January 25, 1906
“I don’t believe this.” Casey stood on the street corner the next morning, staring in shock at the scene around her. The university she knew was gone. A few of the old buildings were still there, but the trees that grew in front of the Lanyon Building were missing. As she had noticed last night, there were no student apartments, no traffic lights, no stop signs. The streets were asphalt, but looked odd. After a moment, she figured out that the painted lines were missing, so there was nothing to indicate lanes. The curbs were bare of the long lines of cars usually parked along both sides of the street.
People walked by, everyone dressed in dark clothes, the women in long skirts and big hats. Horses and carriages dashed through the streets, the horses leaving droppings everywhere, which the people ignored, except to step around them. The occasional car clattered by, but they were unlike any car Casey had ever seen outside of a classic car show. The stink of horse manure and burning coal marred every breath, forcing her to hold a hand over her nose as often as possible. It was familiar enough to be Belfast, the land was the same, the streets were similar, and off in the distance the cranes in the shipyard hulked against a gray sky. But it was a vastly changed Belfast.
She closed her eyes, and the city she knew sprang into her mind. She heard her friend, Jase, offering to let her sleep in the empty bed in his dorm room. “I’ve kept ye here ‘till bloody midnight, gettin’ me ready for the test tomorrow,” he was saying. “Ye know it’s not safe to walk home alone.”
She did know it. Her mother would kill her, if she found out. But she’d stayed in boys’ rooms before, and couldn’t face the mess. Besides, the bed was only empty because Jase’s roommate was with his girlfriend. Which meant used sheets on the bed. So she walked home through the garden, after promising to stay alert, and to call Jase as soon as she got home.
Shit, she thought, opening her eyes to the unreal vision of dust and horses and long skirts around her. Jase, her housemates, her best friend, Colleen, her parents… What had she done to them?
Trying to banish the guilty thoughts, she turned to the physicist, standing next to her on the corner. He was pale, staring at the scene. She cleared her throat. “Is… is this really 1906?” she asked. “Are you sure?”
He hunched his shoulders. “It looks like it could be. That’s the year I programmed.”
She took a couple of deep breaths, feeling sick. “What do we do, Dr. Altair? If this is 1906, what are we supposed to do?”
He sighed as he looked at her. “D’you have any idea how out of place we are? How conspicuous? The style of our clothes, the material they’re made of? Our money, our IDs, our gadgets, everything we have with us is an anachronism. I don’t know what we do.”
Casey studied him, trying to concentrate on one problem at a time. His clothes were casual: blue jeans, hiking shoes, a North Down Cricket sweatshirt with a hood, and a warm rain jacket over it that he should probably zip up, as the sweatshirt commemorated the winning back of the senior cup in 1981. He reminded her of any number of professors, older and genial, grey hair, dark glasses. Behind the glasses, his eyes were large and brown, the brows bushy. He was around six feet tall and thin, with a slight paunch. She guessed he was about sixty.
On impulse, she grabbed her cell phone and flipped it open. No service. The battery was charged, but that wouldn’t last long. She brought up a picture of Colleen, the one taken in their room as Colleen hugged her teddy bear pillow. The next picture was of her parents, taken during the Christmas holiday, over coffee in the kitchen at home. Tears stung her eyes.
“We’ll never get home, will we?” She struggled to breathe. “I’ll never see my parents again, will I? I was supposed to call my mom today after my test. What are they going to think, Dr. Altair? Have we just disappeared? Will they think we’ve been kidnapped and murdered, with our bodies buried somewhere and they never find them?” She blinked tears away. Her glance went back to the phone, then around her at the buildings and horses. People gave them odd looks, but didn’t stop. Turning to hide her movement, she closed the phone and put it away. Suddenly, it was very precious.
Altair’s expression was sad and guilty. He turned and walked back to the shelter of the church. Casey followed, and they leaned against the wall. “There is someone who might be able to help us,” he said with some hesitation. “A physicist who lived in Belfast at this time. I’ve used some of his work as the basis for my experiment.”
“Occupational hazard,” Casey murmured.
“Occupational hazard,” she repeated, glancing up at him. “I guess if you’re a physicist trying to figure out how time works, you have to be prepared for wayward time travelers to show up on your doorstep.”
