Chain Story ~ The Longest Distance

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Author’s Note: This story is part of The Chain Story, an online storytelling project directed by author Michael A. Stackpole. Each story stands alone, but they all begin in “The Wanderer’s Club”, a fantastic building that seems to exist outside normal time and space, where storytellers gather to exchange their tales. You can read other stories in the Chain by visiting http://chainstory.stormwolf.com.

In the contemplative silence following the end of Sarah Freeman’s chilling tale, and her departure from the room, a silver-haired woman in an elegant brocade suit stood from a shadowed corner of the Club. She crossed the room deliberately, with an assurance that commanded the attention of all in attendance, although she had not yet spoken a word. In her left hand she carried a folded sheaf of papers, which she smoothed open when she reached the fireplace.

“Mrs. Freeman has offered us an astounding story,” she said, in a voice still strong despite her age. “Her tale of The Burning Servant–and what she says about sacrifices–has hardened my resolve to share my own tale with you. It is a different sort of adventure—an adventure of science, one might say. Tonight, I shall ask you all if it is a story that should move beyond these walls.”

She held up the sheaf of papers. “This is a letter, which I have written to my great-great-great-grandchild. If you agree with my proposed course of action, then in the morning I shall visit my solicitor and put it and a package of other documents into safekeeping, to be passed on to successive guardians until a date almost a hundred years hence, when it will, if possible, be delivered.”

Some mutterings arose from the gathered members of the club at this seemingly preposterous statement, but the woman held up a hand and silence descended. “I propose to read you the letter, and then follow your collective advice once you fully understand the situation. Whatever your thoughts afterward, I believe you will find the tale a fascinating one. Will you help me make this momentous decision?”

A chorus of assent answered her question, and she settled herself in the wing chair next to the mantle, and began to read.

******************************

London, 19–

My Dearest Grandchild;

I suspect that I should more accurately address you as ‘Great-Great-Great-Grandchild’, but there is so much more that separates me, as I pen this letter, from you, in the distant future, that a few extra words hardly seem worth the effort. As the American playwright Tennessee Williams will pen in my future―your past―“Time is the longest distance between two places.” I have decided that I shall call you Grandchild and pray you will forgive me the inaccuracy.

Before I go any further, I implore you to believe that this is not a hoax, nor a prank, nor the ramblings of a deranged mind. I am writing this in an attempt to save your life, and Heaven alone knows what I may sacrifice in so doing. As proof of a sort, I offer, in the annexed packet of documents, a photographic representation of myself. It is inscribed “Emilie Graves-Waring, 1927”, and you will see immediately the familial resemblance. I know how alike we are. When Ned first saw your face, he said with an indrawn breath, “My dearest Emilie, the stamp of your features shall outlast even the Queen’s face on the gold crown.”

But I must begin at the beginning, for my tale is a strange and complicated one.

The “Ned” I refer to above was Mr. Edward Graves, my first husband. We were married in the autumn of 1898. He is not your ancestor, for our union was not blessed with children, but it is my pleasure to think of him as your spiritual grandfather. Without him, I would neither know of your existence nor be writing this letter. Ned was a great man in many ways, a remarkable thinker and inventor as well as a gentleman of formidable courage. You will learn more of him if you read the enclosed journals, as I hope you will.

In May of 1900 I was absent from London for a fortnight, visiting my two maiden aunts in Devonshire. Upon my return, I hastened to our home near Regent’s Park, spurred by the heightened affection so often engendered by absence. Our housekeeper, Mrs. Washburn, met me at the door with a shake of her head and a tirade, as usual.

“Mrs. Graves, it’s glad I am that you’ve returned. The whole fortnight he’s spent shut up in that workshop of his, banging and thumping and only poking his head out to eat! ‘Tisn’t healthy, oh no. Get out for some air, I told him, or your lady wife won’t be recognizing you when she comes home. But would he listen? Never to a word I said. He looks more like a muck snipe than a gentleman, and I told him so. But see for yourself. ”

Mrs. Washburn was never one to stand in awe of class differences, and I agreed with her. We knew each other quite well by this time, as she had been Ned’s housekeeper even before he and I had been affianced. She continued her little harangue as she divested me of my cloak and hat, sparing a word of approval for the hat, which was new. Then she shooed me off to Ned’s workshop, and I must admit that I flew down the stairs with some eagerness.

