The Time Travel Journals: Shipbuilder, Chapter 24

Chapter 24

July 1907

A whirlwind blew through the design department, as they started on the first drafts of the Olympic-class ships. Every man was drawing something, working meticulously from Lord Pirrie’s initial draft. Tom was deep in a discussion with four of his team members when Ham tapped his shoulder.

“Fellow to see you, sir.” Ham indicated Tom’s office with his head. “He doesn’t have an appointment, but he said it was important. Riley’s, his name.”

“Riley?” Tom thought for a moment, as the men waited. “Give him some tea and tell him I’ll be about five minutes.”

Ham nodded and disappeared. Tom went back to his discussion but remained distracted. Riley coming to him was an interesting development. Maybe he’s also thinking he can negotiate through me.

Entering his office a few minutes later, Tom looked the man over. Ham had placed Dr. Riley in the comfortable chair that was part of Tom’s informal meeting space in a corner of the room: a sofa, two chairs and low table between them. A cup of tea lay steaming on the table, as Riley looked through a copy of Shipbuilder Magazine that Tom kept in the office. Dressed in simple business clothes, a neatly trimmed mustache, and a briefcase at his feet, Riley looked harmless enough.

Tom stayed on his guard. “Dr. Riley, how nice to see you again,” he said as Riley stood to shake his hand.

“Good of you to see me without an appointment, Mr. Andrews. I’m willing to set up a time to come by if this is inconvenient.”

Tom waved it off. “It’s all much the same. Work seldom slows down around here.” He sat in the other chair and steepled his fingers. “I was planning on going to see you, anyway. Since you’re here, why don’t you start? What can I do for you?”

Riley regarded him with diffident seriousness. “Mr. Andrews, I want to assure you that I am not a person who usually meddles. You and I are strangers; I have no right to interfere in your life. But I could not sleep nights, if I thought you were in danger, and I had the means to warn you of it, but did not.”

“We must make sure you sleep, sir.” Tom hoped he didn’t sound sarcastic. “What must you warn me about?”

“Your fiancée, sir.”

Tom held up a hand. “No, sir. We will not play this game. You have nothing to say to me regarding Miss Wilson.”

Riley straightened his back, sitting stiffly. “You misunderstand me, Mr. Andrews. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the young lady. If anything, my meddling is as much for her sake as for yours.”

That confused him and Tom once again steepled his fingers. “All right. You’ll have to explain.”

“I learned enough the other night to know that Miss Wilson has been through a difficult time. I am, perhaps, responsible for that to a certain degree. I deeply regret it if my actions caused her hurt.”

Tom knew his face showed his astonishment, but Riley continued without pausing. “She may have told you that they came to me for assistance when they first…arrived…in Belfast. I’m afraid I was not as helpful as I should have been. I realize that, now.” Riley’s face contorted in sorrow. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. It did not occur to me that she might have been in danger, or was at the mercy of Altair. But I should have thought of that.”

“What?” Tom gave a short bark of laughter. “What on earth do you mean?”

“Lord Dunmore introduced him as her guardian, sir, but I assure you, he is no such thing.”

“Dr. Riley…”

“Please sir, let me finish.” Riley held out a hand, all appearances that of a man torn with guilt. “I sent them away and then I left town. She had no protection, no one to turn to. If he’s not deliberately malicious, then Sam Altair is insane. I don’t know how he’s used her…”

Tom stood, fist clenched in fury. “Shut up, Dr. Riley. I’m warning you, shut up, now.”

Riley gaped at him, then snapped his mouth closed, eyes on Tom’s face. Tom pointed a shaking finger at him. “You know nothing of what has happened to them. You know nothing about them. They tried to tell you, they asked for your help. Oh, you’re right about that. You let them down in the worst way. You’re right, you sent Miss Wilson out with no help, no protection except what Sam Altair was able to give her. At least, he tried. He never deserted her. He certainly never used her, in any way.” Tom put his hand down, eyes narrowed. “What are you trying to accomplish, Dr. Riley? What is it you want?”

Riley swallowed, clearly unsettled, his voice thready and uncertain. “Merely to help Miss Wilson, I assure you. And yourself.” He held up both hands. “Please Mr. Andrews. You are correct. I don’t know what has been happening to them, other than what I heard at dinner. I’ve had only the one conversation with them a year-and-a-half ago, and the time since then to ruminate on it. If you knew what was said that day, you would understand why my only conclusion can be that he is insane. Or a charlatan of the worst kind.”

“You have decided that, Dr. Riley. You have no proof of anything. Indeed, you have no reason at all to even think it, except that it makes you more at ease. You are a coward, sir.”

