Sarah hated the cobblestone streets with their human waste spilled over early in the morning from windows high above. It would have been a simple courtesy to have dug up a hole somewhere and create a communal cesspool for every street in the city. She found herself hiking up her skirts and avoiding the suspicious puddles on the street and the not so safe sidewalks.
It was barely 4:30 a.m., and she was sure that she was not being followed by thieves or thugs, or rapists. She hated these times; it was not one of the best eras for women to be unescorted and typically, the team went everywhere together in pairs at the very least. The streets had already started to awaken with the sound of grinding steel and pounding onto anvils from the two weapons and tool makers in the small city. It wouldn’t be long now before the windows would open and the buckets of waste would be thrown out onto the street.
The horses would, of course, add up to the melee of nasty smells and sounds when the carriages carrying the noble men and ladies descended later on in the morning. It was a sight she was trying to avoid; the lawyers and the medicine men, the politicians and their wives, their insufferable children and their hateful nannies. How she hated it all! She could not wait to go back into her own time and away from this pestilence.
In retrospect, they should have sent another male to take the pictures and bring Ortega back, but Mario Ortega insisted that Sarah be the one to see the statue and inscription he found in the basement of the church, and their boss, professor Sanders, had given her no choice. Mario was one of his favorite former students and was making acquiring quite a reputation for himself in their obscure archaeological society. Sarah on the other hand, had only come into this section of the University for the love of ancient languages; she couldn’t give a hoot about being immersed in dirt and filth to see how antiquities looked when they were brand new.
However, she loved the idea of quietly staying in the background and training her ears to the sound of long discarded languages or hear the accentuation of Old English and comparing it to successive incarnations to modern times. She was a linguistic scholar and sometimes hearing a recording was not enough, she had to travel to the filth in order to experience the context of the language.
Professor Sanders’ department was the best equipped in the world and time travelling was something only he and his students did on behalf of the now united world. The University had made a deal with the government to have exclusivity citing the dangers of changing the past and making real people disappear from existence. Altering history had become a taboo and only a selected few could be trusted with such delicate research.
Their fear campaign had been a success at first, but fear has a way of feeding onto itself and growing into unmanageable proportions. A day did not go by that there were not picketers outside their facility demanding that no one go anywhere and to leave the past alone. The fear escalated to mild violence with pushing, shoving and verbal threats, but after someone attempted to blow up the facility, they took it seriously enough to add enough security to put a secret military installation to shame.
All time travel was now done without prior announcements and only positive results were reported to the media. Much was kept secret and errors, as they liked to call them, were reviewed in house and kept out of the mainstream. As a teaching institution, they had managed to circumvent everything that would be intolerable elsewhere.
Occasionally, they had forgo the formalities in favor of very large donations from wealthy individuals who wanted to be part of the small group for just one trip, hoping to rub elbows with a historical figure. For the most part, they were exclusively relegated to observation and no interactions were allowed. This rule was strictly adhered to when these large donors had been vetted through the University Chancellor and sworn to secrecy. Things went well most times when they stuck to the rules, but sometimes, people got carried away and bad things happened that needed to be covered up.
Sarah knew for a fact that professor Sanders had made unauthorized trips and gotten paid under the table by those who wanted a more hands-on experience while the University pretended to be blissfully unaware and enjoyed the kickbacks from Sanders and huge preliminary donations from the soon to be travelers. Her father, a behavioral psychologist at the University, and her mother, a sociologist who worked for the government, had made comments about the few exciting trips they had made before she was born and how lucky she was to be part of this exclusive team of researchers. They were very proud of her, as if she was their own personal experiment gone right.
For most wealthy donors, the anticipation of being part of the exclusive list of adventurers and hunters of exotic and extinct animals made them far more generous than they needed to be. Not all of them were in for the kill; some were seduced by the possibility of romance in ancient times.
“Fools!” Sarah mumbled as she made her way down the narrow corridors “These places are filthy and the inhabitants don’t smell any better”, but it was their money, so Sarah turned a blind eye as well and excused herself from as many of these illicit excursions as possible.