Ned met me at the door, and we shared an affectionate greeting. Did I note a hint of preoccupation in his grey eyes, a touch of distraction in his voice? I cannot say, dear Grandchild. Perhaps I did, and chose to ignore it. I did note the dark circles under his eyes and his pallid complexion, and resolved to attend to those things straightaway. At any rate, such concerns were quickly overshadowed as he led me into the workshop to display what had occupied his time so fully in my absence.

The workshop was transformed. Ned had cleared a huge space in the center of the floor, but it was not empty. The most complex and bizarre device I had ever seen sprawled across its breadth.

Ned presented it with a stage magician’s flourish. “My dear Emilie, I give you—I hope—the future.”

I confess I did not respond to Ned’s enigmatic pronouncement straight away. I walked around the room, examining the device, identifying bits and pieces of it. I should explain that Ned was a most enlightened man when it came to the question of a woman possessing a brain; he often discussed his theories and studies with me and complimented me on my clear thinking. It was one of the features that endeared him to me.

So I viewed the device with great interest, commenting as I knew he hoped I would.

I pointed to an imposing array of racked cylinders, calculating wheels, and the neatly stacked pile of punched cards that lay beside them. “Here you’ve borrowed from Babbage’s analytical engine.” In front of it stood a vaguely familiar apparatus which I could not immediately place. I passed over it for the moment, continuing my circuit of the room.

Another wall held an array of cathode tubes, from which snaked wires and conduits to all other parts of the device. On a wide, spindle-legged table stood a contraption sporting the trumpet-mouthed horn of a gramophone, but also the barrel-shaped body of a phonautograph. At the base of the trumpet a thin diaphragm of kid leather had been stretched taut over a tiny drum. Connecting wires ran from it to all the other bits of Ned’s machine as well. “More borrowing, from both de Martinville and Lambert,” I noted, and Ned threw me a mock salute.

Against the next wall an expanse of white sheeting was stretched taut. I turned back to the machine I had not immediately recognized and caught the anticipatory smile on Ned’s face. “A sort of cinematographe,” I exclaimed, snapping my fingers in what I freely admit was a most unladylike fashion. “We saw one in Paris, when Lumiere demonstrated it. But you have made some modifications. To everything.”

Ned nodded approvingly. I turned to the last section of the device, but shook my head. “Here you have me, my dear, for I cannot hazard a clue to the purpose of this part.” A table was laid out with what looked like implements from a surgeon’s parlor, from the crisp white linen cloth to the shining razor. The cloth reached all the way to the floor. Beside the table stood a large metal cylinder, with a removable lid.

Ned crossed to me then and took my hands in his. His skin was cold, a fact which I put down to his obvious great excitement. The ends of almost all his fingers sported small bandages.

“Emilie,” he said, “What great good do you imagine could come from the ability to see―even in a limited way―into the future?”

I pursed my lips and regarded him, wondering if perhaps he was making one of his little jokes. The urge to smile and cajole him to tell me the machine’s true purpose rose―and fell when I met his eyes. He was not teasing. He was completely serious.

A pair of chairs stood incongruously in the center of the room and I let myself sink into one of them, Ned still gripping my hands. The future! Dear Grandchild, the thought quite took my breath away! To see, perhaps, where the next great cholera epidemic would occur, and be able to prevent or contain it! To know what outcome might derive from the dreadful war which had just begun in Africa, and how that outcome could be influenced―the lives that might be saved!

(You will forgive me, Grandchild, if my ideas at the time seem limited. I was overcome with the effort of trying to realize the possibilities of Ned’s invention.)

I soon caught hold of my imaginings, however. Ned had not confided in me to see me swoon like some of the more fragile and, dare I say, brainless, ladies of our time.

“How does it work?” I demanded, and Ned laughed with delight.