He smiled at the thought. “You might, at that.” He nodded toward the campus. “I don’t know where he lives, but he works there. I suggest we find his office and see if he’ll do anything for us.”
“Maybe he’ll give us tea and biscuits,” Casey said with some hope, as she followed him onto campus.
It took about thirty minutes, but they eventually found themselves in what was currently the science building. They stood outside an office door, a nameplate declaring it belonged to “Dr. Colin Riley.” Sam’s knock brought no answer, and a passing student informed them, “Won’t be here until 9:00. Not an early riser.” They both automatically looked at their watches. It was 8:47.
Casey quirked an eyebrow. “Amazing. You brought us a hundred years into the past and hit it to the second. We’d get jet lag if we flew to New York.”
Sam shrugged. “The time of day wasn’t one of my variables. Since I didn’t change it, it stayed constant. Why make things harder than they have to be?”
Casey nodded. Then, like students everywhere who are forced to wait for a teacher, she sank to the ground, sitting cross-legged on the floor, her bag on her lap. Sam shook his head and moved across the hall to examine the trophy case.
He ignored the curious looks they garnered, but he noticed Casey shifting around as if nervous.
Soon, she came to stand next to him. “All the students are guys.”
“It’s 1906, Casey. Not sure if Queen’s even admitted women at this time.”
“Queen’s has always admitted women. I guess none of them are taking physics.” She was silent a moment. “They keep looking at me.”
Sam turned to examine her. As he had noticed last night, she was small. Daylight revealed long, curly red hair and the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. Her hooded black cloak was wool, under it, she wore a brown sweater, blue jeans and black boots. He grinned, amused. “With that hair, you’re obviously a girl, but you’re wearing pants and sitting on the floor. Not things a lady does in this time.”
She pursed her lips. “I’m going to have a hard time here, aren’t I?”
A voice interrupted them. “May I help you?”
They turned. The speaker was middle-aged, not as tall as Sam, wearing a bowler hat and a black coat over a three-piece suit. He carried a briefcase and an umbrella, and had the harried look of a man who had just arisen.
Sam stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Dr. Riley? I’m Dr. Samuel Altair, this is Miss Casey Wilson. We were hoping to talk with you a moment.”
Dr. Riley indicated his office and went inside, tossing his hat and coat on a rack in the corner. Sam and Casey followed, standing awkwardly amid stacks of books and papers that covered the desk and several feet of the floor. “My class starts in half an hour,” he said. “Until then, what can I do for you?” He looked them over, peering at their clothes, then shrugged. He placed a kettle of water on a small cook stove before lighting the coal inside. “Would you like some tea? I have some extra cups here somewhere.”
While Riley rummaged among a cascade of slide rules, paper, and various scales on his shelf, Sam decided to talk. “We have an unusual problem, Dr. Riley. I believe you’ve been working with light in relation to the new theory of relativity published last year by Albert Einstein?”
Dr. Riley nodded, throwing some tea leaves into a pot. “I wouldn’t say I’m working on it. Haven’t actually seen the paper. Heard of it, though. Have you a copy, perchance?”
Sam exchanged a glance with Casey, before plunging ahead. “I’ve used some of your findings in my own work on time travel, Dr. Riley.” He hesitated as Riley turned to stare at him. The air seemed to turn to molasses, but he forced himself to continue. “I had developed an experiment to move objects backward through time. Something went wrong, though. Casey and I have been displaced in time, Dr. Riley. We were in the year 2006.”
Riley blinked, then nodded. “Kelly put you up to this?”
“Dr. Kelly. Put you up to it. Do let him know I’m quite impressed, and will spend a few days on my rejoinder.”
Casey snickered. Sam glared at her, then in one quick movement, took out his cell phone and tossed it to Riley, who barely caught it. Riley stared at it, as Sam said, “No, Dr. Riley. Dr. Kelly has nothing to do with this. We can show you other objects, if you wish. We just arrived last night. Spent the night in a storage room. All we have are the clothes we’re wearing and objects like that. Things that are useful for life in 2006, but won’t do anything for us, here.”