Today was different. Mario had found something that only she should see and recalling the urgency in his tone, she rushed even more through the stench of the streets. She finally arrived at the back of the church and made her way through the unlocked wooden door. Mario’s face was illuminated by candle light and when he saw her, he put a finger to his lips indicating silence and proceeded to lock the door behind her. He then turned on a flashlight and held her hand to guide her to the foot of the statue.
The putrid smell told her she was inside a private mausoleum and recoiled at the thought of rats crawling about in the dark. She felt Mario’s hand squeeze hers and her eyes followed the beam of light towards the face of the statue. The resemblance to her own face was unmistakable and she followed the beam of light until it stopped at the inscription on the wall.
The inscription read Laura Walsh, dates and beloved wife and mother. Just the typical stuff one would expect of people of importance. “Besides the resemblance” she whispered “There is nothing abnormal, why am I here?” Mario led her towards the interior door that led up the stairs into the well maintained book room. There were candelabra on the table and Mario turned off the flashlight and locked the door they had just gone through and the one on the opposite side of the room that lead to the hallway that connected the church, private chapel and living quarters.
They did not have much time before the priests, housekeepers, and nuns started milling around. Mario showed her the opened books on the table and made the motion for her to take pictures. Sarah was no longer questioning him, it was obvious that Mario was upset and they had to get out as quickly as possible. Without paying much attention to the written word, she documented hundreds of pages a minute to be deciphered later in the comfort of the lab. Pages would be enlarged and copies of the original manuscripts, books, and letters, or anything they found, would be thoroughly examined and recorded for future generations.
Time travel was dangerous but made for extremely accurate recorded history and the supporting evidence of the photographed original records was crucial to their research and presentations. As invaluable as the evidence was, sometimes the truth and the facts collided sharply with long standing beliefs and dogmas, and as a result, the more incendiary subjects were released slowly by means of suggestions and speculation. It was a carefully orchestrated magic show in which those who would most ferociously argue for the opposite results to validate their positions ended demanding the truth and the facts to squelch the rumors.
After almost 30 years, the populace had become more open minded and requested accuracy on religious figures, massacres, disputes between former countries or regions. Even though the whole world was now united and no borders existed, the regional differences and cultures were very much alive and well maintained. People had not lost their identity, but began questioning their origins when disputes arose over religion, former borders, or even something as silly as recipes. Obviously, the University would not go out of its way to command research in minute discrepancies, but made a note to check up on them if they had to travel in time to an age where the minutia could be answered.
It never failed to entertain the group that amidst the more spectacular discoveries, the ones that got the most run on the news shows were the little things that matter little in the big scheme of things, but were a total regional thrill or a victory to a particular ethnic segment of their population.
Sarah motioned that she was done and ready to go. Mario quickly led her back the same way they had come in and insisted that they walk as far away from the town and towards the empty fields as quickly as possible. After a half hour in complete silence, Mario sat down by a tree and wiped his forehead, he was sweating profusely and his agitation was evident.
“Mario, the portal is in the opposite direction” she paused for a response, but when he failed to do so, she added “If we are to get out of here tonight, we should get to the Inn and wait there. The closer we are to it, the sooner we can leave”.
Mario pointed to the camera and said; “I think someone did something that was very wrong Sarah, someone changed history for what I can only surmise were very selfish reasons” he stopped to catch his breath and continued “All we know is wrong. It is not the history we had; it is the history we created”
Puzzled she asked “what does that have to do with me Mario? You are scaring me”
“When you take those to the lab” he pointed to the camera “you will see that Laura Walsh gave birth to a baby girl named Sarah and the child mysteriously disappeared at the age of two” He continued “You were adopted, weren’t you Sarah?”
A look of horror crossed her face, the realization of what Mario was saying had sunk in with the force of a blunt head trauma and she sank to the ground next to Mario to catch her breath.