“Over dinner I shall explain it, and afterward I shall demonstrate. Will that suffice?”

“After dinner!” I simply had to protest; it seemed so far off.

“Some components need time to rest and restore the necessary energy.” Ned helped me rise from the chair. “We shall have tea now, and you can tell me all about your adventures in Devonshire. Then I shall come back to the workshop and tinker until dinner.” And with that I had to acquiesce, for when Ned spoke in that gentle but firm manner I had learned that no amount of persuasion would move him. A useful bit of knowledge for any wife, I think you will agree.

Ned made good on his promise over dinner. Mrs. Washburn had provided creamed potato soup and a satisfactory mutton, a pleasant change from the fare at my aunts’ home. They employed no cook, and, never having married, seemed also never to have learned the skills of the kitchen.

“To see the chronoscope in action will cost you,” Ned warned me with a smile.

“Chronoscope? Is that what you’ve called it, then?”

Ned nodded. “For the present, at least.”

“And what is the cost of using this chronoscope?” I asked agreeably.

Ned caught up my hand and placed a kiss upon the back, then turned it over and swiftly pinched the end of my index finger. “A drop of blood, if you’ll agree to part with it and promise not to swoon.”

I snatched my hand away. “You know perfectly well that I am not given to faints! But a drop of blood? Truly? Whatever for?”

But Ned would not elaborate on that precise question. “It provides a necessary connection between the present and the future,” was all he would say. “Once that connection is calculated by the analytical engine and another…element…is introduced, images from future times should be projected upon the screen by the cinematographe.”

I shook my head, barely tasting Mrs. Washburn’s mutton, which I had absently noted was delicious. “I cannot realize it, Ned. What wondrous good this can bring to the world!”

At that he looked down at his plate. “I hope so,” he said slowly. “I believe it has great potential, yes, but―” His eyes met mine again, and once more I caught a glimpse of something amiss. He shook his head. “We’ll discuss it further later. Shall we call for dessert and brandy, and retire to the workshop?”

To which I agreed with great alacrity, and once there, settled myself in a chair facing the white screen. Ned flitted around the various sections of the device, and I was content to watch him. I knew full well that if he required my assistance, he would ask it.

At one point, however, he reached beneath the long white cloth covering the surgeon’s table and pulled out what looked like a large metal steamer-trunk. Wires protruded from its back and joined the clusters of the same snaking around the floors. “You must leave the room for a moment, Emilie,” he directed me. “The matter in this trunk is somewhat dangerous, and I would not risk you.”

I made protest, of course. “But you have been risking yourself? And propose to do it again now?”

Wordlessly Ned drew from beneath the table an outlandish helmet, which he proceeded to place upon his head, as well as a metal apron affair which looked like part of an old suit of armor. He waited expectantly.

“Oh, I shall acquiesce, I suppose,” I said, with a shake of a warning finger. “But do be careful. I imagine this box holds that mysterious item you requested from Herr Planck in Germany.” I didn’t wait for an answer, as I expected Ned’s helmet precluded intelligible conversation, but I stepped outside and closed the door behind me with some trepidation. Planck had gained quite a name for himself with his theories addressing blackbody radiation and atomic quanta, and he was a frequent correspondent of Ned’s, but I did not know precisely what they might have cooked up between them. If such protective measures were necessary, no doubt it could be quite dangerous indeed.

Ned did not keep me waiting in the hallway long, and at last we came to the moment when I held a hand (shaking slightly, I confess) over the surgeon’s table and Ned gently pricked my finger with a long, sharp silver lancet. The crimson drop he caught neatly on a small glass slide, then opened the lid of the metal cylinder beside the table (which Ned had confirmed was a centrifuge) and let the droplet slip inside. It mingled with another liquid already within, red streaking through the clear liquid like a jagged branch of lightning.

