Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a beautiful morning reflecting in the waters of the Donaukanal. On the opposite side to Franz-Josephs-Kai, a young man sits behind an easel and smokes a cigarette between sips of wasserwine: a diluted fermentation that ensures taste and refreshment rather than intoxication. His watercolours will never be hailed as high art, but they make him a modest living when combined with his government stipend.

A woman emerges from the narrow strasse behind the artist, moving toward him with a strangely fixed gaze. That fixation is what allows me to accost her and slip a stiletto into her heart. Only a deep sigh marks her passing.

The artists turns to see me struggling to hold the body up.

“Need a hand there, friend?”

I shake my head: “We’re fine, thank you. Famke just had a little much last night – and this morning, in truth.”

He laughs and turns back to finish his smoke and contemplate the morning. I stagger off with my ‘drunken’ burden until I can find a quiet back alley in which to search the body for anomalous items. Which will also allow me dishevel her beyond anything bar cursory investigation. The police will draw obvious, but erroneous, conclusions. She will be buried in a pauper’s plot. At worst, the artist may be questioned. He’s getting used to that.

Just like I’m getting used to Vienna in the first decade of the twentieth century. And killing misguided fuckwits trying to kill Hitler and ‘save the world’. For some reason, every time-travelling do-gooder seems determined to off Der Führer before he Führer’s himself. Which is absurd. Every time travelling story hits problems with paradoxes or drops into multiple timeline wonderland. There’s a reason for that.

You. Can’t. Fuck. With. History. It’s that simple. There is no scenario where you can kill the bad person’s parents, or the bad person in their nursery, or ‘warn the pilot’, or whatever, thus averting the impending catastrophe. You stop one bad thing and a new bad thing will do far worse whilst effectively achieving the result you tried to avert. Causality is not as you think you understand it. It’s actually the brutal enforcer of a fixed course.

You read that right: ‘course’. Singular.

There is only ONE future that features humanity. It’s not pleasant, but we’re there. Still warring with each other, still exploiting each other, still messing up the planet. Every other future is a flavour of wasteland. I know this to be true and trust me, if I went ‘back’ to the time I came from to find a future where the Earth was devoid of humans but a green and pleasant land, I’d give up trying to return to the future I came from, and stop intervening there and then.

But, so far, there isn’t one. Every time I ‘go home’, it’s a ruin, a crater or an inland sea – which may just be a really big crater, but I haven’t got the time to explore. Because I have to flicker back and check the common interference points for a stray temporally adept hero or heroine – and kill them before they can do their heroic best and end humanity. Again.

I’m getting tired of my involuntary vocation, so I’ve started leaving little stories like this in the hope of influencing future do-gooders. Go volunteer at your local poor people helping place. Find a cure for stupid. Or how to make useful stuff from household waste. Just stay away from the time manipulation thing, because I can promise you it’ll be fatal.