August 1972, Belfast
Avoiding the busy pedestrian traffic, 26-year-old Sam Altair parked in front of the house known as Dunallon, and waited a moment to gather his nerve, reflecting back over the strange invitation he’d received. He knew who Casey Andrews was, of course. Everyone in Ireland did. The widow of Thomas Andrews, the man who brought Harland & Wolff through the twentieth century with increasingly modern sailing ships, airplanes, and eventually space shuttles. He made Ireland a force in modern industry and gave her a real presence in space. Along with her husband, Casey Andrews had been tireless advocates for a peaceful Ireland, and instrumental in bringing the warring factions together, even if they couldn’t always keep them together. They were heroes a hundred times over. But he could not imagine what her interest was in him.
Only one way to find out. He locked the car and approached the house, looking around him at the famous garden. At the door, he was greeted by a middle-aged woman who shook his hand, informing him she was Mrs. Andrews’ secretary. She guided him through the parlor and into a library at the back of the house, pausing in the doorway. “Dr. Altair is here, Ma’am.”
An old woman balanced on a cane in the center of the room, contemplating a box of books. When she saw him, her face crinkled into what could only be described as a huge grin. She limped toward him, taking his hand and studying his face intently. Sam took the time to study her in return.
He’d seen pictures of her as he was growing up, and had even seen her on a television talk show once, but he wasn’t prepared for how small she was. Her hair was white, the eyes a vivid green. She was pale and wrinkled, but dressed impeccably, and stood straight, supporting herself with the cane. He knew she was nearly ninety, and he was impressed with her bearing. He gripped her hand with care, afraid of hurting her, and bowed briefly. “Mrs. Andrews. How do you do?”
The smile widened. She shook her head as if amazed. “Incredible,” she murmured, then gestured to the divan. “Please, have a seat. Would you like some tea?”
He acquiesced, as the tea service was already in place. She poured, her hand shaking a bit. As he took his cup, she sat back in her chair and looked at him. “This will all be very strange to you, Sam,” she said, then blinked. “Excuse me, may I call you Sam? I know it seems forward, but it will make sense, shortly.”
He smiled at the old world formality and nodded, not without some confusion. “I have no objections, ma’am. I’m honored to meet you, but I don’t understand what I can do for you.”
Her eyes were bright, as if tears had formed in them. “I read your Ph.D. thesis.”
He nearly choked on the tea. “My thesis? It’s not even published, yet.”
Her smile was enigmatic. “I have connections. I understand your hypothesis predicts time travel.”
He put the cup down. “Mrs. Andrews, my work is extremely esoteric, even among physicists. What is your interest in it?”
Still that smile. “I’m going to do the same thing to you, that I did to my husband over sixty years ago. I’m going to tell you the bottom line, then we’ll go back to fill in the details. I practically had to tackle Tom to keep him in the room after I told him. I’ll beg a little more forbearance from you. I’m afraid my tackling days are over.”
He couldn’t help returning her smile, deciding she was senile and harmless. He spread his hands in submission. “Consider me glued to the chair, ma’am.”
She laughed. “I’ll remind you of your promise. You see, Sam, in the year 2006, you create an experiment in time travel, with unforeseen results. You end up moving yourself backwards through time to the year 1906. Along with a not very appreciative twenty-year-old American girl who had been attending school at Queens.”
He thought of his hypothesis and stared at her. “I know what my hypothesis predicts, but even I don’t think that’s possible, Mrs. Andrews.”
Her lips tightened and she gestured toward the boxes on the floor. “These journals are yours, Sam.” She seemed to sense his alarm and smiled briefly. “I don’t mean they were all written by you. Some of them were. Some were written by my husband, some by me. But they will be given to you, Sam. For your work.”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
She picked up the loose-leaf notebook on the table in front of her. It was very old, the binding cracked and torn, its pages yellow and crumbling. She made no effort to hand it to him.
“This is the first one. I had my backpack with me when we went through time, and Sam and I started keeping our notes on these pages. It was all an accident, you see. He couldn’t get us back.” She rubbed the binder, her expression sad. She looked up at him earnestly. “You must try to accept it, Sam. Try to understand. Read the journals. Sam and I kept a section for memories of our time. We wanted a record of what had happened in our history and of what our world was like in 2006. For comparison, you see.”
He shook his head again. “Comparison with what?”
“We changed things, Sam. Some changes were inevitable, just because we existed in 1906. Some things, we changed deliberately. Other changes occurred as a result of the first changes, a domino effect. You realize we had almost no control.”
“I don’t believe this.”
She didn’t respond and he continued. “We don’t know what travel backwards through time would do. Are there parallel time streams? Tangential time streams? I don’t see how we can go back to the same time stream and create a loop, but maybe that’s what happens. We just don’t know!”
She held out a hand. “You didn’t know when it happened, either. We’re pretty sure we started a tangential time stream. But we don’t know. That’s one of things you’ll have to work on. But you see,” she handed him the book; he wouldn’t have taken it, but it was too heavy for her and he didn’t want her to hurt herself, “your older self did not want you to waste time redoing his work. He wanted you to have this information so you could begin where he left off.”
He closed his eyes, hoping it would all be gone when he opened them. That didn’t work, of course. When he opened his eyes, she was watching him. “Your husband was not from the future. I know about the Andrews family. Everyone does.”
Her smile was soft. “No, he wasn’t. Tom Andrews was born in 1873. I met him in 1906. I loved him almost at once. I didn’t know who he was, but Sam did.” Her gaze was direct. “I could not have just let him die, Sam. I had to warn him about his future and Sam agreed. It’s the first time we deliberately tried to change something.”
“Are you saying he died earlier in your history? Before 1961?” Sam struggled to keep up with the changing tenses and her confusing way of calling both him and this older self she said she knew, by the same name.
She thought about it, looking at her hands for a moment, as they rested in her lap, before looking back up at him. “Read the journals. I’m not willing to actually give them to you, yet. I’d like to request that you leave them here for now, but you are welcome to spend as much time here as you wish. You can even move in, if that would help you.” She stood, her gaze piercing. “There is a foundation established to provide you with funds for this work, should you decide to pursue it. There will be rules, particularly regarding my children and their descendants. I’m not willing for them to be hurt by this. I’ll give you some time, now. Please, look them over.”
He stared at the notebook as she made her slow way to the door. His hypothesis predicted this, but it made no conjecture about the consequences. Nothing was in there about the people and the lives affected by time travel. Perhaps it was fitting that his own life was disrupted by this. He looked up to ask her a question, but she was gone, the door closed. His own hand shook a bit, as he reached to turn the cover of the book.
Thank you so much for reading SHIPBUILDER! I truly hope you enjoyed it. Let me know! I’d love to hear what you think. If you have a blog or Facebook page, please consider leaving a review. Every bit helps a struggling author.
If you liked SHIPBUILDER, please continue the adventure in BRIDGEBUILDERS, the second Time Travel Journals book.