“I beg your pardon…”

“Yes. A coward. You were too afraid to try to understand, so you just sent them away.”

“Of course, I was afraid. If you knew what was said…”

“I know what was said. Do you think they’ve tried to deceive me? That they’ve lied to me?”

Riley stood, his expression alarmed. “Mr. Andrews! If they told you the same story… I don’t know if they did, but if they did… I would not expect you to have the scientific knowledge to understand how ludicrous it is. There is no shame in being fooled by them; their story was very convincing. I believed them myself for a while.”

Tom felt tired, as if all his strength were draining away. He turned and moved behind his desk, sitting in his chair, needing some distance between them. Riley moved over to the chair in front of the desk, but didn’t sit. He leaned toward Tom.

“If you love that girl, Mr. Andrews, get her away from him. He’s not her guardian. I can promise you there are no legal documents in place regarding that.”

Tom hesitated. Whatever Riley’s motives, he was right in this assessment. Sam was not Casey’s legal guardian. Tom felt the untruth was harmless, and he had willingly complied with propagating it, even to his own family. But society’s disapproval would be ferocious, if the truth were known, and it would not matter that Sam truly cared for Casey as a daughter. Appearances were everything.

He felt the beginnings of fear.

“Sit down, Dr. Riley.” His fear made him angry and he used that anger in his voice. Riley blinked once, standing as if he would resist, but then he sat, once again the picture of reasonableness. Tom regarded him a moment, trying to calm himself. But when he spoke, his anger was still evident.

“I will not have Miss Wilson’s reputation offended in any way. Surely, you understand that your comments are bordering on threats. I will ask you again: what are you trying to accomplish? What exactly are your plans regarding Miss Wilson and Dr. Altair?”

Riley shook his head. “I mean no threats, sir. I am willing to believe that Miss Wilson is an innocent victim, left with no choices partly because of my own inaction. This is why I’ve come to you, sir. I have no intention of revealing the true nature of their relationship. You obviously are already aware of it and you plan on marrying her, anyway. I assume that means you are satisfied the relationship is proper.”

Tom rubbed his hands, to prevent curling them into fists. “He cares for her as much as my own father cares for my sister. You have completely misjudged him, sir. The story of a guardianship allowed him to take care of her, and offered her the protection of a father, something she sorely needed while they were struggling to survive. He has no indecent motive at all.” He leaned forward, hand outstretched. “I will have your word that you will not damage her reputation. She’s done nothing to you. I have done nothing to you. Allow us our happiness, sir.”

Riley had a look in his eye that showed he knew he’d won this round. Tom felt as helpless as a fish in a net.

Riley was gracious in victory. “I give you my word, Mr. Andrews. I will do or say nothing that sullies the young lady’s reputation. But you must know, I do not intend to let Altair get away with his game.”

Tom stood. “That is between the two of you, although I assure you that Dr. Altair has my full support. But Casey Wilson is under my protection, and that of my family.”

Riley stood as well. “Formidable protection, indeed. Good day, Mr. Andrews.”

Tom was silent and did not move until Riley had left.

***

Dunallon was complete enough that Tom had moved in amid carpenter’s tools, ladders, and the odd piece of wood or tile. Casey and Penny had set up the kitchen so they could all eat dinner there on those evenings when they gathered to work on the house or grounds. Tom had brought over the furniture from his flat and they ate at the small dining table while Penny finished her meal in the kitchen and washed the dishes. Talking softly to keep her from overhearing, he told Casey and Sam about Riley’s visit.

“Insidious,” Sam shook his head. “How amusing that I’m supposed to be the monster in this situation.”

Casey was furious. “What does he expect to do? How is he going to attack you, Sam?”

“Don’t know,” Sam chewed thoughtfully, gazing at the chandelier. “If he’s after a scientific attack, the usual mode is through journals, papers, or conferences. The thing is, I’m not submitting to any of those things. This is one reason I’ve tried to stay in the background and build a team to work out my “suggestions.” It would be like tilting at windmills.”

“And if he can use me as leverage?” She looked disturbed at the thought.

Sam gestured to Tom. “He’s promised Tom he won’t do that.”

“You believe that?” She reached to touch Tom’s hand. “What exactly did he say?”

Tom thought back over the conversation. “That he would do or say nothing to sully your reputation.” A brow twitched at Casey. “You assume he’s left himself an out? Some way to still use you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know, but yes, I suspect it. He’s let you know he has a weapon against you. Against both of you, really. He doesn’t have to do something blatant. It only takes the suspicion of improper conduct for this society to turn against you.”

