|The Blackstall Curve
Author: PLane PM
Cate Blackstall is a doctoral student recruited to journey back in time to Philadelphia 1777 to find her lost Professor and his assistant. How will three modern people adjust to living during the British occupation of the city? What will fate have in store for them? Heartbreak, love, redemption and renewal.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 20,654 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 9 - Follows: 13 - Updated: 03-18-13 - Published: 07-16-12 - id: 3042433
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thanks for reading! I'm not really happy with the beginning of this chapter but it goes up for now. Read and review!
After a long night of sleeplessness, Cate took a shower and dressed. Yet those were the only things she completed that morning, having left her breakfast untouched and her books unread. She paced around her house no less than fifty times as she watched the clock.
She sent an email to her reenactment regiment. She contacted Georgetown and requested an immediate leave of absence, only to be informed that one was already requested for her. She continued to pace. She logged a few miles in the living room where her housemate was attempting to read.
"You're making me dizzy," Robin said, "What is going on with you today? You came home last night and went straight to your room."
"I—I have an interview," Cate flopped down on the couch next to her, "I'm—I'm going to go help Dr. Montague with some research in—uh, abroad."
"Wow, Cat, that's great!" Robin exclaimed, "Where are you going?"
"Not quite sure yet," Cate's voice was a little shrill. "I think it's very hush-hush. I know he's somewhere remote, though. New research on… on something important. It's what he's been spending his sabbatical on."
"That's so cool," her friend replied.
"Yeah, yeah," Cate brushed her hair behind her ear uncertainly. "It's definitely exciting."
"When would you go, if you go?"
"I think pretty soon."
"Well, then, I believe a night of partying will be in our future."
"I think you are correct." Cate rose from the couch, "but for now, the interview."
"Knock 'em dead!" Robin encouraged with her fist raised and went back to her book.
"I just hope I…."
"What?" She glanced up at Cate.
Cate thought of Fiona. She didn't even know her but there was a great urge welling up inside of her, calling her to the woman.
"I just hope things work out, is all."
"Well," Robin quipped as her eyes settled on the pages before her, " 'he that lives upon hope will die fasting'."
"Who—who said that?"
"Ben Franklin, I believe."
"Right," Cate murmured half to herself, "of course. All right, see you later."
Cate emerged from the metro station and turned down Constitution Avenue. Oscar spotted her and waved. She met him and he led her to a side door.
"I asked if you needed a blindfold again," Oscar smirked. "Amos wrung his hands dry but he said you didn't require it. He must already know you've decided."
"Yes, I think he does." Cate eyes darted around the plain, grey hallways that were now revealed to her, "Georgetown granted me the swiftest leave of absence in history—before I even knew it."
"Well, that's Washington for you, isn't it?"
"Yes, but it's more FBI than Smithsonian."
Oscar led her to a windowless, bare room at the end of a long hallway. The door opened to reveal Amos, John, Melinda, and three people she'd never seen before.
"Please, Miss Blackstall, have a seat." Amos pushed a chair out for her.
Cate did so and exhaled. Her heart seemed to want to climb up out of her throat but she managed to remain calm. Oscar took a seat next to her.
"This is Amalia Marquez, one of our physicists, and Henry Xiu and Carmella Mackintosh our historians. And of course you know John and Melinda."
Cate nodded hello to everyone.
"So, do you have an answer for us, Miss Blackstall?" Amos' mouth quivered as he attempted a smile.
Never before had Cate seen six mouths open in such simultaneous synchronicity.
"Ah, ok, then." Amos had been fully prepared for at least some resistance regarding his impudent move with her leave of absence. "Here is your contract."
Cate took several minutes to read it over. It was, surprisingly, fair and unsurprisingly extremely detailed. It outlined the nature of her mission: to find and retrieve Drs. Fiona Macon and Peter Montague in 1777 Philadelphia. Any other information she could acquire regarding the time she spent in Philadelphia would be secondary. Secrecy, of course, would be a top priority. The contract was vague regarding details on that point:
"Curver must, at all costs, conceal her true identity during the mission."
"Conceal identity at all costs?" She asked Amos. "Cost of what?"
"Do everything in your power to keep who you are and where you are from a secret," Amos paraphrased the ambiguity. "But you cannot 'interfere'."
He pointed to the header on the next page of her contract: "Interference." She read.
"Never, under any circumstances, will the Curver ever attempt to change history or tamper with any and all sort of supplies, technology or evidence during the mission.
Curver is not to kill any persons under any circumstance unless their life is in direct, complete and unavoidable peril.
Curver is to avoid going out after dark.
Curver is to avoid journeying around at night alone.
Curver is not to save any lives unless explicitly instructed to do so by a Historic.
Curver is not to demonstrate or show any modern amenities to any Historic.
Curver must adhere to all known social mores of the time.
Curver is to maintain consistent daily contact with Mission Control.
Curver is to complete the mission with full intention of returning to the 21st century. [That one seemed newly added.]
Curver is to notify Mission Control immediately of any danger or compromises.
In the event of danger, the Curver must move to a secluded, outdoor space in order to curve back to safety. [This rule seemed hard to accomplish.]