I returned to my seat, clutching a bandage around the tiny wound. At least now I understood the bandages on Ned’s fingers―his sacrifice for testing the device. My pulse pounded in the finger despite the insignificance of the cut. Ned checked that all the connections to the dynamo were correct, and started up his device. The centrifuge whirred to life, and a startlingly loud clatter arose from the cylinders of the analytical engine. Another sound, which I could not rightly describe yet which sent oddly disquieting shivers through my body, emanated from the metal steamer trunk. Then Ned turned down the lights, except for the one on the cinematographe and we waited in silence. When the cinematographe stuttered to life behind us he clutched my arm and gasped.

And then I―we―saw the future.

Grainy at first, then resolving into focus, the image played on the bedsheet screen. It was as if we had borrowed another’s eyes, and were seeing what they saw. Sound, too, emerged from the gramophone speaker, a muted hubbub of voices vibrating from the tiny drum. After a moment’s confusion, I realized that we were inside a theatre, making our way down an aisle lined with red velvet seats. We glanced at the ticket in our hand, found our seat, and consulted the playbill―we were here to see the play “The Glass Menagerie,” written by the playwright I mentioned earlier. The date on the playbill read March 31, 1945.

I glanced at Ned, awestruck. His skin had drained as pale as the sheet and he clutched my hand with intense ferocity. In the flickering light reflected from the screen, I caught the glint of tears in his eyes. He was as overcome as I.

I studied with interest what little I could see of the owner of the eyes we seemed to have borrowed. The hands were feminine, the fingernails colored a pale pink, as if painted. She wore a gold wedding band. Her skirt fell long and looked to be a dark velvet or velveteen. I yearned to see more of our mysterious benefactress, but before long the lights dimmed and the play began.

Needless to say, I suppose, we watched the play. Although I remained consumed with curiosity about whose eyes and ears we used to eavesdrop on this scene from the future, the play enthralled me nonetheless. Scandalized me as well, to some extent—the short skirts, the forthright speech! However, Ned and I were never as hidebound as some, and we realized quickly that if we were to foray into the future, we must be prepared to witness change.

During the intermission we read the playbill, and learned that the playwright would not be born for another fourteen years yet―a fact which raised gooseflesh on my arms when I read the words. Some dire circumstance―perhaps another war?–caused the playbill to note that “Because of governmental restrictions, The Playbill, in common with all publications, will have to curtail its consumption of paper. During this emergency it will not be possible to furnish a copy of The Playbill to every person…”

I positively itched to know what was going to happen.

Shortly after the play ended, both sound and image faded slowly away, leaving only Ned and I in a room silent now but for the machine’s low hum. Ned rose and pressed a switch on the metal cylinder and the whirring died away as well. I leapt from my chair and clutched him by the shoulders, shaking him slightly.

“Ned, my brilliant, darling Ned, do you realize what this means?” I gasped. “And how does it work? And who was it that was actually at the play–?”

He seemed bemused, either by my barrage of questions or by the experience, and merely patted my hand.

“In the morning, my dear. It’s been a long day for us both.” He led me, bemused in my own right, from the room and closed the door behind us. “In the morning.”

§
Despite his promise, Ned did not explain to me the next morning precisely how his device worked. At the time, however, I failed to notice this rather salient fact in the face of what he did tell me.

The eyes and ears we had borrowed to watch Mr. Williams’ excellent play had been those of my own descendant.

“The blood droplet is the key,” Ned explained, while I sat rapt, ignoring my cooling eggs and bacon. “As long as there is a blood connection, the future can be seen through the eyes of a descendant, essentially experiencing what they experience at the moment of connection.”

I caught his hand with delight. “So this means that we are destined to have a child!” I have seen enough of the future, dear Grandchild, to know that such things are, in your time, discussed openly and that you will not find this reference shocking. “1945—why, perhaps it was our daughter who attended the play—or rather, who will attend it. How confusing, to know how to speak of it!”

He smiled, although perhaps it did not reach his eyes, and he went on with his explications. “I believe that the more blood the viewer donates, the further into the future the vision can reach.”

“So long as the bloodline continues?”

He nodded. “If the bloodline has lapsed, only the blank screen will show.”

“And is there any way to target a certain time in the future?” I asked excitedly.

