“Ah, love, let us be true to one another. Is this truly what you had bragged so loquaciously about?”
The time traveler stops. Her face turns red, auburn hair falling into her eyes. Her sky blue eyes brim with tears. “Don’t you see? This is all wrong. All of it. I don’t understand what happened. Where I’m from, this is a vast fortress of wealth and knowledge shared by everybody. One of many around the world in which humans are treated with dignity and honor.”
Lord Matthew Arnold glances down his nose at her, eyes bored. She knows that’s the height of Victorian insult – to act unbothered in the face of a major fuck up. She turns her back on his judgment and continues trying to repair the ship. Of course, it breaks down. Of course, she messed up such a simple task. Gather proof. She stops banging on the engine because she realizes that she was putting too much emotion into her work and damaging it even further was not going to help. All she wanted was to try to find proof that her father’s work was not lunacy.
Time travel was possible. Because here she was. But then that same part of her mind that allowed her to accept reality chimes in – maybe it’s impossible because instead of traveling through time, you disrupt time by exchanging realities.
She thinks of her father before her mother died. They both worked so hard on this contraption. The work eventually killed her and ruined him. Are they down there now, happy in this alternate version of her 2022? Is she even alive?
Distracted in the absence of trying to force the spare timing chain into its housing, she finds herself staring down into the town she knows as San Francisco, but a fun-house-twisted-dirty version of it. A giant red-with-rust bridge spans the waters between the town and elsewhere. Such a dangerous waste of resources for a planet with such a finite supply. Every choice affects every human, something many philosophers preached in ancient times. This ideal was in full effect in her 2023. In place of this very bridge was a mag-lift ferry system with minimal eco disruption. Something her grandfather’s generation put in place following the Mohawk Accord of 1756 down to the letter.
“Do no harm.”
Lord Arnold coughs as if looking to draw her attention. It works, and she looks back at him to find him pointing above her inside the cylindrical vehicle. She looks at where he is pointing and, at first, she thinks he is pointing at the F.B.I. lock she broke off the controls to take the vehicle and go back to 1850 London and try this whole bit of stupidity in the first place. She doesn’t notice right away the gauge flashing red, indicating a broken timing chain, is off. This means she is free to fix her mistake and take his lordness back. Or at least try. Which, in her mind, might fix all this hell. In her research on who to take, she picked Lord Arnold because he was the lead voice in keeping the world clean during the industrial age, and returning this lord and member of parliament meant adding his voice of reason in the fight against digging for energy.
“What, pray-tale, are those?”
She sees he was, in fact, pointing at the ribbon of black asphalt that cut like cancer through the pristine woodlands north of San Francisco, where they found themselves. Little boxes cut across it, leaving a trail of gray smog behind.
“Some kind of transportation,” she says.
“How do they run without horses?”.
She sniffs at the dirty air. “Judging from the exhaust, I would guess they use some kind of combustion.”
He gazes at the vehicles with wonder. “They are so various, so beautiful, so new. It’s hard to believe the devils were right all along. ‘When ignorant armies clash by night,’ by Jove.”
Suddenly, she looks at him in fear. Has she stumbled upon a fix for all of this? It was not about returning the lord to his time and place after all. She gripped the hammer tightly in her hand, deciding that sometimes violence was the best solution when fixing a mechanical problem.