Curver is not to leave any messages (carved, written, etched, or otherwise) under any circumstances.
Curver is to keep her safety and communication devices on her person at all times. If bathing, Curver needs to remove them as they are not waterproof and will be damaged upon submersion. Curver is to keep them within arm's reach in this instance. Bathing is not encouraged.
Curver is not to journey outside of the metro area of Philadelphia. If the mission requires it, Mission Control must grant full access."
Cate then read on to the section entitled "Injury and/or Death." She took a breath.
"In the rare event of injury or illness, the Curver is to immediately notify Mission Control of the nature and severity of the injury. If possible, the Curver is to proceed to a secluded, open space and curve back.
If the Curver is unable to speak or otherwise communicate with Mission Control, the Curver is to press the emergency button on the safety device. This device may also be used in the event of direct, complete and unavoidable peril.
If the Curver is unable to communicate with Mission Control and also unable to activate the emergency button, the Curver is left to fend for herself until help can arrive and locate her.
If the Curver dies, all efforts will be made to retrieve the remains."
The last line put Cate's heart back into her throat. There was no guarantee of her body ever making it back to the 21st century. There was no guarantee of her rescue if she fell ill or got injured.
"And I will have all inoculations necessary for this curve?"
"Yes, yes," Amos said quickly. "You will receive a full physical exam and all vaccinations against diseases. We will do that today, if you'd like."
Cate went back to reading, and the contract seemed fair and quite honest. It was, of course, always in favor of the mission and its constituents. They would never be blamed for any injury or death, as Cate would be doing this mission on a voluntary basis. Her compensation would be five thousand dollars, as Amos had previously mentioned. She would then be free to curve back to other periods in history to retrieve the other historians.
A pen had suddenly appeared on the tabletop. She hadn't seen it before, nor had she seen it pushed toward her. She wasn't quite ready to touch it yet. She did notice, however, Amos had taken out his large handkerchief and ran it across his forehead. He gave her a wavering smile.
"What safety precautions have you added to ensure I don't die?" She asked bluntly. "Have you amended anything since Dr. Macon's curve?"
"We will implant a listening device into you ear," Amos explained as if the words had been sitting on the edge of his lips, "so that you will have constant contact with Oscar, your pilot. With the first curves, we only had check-ins every hour and none during sleeping hours. Not only will you get your communication device but you will also get your emergency device. We will show you all of these things tomorrow… if you choose to do this. Do you have any more questions?"
Cate searched Amos' dark, beady eyes as she thought. She knew he'd never truly answer her questions the way she wanted him. There would never be enough time to even ask all the questions she had. She was certain she wanted to do this.
The contract lay before her and she traced its edges with the tips of her trembling fingers. How could she leave her friends, her family and all that she loved for something so unstable and unknown?
Yet people did things like this everyday. They left their homes not knowing if they'd return. They did it because they had to, to serve a cause greater than themselves. And they did it for their country.
Cate was not a soldier. Indeed, she was far from one. She was not particularly fit or strong. She'd never been pushed to the brink due to any type of physical or emotional distress. She was merely a person who loved to explore. She was curious.
The astronauts were curious. Henry Hudson curious. Admiral Peary was curious. They left home and journeyed into the dark, foggy unknown and never knew if they would return. History, it seemed, had set a firm precedent.
Cate dragged her hands over her eyes and rubbed them for several seconds. Her delusions of grandeur were definitely driving her insane. She and Henry Hudson—in the same boat, so to speak.
"I think it's a half-moon tonight, isn't it?" She asked randomly.
"Ex—excuse me?" Amos stammered.
"Half-Moon." She repeated as her voice found a new evenness, " or Halve Maen, the name of Henry Hudson's ship. And tonight's phase of the moon."
Oscar beamed at her encouragingly as he watched Cate uncap the pen and turn to the last page of the contract.
She signed it.
"How long is the training process?"
"Er," Amos stammered as he wracked his mind for an answer. There was no training process.
"Your field of expertise is your training, Miss Blackstall." Dr. Mackintosh answered, "We will give you an overview of your mission and what is expected of you."
"Shall we get started?" Amos asked.
"I suppose we should." Cate answered as the color began to drain from her face.
Amos led her to another room that was a few doors down. In it was a man in a white lab coat. The room was outfitted with medical supplies and an examining table.
"We've gone over all of your medical records," Amos said, "and today, we will be giving you a tetanus booster and a smallpox vaccine."
"Smallpox?" Cate was stricken with fear, "but there were no—"
"—No outbreaks in Philadelphia in 1777, yes," he quickly added, "But we don't want to take any chances. And don't worry; we've gotten hold of a refined vaccine so you won't have any of the pesky side effects. But first, we must do a physical and take some blood and do a urinalysis. I'll…. Leave you to it, Dr. Hodge."
Cate underwent a comprehensive physical exam and blood work.
"Lab results will be back tomorrow." He said, "but it seems, Miss Blackstall that you are in excellent health. As part of your modernity pack, I will be outfitting you with a bar of antibacterial soap and some water purification tablets. Other than that, you must strive to avoid sickness at all costs. The curving process is very physically taxing indeed. It takes much energy to do so. If you feel ill, you must immediately request to come home. If you wait too long, you may not have the strength to make it back. Do you understand?"