As anachronisms go, Sam thought the cell phone would be fairly convincing. When Riley opened it, he stumbled into his chair, never taking his eyes off the screen. He didn’t move for a while and to Sam’s relief, Casey took the tea in hand, pouring the boiling water into the teapot to steep, then passing out cups. As she placed a cup by Riley, she tapped his hand. He looked up at her.
“You got any biscuits or anything? This time traveler’s starving.”
He opened his mouth, but couldn’t make a sound. So he just pointed at the top desk drawer and looked back at the phone. Casey glanced at Sam, who shrugged. He didn’t know quite what to do, either.
While she pulled out a pack of biscuits, Sam held out his hand for the phone. Riley gave it to him without comment. “It’s a phone,” Sam explained. “Has other functions as well, but basically, it’s a telephone. However, it requires a network to function and obviously that network doesn’t exist in this time. It’s also a camera,” and he pointed it at Riley who jumped at the flash. Sam pressed a button and held the phone up for Riley to see, noting that color could actually drain from someone’s face.
“What… what do you want?” Riley asked, his voice a terrified whisper.
Sam spread his hands out. “Just assistance, Dr. Riley. You see, I can’t get us back to our own time. We’re stuck here. We don’t have clothes or money or any way to get them. At the very least, we could use some advice.” He pointed at Casey, who was staring at the biscuit in her hand. “This young lady is an innocent victim. She walked into my experiment by accident. She’s lost everything, Dr. Riley. Her family, her friends, her world. So have I.” He paused and smiled in apology. “We don’t want to burden you, but you’re the only person I could think of who lived here at this time. Would you be willing to help us?”
Riley’s mouth opened and closed a few times. On his fourth attempt, he managed, “Wait here,” and then he was out the door. Sam and Casey stared at each other, bewildered. They waited, sipping their tea. Neither felt like talking.
Riley was back in twenty minutes, bearing a tray of bread and jam. As he put on more tea, he explained, “Had my assistant take my class.” He sat down, shaking his head. “You could knock me over with a feather, Dr. Altair. I don’t know what happens with time theory between now and 2006, but I can guarantee we aren’t even close to time travel right now. It’s all thought experiments.”
Sam nodded. “I understand. We’re just at the threshold in my time. No one was more surprised than I, when this experiment actually worked.”
“I’ll have to give this some thought, sir. But I don’t mind telling you, this scares me to death. People from the future? What will your presence do? Now that I have knowledge of you, how will that affect my research?” Riley stared hard at Sam. “I’m tempted, sir, to just send you both away. Whatever you end up doing is up to you. I can’t control you. But I’d prefer it if you stayed out of my life.” His jaw worked with tension for a moment as he glanced at Sam’s cell phone, still on his desk.
“However,” he continued, with a glance at Casey, who looked ill and disturbed, “I can’t just ignore fellow humans in need. I’m not clear on what my responsibilities are. Should I work with you to see if we can send you back?” His intense stare turned back to Sam. “Is that possible? If you and I work on this, can you figure that out? Can you build another time machine to take the two of you home?”
Sam sighed and stared at the ceiling. “I doubt it, Dr. Riley. In 2006, I have technologies at my disposal that are necessary to build and run the time machine. None of that is available now. And we’ve never figured out the mechanics of time travel. Once we moved backward, it’s not at all clear what happened to the future. Is it still there, where we left it? Where was that? Are we in a tangential or parallel universe? You see, I have no idea where to aim for.”
Riley nodded. “Yes, I do see. And I assumed it would be something like that. Hence, your need for shelter and food.” He turned to Casey, his gaze critical. “And proper clothing.” He turned back to Sam. “Perhaps employment as well. Do you concur?”
Sam nodded, with a worried glance at Casey. She was sitting still, wide-eyed and pale. Two bright splotches of red marred her cheeks as she listened to them, but she didn’t try to interrupt.
“I can get you settled for a while,” Riley said. “But what kind of job can you do?”
“Well, I am a physicist. I think I can manage to work in this less advanced time, which, by the way, is considered a heyday of discoveries in many branches of science. I would be thrilled to participate.”
Riley looked alarmed. “I’m not sure if research would be a good idea, Dr. Altair. How would you cope with your advanced knowledge? And what would be the point? If you wanted to, you could just write a textbook, telling us of all the discoveries and knowledge discovered in the next hundred years. It might take us a few years to assimilate it, but just imagine—we’d be a hundred years ahead of ourselves.”
