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Changing the Past

29th-century Texas, like much of the rest of the world, was hot, dry, and windy. Sool, son of Menk, stood outside the National Research Arena, in dusty air that smelled of boiled cabbage, his cloak wrapped tightly around him. Three white-robed elders stood with him. The setting sun left long shadows everywhere.
One elder reached out to take Sool's hands. "You agree with our aims?"
"Very much so."
"We all have those we love in this world. But it is a sad, dying world. Your actions will eliminate all you know, if your mission succeeds."
"I understand this, Elder."
"For the good of mankind, it must be done. Otherwise human history will be short and miserable."
"I know."
"Jant?"
Another elder, a woman, reached into her robes and drew out two glass cylinders, one with shiny green powder within, one with red. "We know, Sool, that you are a great warrior, proficient with all manner of weapons, or even with no weapons. But the major goal of this mission--please keep this in mind--is to save life, not take it. Thus, these weapons, which are non-lethal, at least in their immediate effects. The green causes sleep. The red, extreme suggestibility. You understand the plan?"
"I do." He took the vials and put them in his cloak.
The third elder spoke. "We have identified the crucial nexus at which human history went wrong. The learned among us debated this a long time, with methods ranging from formal logic to computer simulation. You know what happened on November 22nd, 1963, and the results."
"Yes. Slowly increasing violence, culminating in the disaster which led to the world as it is. Our world."
The first elder said, "Sool, go with all our love and good will. Frustrate Mister Lee Oswald. Change the future of President John Kennedy."
"I will do my best."
Sool walked into the arena. Guards helped him change into clothing suited for early 1960's North America. They gave him U.S. currency, all dated 1963 or earlier. A red-cloaked philosopher said, "We will put you in the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository." The man embraced him. "Go out to the center of the field."
Sool did so. The air lit up around him....
...and he stood in a room full of stacked cartons, at 12:28 p.m., 11-22-63. The only light came from a window. The room smelled of paper dust, sweat, and fried chicken.
Sool went around the boxes. A carton of Kentucky Fried lay on the floor next to the sniper's nest. Lee Harvey Oswald, in dark slacks and a white T-shirt, knelt on the floor, holding the 6.5-millimeter Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. The bolt was already pulled back.
The assassin trembled. "I can't do it," he whispered. "I can't... I can't back-shoot the guy. Oh God, I can't do it."
Sool stepped up to him. "I know, Lee. And that is to your credit. You are a bad man--a traitor, a wife-beater, a fool with an exaggerated sense of self-importance. But in the end, you are not a murderer."
Oswald let go of the rifle and stared. "Who the hell are you?"
"I am Sool, a warrior of the Enforcers, from what you would call the 29th century. The sad fact is that, because you are not a murderer at heart, Kennedy lives, and there is a nuclear war in 1967. By my time, the human race is dying. All because you could not pull a trigger."
"What? What? What kind of bullshit is this?"
"It doesn't matter. I like giving speeches. A personal failing." Sool pulled out the green vial and sprayed Oswald in the face.
The assassin collapsed against the wall, draped awkwardly over a book carton. Sool took the rifle, aimed carefully, and squeezed off three shots. The third hit President Kennedy in the head.
Sool carefully wiped off his fingerprints, then pulled Oswald to a more upright position and placed his hands on the rifle. "Wake up, Lee."
The man shook his head groggily. "'The fuck...? What? Happened? Me?"
"Listen. I just shot President Kennedy. You'd better run, Lee. The police will be up here any moment now."
"What? What?" Oswald looked out the window. Shots hit the building and he drew back. "But I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"
"I know, Lee. I did it. But you'll be charged with it. As they say in your time, them's the breaks." Sool jogged out of the room, down the stairs, and out the back door.
Now to find Jack Ruby.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 27th, 2014


for Stephen King.

- Barton Paul Levenson

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