Cate nodded silently.
"And, for the finale," the doctor turned back to his tray and produced quite a frightening syringe.
"What… is that for?"
"Implanting your listening device." He replied enthusiastically, "For your curve, they've separated the communications device into two parts. This will be your listening. Oscar and Henry have the second part. Now, just hold still."
Dr. Hodge shot the contents of the syringe into the cartilage of her left ear. Cate winced. "There," he patted her shoulder paternally, "all finished. It's nearly invisible to any historical passer-by. And don't worry about removal. It's just beneath the skin so a small little nick will do the trick!"
Cate rubbed her ear and let her lower lip fall into a small pout. She tried to remind herself that the listening device was probably the most important thing they'd given her. Dr. Hodge dismissed her and Oscar was waiting for her out in the hallway.
"Passed the test?"
"With flying colors, I think."
"On we go." Oscar led her to another, similar room where Melinda and Henry were waiting for her.
There was a whole spread of clothing laid out on tables before Cate. Melinda took her measurements silently as Henry explained things.
"So here we have your undergarments," he said, "shoes, petticoats, jackets, stomachers, hats, and gowns. We also have aprons and neckerchiefs. Melinda, have all the measurements?"
"Yes," Melinda replied icily as she gathered up various items aligning with Cate's size. "I will help you dress. Henry, you can take a break and come back in when we talk jewelry."
Once Henry had left, Melinda set up a folding screen and Cate got out of her clothes. A shift abruptly was flung over the top of the screen. Cate put it on.
Melinda removed the screen and shoved a pair of silk stockings into Cate's arms.
"Thank you," Cate said suddenly.
"Why?" Melinda's eyes grew wide and her frigid countenance had a momentary thaw.
"For helping me," she replied. "Oscar told me your field is British colonialism. I hope that you can give me as many pointers as you can as I prepare—and when I'm in the field. Use Oscar as a messenger."
Melinda blinked several times before replying, "Certainly."
Cate grinned and began to put on the stockings.
"Careful when smiling while you're there," Melinda pointed out, "your teeth are preternaturally white."
Cate glanced up at her and found a tiny smile on Melinda's face. She nodded.
"I'll try to keep it under control."
"Now, let's lace you up."
Cate stood up straight and Melinda encased her within the stay. Melinda then tied the hoop skirt around her. Cate stepped into the under petticoat, then a green cotton petticoat and a matching gown with a green striped stomacher. There was a mirror and Cate rushed over to it.
"This is so nice!" She gasped, "I mean, my stuff for reenactments is all wool or leather or whatever, being a camp follower. This is quite the upgrade!"
Melinda nodded and handed her a neckerchief and an apron. She then knelt down and pinned the hems of her skirts. For the finishing touches, Cate slipped into a pair of black buckled shoes and donned fingerless lace mitts.
"I love it!" Cate twirled in the mirror.
"Don't get too excited yet," Melinda murmured, "we must send them out to get altered and hemmed."
There was a knock at the door and Oscar and Henry in the room. Henry carried a small box and a bundle.
"Do you have hair pins?" Cate asked excitedly.
Melinda searched through the accessories table and found a small box of ivory pins. She also gave Cate a pocketbook and a purse. Cate pulled the elastic out of her hair, shook her head and began to pin her hair up in a bun.
"So, Miss Blackstall," Henry laid the items in front of her on the table. "In this box we have your water purification tablets and your antibacterial soap."
He put the items into her waiting satchel.
"These will be the only modern luxuries you will have," Henry continued, "now—"
"What about… er, feminine products?" Cate asked, ashen.
"Uh, well—" Henry stammered.
"I need that. I can't not have that. And toothpaste. I don't want to see a colonial dentist. I mean, I'm giving up toilet paper and shampoo, right? There've got to be some compromises."
Henry nodded, "all right. Tampons and toothpaste it is."
Cate snorted at his wording, "thank you."
"Moving on…" Oscar shifted in his seat uneasily.
"Well, Cate's right," Melinda seemed to be in a good mood, "the history of dealing with menstruation is not well documented. Back then they thought if menstrual flow was stopped—"
"—All right, I mean, I know—" Henry started to protest.
"—it was a bad thing." Cate finished where Melinda had left off.
"—And so," Melinda continued, "we think they may've just bl—"
"—OK." Oscar cut in to change the subject.
He blushed as he grabbed the locket on the table and held it up to Cate.
"This is our communication device," he said, "Never take it off. I don't care what the contract says. You shouldn't be expected to bathe and therefore you never need to take this off. We've made it coral this time and not gold or silver so as not to invite any thieves. I need to sync it up with your listening chip. Don't move a muscle…hold on...there! Where was I? Right. The on/off button was on the back but now we think that if it's pressed against the skin, it may turn off by accident. I want to avoid that so I put the button on the center of the front—this green stone is it. Press it once it's turned on and twice for off. Also, we've just developed an emergency button.
"It's for extreme situations. We will be connected all of the time—I sleep when you sleep, I eat when you eat and so on. Now, if something happens, say, in the middle of the night and I don't answer, you can press the emergency button. It's in this mini Bible."
