My flash fiction contribution to the Time Travel Challenge, inspired in part by Ask A Slave by Azie Dungey. (Good videos if you like history.) I’m not in love with the story, but it’ll suffice. May keep tooling on it.
History for the Ages
It’s lonely, being a Historian. They made it sound so much more exciting when we signed up for the program. We would be adventurers, of the best sort, not discovering new worlds but conquering past times. We would bring Knowledge, capture it for the next eons to enjoy. We were heroes, or so they told us. The International Library actually had to turn candidates away, if you can believe it.
Despite the trainings, nothing prepared me for this. Not really.
But I was here, now, so there wasn’t much choice—I couldn’t go back home until my year was up. My intrachronometer wouldn’t activate until then, anyway. I might as well do my job.
I sighed and picked up the sack I’d brought with me, muttering to myself about my damned Locator. I was supposed to have been dropped just outside of the town, but it didn’t look like there was anyone nearby. There were so many trees, so incredibly many. I’d seen one in the Museum, of course, but I had no idea they were like this.
Everything was so green. I felt another pang for home.
Though it had seemed foolish at the time, now I was grateful for those trainings in Era-Appropriate Clothing. I still hated the skirt, of course, the drab dirty thing I’d ported in, but at least now I knew how to walk in it, thighs slightly apart so they didn’t rub. So different from the comfortable slacks at home.
I crested a small hill and saw, in the distance, a grand white plantation home. I started toward it, suddenly excited. My first interaction with my subjects! I tried to remember what to say, what the culturally appropriate language, behavior, for a dark-skinned female in this era was.
I’d been specially selected for this assignment, they’d said. After I’d passed all the requisite tests, ensured that I was compatible for time travel and the demands of the job, been thoroughly taught how to create accurate notations of my time period and experiences, I had waited for my era. Based on the scant information the Librarians had on the era, it was decided that I should go infiltrate Revolutionary America, that my attributes and skills made me a great fit for the task.
Don’t forget, they had excellent marketers. That’s how I signed up to be a household slave in 1795.
The philosophy went like this: As Historians, it is our duty to stay out of the activities of those we are studying. Much like anthropology, the ancient study of other cultures, Historians must live in the populations, but not be of them. It would not do for us to actually affect history! (And there would be serious consequences if we tried!)
So Historians always have out-of-the-way cover stories. I overheard the Librarians talking once: their favorite timelines for Historians in America were colonial eras and the four decades post-1985. The slaves and poor commoners of the colonial era and the skyscraper production methods of these times made them easy to infiltrate.
I hadn’t walked too far before I had to fall back on my training. A handsome man working in a field stopped and stared at me as I walked by. I glanced at him, but bowed my head away like I’d been taught—women in these days weren’t typically seen alone. Pretend shyness, particularly around males.
The man called out to a colleague, and word of my approach beat me to my destination. I nearly climbed the porch, but remembered myself just in time and turned to go around the back. There was a woman there, evidently waiting for me.
“Excuse me,” I said, hoping my accent-work was passable, “I’m lookin’ for a job, ma’am. Do ya have any need for a maid, perhaps?” I was particularly proud of the ‘perhaps.’ My Languages instructor would be proud.
The woman looked me up and down sternly. She looked like a tough nut to crack. She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “Possibly.”
I ran through the backstory I’d been given, explaining that I’d be happy to join the household and work hard if only they’d take me, that my prior master had died suddenly and left me without work.
She didn’t seem to believe me, but eventually agreed to let me stay on “for now.”
Success. I’d infiltrated Mount Vernon. Now I could really get to work.