She sat at the edge of the outcropping, looking over the wilderness of her humanless Earth. She cleaned her knife, making sure to get every last speck of blood, and thought back on what was her final mission for the Ministry of Historical Research.
After their meeting in Bethlehem, she tracked Judson to the late 15th century, and an island in the Caribbean. She'd caught up to him as he was taking aim with a rocket launcher at three sailing ships approaching the island.
"Still trying to stop me, are you?" He didn't turn around, but continued fiddling with the targeting scanners. She could see now that the launcher he had was far more advanced than anything she'd ever seen. A thought struck her.
"You've been to the future," she said with a gasp.
He lowered the weapon to turn and look at her, a haunted look in his eyes. "Yes," he said. "Once by accident, then twice more on purpose." He shook his head. "The first time was a glitch in the transfer protocol. I was supposed to be studying the plagues, but ended up in a strange quasi-utopian future where people chose to live in drugged squalor as a vacation from rigidly enforced routines." He closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "When I told the Board about the glitch, they had me interred and tried to wipe my memory." He looked back up at her. "It didn't take, but I made them believe it had. After that, I started researching the Ministry itself, traveling back to its earliest days. Do you know what I discovered?"
She shook her head.
"The Ministry is not just researching history, they're trying to shape it. Subtly and slowly, simply by sending us back to observe, they are trying to build the perfect future."
"But how could--"
"Think about it," he said. "How many times have you bumped into someone on the street, or bought something in a shop, or made someone pause a moment to speak with you?" He fixed her with a hard stare. "How many lives have you touched, however briefly, in your travels through time?"
She stood silently a moment, dumbfounded. "My god..."
He smiled a grim smile, hefting his rocket launcher. "Exactly. Now imagine that multiplied by the hundreds of Agents working for the Ministry."
"But, if we're changing history every time we travel--"
He shook his head. "We're not. We were just shaping it, guiding it. The Board was wary for some reason of wholesale alterations to any specific moments in history, so they opted for a lighter touch."
She sat down on the ground, her world pulled out from under her. "I can't believe it."
"Neither could I," he said. "But when I thought about it, it made perfect sense." He laughed. "I mean, come on. Do you really think the government would have invested so much money in time travel, just to improve the quality of the average history textbook?"
She thought a moment, then moved closer. "What's your plan?"
"Well," he said, "I'm planning on destroying Columbus' fleet in the water just as they come in sight of the island. Then, I'll share these with the natives." He held out a handful of vials. "Vaccines. Smallpox, typhus, various strains of influenza. I'll vaccinate the islanders, and then make my way around the hemisphere, taking care of everyone else. So, when more Europeans come, they won't have disease available to do their conquering for them." He chuckled. "That should be a nice change, eh?"
She told him what she knew, of the eventual outcome of his disruptions, and the chaos and widespread death it would cause.
"I know you, Judson," she said, laying a hand on his arm. "You're no murderer."
He sighed, putting the launcher down.
"But I am," she said, plunging her knife into his neck.
She caught him as he fell, easing him gently to the ground. She stroked his cheek and closed his staring eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "But this isn't right. What the Board is doing is wrong, but your way is not the way to fix it."
She stood, brandishing her knife, a look of grim determination on her face.
She returned to the Ministry, making a few stops along the way for the essentials she'd need later. She used a pulse pistol and her knife to eliminate the Supervisors and assassinate the Board, while Judson's rocket launcher made short work of the time machinery. She felt a twinge of remorse over stranding those Agents on assignment, but not for too long. As a rule, time travelers had no families and few friends. No one would miss them when they didn't return, and their effects on history would be minor. The last machine to be destroyed was the dimensional transport nexus. Once she'd used it to return to her vacation spot, she fired a rocket through the vortex. Its violent collapse indicated that she'd been successful.
Her knife clean, she returned it to the leather sheath at her waist. She stood, letting a cool breeze kiss her naked skin as she turned to regard her cave. Before returning to the ministry, she'd made certain to bring a few things over to make the place seem more like home.
Because after a long day of hunting, nothing beat a long hot shower followed by curling up on the couch with a glass of wine, some soft music and a good book.