"Good idea!" Cate declared, "Thieves have to be pretty low to steal this. And everyone carried one around. No one would think it odd."
"Precisely." Henry said.
"If there is a problem," Oscar continued, "we will pinpoint you with the frequency of the button and curve you back. It's new for your mission—we've learned our lesson too many times before. The technology is completely new so it may need some modifications. Hopefully, you'll never have to use it—but just to be safe."
Oscar placed it in her bag. He then rose and fastened the locket around her neck. Cate fingered the delicate coral uneasily. She thought of Fiona. And all the others.
"Do you have any questions?"
Suddenly she wasn't so excited anymore. She shook her head.
"So you'll have your modern things inside this box," Henry began placing the items into it, "your toothpaste and brush, your feminine products, and your water tablets. This key is on a ribbon and you should fasten it around your wrist. It should never be taken off, unless you really want some immersion. We cannot, however, afford for you to get sick from some water-borne illness. The choice is entirely up to you, though, and you are free to operate however authentically as you wish while you are on the mission."
"I won't take off the key."
"Good," Henry replied, "Now, you have your pocketbook. Here is some money. Three hundred Pennsylvania pounds. Exact copies—and believe me, Ben Franklin made it exceedingly difficult to counterfeit but with digital technology, I think we've got it.
"Be extremely careful with this. Promptly put this in a safe place. You will pose as a young widow who is passing through town to visit your sister in Baltimore. You will be staying at an inn of your choice. This money must be kept well hidden—this is more than many colonists will see in their lifetime. I'm sure it would be very tempting if it were to be discovered."
"The water tablets will be your life source," Henry continued and raised the stakes even further, "As I'm sure Dr. Hodge told you, water-borne illness is a great threat to you. Use these when you must. We've given you 500 so that should be twice as many as you need."
"Yes, yes." Cate's head began to feel overcrowded.
"Do you have any questions?"
"So we've outfitted you with your supplies," Henry leaned back in his chair, rather pleased with himself, "New and improved. It would be practically impossible for you to get lost. We will dress you in this outfit when you curve and give you a bundle of other articles of clothing that are suitable for a variety of different seasons because we don't quite know yet how to pinpoint times of the year. We can, however, assume you're going to be dropped into the summer."
"What else will I get?"
Melinda rose and started to gather things from around the room.
"A rabbit muff," she said, "a woolen cloak, a Brunswick jacket, another stomacher, a wool under-petticoat and a mourning ring. You know, because you're a widow."
"You look great, Cate." Oscar beamed excitedly at her, "Green suits you."
"Are you ready to see the machine?"
"I suppose I am."
They headed out into the hallway and left Henry and Melinda. Cate's new leather-soled shoes made a funny, padded noise as she walked across the concrete floor. They were uncomfortable. One of her stockings slid down her leg and rested on her ankle.
"Hold on," she said and stooped to right her stocking.
Given the extent of her costume, Cate found mobility to be a challenge and toppled over onto the cold floor when her hands didn't quite reach around the hoops of her skirt. Oscar knelt down, unsure of whether or not to assist her.
"Don't help me," she stated firmly, "I need to learn how to move in this stuff. My reenactment gear wasn't half as constricting."
She wiggled around a bit as she pulled the stocking back up to her thigh and tied it in place.
"I'm also going to have to get used to wearing no underwear." Cate got back on her feet and continued to follow Oscar down the hall and into the mission control room.
He did not reply to her comment but merely said, "OK, then, here she is!"
They stood before the black generator.
"Want to see how it works?"
"What time period?"
"Hm, how about…" Cate thought hard. This was so incredibly fun. "Mesopotamia. Let's start at the very beginning."
"A very good place to start." Oscar scanned the room, "now, what could we send back that won't fuck things up?"
"Is that your lunch?" Cate pointed to a brown bag on his desk.
"Yeah," Oscar opened it up. "Why not a couple of these grapes?"
"Just a few," Cate said, "I'm not sure what varieties they had back then. I don't want an enterprising farmer to find these and experiment."
"Clever girl," he replied as he hopped up onto the small platform next to the generator.
Oscar placed the three grapes in a little cluster in the center of the platform and went back to the dashboard.
"All right," Oscar said as he sat down to the controls. "Sayonara, grapes."
He flipped the switch and a vibration rippled through the room. After a moment, a web of green lasers jolted across the platform and rose up around the fruit. With a quick flash of white light, they were gone.
"Oh, come on." Oscar cried, "That was pretty amazing. You have to admit it."
"No, it definitely is." Cate remarked, "I was just expecting—"
"Lightning bolts? Flux capacitor?"
"I … guess."
"I don't know," Oscar beamed admiringly at the empty platform, "I like the real thing better."
"It's something, isn't it, Miss Blackstall?" Amos had appeared in the doorway.
"Yes, it's incredible." Cate agreed excitedly.
"Getting used to your clothes, I see?"
"Yes, I am."
"Well," Amos continued, "I think we can let you go for the night. Be back here at 8am tomorrow. We'll go through an overview of what's happened on the Montague-Macon mission so far and what the social, political and personal climates of Philadelphia are in 1777. If you could leave your clothing in the designated room, that would be great."