“Apart from the volume of blood expended, I have yet to determine that.” Ned smiled at me tentatively. “I would appreciate your help in conducting further experiments, my dear.”

I looked at his well-bandaged fingers. “You’ve obviously done your part,” I told him. “I am quite willing to do mine, for the advance of science! I doubt you could keep me away from the workshop, at any rate. This is so thrilling!”

Ned’s face took on a serious shadow. “Consider, though, Emilie…how will you feel if we probe further into the future and you see only the blank screen?”

I frowned. “It will be a disappointment, of course…the failing of our family line…but we cannot let such worries stand in the way of the experiment. But Ned…I really do not understand one thing.”

“Only one? Then perhaps you should be running this experiment, not I,” he teased.

I pinched one of his bandaged fingers as punishment, then continued with my question. “If it is possible to view events in the future, that have not yet happened…then is the future a static thing? Does this mean that our decisions—and the decisions of lawmakers and judges and governments—are somehow meaningless? Or that our decisions are not our own?” My head was quite spinning in an effort to understand, although I did not want Ned to suspect how truly befuddled I was.

Ned leaned back in his chair and picked up his tea, sipping it slowly, then making a face. No doubt it had gone cold, as the rest of our breakfast had. “I have wrestled with this notion myself. I have a theory that borrows from the Occam’s Razor principle.”

I knew it, of course. “’Plurality should not be posited without necessity,‘” I quoted. “The simplest solution is most likely correct.”

He nodded again. “Precisely. I speculate that the future we view is the future that will most likely result, predicated on the state of affairs at the time of viewing, and the most likely progression of events through time. However, if one were able to view a particular time both before and after a significant historical or anomalous occurrence, the results might well be different.”

“But without a method of pinpointing the precise future time to be viewed…”

“There is no way to compare, unless it happens by chance,” he said with a shrug. “It is pure theory on my part, and likely to remain that.”

“So then it is possible that any decision or event could change the future, but we have no way of determining what it is?”

“Precisely.” Ned rose from the table and brushed crumbs from his shirtfront. “Thus all we can do is proceed down life’s path and hope for the best.”

“As we have always done.” I rose to follow him. “But still, the possibility exists to apply the foreknowledge gleaned from the machine to perhaps avert disasters or change the course of events. Surely you are pleased about that,” I pressed, as he seemed to have become rather glum in the course of our conversation.

He took my arm as we proceeded to the workshop. “I still have reservations about this invention, Emilie. I do not know if it will, in the end, function for good or ill. But for now, let us see what we can learn.”

And at the time, I was content with that. I was thoroughly blind to the fact that Ned was keeping a great secret from me.

§
I will not bore you, dear Grandchild, with the details of all the future happenings Ned and I were privileged to witness. Extraordinary as they were for me, for you, they are mostly ancient history. Suffice it to say that we saw wartime in a steaming jungle, an escape from a terrible building collapse, a ballet that was breathtaking in its elegance, and everyday events that still, to us, were wondrous and odd and incomprehensible. I have seen my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the future in all its wonder and misery and glory.

And then I learned Ned’s secret, and then we came to you.

You must understand that both Ned and I were completely caught up in the experiments by this time. Mrs. Washburn had all but given up haranguing us to take some air and be careful of our health, and now merely served meals accompanied by dark looks and muttered warnings about fevers and fatigue. Almost every day Ned carefully drew blood from my finger or my arm as we tried to discover a method for accurately pinpointing dates in the future to view. When I grew too tired, we would break for a day or so, but neither of us was content to do that for long. Only once, when I felt as tired and irritable as if I had swum the breadth of the Thames and back, did I ask Ned why he was not contributing blood to the venture. He answered that my connection was much stronger and provided clearer images and sounds.

Then one day, whilst working with a thin sheet of tin to make a more resonant drum for the phonautograph, he suffered a deep cut on his hand. The workshop now held numerous vials and flasks for the catchment of blood, so I snatched one up and held it under Ned’s injury, capturing the vital liquid even as he worked to stop the flow and bandage it.

“We mustn’t let it go to waste,” I teased him with a smile, “Even if it is an inferior quality. It might afford me a day’s respite from the lancet.”

