Mei-Ling Delgado sat at the kitchen table filing a motion for dismissal on a lawsuit between a human waste disposal company and a mining cooperative on Titan. Off-world corporations still did all legal services on Earth. Labor was much cheaper on the mother planet. Her law firm specialized in interplanetary contract disputes, but she was only a junior partner. They gave her the boring cases. Finally, she did what she wanted to do, which was talk to her husband. "Babe, I have to hand it to you. I've never seen the kids play an educational toy like this."Helmut Delgado smiled as he stirred the wok, letting the excess water boil off to thicken the curry. Dinner had reached the point of perfection. "Dear, I was sure it would be worth it."
"But every time I buy one they ignore it."
"What did you got them last?"
"Three-D VR Anatomy."
"Madison said it was gross and after DeMarco found out you stuck them with the G rated version, he had NO interest."
"I wanted to be age appropriate."
"He's a boy. He has his own holovids."
She didn't want to think about that. "Well, there was TimeOrganizer."
"They liked Paleo Museum, for a while."
"They saw the dinosaurs. When they played again, the dinosaurs didn't change. And a living room size T-Rex just isn't scary."
"OK, Smarty pants, what's the difference?"
"I knew what would make me interested in history. Changing it and beating my brother. With History Maker Ultimate 2230 Edition they can, except that they must study to win the game." He turned off the stove. "Dinner is ready. Please call the kids."
Demarco and Madison sat in the living room, showing off the results of their last History Maker competition on their tablets. "I don't believe it," DeMarco said. "You cheated."
"Dinner," their mother said. "Madison, it's your turn to set the table."
"Oh Mom," they both called.
"Your Dad worked hard to cook dinner. You are going to sit down and eat it."
They moved into the kitchen. "No computing at the dinner table," Madison said to her mother.
Mei-Ling glared, but it was her rule. She put her computer with the children's on the sideboard. Brianna, the family dog, demanded that she scratch her nose.
Dad put a large bowl of spicy spinach and lentil curry on the table. "So what's the subject?"
"She cheated," DeMarco said.
"I didn't cheat," Madison said, shrugging her shoulders as she put plates and bowls on the table. "I'm just smarter than him, so he's jealous."
Dad brought over a tray of whole wheat garlic naan, still hot from the tandoor. The smell was marvelous. "So what was the challenge?"
"Maximize change in the historic 20th century by altering one person's life," DeMarco said.
"Son, what was your change?"
I stopped Gavrilo Princip from killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand. I wanted to prevent the Great War from happening."
"Did it work?"
"Not really. Nine months later, another war broke out. But how? My Archduke Franz Ferdinand lived until 1941. Wasn't his death what led to the war?"
Mei-Ling shook her head as Brianna put her chin on her lap. "You didn't study enough. Too many things made that war happen."
"That's why I started a bigger war instead," Madison said as she set a decanter with ice water and lemon on the table.
"You started a war," Mei-Ling asked as she stroked Brianna's velvet ears.
"Oh yeah, about twenty years after the Great War. Really huge."
"COOL," Dad said, impressed. "How did you do it?"
"I found the time during the 20th century closest to war. A tremendous economic upheaval. Japan started a war in China. Italy started a war in Africa. Spain was in the middle of a civil war. Everything was completely insane in Russia. The whole world became a powder keg. It only needed someone to light the fuse."
"Who," Dad asked.
"Can I show you, Mom?"
"Alright, just this once because it's part of the conversation and dinner hasn't actually started."
Madison picked up her tablet. A 3D image of a man appeared. He wore a floppy handlebar mustache that had a touch of grey in it. Except for his confident and calm eyes, he looked very ordinary. "He was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's delegate to the League of Nations in his 1937 national government."
"Why did you pick on him," DeMarco asked, gazing at out the window.
"I saw his story was on an episode of 'How Love Changes History.' He was a nobody from Austria, a starving artist that went to England to evade the draft. When he fell in love with an art teacher's daughter and made her pregnant, they married. After he became a British citizen, he got involved with the Labor party and ran for parliament."
"I had his family Sabbath dinner painting as my desktop background for years," Mei-Ling said.
"That's the guy. People remember him for his pictures but he was a great speaker. Britain needed an alliance against Italy and Japan. Hitler got Germany and Austria. That made France, Belgium, Holland and Portugal join. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Greece followed. This lead to the European Confederation."
"So how did a kitschy artist start a war," Dad asked as he put a fresh tossed salad on the table.