"Thanks, Amos." Cate took her hat off and loosened her neckerchief. "Good night, Oscar. See you tomorrow."
"I was going to head off to the bar if you wanted…"
"I'm exhausted." Cate's voice fell into a sympathetic tone. "Maybe some other time."
Cate got home and the house was quiet. Everyone was studying. She climbed the stairs to her room and surveyed it. The contract she'd signed earlier in the day stipulated that her rent would be paid on time for however many months she'd be gone. She knelt down next to her bed and pulled out her suitcase. She thought for a moment, giggled, and pushed it back. She then pulled it out again. It would be strange if someone had noticed she hadn't taken any luggage.
Cate threw in bathing suits, a parka and a raincoat. She tossed in her ice skates and her beach towel. She put it by the door. She got out her passport and a carry on.
After cleaning her room Cate climbed into bed, exhausted, and, as soon as her head made contact with the pillow, she was asleep.
The next day Cate met up with Oscar again and they walked down together for her second day of orientation. She met with Amos and Melinda regarding Fiona and her story.
"We dropped her down on March 8, 1777." Amos began, "We lost track of her on March 12, 1777. From what we've gathered, she was living at an inn at Second and Spruce but she could've moved—or was moved—from that location. This is her picture."
He slid a small digital photograph across the table toward Cate so that she could study it. Fiona had a sweet, heart-shaped face with porcelain skin, dark brown hair, and honey colored eyes. She was smiling a wide smile, complete with dimples. Cate vaguely recognized her; she'd seen her in the library at Georgetown.
"Here are a few more." Amos handed her a small stack of photographs to look over.
"Why did she agree to do it?" Cate asked after memorizing her face.
Amos took a breath and did not answer. Melinda cut in.
"She wanted the feminine experience of the American Revolution," she explained, "We urged her to go as a member of the gentry but she was certain she wanted to be a maid. She was good about it; she went straight to the paper and found a position. Then things went downhill."
Downhill. That was a particularly sensitive way to describe it.
"And as for Dr. Montague," Amos continued on, "he volunteered whole-heartedly. He was our top expert and he felt the need, as a researcher and academic, to go back and take everything in. We were so pleased with his enthusiasm and fearlessness.
"Oscar reported that Peter's conversations with him grew increasingly erratic and strange. He took to speaking in an archaic fashion almost immediately. He picked up the colonial Philadelphian accent frighteningly fast. Before he broke communication completely, he expressed his preference in corresponding with us by curving letters back and forth so he could practice period penmanship and writing. We said no because of security purposes and the fact that there was no way to actually accurately send him letters."
"So we recruited Fiona. We prepped her very quickly because she agreed immediately and she curved twenty-four hours after she signed her contract. She was excited, too. Are you… excited, Miss Blackstall?"
"I think I'm more what you'd call… apprehensive."
"I think that is wise." Amos stated firmly.
The rest of the morning continued with Amos and Melinda discussing the circumstances of Peter and Fiona's disappearances. The afternoon was more debriefing with Amos and Oscar. Cate was released at six. Oscar caught up with her outside of the museum.
"Ready for tomorrow?" He asked.
"Does it really matter?"
"Er, no." Oscar laughed, "going out tonight?"
"No," she said, "I think I'll just have some wine at home with friends. Want to join?"
Cate got his number and texted him her address.
"I'll be there."
Cate got home and her friends had already started.
"Are you sure you don't want to go out?" Robin asked.
"I'm sure," she replied as she trudged upstairs, "I need a hot shower and I need to call my parents before I go. And I need a lot of sleep for tomorrow."
Cate's love of showering was borderline obsessive. She loved being clean, she loved smelling good. She loved the way the water warmed her skin. As she stood in the stall she thought this was it. This was her last hot shower for a very long time. The thought was startlingly frightening to her; she shut off the taps before she was spooked into crying.
She towel dried her hair and threw on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. She rummaged through her bag and found her phone. She scrolled through her contacts and hit her parents' number but cancelled the call three times before it could ring. On the fourth time, she let it go through. Her mother answered.
"Cat!" She cried, "It's so good to hear from you! What have you been up to?"
"Oh, you know," Cate stuttered, "my-my research and such. Very boring. But… I do have some news."
"Oh," her mother exclaimed, "Have you met someone? Will he be coming to Thanksgiving?"
"Well," Cate paused, "No. I haven't met anyone. And I don't think I'll be making it to Thanksgiving this year."
"My advisor," Cate steeled herself and hoped her voice didn't quaver; her mother had preternaturally good instincts as to when something was wrong with her, "Dr. Montague is doing field research and has asked me to join him for a few months."
"Aust—Australia." Cate drew out the word slowly, "British colonial stuff."
"Oh, I see." Her mother seemed satisfied, "well, good luck! And we'll miss you! When will you be back?"
"Not sure yet," Cate let out a sigh, "we'll see how it goes."
"Let us know when you find out." Her mother said, "Dad wants to talk to you."
Cate tried to swallow the lump in her throat as her mother passed the phone.
"Hi, Cate," he said in his calm, even tone that was his trademark voice. Good for harrowing long distance good-byes. "Field research, I hear?"
"Yes," she replied, "Dr. Montague got a grant through the Australian government to study early colonial culture."
