Like everyone, she was in shock.
But she had just narrowly avoided the disintegration of LA. She’d moved to Vegas the week before the war began, to work as a background dancer.
They found her the day after, in Vegas, getting ready for the show. She was starving as usual. Her figure just wouldn’t conform to the standards of the 2020s, and that meant not eating very much. Not that she felt like eating, after she’d seen some of the video of what remained of her home town.
They could change it all with a photo, they told her.
All they needed was for her to accept that she could be in two times in one place. It was a little thing, right? Like, you’re a gorgeous dancer who thinks she’s fat. The reality doesn’t change, just because your thinking is all wrong.
So she said yes, and the next day — after all the injections, and the strange machine — she woke up in 1954. She was a dancer at the Copa Room, at the Sands. She did a show with Frank Sinatra. Sammy Davis Jr. dropped in, and was a big hit. Everyone thought she was gorgeous, even though (she thought) she was a fat cow.
Eventually, she got comfortable with being desired by so many men, despite her obvious (to her) defects. She loosened up, though she was always quiet and reserved. Some of the other girls called her “the librarian”, but if they’d had the right words, they would have called her the cipher. She never mentioned her folks — she was intensely aware of the fact that they were not born yet, and she didn’t want to say anything to prevent their existence.
They hadn’t told her which photograph would be the right one. Funny, that the scientists should miss such an obvious detail, so she treated each snap with reverence and joy. “The secret,” the lead scientist had told her before she left the year 2024, “is your innocence and exuberance. When they take the shot, you have to exhibit that, above all.”
It was one of the things that made her more of a cipher than a librarian. Her reserve dissolved whenever a camera was produced, which was noticed by a Hollywood producer in 1956. He wanted to her to do a screen test in LA, but she turned him down flat.
They hadn’t said which photo would be the one, but the scientists hadn’t told her she needed to do movies.
When it happened a year later, she was in no doubt. The photo that would save the world had been taken.
And after that, she was (almost) free.