Morning light seeped in, illuminating the threshold, but not digging its way any deeper. With the dawn came the salt-tinged breeze. The surf continued, as it always had and always would, a constant background murmur and throb. It was relaxing, kept the job at hand out of mind.
I peeked out from the entrance of the cave. Nothing was moving. I slipped back into the shadow. They’d be here. I knew.
I opened the door and took a step, but then froze at the threshold.
“I’m sure you know all of these people. Please come closer.”
The Commander continued to smile, but I knew something was up, something unpleasant. I took two steps into the room. The door was closed behind me.
Dr. Stevens nodded at me. His presence told me a lot. The presence of Dr. Yu told me more.
“We have discovered a situation that seems right up your alley,” The Commander said.
“When is it?” I asked. I glanced over at Dr. Singe, the noted anthropologist.
“Ah, you recognize our guests, do you?” The Commander asked. I nodded. “This job is different. It’s 55,000 years in the past.” My jaw dropped. The Commander smiled. “I thought that might get your attention.”
Dr. Yu drew a rectangle in the air with her finger. A screen appeared in the rectangle. She manipulated it and then used her hand to move it in front of me. I studied the screen and nodded. It disappeared.
“We will give you a better briefing later. Right now I need to know if you are in.” I nodded. The Commander smiled. The entire room seemed to exhale, making the tension level drop. “Good. I’d hate to lose my best people.”
I glanced around the room. He was serious. They would have killed me if I had said “no”.
Eight people moved onto the beach. Two men, two woman and four kids including the infant on the back of one of the women.
This could have been a normal scene in the 21st century except that there was far more wild-animal leather and far fewer cell phones. There were exactly zero cell phones..
I watched as they went to the ocean’s edge. We were at a place that would be covered in water in the 21st century, far out to sea. That thought kind of blew me away, but it made sense. The glaciers had taken up much of the water so that the sea level was far lower than in modern times.
Even if these people were kilometers out to sea, I had to be careful. There could be no telltale signs. Some day they could be found. A bone in a net, an underwater expedition. Something. I had to be careful.
The tide was just beginning to come in. I could see the people digging in the soft sand. I guessed they were after clams.
They were too far away for me to hear over the constant surf, but I could tell they were talking as they worked.
The people were genetically about 50 % modern human and 50 % Neanderthal, yet they made up an entirely new species, a species far more intelligent and adaptable than either. More than that, they were more social and cooperative, less aggressive.
These people were now confined to the edge of the continent, but they were at a threshold. The population was growing and would soon be on the move. With their superior technologies they would eventually overrun the other human populations and replace both the last remaining Neanderthals and the new upstarts, the so-called Modern humans.
My job was to see that it never happened.
People often ask what turn of events had caused Modern humans to win out over the competition. Was there something special about us?
I took careful aim at the larger of the two males.
Yes, there was something special about us.
We discovered time travel so people like me could go back and ensure we conquered all.
I didn’t like killing what were really people even if they had different names, but I was ensuring that the future, my present, would turn out the way I knew and loved.
In the back of my mind I knew that my act of violence would make all of the violence of humanity, from Huns to Mongols to Nazis, inevitable.
But it would also make Michelangelo and Cezanne possible.
I fired eight shots. I’d find the village later.