"Very rare opportunity, it seems."
"You have no idea."
"I had always appreciated," her father sighed whimsically, "my time in Athens as a student. Yale wants to send me to Rome next fall—we shall see."
Cate's father was a Classics professor at the university; he'd been there since Cate was a small child. Upon his knee she learned Livy, Plato and Socrates.
"'How are you, Dad'?" Her father feigned a falsetto, "Oh, well, since you asked, Cate, I'm very well. After finishing the Blackstall side of the family tree, I'm on to the Peabodys—your mother's side."
"Sounds fun, Dad." Cate smiled, "careful of the Whitaker branch. They're the wacky ones."
"Don't I know it." Her father laughed heartily, "well, Cate, have fun in Australia. Drop us a line every now and then to let us know what's going on, eh? Maybe we'll make the trip—"
"Oh!" Cate cried out, "you know how I am—no time to host! I'm sure if you came down I'd be all work and no play. I'll be back before you know it."
"All right, Cate," her father said, "we'll miss you for the holidays. Be safe. I love you."
"I love you, too, Dad." Tears had welled up at the corners of her eyes. "I love you so much."
"Good night!" He said cheerfully.
Cate put down the phone and covered her mouth. What on earth was she doing? She wasn't trained, she wasn't prepared, but she was going to go and risk her life for Peter, a person she knew professionally (at best), and Fiona, who she didn't know at all. This was madness.
The next morning was rough. Cate woke up at five after a night of Apples to Apples and seven glasses of wine. She looked out the window; it was dark and windy. She dressed accordingly and got down to the museum. She hadn't planned on traveling back in time with a slight hangover headache but it seemed unavoidable at this point. Amos and John greeted her at the side door.
"Oh, we're doing it right now?"
"Well, there are some last minute checks," John said as she stretched, "but yeah, this is it. Get dressed and then meet us down at the machine room."
Cate struggled into her clothing and tried to fix her hair without the aid of a mirror. She appeared in the doorway of the machine room silently. The team looked to her expectantly. Their hope was palpable. She stepped into the room and lingered by the control board.
Amos stepped forward ceremoniously.
"Miss Blackstall," he began and laid his hands on each of her shoulders, "You are doing a great service for your country and your country thanks you for it."
Cate's face morphed into a bemused, perplexed smile. Her country didn't even know. She furtively glanced over at Oscar. He was serious. Everyone was.
"But more importantly," Amos continued stoically, "Mankind thanks you."
Cate's smile vanished from her face as his words struck her. Her mind would probably never be able to formulate the magnitude of what she was about to do but his words helped her come pretty close. "Mankind" was not used lightly.
Amos led her to the platform and helped her onto it. Henry stepped forward and handed her a basket with her bundle of clothing in it. Melinda came over and adjusted Cate's clothing. After giving her one last scrutinizing look over, Melinda stepped back.
"I need to test the comm device." Oscar said from the control board. He flipped a switch and put on a small headset.
"Can you hear me?" He asked softly as his voice breathed directly into her ear.
Cate jumped. "Yes."
"Press the button on the locket," he instructed. "And say something into it."
"Hello?" Cate held it up directly to her mouth, "Testing…testing—"
Oscar winced and pulled his headset away from his ear, "you don't have to hold it to your mouth when you talk."
"No worries," he said, "all right, Amos. I'm ready."
Amos nodded and the team stepped back behind the control board. Cate inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. She could hear the clicking of various buttons and, in response, felt a low vibration beneath her feet. Then, there was another sound. It was very faint at first but then it grew as if someone had turned up the volume on it. And someone had. Cate cracked one eye open and saw Oscar turning up the music.
I'm on a rocket ship on my way to Mars
On a collision course
I am a satellite. I'm out of control
Cate shook her head with a smile and looked over at Oscar, who was mouthing the words while his head kept time to the beat.
I'm burning through the sky, yeah
Two hundred degrees
That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit.
I'm traveling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic woman of you
"Thanks for making Freddie Mercury my farewell memory of the 21st century," she said.
"Don't talk, please, Miss Blackstall, we're doing something groundbreaking and very important." Oscar said in his most serious, scientific voice.
And with that, the vibrations got stronger and stronger. The last thing Cate saw before darkness were the green lasers of light shooting out around her and encasing her like a chrysalis.
For the split second she was in the dark, Cate wasn't sure she was moving. She wasn't sure she was breathing. The speed with which she hit the ground caused her to wheeze out what little air she had in her lungs. She was, in fact, breathing. Barely.
She tried to gain her bearings and figure out where she'd landed. Grass. She felt grass against her cheek. She was lying flat out on the ground. She struggled to pick herself up; her muscles had felt as if they'd been put through an old laundry ringer and didn't do her grace much good.
Cate blinked and her vision focused sharply and quickly. It was sunny out and she was in a clearing of a thick wood. Yet, out in the sunlight, she could see people. But they weren't quite dressed as she was.
"Cate? Cate?" Oscar had been throwing his voice into the void for the past five minutes.
"Yes… yes, I'm here."
"Where are you? Did you make it?"
"I… don't know… I don't think so."