He did not return my smile and in fact had gone paler than usual. The blood loss had not been sufficient to account for this sudden pallor.

“Ned? What is it? Here, sit down.” I pushed a chair behind his knees and he sat, heavily.

I knelt beside him, gently holding his injured hand. “Is it worse than I imagined? Are you weak from the pain?”

He shook his head and fetched a deep breath. “We cannot use my blood in the chronoscope.” Defeat lay heavy in his voice.

“Why not? Is the quality truly so poor?” I felt a sudden guilt at teasing him about it.

“No.” He closed his eyes. “The truth is, Emilie, that if we use my blood in the machine, we will see nothing. Only a blank screen. Nothing,” he repeated.

I frowned. “But we must. Our descendants–”

“Nothing,” he said in a voice that sounded as if it hurt his throat. “I have no descendants. We have no descendants. You do, but I do not. Do you understand?”

I stood, staring down at him in perplexity. “No, I do not understand! What are you saying? How can I have descendants when you do not?”

Ned ran his uninjured hand wearily across his face. “Perhaps I die, and you remarry. Perhaps you take a lover. Perhaps we part ways…I cannot say. All I know is that I have attempted with the most minuscule amounts of my own blood to try and see even the shortest distance into the future. It does not work. I am not destined to father a child.”

The flask holding Ned’s blood fell from my nerveless fingers and shattered on the floor, spattering its contents on my skirts and echoing the slowly spreading stain on Ned’s bandage. I covered my mouth as the implications blossomed in my brain. It was the closest I had ever come to actually swooning, but I managed to steady myself.

“And you’ve kept this from me all this time?” I managed. “Why?”

“I didn’t wish to cause you pain. And I thought I might be wrong,” he said simply. “I thought something we did here might change things. But I have checked—as recently as yesterday—and there is no change. Still only the blank screen.”

I turned and ran from the room, clutching my blood-spattered skirts and the ruins of the life I had expected to lead with Ned. Once upstairs, I locked myself in my room and gave in to grief.

There followed some days which I do not care to relive in these pages, dear Grandchild. I am surprised that Mrs. Washburn bore it all and remained with us. Suffice to say that in the end, while Ned had accepted his fate, I did not. I felt certain that the key to changing our future lay in the machine and what it could tell us. No doubt Ned felt some surprise when I suggested that we return to our experiments and, as he had told me once before, “proceed down life’s path and hope for the best.”

That was the day we saw you.

It was the largest volume of blood we had ever dared to sacrifice to the machine, and I had to lie down for some time after it was collected, to regain my strength. What we witnessed on the screen that evening is the reason for this letter. We saw your death.

But first we saw your face as you looked in the mirror the morning of that fateful day, which is how I know we bear such a strong familial resemblance. We watched as you read the news on some strange device that neither of us could fathom, which is how I know the date on which you must beware. We watched as you petted your housecat and left your home.

We watched as you boarded a strange type of train, that moved so fast it took our breath away even at our distant remove. And we watched in shock and horror as your world exploded in fire and screams and the screen went abruptly dead white.

In the packet accompanying this letter, with Ned’s journals and my picture, are all the details of your day as we observed it. Forewarned is forearmed, and I hope above all else that with this knowledge in hand you will sidestep the fate that awaits you on that date and continue to live long beyond it.

You may wonder how it is that I do not know if this letter is successful. Could I not, you must muse, have written the letter and delivered it into the safekeeping of my solicitor, and then delved into the further future to check its efficacy?

I could have done that, indeed—had Ned not met his untimely fate the following day. I suppose I should complete my tale.

The night after we witnessed your fate—your possible fate—I slept scarcely at all until dawn began to trickle over the horizon. After a few fitful hours I awoke to find that Ned had already risen and breakfasted, and descended to the workshop. When I arrived, however, I found the door locked against me. I knocked and called, “Ned? Open the door.”

After a moment with no response, I knocked again, more urgently. This time Ned’s voice, faint and broken, reached me. “Emilie—an accident. Planck device. Had to bar the door…to protect you.”

