Variety (Part Five)

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Leah Nicholson

 

    Time travel etiquette is very simple. 

 

    Firstly, always wear the appropriate clothing corresponding with your era. The tangibility of time is questionable, but dress codes, as any Crescent employee will tell you, are non-negotiable. Furthermore, operate by your modern moral codes, regardless of century; murder is generally frowned upon, theft and embezzlement are (technically) not allowed, and slavery should be widely considered—for lack of a better term—bad. 

 

    Do not destroy any environmental resources that have not yet already been destroyed. Do not suggest the possibility of time travel to civilians. Always clean up after yourselves (see Crescent’s corporate glossary for the definition of “mess,” level 3 override required). And finally: 

 

    Do not change the past.  

 

    Do not change the future. 

 

    But of course, as is usually the case with most proper etiquette, these rules can be followed or ignored at random. The only requirement here is that you do not, under any circumstances, pause to consider the consequences.  

 

    That is, after all, the only sure way they have of finding you. 

 

~ part five ~ 

 

April 13th, 1864 – 4:41PM 

 

    The first person Gayle sees when she and Liam walk through the door to Miss Annabelle Dellwood’s residence is Gerold Corey. Gayle doesn’t know his name—how could she, since she’s never bothered to learn it? Instead, her link to recognition is the ridiculous moustache he wears, the same moustache he wore when he gave her and Liam the time earlier that morning, after they’d rather inconveniently appeared in Miss Charlotte’s parlor. 

 

    (Personal preference aside, it’s a perfectly natural moustache to have, at least for the nineteenth century. In the eyes of the twenty-first, there’s no denying that its appearance would feel more complete were it to be twirled upwards during some sort of malicious monologue.) 

 

    Gerold Corey is standing slightly to Gayle’s right as she stops. He does not greet her as she comes through, but rather looks up at Liam, who is following close behind. The two out-of-time siblings are noticeably pale and slightly breathless. Liam is biting his lip. Gayle’s jaw is clenched. 

 

    “Jones,” Mr. Corey greets Liam (he does not bother looking at Gayle), and in a brilliant moment of what he believes to clever, inquires, “Have the time?” 

 

    This is, in fact, supremely clever, though not for the reasons Corey believes. It might even be laughable, but neither Gayle nor Liam laughs. “No,” says Liam, sounding for all the world like he wished it wasn’t true. “Not even remotely.”  

 

    Gayle grabs his arm and pulls him further into the house, as though in a hurry to get—where? Gayle realizes she doesn’t know. Where are they going?  

 

    When are they going? 

 

    There’s a phenomenon that occurs when something utterly and entirely disastrous takes place, but leaves no visible effects. It isn’t a disaster like, say, an earthquake or a hurricane; it isn’t loud or broadcast on the news channel as it happens. It’s the sort of disaster summarized in one sentence, a punch to the gut that you think you’ll recover from only to realize you’ve been stabbed.  

 

    This precise phenomenon occurred to Gayle and Liam Jones three minutes and eleven seconds ago. 

 

    Liam comes to a stop in the hallway leading to the parlor (naturally not knowing that it’s the hallway leading to the parlor). He turns to Gayle and spreads his hands in a gesture that is half a shrug and half a plea. “Why?” he asks in barely suppressed panic. 

 

    Gayle mimics the tone, for once not mockingly. “Because I didn’t know what to do,” she whispers harshly. 

 

    “She saw us. 

 

    “No, she didn’t see us. 

 

    “There’s this thing that people do with their eyes, Gayle, and usually when they’re open and looking directly at you it means that they saw you. That’s how visual perception works. 

 

    If, in this metaphor, Gayle and Liam have just been stabbed by a disastrous event, what follows is the delicate sprinkling of salt in an open wound. Annabelle Dellwood, tired of sitting absently in her parlor and waiting for guests, appears at the other end of the hallway, spots Gayle and Liam, and smiles with glee. “There you are!” 

 

    Gayle, chewing her lip, gives her a painfully (and likely intentionally) false grin. “Yes,” she responds with a mimicked and somewhat panicked sweetness. “We’re here. Present, as it were.” 

 

    Liam elbows her. 

 

    Annabelle approaches them welcomingly, though doesn’t hug them. This is the nineteenth century, after all. “I’m ever so glad to see you after this morning, dears,” she tells them. “You seemed in such a hurry to leave Miss Charlotte’s, I just knew you had somewhere important to be. I thought you might not come at all!” 

 

    “Yes,” Liam concedes, struggling to speak in the time-appropriate vernacular. “We thought . . . similarly.” 