"Describe your surroundings." He stated firmly. Cate imagined his brow deeply furrowed.
"I'm in the woods but I see an open field or something…" she muttered as she began walking.
Cate couldn't quite put into words what she was feeling at the moment. It was a strange sense of allure she felt toward the open space. It felt as if her environment was controlling her. She continued to walk. Upon reaching the edge of the woods, she stopped abruptly.
There was a white house with black shutters. There was a driveway. A flagpole.
"Oh my God," Cate whispered as she ducked behind a tree, "This is our old house."
Suddenly, the quiet, spring air was cut by the sound of laughter. A mother and daughter burst forth from the back porch and went to the large barn in the back of the house.
"Cate? Cate….?" Oscar asked apprehensively.
"Cate? Cate!" The name was repeated, this time by the woman who was emerging from the barn with a croquet cart. "Get out of there—it's dangerous."
The little girl emerged begrudgingly. She'd wanted to stay and play 'barnyard'.
"We've got to get you out of there, Cate." Oscar's voice shot into her ear.
Cate was silent as she watched them set up the wickets.
"I'm playing croquet with my mother." She whispered. "This was before she…before the accident. She looks so beautiful."
"Cate, love," Oscar pleaded, "hold still. We're getting you out of there."
"No, please," she gasped as she felt the vibrations course through her body. "Please, Oscar. I…."
Her voice trailed off her lips and she watched. Cate had no memory of this scene at all. It had just been another day. She watched as the little girl tried to wield the mallet and hit the bright orange ball. She was probably no more than four years old.
Cate felt the pull toward the little girl very strongly. She stepped out from the tree boldly. Her soft leather shoe fell upon a twig and it snapped in two. The sound seemed to echo through the air and hit the child who jumped slightly in reaction. The girl turned toward the woods and found Cate, who had darted behind the tree but peered out from the side of the trunk. The girl's azure eyes found their mirrored pair.
"Get me out of here!" Cate's hoarse voice cracked into her comm device.
She slumped back behind the tree and could feel tears beginning to prick the corners of her eyes. She wasn't sure what she was feeling, she could only feel its power. She didn't have time to process it.
She curved again and met the darkness once more. When she opened them again, she was not greeted by idyllic silence but mortar fire. The ground against her cheek was dry and cracked. The sky was filled with smoke.
"Cate? Cate?" Oscar called again, "where are you?"
She got to her knees. She stopped and heard a far off whining. It grew louder. In a moment, she was on her feet, running. Cate looked back to where she'd landed: a bomb exploded and left only a crater in the earth. She glanced around frantically.
"I'm…" her head whipped around, taking it in. More mortar fire. She ran.
"It's a battle…" She managed through the smoke, "Fuck, Oscar, get me out of here."
She heard the sound of German voices. Cate glanced around and saw a large trench. She ducked behind a barrier and listened…
"Oh shit," she cried as she ran across the field, "I'm at the Somme, Oscar. I'm in the middle of the fucking Somme."
"All right," his voice was surprisingly level; he'd managed through this before. "We'll get you out. Hold still."
Cate leapt into a crouching position and curved back into the darkness. Her heart was racing and, as she curved, it seemed to convulse in her chest. She hit the ground with full force again but it was soft this time. And it was night. She was alone. In the half moonlight, she saw that the ground was reddish clay. There were beards of Spanish moss hanging from some nearby trees. She relayed the information to Oscar.
"I think I'm in the South," she muttered as she surveyed her surroundings.
"South of where?"
"The South, like Dixie? The American South?"
"Ah, right," Oscar exhaled, "well, at least you're on the right continent now. And, probably, a little further back. Are there any buildings? People? Perhaps a stage coach to take you to Philadelphia?"
"Stage coach? Please, even if there were such a service I'd-"
"What is it?" Oscar asked.
"I-I… I'm not in the right place," she whispered fearfully.
"There's a man…." Cate's voice hitched in her throat as she gaped at the sight before here.
"And he's hanging from a tree…" She managed to finish.
Before she could speak again, Oscar had curved her. She was reeling through the darkness, this time with the image of the man, lifeless and lynched.
Cate prepared herself to land on her feet this time and tried to move her body so that she could do so but it proved to be impossible. She fell with a thud and slammed her elbow into the rocky earth.
Her eyes blinked open. The hot sun streamed through the trees as a humid breeze snaked its way through the leaves. Cicadas hummed in the distance.
"This… this may be right." She breathed.
She stood and dusted herself off. Once again, she'd landed in a clearing, not too far from an open pasture. To her left, she heard rushing water. Cate made her way to the river and walked along side of it. She reported her surroundings to Oscar.
"I see a ferry!" She exclaimed, "and…yes!"
There was a faded, wooden sign at the foot of the river crossing. Philadelphia – 2 miles.
"Well, I'm in the right place!" She declared, "Judging from where the afternoon sun is positioned… and what this river looks like… I'd say… It's the Schuylkill River. I'm basically in Philly."
"Good. Very good." Oscar said. He gave a thumbs up to Amos, who had been peering over his shoulder throughout the curve, as if there had been something to see.
"Now," Oscar continued, "If you're in Philadelphia, it'll be much easier for you to curve back to the correct time if you aren't already in 1777. Keep reporting what you see."