“What? Ned, open the door! Let me help you!” I pounded it with my fists, fear rising like bile in my throat. Mrs. Washburn came running to see what was wrong.

“Emilie! Desist!” Ned must have summoned all his strength to get my attention. “Too dangerous! Stay away! No…help…for it…”

Mrs. Washburn, bless her, dragged me back and held me. In my frenzied state I might have clawed the door down, but after a few moments clarity returned. I realized—as poor Ned must have realized—that this was the fate that had awaited him. This was the reason we shared no children. This was the end.

I collapsed to the floor then, weeping, and Mrs. Washburn kept a kindly vigil at my side, patting me awkwardly. She would have gone for help from one of Ned’s associates, but I knew it was no use, and bade her stay with me. Eventually I crawled back to the door, and through it Ned and I shared some last precious words. When all went quiet I knew the end—of everything—had come.

§
I enlisted the help of some of Ned’s friends, and together we constructed protective suits and retrieved his body for decent burial. He had left written instructions for me, explaining how to dismantle the machine and return the device in the metal trunk to Herr Planck in Germany. I confess that I hesitated over the decision to tear down the machine, but the Planck device appeared useless now, the metal steamer trunk blackened and twisted, and I felt bound to honour Ned’s wishes. He had never been certain that his machine should be entrusted to mankind in the first place, once he understood its full potential. I had more confidence in mankind, but did not feel the decision was mine to make.

Six years later I married a dear man named Harrison Waring, your true ancestor, and we had three children together. Just two years ago, my daughter Olivia gave birth to my first grandson, and somehow that brought you again to the forefront of my mind. I began this letter not long after Ned’s death, but although I have spent many years agonizing over your fate, only now I have found the resolve to finish it. It is both my comfort and my torment that I shall never know the outcome of my actions, whether what I am doing is correct. You may never receive this letter, for any number of reasons. You may be already dead or never born, if the most probable course of events is interrupted. And perhaps I am sending you the doom of the world in Ned’s journals, wherein lie all the secrets of the chronoscope. But I must hope and pray that I am not. If you use this information only to save yourself, I am pleased. And if you use it to glimpse the future yourself someday, then perhaps you will understand the joy I felt upon seeing your face.

Be well, dearest Grandchild.

Your loving Grandmother
Emilie Graves-Waring.

******************************

The hush that had fallen over the Wanderer’s Club as Emilie Graves-Waring read her letter stretched out as she folded the sheets in half and rose from her seat.

“This decision vexes me, my friends.” She tilted her head to one side and frowned. “I am not given to dithering over such things. However, I must question my own motives—am I thinking only of my own feelings, and my concern for my descendant, in this? Am I failing to consider the larger consequences?” She took one step closer to the fire blazing in the hearth and looked around the room at the assembled listeners.

“My thanks for your kind attention. And now your decision, please. The fate of the letter—and perhaps more—is now in your hands. Shall it be the future? Or the flames?”

Voices clamoured from all sides of the room, imploring her to step back from the fire, to do no harm to the pages she had shared. Not a single protest arose against sending the letter on its long journey. She nodded and pulled the pages away from the tongues of flame. When her audience had quieted, a single voice spoke from the shadows of a far corner. Its owner was a bearded gentleman who had not spoken previously.

“Mrs. Graves-Waring, I must ask—would you consider making copies of the journals you mentioned, before they go into safekeeping? I, for one, would pay handsomely to peruse Ned Graves’ research notes.”

Now indignant mutters swept the room, as others obviously wished they had been first to make such an offer.

Emilie Graves-Waring, however, shook her head and smiled, finally tucking the pages of her letter into a heavy, cream-colored envelope. “The journals are already in the custody of my solicitor, gentlemen, and there they shall stay. If I hesitated to send them to the future, do you think I would risk their contents in the present?”

She moved toward the door, then stopped and surveyed the room again. Mischief sparkled in her eyes. “Especially among such an estimable collection of brilliant and…discerning…minds as might be found at The Wanderer’s Club?”

~fin~
 


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