Variety (Part Two)

by Leah Nicholson


Applicants fill out the following: 

  1. Define time. 
  1. Who decided sixty seconds? Minutes? 
  1. Why? 
  1. How can you travel through something if you can’t touch it? 
  1. Define past and future 
  1. Do they change? Can they change? 
  1. Is August real? 
  1. If everything is simultaneously everywhere, when is it happening? 
  1. Define now. 
  1. Time’s significance is a) cultural, b) physical, c) omnipotent, d) detrimental 
  1. When was yesterday? 
  1. Define end. 



Leave document blank, turn in within thirteen seconds. 

Do not define seconds. 


~ part two ~ 


June 3rd, 2091 – 5:23AM 


    Gayle Jones is stepping into the elevator, fully awake, when her alarm goes off.  


    It’s labeled “Sunny Days” in the Crescent store, half price for a limited time. It plays a tune so cheerful that any sane person would rightly wake up in the mood to strangle someone, and since this is a heavily implied (though not entirely legal) aspect of Gayle’s job description, it may be the reason the store manager gave her such a generous discount.  


    Not that it isn’t worth it; appearances are important when you wake up at 5AM on a Tuesday—as everyone knows—so the Crescent design team did everyone the courtesy of making the alarm presentable as well loud. A small hologram of a child throwing a tree branch for his golden retriever rises from the screen, acoustic music blaring behind them in a way that says, “wake up or I’ll send an entire circus to drag you out of bed” (for which there is an option, but only if you’ve collected enough store-points through volunteer hours). Gayle, who has never been fond of clowns, and has a shamefully short public service record, swipes the red holographic arrow to shut it off. This does not work. 


    She swipes it again. The hologramchild gives her an insolent look and starts whistling along with the music. His dog barks. 


    “Need help?” 


    Gayle steps into the elevator and gives this interruption—whose name is Oliver—a fleeting glance. “Thanks, but I got it,” she says, and swipes the button again. When that has no effect, she closes her mech hand and shatters the screen. The elevator starts moving left. “I thought you worked on Floor 33, Ollie.” 


    “I do,” he admits, taking a step away from the holo-alarm’s remains. “Sometimes I move, though.” 


    “Ah. Right. Gayle flexes her mech-hand. 


    They’re quiet for a moment. The elevator speakers play classical piano at the wrong beat, faint enough that it sounds like it’s coming from another room. Oliver clears his throat. “I heard you’re going to the eighteenth century.” 


    “Nineteenth,” she corrects.  


    “You dyed your hair for it,” he points out. 


    “. . . Yeah.”  


    “The brown looks nice.” The elevator goes right, forward, and up. “You know, I actually heard a little about that,” Ollie goes on. “I mean, not the hair dye, though I guess I did hear something about that too, but about the trip. To the past. Your trip to the eighteenth century.” 




    “Yeah, that.” He plows ahead. “There was a maintenance crew down by the door—the one beneath Floor 1—earlier today. I was asking Variety about it, and she started talking a bit about the copper wiring and that glass handle before her programming made her stop. I always thought there were mechanical and chemical reactions taking place in the wiring and messing with the atmospheric pressure, and that the glass handle was just decorative, but now I think it might actually do something. Maybe glass is the secret to time travel.” 


    “That would explain the sands of time.” Gayle smiles, but Ollie just looks at her blankly. “You know, because . . . glass. Sand. Sand makes glass.” 


    “Oh, yeah,” he says, quickly. “I mean, sand has to be heated to like, over three thousand degrees Fahrenheit before—” 


    Gayle glares at him flatly. 


    Oliver coughs and starts cleaning his glasses. “Never mind.” 


     The elevator stalls. VARIETY’s voice interrupts the gentle notes of Mozart (who, in the year 2091, is finally beginning to go out of style) and says soothingly over the speakers, “Attention personnel: elevator 4.03 is temporarily out of function. Please wait three minutes and press your employee thumbprint to the R.E. pad before selecting your floor number.” She smiles. Gayle can’t see her, but she knows she’s smiling. “Thank you, and have a fantastic day.” 


    It used to be “have a nice day”, but that had apparently sounded too sarcastic. Gayle can’t help but laugh. “Ollie,” she begins, “would I make a good AI?” 


    “I don’t think so.” 


    “And here I thought you weren’t supposed to think.” 


    He raises a brow. “You did it too. Just now.” 


    “Hm.” She crosses her arms. “I always imagined I’d make a pretty decent machine.”  


    He doesn’t have a response to that. The three minutes pass. For humor’s sake more than anything else, Gayle had asked Liam to insert her thumbprint’s code into her mech-hand’s literal thumb. He did, but not without grumbling something about necessity and wasting resources. VARIETY’s voice comes back on the speaker. “You may now scan your thumbprint and select a floor. Thank you, and have a fantastic day.” 


    Gayle swipes her palm over the R.E. pad and hits the blank button beneath the one that reads Floor 1. The elevator shifts left, down a few feet, then right and up again. 


    After a moment, Ollie gives her a look. “Not to be rude, but could I ask . . .” He gestures vaguely at her. “. . . how do they feel?” 


    It takes her a moment to register. “Oh. That.” She shifts, biting her lip. “Cold. 


    It’s not a lie. Gayle glances down at her hand, the only visible metal on her, and flexes it again.  


    She doesn’t feel it the way she used to, back when—well, when she first lost it. The doctors had called it a phantom hand back then, and Gayle had named her other missing limbs ghost-leg and spirit-calf to match. She stopped feeling all of them after a while; now it’s more like she has multiple hands, ones that pull imaginary levers in her nerves to make her mech move. She feels the wires latch to her shoulder, the clenching and shifting of gears like an old carnival ride being turned on for the first time in thirty years. The steel is always cool where the limbs attach, but the electric sparks when the wiring connects to her nerves are like flame. 


