Time travel is one of those genres that doesn’t interest me in the mechanics, but in the kind of characters who get to use it and what that power does to their perspective. Case in point: today’s story.
A Time for Orchids,
by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 955
A sigh escaped Rebecca’s lips as she surveyed the scene. “Jimmy…”
“What?” he responded. The ratchet wrench in his hand went cranking along. “This is fine!”
“Oh, come on! We’ve been through worse!”
“I mean…” He fell silent, letting the ratchet wrench speak for him. Then, after a moment: “Well, look. Do you see any marauding Huns about to massacre us?”
“That cabbie over there just might though…”
“Hush. Lemme reset this navigation beacon and we’ll be on our way again. Just, like… two minutes, tops!”
Rebecca proceeded in the way of her people and slowly rubbed her palm down the length of her face. She couldn’t believe this.
Not where she was; she could believe that it was, in fact, New York City in the 1930s. The air didn’t have the same smog issue, for one thing. From where she stood, in the middle of a busy intersection, she could spot roughly where Times Square stood. The passerby there had the clothes and automobiles she’d expect from the era: flat caps, overcoats, pleated skirts, Rolls-Royces, and Mercedes-Benz Speedsters. No, all of that she could believe.
But this! This, this, this, always this with Jimmy Whitehill, the supposed genius among genii at MIT. If it wasn’t a course correction, it was an unexpected malfunction. So much so that Rebecca had already began to expect them. And she was rarely proven wrong.
“Next time,” she growled, “I’m logging in our destination.”
Rebecca emphasized her point by giving a kick to the cooling time machine. Her heel bounced off its topless, tarnished-mirror surface. Their machine wasn’t too dissimilar to the same design that H.G. Wells had dreamed up a century and a half ago. And unlike other imitators, theirs actually worked. Supposedly.
“Hey, hey, watch it!” Jimmy put himself between Rebecca and the vehicle. “She’s still adjusting! The chronological flux is almost ready, I promise!”
“Sorry, but I’m out of flux to give today.”
“Look, if we get to 1872?” Jimmy’s voice dropped into a solemn tone. “We’ll find her, Rebecca.”
Rebecca said nothing. She stared him down.
“The girl with the orchid,” he continued. “Think of me what you will, but I know she’s real. And I know where to look.” He gestured at the machine, his voice rising over the dismayed honks of angry cab drivers forced to go around them. “It’s just getting to the when that’s the issue.”
Rebecca still didn’t answer. She was too busy remembering an oil painting in Professor Teagan’s office back home. An Impressionist piece of art created by an unknown French painter. Even his signature, a mere smudge in the bottom right-hand corner, simply read, “l’inconnu.” Yet this unknown Frenchman was a huge deal to the art world of the late twentieth century. Rebecca was going, by hook or by crook, to learn this virtuoso’s name—and in the process, make a name for herself. If only she could find the model for his masterpiece, the girl she only knew holding a white orchid. Staring back at her with those sad, small eyes.
Such were Rebecca’s thoughts that she almost didn’t notice a pair of heavy footsteps plodding up the jam-packed street. Not until a nightstick tapped her shoulder did Rebecca turn around.
“Hey, what’s the big idea?” A uniformed cop glowered at her and Jimmy. “You two are holding up all the traffic! Move it! Unless you wanna spend a night in jail!”
“I’ve almost…” Jimmy had ducked behind the time machine and was still tinkering with one of the rearmost vents. He sounded more distracted than concerned. “Rebecca, can you handle it?”
Rebecca leaned over the machine to glare at him. “Oh, sure. Leave me all the fun jobs!”
“You want to get out of here or not?”
“I’m debating leaving you and jumping ahead on my own. I might even grab Einstein and partner up with him. He still owes me that favor.”
“Hey, I’m talkin’ here!” The police officer’s bellow didn’t faze Rebecca. She took her time turning back and looking at his red, sweaty face.
When she didn’t spot a gun anywhere on his belt, Rebecca allowed herself a tiny grin.
“Sorry, Officer,” she purred. With a casual lean back, she reached for the trunk and popped the lid open. Her hand went rummaging inside. “Here, let me help you out…”
As soon as her hand found the hilt, Rebecca let out a cry. She ripped the sword free and raised it over her head, letting out a fierce kiai that would’ve impressed Miyamoto Musashi. Both the cop and that one murderous cabbie panicked and went running for their lives, abandoning their cars in the middle of the already-blocked intersection.
Behind the machine, Jimmy laughed. He clambered up with a cheeky grin. “Got it! Let’s bounce!”
“Oh, like you’re not having a little bit of fun?”
Rebecca regarded the sword in her hand. It was a real katana, made of folded steel. Forged in the eighteenth century, as a gift from a feudal lord whose life she’d saved from the latest peasant uprising. Of all the souvenirs, this was the one she’d learned to treasure the most.
“If I say yes,” Rebecca asked, “will we get a better jump to France in 1872 this time?”
Jimmy wiped his hands with a greasy rag. “I make no promises.”
“That’s fine. I wanna test this sword on someone’s neck…”
Shaking his head, Jimmy dropped the rag in the trunk and hopped into the driver’s seat. “You jest. I’m splendid. History will bear me out after this.”
Rebecca took the seat beside him, ignoring the stares of New Yorkers as the machine whirred to life again. “He said for the hundredth time…”
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