art by M.S. Corley
by Alex Shvartsman
"This wasn't at all what I expected," said Helen of Troy.
The man behind the counter nodded, an expression of professional empathy pasted onto his face.
"There was no epic love, no grand romance," said Helen. No, she was Molly. Molly. But it was difficult to stop thinking of herself as Helen after spending what felt like years in the other woman's head. "Everything was so dirty and run down, and there was no indoor plumbing. Paris tired of his conquest after only a few weeks, and I spent ages cooped up in a tiny room, bored out of my mind."
"Paris wasn't in love, then?" The man behind the counter wore the purple and white uniform of Temporal Excursions, Inc. and a metal nametag which read "Travis."
"Not with Helen," said Molly. "I'm pretty sure he was much more interested in Aeneas."
"I'm sorry," said Travis. "Actual history rarely turns out to match what was recorded and passed down through the centuries. Events tend to become neater and larger than life with each retelling."
"I won't give up just because Paris turned out to be so overhyped," said Molly. "There are other accounts of true love throughout history. Pure love, the likes of which you just don't see around, these days. And I'm determined to experience it."
True to her word, Molly was back the following week. Travis waved at her from across the office, came over to say hello and to process her order, then helped her to get comfortable in the recliner seat. But, before her hour was up, Molly disconnected the temporal cables from her head and got up, frowning.
"No true love?" Travis asked.
"Not even close. Caesar was a lecherous old man, and Cleopatra always saw their union as a marriage of convenience. Mark Anthony was worse. When things weren't going his way, he took it out on me.... On her." Molly shivered.
"That sounds awful," said Travis, with what sounded like genuine concern. "Did she really use a poisonous snake, you know, at the end?"
"I don't know. I disconnected, before..." Molly trailed off, then refocused. "You know the worst part? Mark Anthony beat her, and Cleopatra just let him. And there was nothing I could do, no matter how hard I tried."
"It's temporal physics." Travis sighed. "We can only be spectators of the past. Passengers, along for the ride. We can't influence events in any way."
"I wonder how people like Cleopatra would feel if they knew about tens of thousands of tourists riding along in their heads, observing their every private moment." Molly crossed her arms.
"It's probably best that they never knew," said Travis. "Who knows, there may be some future customers of Temporal Excursions watching us right now."