Sam folded his napkin. “As far as I’m concerned, he has now made the first move. The ball is in my court. I’m going to have a talk with him.”

“Maybe all three of us should go,” Tom suggested. “Maybe he came to see me because he wanted to gauge my role in all of this. A fact-finding mission, as it were. Fine, he’s done that. But I think we need to present a united front. Our goal should be to resolve this situation, not take it to war.”

Casey grinned. “Shall we invite him to dinner?” Her tone was wickedly gleeful.

Both men laughed and Sam rubbed his hands together. “May be a bit much. Still, what would he do? Refuse to come?”

“It would be unpardonably rude,” Tom pointed out.

Sam looked at Casey. “Perhaps you should extend the invitation. Saturday night?”

“Have some equations for him to work out on the calculator,” Tom said.

***

Riley sent his regrets.

Sam put the note, with its vague excuse, in the safe with the time travel journals and planned on leaving work early to pay him a visit. The gloves were off, as far as he was concerned.

Lord Dunmore requested a meeting right after lunch. Sam arrived on time, taking the proffered upholstered chair in the window-lined, paneled office. Lord Dunmore never stinted on elegance and he seldom wasted time, either, getting right to the point.

“Had the oddest meeting this morning, Sam. Thought you should know about it,” he said around the unlit cigar in his mouth, replacing the box on his desk after Sam politely waved away his offer.

“Oh?” Sam could guess.

“That fellow, Riley, from the university, came by. Mind you, I don’t put much stock in what he said, but it’s probably best to not just ignore it. What is it between you two?”

“I’m curious about that myself, sir. Casey and I had invited him over for dinner this weekend, but he declined. I thought I’d go by his office this afternoon and see what he says.”

“You don’t know of any reason he’d be so vituperative? He seems to think you’re a crackpot!”

Sam held a hand out. “I’ve met him once, when Casey and I first came to Belfast. I was familiar with some of his work and frankly, I had hoped he’d be able to help us out with a job. You know things were hard for a while.”

Dunmore nodded; he knew some of it since he’d hired Sam practically off the street. Sam continued.

“He must have taken away an impression I wasn’t aware of. Truly, I admire his work, sir. I would like to get to the bottom of this directly. He’s also gone to see Tom Andrews. Evidently, he is talking to everyone except me. Seems unsporting.”

“Indeed, indeed.” Dunmore looked disturbed. “I had the feeling he was fishing for information as well as warning me about you.” He held up a hand at Sam’s surprised look. “Well, that’s what he was doing, Sam. Telling me your credentials were bogus and that I should carefully vet any science you do. He was shocked when I told him you admitted you had no degree. Couldn’t understand why I hired you. Of course, he hasn’t seen the latest profit and loss statements, either.” Dunmore laughed, rolling his cigar between his fingers, as he leaned back in his chair. “Have a chat with him, Sam. The thing is, we need investors for what you want to do. Riley’s accusations could scare some of them away. Keep me posted, eh?”

Sam agreed, and left for the university.

***

The office was unchanged; indeed Sam was almost certain that some of the same piles of paper remained in their places on the floor. Riley was at his desk, writing furiously, cigar burning between two fingers, a cup of tea gone cold beside his elbow. In the light from the window, Sam thought his hair looked thinner than a year ago, but maybe not. So many things were strange that day, how could he notice someone’s hair?

He remained in the doorway, leaning against the frame and crossing his arms. “Got a minute, Dr. Riley?”

Riley jerked, knocking the cup, which sloshed a bit, but didn’t spill. He glared up at Sam. “What do you want?”

Eyebrows shooting into his hairline, Sam shrugged. “An honest exchange of hostilities, I guess. I’m a little uncertain what our argument is about.”

Riley jabbed his pen into its holder, lips tight as he regarded Sam. Finally he spoke, pointedly not asking Sam to sit. “I see two possibilities, sir. One is that you are simply insane. The other is to believe you, and face the fact that you are using your special knowledge for nefarious purposes. Either way, you are a serious danger to society.”

Sam sighed, moved the books from the visitor’s chair and sat. Riley watched, but said nothing. “You see no third possibility at all? Maybe I’m a congenial bloke who only wants to help people.”

“Your work for Lord Dunmore enriches you. You are building an empire, sir.”

Sam laughed. “An empire? I have no answer to that charge, I’m afraid. I’m sure my team will find it amusing.” His gaze sharpened as he grew serious. “You object to my earning a living, sir? Surely you wouldn’t be happier if Casey and I were still living on the streets of Belfast?”

