Variety (Part Six)

by Leah Nicholson

 

 

    Time Travel is discovered simultaneously in the years 2844 and 1729, when a certain Maria Crescent (in the year 2844) traveled backwards in time (to the year 1729) and decided it was just so lovely that she didn’t feel like going back. Or, in a more technical sense, forward. 

 

    Maria Crescent got married, avoided contracting smallpox, learned to cook chicken, had no children—or perhaps she did, since no one ever really followed up on that—and invented the high five two centuries too early. It did not catch on. Having managed to cause what is perhaps the most bizarre anomaly in human existence, she died unremarkably, and is known by precisely no one. 

 

    As it happens, it is to this same standard that the corporate entity Crescent holds itself; they hold little consideration for consequences, no long-term goal anywhere in sight, and an overwhelming tendency to do whatever first comes to mind. These are well recognized as the primary characteristics of success. 

 

    There is, however, one thing that Crescent enterprises never quite got around to adapting. Maria Crescent, for all her faults, was always, at every conceivable moment, thinking. She thought about the past just as often as she thought about the future. She thought about how they both were the present—or otherwise, she thought, the present wasn’t real at all, and so the past and the future were uncertain at best. She thought about timelines and parallel worlds, she thought about space and history. She thought, one might say, entirely too much. 

 

    One might surmise, even, that it’s what got her killed. 

 

~ part six ~ 

 

    There are a few things one should understand about Liam Jones. 

 

    Firstly, he’s decent. This is very important, because decent people get themselves into the most inconvenient of situations, often through no fault of their own, and proceed to scramble—with varying levels of competence—to solve every problem that confronts them. 

 

    Secondly, Liam is particularly good at problem solving. 

 

    This is only natural, for there is no way Crescent would have hired him otherwise. Had he not been an accomplished student with credentials as a chemist (absolutely necessary), physicist, engineer, singer (not necessary, but appreciated), and mechanic, he would not have gotten very far in life. This was exactly what Crescent executives told him when they recruited him, as they did all students between the ages of twenty and twenty-five. 

 

    Thirdly, and precisely because Liam is an accomplished chemist, physicist, engineer, singer, and mechanic, he is constantly accosted by two warring concepts: curiosity and anxiety. He learned the first thing as a child, when he noticed how red dust formed on the metal springs he’d left in puddles; he learned the second thing also as a child, when his teacher informed him, “Everyone already knows that, dear. We’ve known about rust since forever.” 

 

(Since forever,” it should be noted, is a strictly impossible term.)

 

    This unfortunate mixture of curiosity and anxiety causes Liam no end of grief, and is topped off by the first factor; people who are both curious, anxious, and decent, all at once, never really know peace. But then, they don’t generally want to. 

 

    Fourthly, Liam grew up with Gayle. 

 

    Gayle is not an accomplished chemist, or physicist, or mechanic, or what-have-you, but she, like her brother, is particularly skilled at thinking on her feet—both of which, it’s worth mentioning, are enhanced biomechanical structures. Whether that’s good or bad, she insists, really depends on the day. And the weather. 

 

    The weather in London in the year 1864 was damp, cloudy, and alternating between drizzling and almost drizzling. It is the same weather that London has now, and tomorrow, and in ten years (but not eleven), and it pleases absolutely no one at any time. 

 

April 13th, 1864 – 4:49PM 

 

    Lydia Barrington, of course, did not know any of this, though she prided herself on being an astute woman with an eye for anything out of the norm. Gayle and Liam Jones, she had decided five minutes after they walked through the door, were several paces out of the norm, if not several yards. Mr. Jones, though handsome enough and not exactly idiotic, seemed to constantly be looking for something, as though he’d lived his life in a cave and had only just recently stepped outside. Miss Jones, on the other hand, looked like she’d left that cave a long time ago and had regretted it ever since. She had a deplorably blunt attitude that Lydia found similar to the taste of lemon in one’s tea; refreshing at first, until it inevitably soured and ruined the whole thing. 

 

    “What do you suppose they’re whispering about?” she asked Annabelle, who didn’t seem to be paying them much heed. 

 

     “The weather, no doubt. New York isn’t like to be better, but Americans always think the grass is greener somewhere else.” Anna raised her brow. “You seem rather nervous about them.” 

 

    Lydia stiffened. “Should I not be?” 

 

    “I’m only being hospitable.” Her friend seemed somewhat stricken. “I wouldn’t do anything to purposefully upset you. Don’t you know that?” 

 

    “You’ve made an art of purposefully upsetting people,” said Lydia. “And I know this because you’ve told me. 

 

    “Maybe so,” Anna conceded, “but you’re not people.” 

