in time.” he considers and then he pulls out a PADD from a pocket of his and taps a few commands into it, they would both now have some of the theoretical data. “You’d think it would, and most of our models say yes, however the farther someone is displaced out of time them ore temporal energy they carry with them.” he thinks how better to explain this, “Someone who has travelled through time, we have learned, always has a home or origin point in the timeline, this is where their own quantum field is in sync with the fields around them and the home clock is always running, the quantum field is stable and thus the related temporal field is stable well into the 99th percentile, in fact for a single or even a dozen time jumps is remains stable.” he takes a breath and pauses, “However, an entire starship jumping, multiple times, the instability grows to a perceptible strength. The universe always wants to return everyone to their temporal origin, just as sure as atoms want to be in their most stable and lowest energy form.”

He pauses again to eat some more, drink some tea before he turns to Nig and then turns to Aytise, “A lot of people have problems with our use of an AI model. I will admit has some dangerous potentialities. When we were deciding how to solve some of the intrinsic problems in what we do, we originally had people doing that work, we had an entire division dedicated to working out temporal plots of people encountered, doing research, collecting data, and all of the other things that make what we do possible to do safely.” He paused and then began again, “In the mid 20th up all the way into the early 21st centuries there is a bit of entertainment called Star Trek. It was what they used to call a television show, spawned into several movies, that told the story of a space vessel going through space and exploring for an interstellar organization, a Federation of Planets.” he let that sit for a moment. “Problem is that it is all true. It is a glimpse at the future. One of our Operatives is responsible. We had people running intel for him on a long term Operation, who failed to understand the psychological stress he was under. He’d grown attached to someone of the local time frame, was actually a well known contemporary historian working for us as a Temporal Operative.” He takes another drink of his ice tea before he continues, “Intel said that he could take the stress, we were testing using personality approximations for computer models to assist for Intel and the models kept saying his psychological stress was at critical levels, that he needed to have an immediate exfiltration.” Lance shrugged, “We didn’t listen, I was overseeing the operation, I listened to the C.O. of Intel telling me that the man could handle it. He couldn’t. He had a complete nervous breakdown, complete suppression of his actual personality and he began to believe his cover identity.”

Lance paused again and sighed, looking out the window, “We get a temporal alert after not being able to contact him for several months, actually had 2 Operations in the field looking for him. Then the alert comes, and he’d made a new television show for the time, around late 1960’s, of a space vessel. It’s almost all true, the USS Enterprise and subsequent versions of the ship to carry the name is where his particular focus was historically, the man knew every mission they did, had even met the crew a few times.”

“That was just one, it was our biggest, but just one of the issues. HAL doesn’t have override authority. So HAL cannot just take control of an Operation or the organization, HAL is a sentient tool, well he’s more than that he’s a living being but for us he is a tool. He maintains an eye on causality and allows us to operate with the secure knowledge that in the infinite expanse of time, we’ll get a heads up if something is coming our way. In fact, since we started using HAL to process the information - we still have an Intel division that makes actual decisions and operational choices by the way - but our survival and retention rate for Temporal Operatives in the 5+ year term has gone up to about 75%.” he lets that figure sit for a moment. Temporal Operatives rate of churn for 5+ years was 75%. “That’s right, over a 5 year span, one out of every four Operatives fails a psych eval or has a serious issue either physically or mentally and has to drop from active duty.”

Rather suddenly, Duke tipped himself another cup of his hidden beverage and walked over to the groups relevant booth. He’d been listening with quite some interest in the tales and stories of Lance, and so the mention of “covert operations” had further spiked his interest. After all it was his official job title for longer than he’d expected at the time. Even so, his training couldn’t be put to the standards at which those like Lance held themselves and the organization to.

He ended up standing at the end of the table with an apologetic grin, holding the small flask. "I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you in any way, but I was wondering if you would be willing to take more company, sir?"
He bounced on his heels ever so slightly, most likely as a result of nervousness. This was of course a private conversion of an Admiral, and he expect to be booted

Tise and Nig, respectively were both too busy studying the data they’d been sent, though Nig made a dismissive, ‘whatever’ gesture without looking up, Tise waiting for Lance’s reply to the interrupting person before proceeding.

lance was about to tell the guy to go take a hike. They were talking about something serious here and this wasn’t exactly a public meeting. He did look Duke over a bit while his cybernetics implants linked to the computer and pulled up Duke’s information. He had some interesting skills, he was already in TACCOM, it looks also like TEMPCOM had already had him on a list of potential Operatives. Finally he nods, “Alright.” and then eh turns back to the pair who had been invited there to see if they had any questions.

Aytise, as usual (almost as if they had agreed on this) was the one to speak up. “Well after this meeting I’d love to have some extra time to soak this data in as well as any other relevant materials you’d be willing to impart to us. So far what you have been saying is just making this more and more enticing to join. As for the AI…” Tise spares an extremely fleeting glance at Nig. “I can see that, for the moment, the gains severely outweigh any possible risks that I can foresee. And it’s funny that you would mention Trek, i was going to ask about it eventually. Guess you answered my question as to how it came to exist. As to how I came to know about it…I’ve spent almost every free moment I could studying what i can get my hands on. From the educational to the entertainment fields. Star Trek came up a few times.” It can be noted that Tise made no mention of the service drop-out rate of operatives, having completely shunted that off the table of thought.