You’re not supposed to do anything to stop what’s happening. Just observe, collect historical data, dispel myths, report facts. The person whose body you’re occupying did nothing on this day in 1941, and if you act now you could change the course of history. At the very least, you’d lose your government grant.

This would be your last research trip to the past.

But the howling scream of pain from the naked woman strapped to the operating table makes you clench the clipboard tighter, grit your teeth to hold back a scream of your own. This is  worse than expected.

Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii watches, arms crossed, as the doctor makes another incision, peels back flesh to expose diseased organs. The scream grows louder.

You look away, noting the other staff and visitors watching the vivisection. Most seem enrapt by the display, approving even. They’ve seen this before. The Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army has been doing this for years. Untold tens of thousands of times. You want to slash your clipboard across Ishii’s face, stop the madness.

But you don’t. Ishii isn’t the only one in charge of such a facility. There’s Unit 543 in Hailar, 100 in Changchun, 1644 in Nanjing, 516 in Qiqihar. Many more.

But Unit 731, just outside Harbin, is the headquarters. And today, several of the men who will continue Japan’s wartime biological weapons research are in attendance. Ryoichi Naito, who will go on to head up Unit 9420 in Singapore. Masaji Kitano, next in line for Ishii’s job. You note the details of their faces, matching demeanor with the books and interviews you’ve read.

For history’s sake.

You make eye contact with a young man you recognize as Yoshio Shinozuka from his testimony about crimes he committed here. He’s watching you, as if he knows you don’t belong. You tense. He just shakes his head.

Then he pulls a pistol and shoots Ishii, Naito, and Kitano. Two shots each. The room erupts in confusion and people scatter. Only you and Shinozuka remain, along with the screaming subject on the table. Shinozuka walks to her side, places a comforting hand on her shoulder, and shoots her once in the head.

He turns to you, eyes much older than belong in his young face.

“I know you would have done something,” he says. “But you still have research to do. A career and a life ahead of you. Make it count.”

He puts the pistol to his head and pulls the trigger.

You go ahead and scream, then quickly disconnect, watching the scene around you fade. As you return to the future, you know you’ll reflect on this event for the rest of your life.

And the next time you visit that operating room you know how you must act.

Although this masquerades as a short story, it actually crams the known universe down your neural network.  Each pixel barrages your retina in photons arrayed to convey a trillion trillion trillion bits of information.  Glimpsing the first letter of this story has made you want to invest a month’s credits into our bank account, but hey, at least we’re honest.

After reading this far, you have the knowledge of three races from the Milky Way’s more intelligent arthropods stored in your brain.  How many of your friends can boast that?  (Shortly, all of them.  You will convince them to look at the first letters of this story, and they will soon sink a month’s credits in our accounts.)

All you have to know about your new knowledge is how to access it.  At present, this technology is limited to Random Access Memory—that is, it may require green tea on your Great Aunt Betsy’s veranda or a quiet afternoon of clinking dominoes at a local café, but it will all surface sooner or later, whether you want it to or not.

In clinical experiments, 98.9 % of those about to be crushed by pillow-rock monsters on the planet Xartan are able to recall the necessary escape data in order to skedaddle in the nick of time (unfortunately, in the same trials, only 3.4% were able to retrieve data on man-eating orchids, lying in wait just the other side of the cliff face–a problem our programmers are working on as we transmit this data to you).

Of course, next year around this time, you will act on a compulsive whim to purchase The All-New Complete Guide to Complete Guides, 2.0–updated to prevent your desire to buy our competitors’ viral Complete Guides so that you don’t go into bankruptcy buying various guides.  Those that do have a 27.6% probability of becoming schizophrenic, hydrophobic, and apoplectic.

That’s it!  The last of the data is loaded.  Enjoy you new life to the best of your ability.

Author’s note: this story is dedicated to my friends Julie and Kirk and their daughter Matilda, because Matilda arrived in the world with a similar entourage, inspiring me to write this.

Though we live in the Internet Age, Sofia’s birth was announced in the usual way: a voice was heard crying the news from the sacred cave in Damascus (interrupting the congress of lovers in the condominium above); a woman fell down beside the holy well at Chartres (now a cathedral), saying, “She is come!”; and a spirit stood amid the burning lamps of the Pituk gompa’s altar in Tibet, waiting quietly until the monks understood, but since they know to watch for these signs, that didn’t take long.

Perhaps every mother feels—on a good day, for a brief moment—that her child is the Messiah. Only a few know for sure, and the news does not generally please them. Sofia’s parents, both professors at the Università di Roma “La Sapienza,” just looked confused when the angel Gabriel showed up while they were cooking dinner, alighting on the mushroom basket by the door, which never recovered.

“I’m positive I helped with conception,” pointed out her father Rafaelo. “And since we are—were?—atheists, I’m afraid God wasn’t on our minds at the time.”

“Yes yes yes,” Gabriel replied. “If you’ve glanced at your human race lately, you know the Divine does not to do anything the same way twice.”

Sofia’s mother, Catriona, looked down at her belly, where a bump the size of a small pecorino cheese liked to move about, first high, then low and off to the side: Sofia.

“At least that explains the animals, caro,” she said to her husband.

“Animals?”  asked Gabriel sharply.

“They follow me around. Cats, dogs, pigeons, hawks, rats, foxes—any creature in the city. I walk to work and by the time I get there I look like a zoo on the move.”

“The odd thing is,” pointed out Rafaelo, “they never eat each other, not even when they disperse.”

“A sign of Universal Peace,” nodded Gabriel.

“That’s very nice, but someone has to clean up all the poop afterwards,” said Catriona.

“Ah! Not unlike having a baby, then,” said Gabriel. He groomed each wing with the air of one who has done his job. “Well! That wraps it up for now. Expect further communications as events warrant.”

“—But,” Catriona began, suddenly realizing how very many questions she had, yet too late, for Gabriel had ascended in golden state, leaving behind only fragments of wicker and footprints in the fungus.

“Drowning Atlantis” is a collection of flash fiction by David Kopaska-Merkel, for sale at the Genre Mall, where you can find some of his other stuff as well.

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