    Of course, Gayle isn’t in the habit of actually telling people that. She shrugs, pressing her floor button a few extra times. “They work. That’s what counts.” 


    “Well, that’s good.” Oliver rubs the back of his neck, still giving her that wide-eyed look of dangerous (and, technically speaking, illegal) curiosity. He’s purposefully quiet as he asks, “Do you think you’ll get stuck?”  


    There’s no need to specify. 


    Gayle considers. “YeahI do.”  


    The elevator hums, piano fading as it’s replaced by violin. It reminds her a little of the theatre, for whatever reason, all heavy red curtains and echoing voices. The sound gutters in and out like an early twentieth century radio. It’s somewhat terrifying. 


    Gayle looks at her companion when the elevator doors finally open. “So. What did you hear about my hair?” 


    Oliver laughs. “Well . . . I guess some people just think the pink looked better.” 


    “No need to think over that,” says Gayle, and flexes her hand for the third time. “I happen to know it looked better.” 


April 13th, 1864 – 1:04PM 


    Lydia Barrington was of decent birth.  


    “Was”, not because she lost her wealth, but because she was born in Bristol, England on the seventeenth of February, in the year 1842. She was rich and kind and generous (debatable), and now is dead (not debatable). There isn’t time to get into when “now” is, but one fact is worth noting—her “was” was about to become “is”, and “is” is shifting into “was”.  


    Lydia Barrington, of course, had no way of knowing this.  


    She was walking (yes, was walking) through her garden on April the thirteenth, 1864, in her estate outside of London, England. It was a lovely little garden (still is, since the estate was kept in excellent repair even into the twenty-first century), and Miss Barrington always found the rose bushes and styled hedges rather to her liking. She strolled through the aisles often enough, with a book—which she never actually read—and a parasol to keep off the sun—which both was and is ridiculous, considering this was (and is) London, England.  


    Instead of an unread book, however, on April the thirteenth Miss Lydia Barrington was walking through her well-loved garden with a suitor. This particular man decided, as suitors often do, that April the thirteenth, 1864, was as good a time as any to propose. So it came to be that, at midday, Mr. Jonathon Halwith sat on a bench with Miss Lydia and recited a four-paragraph essay on why they ought to commit to this completely natural arrangement. Though his introduction was lacking, his points transitioned quite decently to a moving conclusion, and he did not stumble once through the speech. 


    Public speaking abilities, however, were not the measure Miss Lydia was determined to use. The lady in question had long ago decided to consider these sorts of offers for at least three minutes (and at most an hour) before she deigned to respond. In those three minutes (or, at most, an hour), she dwelled on a select few things.  


    Regardless of century, it must be acknowledged that wealth is a deciding factor in whether or not one has standards, and it can be easily recalled that Lydia Barrington had wealth, and thus could afford as many high standards as she pleased. The requirements for her future husband were as follows: 



    Mustache (combed). 


    Young, or at the very least, not old. 

    Fabulously rich (but not garishly so). 

    Willing to travel. 

    Not American. 


    Miss Barrington kept two copies of this list; one in her head, and the other on a neatly folded piece of paper in her vanity. It had been updated meticulously since childhood, and now, in its final form, had met its match. Against all probability, Jonathon Halwith satisfied every cursive written line. 


    There was really only one thing to be done, then, and that one thing was to share the news that she was about to become far happier (possibly) and far wealthier (undoubtedly) with her dear friends and family. Of course, since dear Miss Lydia’s family was either dead or disowned, that only left her friends. 


    It was for this reason that she found herself speaking with her oldest companion, a Mrs. Annabelle Jane Dellwood. Mrs. Dellwood was a woman of short stature and shorter temper, with hair a shade too dark to be considered gold. Lydia found it preferable to having red hair, as she did, but had never shared that particular compliment with her friend. 


    “I don’t think you need to get married,” said Annabelle, who was married, “but it may be nice of you to settle down a little. You rarely stay in the same place.” 


    “One can still move after being married.” Lydia laughed. “And I still plan to. I love traveling, and so does Mr. Halwith.” 


    Annabelle had a way of sipping her tea as though she were scoffing. She set the cup down with a resounding clink and frowned. “A pointless hobby, and not nearly as interesting as people seem to think. Spain is a bore, France is filthy, and Rome barely has anything to look at. If you value your health and your pride, which I know you do, you ought to keep yourself in London.” She paused, straightening as something occurred to her. “You’re only restless because you don’t understand what London has to offer. Since you’re newly engaged, why don’t you and James come to the estate? Edward’s and my Wednesday nights are a famously good time, you know, but you never come. I should like to see you and your husband-to-be.” 


    “Mr. Halwith’s name is Jonathon, Anna.” Lydia held her tea close to her chest, shifting on her parlor couch. “Besides, I’ve gone to your Wednesday evenings often enough. Why parade myself around on this one?” 


    “Do it for my sake, if not for your own. I want to see familiar faces and introduce you to some new ones.” She took Lydia’s free hand in her own. “Please, please say you’ll visit on Wednesday. You’ll enjoy it, I promise.” 


    “If you’re going to beg, it seems I have no choice.” Lydia set her cup on the table (a bit more gently than Annabelle, since this was her china they were using). “Should I expect any humiliation? I would like to prepare, if that’s the case.” 


    “Nothing of the sort, dear, but do try to arrive early.” Annabelle Dellwood’s blue eyes sparkled. “I met the most interesting two people this morning, and I should greatly like for you to meet them.”