Sam exchanged an uncomfortable look with Casey, who shrugged to show she had no helpful opinion to offer. All three of them were silent. Sam finally spoke, feeling his way.
“That would necessitate announcing to the world that Casey and I have traveled through time. I don’t believe the world is ready for that idea, even if everyone believed us. It’s possible we’d just become prisoners or pawns of governments–I can’t, for instance, see the Queen, or rather the King, leaving us alone if he knew about us. I would be terrified of creating an extremely unstable political situation. I’m afraid I can’t even imagine how horrible it would be, Dr. Riley.”
Casey shuddered. “I’d rather we just tried to sink into the woodwork, if you know what I mean. Can we do that? Just work at normal jobs and try to live normal lives in this time?” She glanced at Sam. “We may have made a huge mistake in even talking to Dr. Riley. What if he feels obligated to tell someone, to turn us in?”
Riley shook his head. “Not to worry, Miss Wilson. I wouldn’t dare. I’ve worked too hard to reach this point in my career. I’m not about to throw it away blabbering about time travelers from the future.” He leaned toward Sam, gesturing earnestly. “I would prefer that you find ‘normal jobs,’ as Miss Wilson says. Something outside the field of physics would be best. Try to fit in as well as possible.”
He rubbed his forehead, staring off into space. “If you are from the future, that means the time from now until 2006 has already occurred. Which means we go through it again. What happens if you change something?”
“Not changing things might be impossible, Dr. Riley. You mentioned yourself that just having knowledge of us could change your own research. There are a billion possible variables we might affect at any time, even in all innocence.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Riley sat back and rested his hands in his lap. “Short of both of you committing suicide, though, I think we must take our chances and hope that whatever changes that happen are just small, unimportant ones.”
Casey spoke up, startling both men. “As far as I’m concerned, from the point of view of today, the future hasn’t happened yet. I understand our presence is a paradox, but I don’t see that it changes anything. The future is unknown for us as well as you, and everyone alive today. We have no idea what happens tomorrow. We don’t even know where our next meal is coming from. Except for Dr. Altair’s knowledge of scientific discoveries, the only things we know about are large events, like wars and elections and such. Things we can’t really affect. I don’t see that we’ll be that much of a danger. And if we do change something, how do we know if that’s a bad thing?”
“What if you change something that prevents your own birth?” Riley asked. “There are so many possible paradoxes.”
Casey spread her hands. “So? That seems so spurious. We were born. We’re here, now. Whatever happens from this point on, happens in the normal stream of time. There are no future events that must happen because they happened before. The future hasn’t happened, yet.” She rubbed her forehead. “Jesus, this is giving me a headache.”
Riley raised his brows at her language, but said, “And it’s a circular argument, which I’m afraid to say, is the only argument possible for this situation. We could discuss it forever and still end up where we started. So again, I say you should just try to live normal lives. I agree with you, Miss Wilson.”
“What about the San Francisco earthquake, Casey?” Sam asked.
“What?” She looked confused.
“The 1906 earthquake. That’s a good data point for us. If the earthquake happens in April, with the resulting fire and loss of life and property…” he hesitated. “I don’t know what that tells us. Except that we’ll know that certain events will occur in this “stream of time” as you called it, that did occur in our timeline.”
“We can’t stop an earthquake, Dr. Altair,” Casey pointed out.
“No, we can’t. I suppose if we had sufficient time, we could try to warn them, tell them what to do to prepare for it.”
“But they’d have to know you’re from the future,” Riley stated. “Back to our original problem.”
They were silent for several minutes, then Sam sighed. “A day at a time, I guess. We should try to solve our immediate problems and worry about the larger picture later. Dr. Riley, can you give us advice? How do we find jobs, shelter, clothing? What’s our first step?”
Riley leaned back in his chair. “Belfast is an industrial city, but the country has been through a rough economic time. People are pouring into town from the rural areas, hoping to find work. You’ll have a lot of competition. I can get you a newspaper; you can see what jobs are being offered.”