 

     Annabelle Dellwood was not dishonest, exactly, but she certainly wasn’t known for being straightforward. Still, her expression had lost all its coyness, and her blue eyes looked at Lydia as though they wanted some sort of reply. For a moment, it seemed, Annabelle had spoken so earnestly that Lydia almost believed her. 

 

    Then Jonathon Halwith walked over. “There you are,” he said, though he’d known where Lydia was the whole time, so one might wonder what the purpose of pointing it out might be. “You two disappeared to the parlor for rather a long time.” He turned to address Lydia. “Are you ready to go?” 

 

    “Please, Jonathon,” said Annabelle, rolling her eyes. This was and still is considered rude, but Annabelle Dellwood was one of those people that could get away with being rude every now and again. “It’s been an hour. There are a lot of those in a day—surely you won’t miss one.” 

 

    Mr. Halwith didn’t get the chance to respond, for it was in that moment that he spotted Gayle and Liam Jones walking back down the hallway, their heads down, as they attempted to make a graceful exit. He took their deliberate avoidance of eye-contact as a slight, and in the mind of Mr. Jonathon Halwith, a slight is reason for immediate confrontation. 

 

    “Excuse me,” he said, and Liam—being decent—stopped and turned to him. “You’re leaving rather early,” Mr. Halwith noted, not remembering that he had been attempting to do the exact same thing approximately fifteen seconds ago. 

 

    “Well, yes,” Liam Jones conceded, confused and seeming to be in somewhat of a hurry. “Should I . . . not be?” 

 

    Gayle gave him a rather cutting glance at that, but Jonathon did not notice it. Lydia, however, did. 

 

    “I haven’t introduced myself,” said Jonathon, about to introduce himself. “I’m Mr. Halwith.” 

 

    Gayle, unable to help herself, muttered under her breath, “Strange first name.” 

 

    Lydia’s brow furrowed. “Jonathon Halwith,” she said, “is my fiancé.” 

 

    Liam paused, as though he misheard. “Jonathon Half . . . what? 

 

    Lydia was scowling openly now. Mr. Halwith seemed to be two parts confused and one part insulted. “Hal. With.” 

 

    “Right,” said Liam, blinking distractedly. He had a rude habit of looking at the door, Lydia thought, as though it might disappear in a moment, leaving him trapped like a bird in a cage. 

 

    “Do you have somewhere to be, Mr. Jones?” she inquired. 

 

    He looked relieved. “Yes, actually. And I—or, we—are late.” 

 

    With that, Mr. Liam Jones grabbed hold of his sister’s arm, for some reason going out of his way to reach for her left one, despite the right being much closer. Before he could pull her along, Gayle looked at Lydia. “Word of advice,” she offered. I don’t recommend taking his last name.” 

 

    A few scant laughs erupted about them. Not many—it was not wise, in 1864, to laugh at rich men in the city of London—but enough to say the others had been listening. Lydia recognized Gerold Corey’s chuckle among them, and before her friend could hide it, she spotted Annabelle’s lips twitch into the semblance of a smile. 

 

    Lydia’s mouth set in a thin line, like a loose thread suddenly drawn taught. The American siblings were already moving away, and for a moment it looked as though Anna meant to call them back. Lydia stepped in front of her. “This was the point all along, then?” she asked, not at all intending to wait for an answer. “You lie so well, I’m almost impressed.” 

 

    Annabelle blinked. “I didn’t lie, Lydia. They didn’t mean to mock you—” 

 

    “—but you did,” she finished. 

 

    “I made no insult towards you.” 

 

    “Only to my choices,” she hissed. “Either the world judges me, or you will. Can I not satisfy you, Annabelle? What candidate for marriage would have thrilled you? Should he have been some poor, noble soul? A soldier on his deathbed?” 

 

    “Oh, of course not. Those might have at least been interesting.” A familiar venom had filled Annabelle’s voice. 

 

    “I need security,” Lydia told her, “not bloody amusement. I’d stay with you otherwise. 

 

    Anna recoiled, and Lydia knew she’d made a mistake. The feeling was disturbing, a cross between the sound of shattering glass and the sensation of dropping from a great height, like you do in a dream only here she didn’t get the luxury of waking up safe in her bed. 

 

    She bit her lip. “Anna . . .” 

 

    “It’s fine, dear,” said Annabelle, rather icily. “You ought to go home, anyway. You’ll be married soon.” Her blue eyes pierced. “May as well get used to it.” 

 

    What Lydia might have done in this situation is irrelevant. What she should have done, even more so. The past, as anyone can say, is set rather certainly in stone. 

 

    The present, however, is more like a body of water. Currently, it is whirling in motion, and dangerously close to drowning every single individual in its grip.