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Instructions for Time Travelers

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She writes both fiction and poetry, and has won the Rhysling Award and the Elgin Award. Her book "Elemental Haiku," containing haiku for each element of the periodic table, was recently published by Ten Speed Press. Her work has appeared in both science fiction mgagazines (Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, Strange Horizons) and non-speculative venues (American Scholar, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Science). She tweets at @MarySoonLee and hopes that her antiquated website (marysoonlee.com) will be updated before this story is published.
0. Memorize the continuum index: Genghis-Mao-Curie-8AZ7.
1. Observe, but do not intervene. The path to dystopia is paved with good intentions. Never exit the time machine while in the past. Never communicate with prehodiernians.
2. Set left-hand dial to desired era. Set right-hand dial to desired duration of visit. Fasten seatbelt. Press the yellow triangle.
3. Upon arrival in the past, please remain in your seat. The time machine will automatically record local events. Enjoy the view!
4. Upon returning to the present, check the continuum index. If it has changed, you are guilty of time tampering. Press the red triangle to surrender yourself to the Time Militia.
5. If the Time Militia detect tampering and you do not self-report, you will be fined in proportion to the level of distortion.
1. Memorize your continuum index: Genghis-Mao-Guin-239.12
2. Observe the past, but don't interfere. Remember the temporal laws. Never exit vehicle while in the past. Never communicate with prehodiernians.
3. Set upper dial to desired era. Set lower dial to length of visit. Press the yellow diamond.
4. Remain seated. The time machine will record a continuous panoramic view. Have fun!
5. Immediately upon return to the present, check the continuum index. If it has changed, you are guilty of time tampering. Press the red diamond to summon the Time Militia.
6. NOTE: If the Time Militia detect tampering and you do not self-report, your cerebrum will be deconstructed.
A. Welcome to Wells Wonders! The miracle of time travel at affordable prices!
B. Know your continuum index: Genghis-Gandhi-Zamyatin/omicron/gamma/upsilon.
C. Never meddle with the past! Even good deeds occasionally cause cascading, unintended consequences.
D. Enter your destination date. Enter length of visit. Visits of over three hours are discounted by 25 percent! Pull the yellow lever.
E. Once you return to the present, check the continuum index. If it has changed, please remain seated. The Time Militia will arrive shortly to arrest you.
I. Thank you for volunteering as a Time Samaritan.
II. Remember the current continuum: Genghis-Mistral-Yousafzai/violet/beige/umber.
III. Enter destination date and duration of stay. Pull lever.
IV. Once you arrive in the past, push the red handle to open vehicle. Go right some wrongs!
V. If you do NOT wish to emigrate to the past, re-enter vehicle within eight hours. After eight hours, the vehicle will return whether or not you are on board.
VI. Once you return to the present, check the continuum. If the continuum has changed, congratulations! You've made the world a better place!
VII. If the continuum is unchanged, do not be discouraged. Unfortunately the time-space-continua are resilient and quasi-stable. Even major changes may succumb to probabilistic decay.
VIII. Thank you for your service.
I. Welcome, citizen of continuum Osman-Seifu-Osman/gold/copper/rhodium. Enter your identity number.
II. In eight minutes, the vehicle will automatically transport you to July 11th, 2052, fifty-eight minutes after the Devastation. Due to the Devastation's profound polychronic distortion, it is not possible to send you any earlier.
III. Upon arrival, vehicle doors will open. You will have eight hours to rescue survivors. Triage! Triage! Triage!
IV. With your help, we will rebuild our future.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 16th, 2020


Sometimes stories demand much effort and many revisions, but this was one of the happy cases where a story comes to me easily. Overnight, I had the idea of writing a fictional piece in the form of a set of instructions. And the next morning, after dropping my daughter at school, I wrote and completed the story before lunchtime. Time travel is a venerable concept in science fiction, and this is a short, light take on it. Thank you again,

- Mary Soon Lee
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