“This is going to take some thought,” Casey said, leaning forward in her chair, gazing at Sam. “You can’t just waltz into a shop somewhere and expect them to hand you a job. What will you tell them? Who are you? What experience have you had? Where have you worked before this?” She glanced at Riley. “Will we need some kind of identification? You can’t do anything in the future without that. What about now?”
Riley shook his head, bewildered by her quick questions. “Do you mean papers of some kind? No. Most people don’t have any kind of identification. Births, deaths, marriages, things like that are supposed to be recorded, but I don’t believe any employer would ask for something like that. They will want references, however.” He swallowed nervously, glancing at Sam. “I suppose I could write a letter of reference for you. Just general character, skills, knowledge, that kind of thing. It may not be the perfect solution, but it’s a start.”
Sam nodded. “I’d appreciate that. I think it’s safest to stick as close to the truth as possible. We can’t just make up all new personas.” He shrugged in Casey’s direction. “I imagine it would become very difficult to keep our stories straight, if we made everything up.”
Casey and Riley both nodded at this, Riley waiting for further information, Casey no doubt trying to figure out what in her past could be applied to this time period. Sam was wondering the same thing, disturbed at the difficulty of applying a lifetime of physics research to the low-tech task of a job in 1906.
“Do you have a pencil and paper?” he asked Riley. “I’ll write down a few skills and bits of experience you can work into a letter. Casey could do the same thing.”
Riley handed Sam a pad and pencil, but looked Casey over with a critical air. “She’s a girl. She could maybe work at the rope factory or as a servant.”
Casey looked flabbergasted, but Sam said, “Let’s assume her class is a bit higher than that. I don’t believe she has the background to do either of those jobs.”
Riley pursed his lips as he thought. “Seamstress?”
Casey shrugged. “I can sew up a cut in an emergency.”
“What?” Riley seemed quite confused.
“First aid,” Casey explained. “My mother’s a doctor and she made me take extensive first aid training. ‘So I’d be useful in emergencies,’ she always said. The only real job experience I’ve had has been working in the Botanic Garden as a student assistant.”
“Her major was horticulture,” Sam supplied. “Quite useful to Ireland in the twenty-first century.”
Casey nodded, looking hopefully at Riley, but he just shook his head. “I can’t imagine what use a girl would be in the gardens. That’s hard work.”
Casey rolled her eyes. Sam sighed and turned his attention to the pad of paper.
When they left Riley’s office an hour later, they were not much better off than when they arrived. Sam possessed a generic letter of reference and a newspaper folded to the classified section. He also had in his pocket two five-pound notes that he had reluctantly accepted from Riley, along with directions to a store that had cheap clothes. Riley insisted they take the money, as he had no other help to offer them and they would have needs while looking for work. He assured them it would not last long, but that it was all he could spare. He also asked them not to come back. If a prospective employer called, he would give a good reference, but he hoped to never see them again.
“I think we scare him, Dr. Altair,” Casey offered in consolation as she and Sam headed for the business district. “Give him some time to think about it. Maybe his scientific curiosity will get the better of him and he’ll be in touch.”
“Maybe.” Sam was doubtful. “Listen, we may as well get on first names, don’t you think?” He stopped and looked at her in regret. “I’m afraid we may be here a long time and we’ll be better off if we stick together.” He paused at her hesitant expression, then moved over to a bench and sat. Casey followed, but remained standing.
“I don’t know you, Dr. Altair,” she began, then stopped, and sat down next to him, staring at her feet. “Until last night, I’d never laid eyes on you. Now you’re the only person in the world that I know. You seem like a nice enough person,” she looked up at him with narrowed eyes, “although perhaps a bit careless at times.” He “harrumphed” at that and she smiled a bit, but turned serious, again. “I’m really afraid, Sam,” she said. “But I want to survive. I’m not sure what that means in this time period, but I guess we just take it a day at a time. And you’re right: we need to stick together.”
She stood again, but regarded him, still serious. “So let’s call it friends and see what happens. But Sam, I really do know karate. Brown belt.”
He laughed and stood as well, rubbing his arm. “I’m convinced you know karate,” he said as he started off toward the store. “You’re in charge of security.”
“Great,” she muttered, following after him. “At least I have a job.”