 

    It is only after her brother has said this that Gayle notices Lydia—another name she does not yet know—standing a few paces behind Annabelle and staring at the two of them with unhidden wariness. Annabelle gestures to her. “I suppose I ought to introduce you to some of the London locals, yes? This is my dear friend, Miss Lydia Barrington, soon to be Lydia Halwith, though I don’t believe I ever shall call her it. Halwith is such a silly name, don’t you think? Come closer, Lydia, these are the Americans I told you about.” 

 

    “So I thought.” Lydia smiles politely. “You have the look, certainly.” 

 

    “We considered wearing the American flag on our vests, in case there was any confusion,” says Gayle. Liam elbows her a second time. 

 

    “Won’t you sit down?” asks Miss Barrington, gesturing back towards the parlor. “Anna and I were just discussing some local happenings. London may not be as interesting as Boston, I’m sure, but it has its moments. 

 

    The subtle slight in the suggestion that the two of them are from Boston goes entirely unnoticed as Liam replies, only half listening and his attention clearly focused elsewhere, “We’re from New York, actually.” 

 

    Lydia reads this as a subtle slight of their own, but she couldn’t be more wrong. Liam is incapable of intentionally slighting people, and Gayle is incapable of being intentionally subtle. 

 

    Annabelle gasps, or at the very least, pretends to—it’s nearly impossible to tell a serious gasp from a sarcastic one. “Oh, dear, I do hate repeating myself, but it seems the two of you must know. For your own safety, if nothing else.” 

 

    Liam looks at them sharply. “Safety?” 

 

    “There’s been a string of robberies,” Lydia continues, watching him the way a hawk might watch a field mouse. This is a perfectly natural gaze for any respectable member of London’s upper class to have, regardless of century, and is extremely effective. “A pair of thieves, isn’t that what you said, Anna?” She looks at her friend rather coldly. “I can’t imagine what would bring someone to commit such a pathetic crime as theft. Certainly none of the locals would stoop so low.” 

 

    Annabelle Dellwood bristles. “Certainly.” 

 

    “I don’t mean to concern you, Mr. Jones,” says Lydia, making her the second person to overlook Gayle in favor of her brother.But it seems such a pertinent topic. Two people, terrorizing innocents in such a manner . . .” She glances rather pointedly between them. “It’s truly a Godless act. Wouldn’t you agree?” 

 

    “Oh, entirely,” Gayle interrupts, a bit too loudly. “For it to be Godful you’d have to cross yourself first. Will you excuse us?” 

 

    With that, she grabs Liam’s elbow and drags him further down the hallway. 

 

    “I think that woman just accused us of robbery,” he says when they’re secluded enough to be considered alone. 

 

    “She’s about to get some good evidence. Knowing our luck, that Cheyenne lady is going to show up and conveniently mention the two idiots who tried to break into her closet in broad daylight.” 

 

    “Her name’s Charlotte. 

 

    “Really?” Gayle asks. “Is that her name Liam? Is her name Charlotte? See, here I’ve been thinking it’s Cheyenne this whole time we’ve known her. Oh, and, speaking of time—funny thing, that—but has it occurred to you that we are physically stuck?” She looks at him pointedly. In the year 1864? 

  

    “It’s crossed my mind a few times, yes.” Liam looks nervously behind him. His shoulders relax, just barely, and he turns back. “It’s not all bad.” 

 

    “If you try to tell me that I’m going to have to acclimate to the nineteenth century, I’ll slap you. With the metal hand. That you made. 

 

    “What I meant is that we aren’t out of resources. We replaced the PACTIN, remember?” 

 

    “It’s sort of the whole reason we’re in this hell-hole, so yeah, I vaguely recall that.” 

 

    Liam doesn’t seem to be listening to her anymore. His eyes are looking somewhere in the distance, fixed on an invisible point, his mind whirling. The unfortunate context of the situation aside, it’s the most comfortable Liam’s been since he stepped foot in 1864. “If the PACTIN functions correctly,” he says, more to himself than to Gayle, “then that means we still have communication capabilities. We can send out a message to Crescent, and maybe they’ll have some sort of solution to restoring the link between this door and the one in the twenty-first century.” He looks at his sister. Our thumbprints still scanned, which means we still have clearance levels. I mean, think about it—” 

 

    He stops here, abruptly. He and Gayle both stand entirely still for a moment. They listen, waiting for a sharp intake of breath, a scoff, an interruption, or any sort of reprimand . . . 

 

    Nothing happens. 

 

    Gayle smiles dryly and crosses her arms. “Well, don’t stop now. Think about what? 

 

    He looks back over his shoulder, spotting Annabelle and Lydia in the distance. Annabelle Dellwood’s eyes sparkle in the semblance of a knowing smile, while Lydia’s smile fails to reach her eyes.  

 

    Liam turns away and says, “I think we need to hack VARIETY.