Madison tapped her tablet. A second projection stood next to the first. They looked the same and yet completely different. It wasn't just his stupid mustache that resembled two streams of snot or his strangely combed hair. Evil and insanity shone through those eyes. "This is what I turned him into."
"He's scary," Mei-Ling said, shocked at the difference. "What did you do to him?"
"Not that much. I kept Adolph, the guy, far away from this Sarah Goldstein girl he married. Then I made his brother's wife think he was a lazy bum, so she got her husband to ship him back to Europe right before the Great War started. Conditions were absolutely horrible. Lots of people turned crazy in it, so I let him become the German version of Joseph Stalin. Instead of convincing France, the USA and Germany to force Japan to negotiate for peace in China, he became the leader of Germany and started a second world war. Because of the war, their Molotov didn't shoot Stalin in 1942. The fall of the Soviet Union was delayed for over forty years. China suffered under a brutal dictator that was even worse than Stalin."
"Wow!" Helmut took his daughter's tablet and flipped through it. "Their entire world is falling apart."
"Oh, it's gross. This Hitler exterminated over ten million unarmed civilians. After the war, the leader of China killed 75 million of his own people."
"I know it's just subroutines murdering subroutines, but that's too sick," Mei-Ling said. "Get rid of him. He's taking away my appetite."
Madison turned off both Hitlers. "Yeah, everything in that world really creeps me out. They have screwed up the climate on their Earth. The game predicts that the whole planet's food production is going to collapse. Global nuclear war will break out by their year 2060. Everything is so scary awful."
"Madison, glasses go with the water," Dad said, putting the tablet with the others.
"I will. I will."
"That whole timeline sounds like bad mojo," DeMarco said. "Toss it in the trash."
Madison fetched four water tumblers. "Maybe I'll keep them and see what happens." She gave Brianna a kiss. "How about starting 1750 to 1800 tomorrow? I bet I can stop the American Revolution from succeeding by changing one person."
"That's easy," Dad said. "Just have Captain Patrick Ferguson take the shot and kill George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine."
"Not British, not American and not a direct participant."
DeMarco paused, debating her offer as he watched the Quito space elevator slowly descend. "Nah, you got it figured out."
She folded and placed napkins on the table. "Dah, but I'm so sure I'll let you get to change three people."
"OK, dinner's getting cold. Let's eat," Dad said.
"You going to keep your timeline," Madison asked.
"I already tossed it," Demarco said. "It's boring. What about you?"
Madison paused, thinking. "I dunno. Everything is so freaking weird. They are even figuring out that they're only a simulation."
"That's really sick," DeMarco said.
"Yeah." Madison quickly dragged her simulated world into the bank vault. Her tablet flashed "Vault Filled. Only Five Saved World Allowed in Bronze Tier." She groaned. "No more save slots, Dad, what do I do? Please, can you upgrade me?"
"The deal was we would review your grades at the end of the term."
"But, Dad!" Madison had been taking puppy eyed whimpering lessons from Brianna, and she gave it her all.
"Your father was nice to get the two of you access to this server in the first place. It's not cheap, and the next tier is more than twice as expensive."
Madison squirmed, dancing from one foot to the other. "Do I keep this Earth or where I landed flying saucers? I can't decide."
"Are you kidding," DeMarco said. "That TV interview with the Martians was awesome. You got to save it! Besides, this timeline is going to starve to death and then blow itself up."
"And the Martians in Earth bathrooms," Dad said. "Where does it fit? Oh man, they were priceless."
"You and potty humor," Mei-Ling said. "You never grew up."
"And you were never a kid."
"Alright, computers down," Mei-Ling said. "It's dinner time."
With a pained sigh, Madison sat. "Do you ever wonder if they feel pain when we delete them?"
"Nah," Dad said. "It's only data and subroutines. They just stop being."
Madison sat, digging into her favorite meal. "Dad, your curry is the best!"
"Mom, which one do you think I should save?"
Brianna answered with a soft whine as she sat near the table, her moist, brown eyes focusing lovingly at Madison as her ears moved back and forth to plead for the curry.
"Do you have to ask? Briana, no. No food from the table, Go lay down," Mei-Ling said. "Besides, Dad's garlic and onion aren't good for dogs."
"Let's let Brianna decide," Dad said, picking up vegetables in the kitchen. "Left hand is a carrot. Right is a cucumber. You call it."
"If she eats the cucumber first, the Martians live. Deal?"
Brianna looked at both hands. Her head went back and forth. Carrot or cucumber? Carrot or cucumber? Finally, she decided.
Written by DrBobSmith