Riley’s mouth twitched. “You could have seen the girl safely in a shelter, if you were really concerned about her. I have serious doubts as to your motives, but Mr. Andrews seems certain you have cared for her to the best of your ability.”

“I have, I assure you,” Sam said. “At times, I despaired that my ability was so poor, but we seem to have recovered.” He leaned forward, a hand resting lightly on Riley’s desk. “Dr. Riley, please. We have so much to offer one another. I swear, that every word I told you at our first meeting was the absolute truth. You were my only hope, and I am in your debt for the help you were able to give us. I understand your disturbance, and your doubt. But can you not see your way to a collaboration, or at least, a truce?”

Riley was silent, elbows propped on his desk, his hands folded, tapping his mouth with his fingers. He answered slowly. “I promised Mr. Andrews that I would not hurt the young lady, or impugn his involvement with her. I intend to keep that promise. But your work, sir.” He shook his head, agitated. “If your story is true, I can only assume you are on a deliberate course to control the future, using knowledge that only you have access to. This makes you unaccountably powerful and dangerous. No man should have such power, sir. I don’t know how I can stop you. But I know I must try.”

Sam sat calmly in the chair, a foot propped on the other knee, hands folded in his lap, eyes on Riley’s face. He thought of the dictators of the twentieth century, the suffering and destruction awaiting the world’s population in the years to come. He knew he was not like those dictators. But he understood Riley’s concerns, better than Riley could ever imagine.

“You have no idea how right you are,” he said with quiet conviction. “I can promise you that I have no desire for total power, or even excessive riches, but you have no way of knowing if I’m sincere or not. So let me be as honest as I can: I do have an agenda.” Riley’s hands jerked at this admission, but Sam continued. “I want to understand what happened when Casey and I came back in time. I want the research on time travel to continue. To do that, I have to build up the technology, bring it up to, and past, the point of the twenty-first century. I have to do it as quickly as possible. I’m already sixty-one, Dr. Riley. If I am to see any advances in my lifetime, it’s got to happen right away.”

Riley shook his head, disturbed. “That’s not possible, Dr. Altair.”

“I know.” Sam’s words were a bleak admission he seldom let himself acknowledge. “But I’ll do what I can. I’ll have the team in place and they’ll be able to continue. In the meantime, the advances I’m suggesting serve the double purpose of advancing technology, and improving the quality of life. Is any of that really evil?”

“We aren’t ready for it, Dr. Altair.” Riley’s cigar had long since gone out and he threw it on his desk. “The danger is that you push us too far, too fast. How do we adjust to technology that will seem like magic to most people? That only a few elite scientists or engineers are able to understand? You will be building a super race of humans who could wield god-like power over the rest of us. How will you prevent that?”

“A foundation for education,” Sam replied.

“A what?”

“All investors are required to donate a portion to establish a foundation for education. In addition, a portion of every sale of every invention goes into this foundation. The idea is to fund public education enough to advance society along with the technology. It’s too late for most adults to catch up, that’s true. But the children will be taught as they grow with the changes.”

Riley stared at him, open-mouthed. Sam hesitated, but went on. “And not just Protestants, not just boys. Everyone–boys, girls, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, whatever. Not just Irish, either, although of course, we’re starting here. You see, if everyone is educated and understands at least a little bit, there’s no room for a super race. They can all have a part.”

Riley closed his eyes, then stood and turned toward the window, gazing unseeing at the light. After a moment, he spoke. “What does Dunmore think you are doing?”

“He thinks that I just want to work as a physicist. That I’m qualified but don’t have the actual degree. That I have a lot of good ideas and I’m willing to work with a team of scientists to make those ideas a reality. He has realized he can truly profit from my approach. That Ireland and the UK can profit from it.”

Riley turned, leaning against the window sill. “You’re trying to build Utopia.”

Sam shook his head. “That would be nice, but I’m too pragmatic. I’ll settle for a world that’s willing to work toward it.”

“Have you always been so altruistic? Is this the way of people in your world?”

“Hardly! Altruism varies within any population. My world is no better or worse than this one.” Sam pursed his lips as a thought occurred to him. “Do you object to altruism, Dr. Riley? To different types of people working together and getting along?”

“I?” Riley looked surprised. “Of course I don’t object to it. I just don’t think it will happen.” He straightened, tugging his vest straight. “I don’t trust you, Dr. Altair. If you are not insane, then you are naïve, perhaps because you believe we are simpletons. I suspect that the application of your incredible knowledge will destroy us all.” His face was hard. “I don’t know how, but I intend to stop you, sir. At the least, to slow you down.”

Sam nodded, uncertain and worried.

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