Cate approached the ferryman. His dress seemed to correspond with the correct time period. She'd made it. How was she to speak? She'd no idea how she should sound. Luckily, he spoke first.
"Good afternoon, miss." He tipped his hat and stood up from the stump on which he sat, "Passage to Philadelphia?"
"Th—thank you." She uttered as neutrally as possible.
Cate was surprised at how well she could understand the man. She was too nervous to engage in conversation so they sat in silence as he rowed the boat across the river. The ferryman eyed her as they went.
"Where are you from?"
"Connecticut." That was true.
He grunted in response as he maneuvered over to the waiting dock. He nimbly jumped from the boat and turned to help Cate out. She accepted his hand and, with only a little trouble from her hoop, she climbed onto the dock. After righting herself, she opened her satchel.
"What do I owe you?"
"How much?" Cate tried again and indicated her purse.
"Oh," he replied and cleared his throat, "two shillings."
"There you are," she said, "thank you. Good day to you, sir."
"And to you, miss." He tipped his hat. The people he carried across the river last week were from Connecticut. They spoke nothing like that.
Cate found the road to Philadelphia with the help of another faded, wooden sign. In the distance she could see some buildings. It was only about thirty minutes before she came upon a large estate.
As she walked through the property, she surveyed the people around her.
A woman, who Cate could only assume was some sort of servant approached her.
"Have you lost your way, miss?"
"Er, yes," Cate replied uneasily, "I am headed to Philadelphia."
"Keep east," the woman gestured down the field and into a cluster of trees, "until you come to the large road. Stay on the road and it will lead you into the city."
"Thank you." Cate tried to remember the most vague directions she'd ever heard.
With a smile to the woman, Cate headed off across the field and found the road. Soon, she saw chimneys puffing grey smoke into the clear blue sky off in the distance.
"I'm here." She breathed softly.
The view before her was nothing extraordinary. On either side of the rutted dirt road were more parcels of land. Brick houses dotted the flat, floodplain landscape. Cate's step quickened as she journeyed closer to the city center. She giggled to herself.
"Just find an inn and get settled." Oscar instructed.
Cate started to nod but stopped herself; she had to remember that nodding and talking to no one would not bode well for her.
There weren't very many inns in Philadelphia and each one looked much like the next. Cate chose one and got the last single room. She shuddered at having to share a bed with a stranger.
She unloaded her things and promptly hid all of her modern supplies and the majority of her money under the mattress. She kept a few shillings in her satchel for dinner.
Dinner. Eating. She was hungry and also a little bit afraid for what awaited her at mealtimes. Giving a quick nod of acknowledgement to the innkeeper, she ducked out and roamed around the city for a while. She passed by rows and rows of houses and came upon a square. At the far end of it was something familiar: Independence Hall, or as it was currently, Pennsylvania State House. She smiled and trotted over to the building. She very carefully hung around the entrance and waited to see if Congress was in session. It was not. She knew they'd be fleeing soon and really wanted to get a good glimpse of them.
Cate wandered around town a bit more before heading back to her inn for the midday meal. She strolled past the City Tavern; if any members of Congress were still around, they were probably eating there. If only she could be allowed in but she did not possess a subscription and never would; she was a woman. She pondered making friends with some of the Philadelphia elite in order to gain an invitation.
She found a seat at her inn's dining room and ordered the lamb stew. Cate sat in great anticipation for her meal. She wondered what the taste would be and how it would look. When it was finally set before her, it arrived with little fanfare. It looked like every stew she'd eaten at her grandmother's house for Sunday dinner. The flavor, however, was richer, somehow bolder. It didn't taste tampered or engineered.
Cate finished the meal and her pear cider before returning to her room.
"I'm here." He replied immediately.
"Food's pretty good here."
"Ready to report?"
"All right," he began with an exhale, "now, you curved first to your childhood, correct?"
"I don't want to talk about—"
"Please, Cate," Oscar coaxed, "please. This is important."
"I have a memory of it."
"Good, so start from there."
"No," she laid on her bed and spoke softly into the necklace, "I mean, since it happened, I have a childhood memory of seeing myself."
"All…all right," Oscar said haltingly. He then moved his mouth away from his microphone and whispered something to a person next to him (probably Amos).
She heard the word 'paradox' but little else.
"What else can you tell us?" Oscar returned with his scientific voice.
"I don't know," she replied, "it's… it's too strange to think about. The new memory didn't hit me like lightning. It materialized out of thin air in my mind, as if it had always been there. I don't want to interfere with anything. I'm trying not to interfere."
"We know, Cate, we know." He reassured her, "But tell me, can you think of a reason you curved to World War I and the Reconstruction before you ended in the right spot? We need your thoughts as we develop the device."
"No. I'm sorry." She said, "I am tired. I think I'll just go to sleep now."
"Good night, Cate." He murmured with a touch of disappointment lingering in his voice.
"Good night, Oscar." She returned with a yawn.
The next was hotter than the last. Cate got outside as quickly as she could after taking a small breakfast. There was no breeze and the stagnancy of the air was suffocating. She pulled out her fan and waved it in front of her face as she strolled around the city and tried not to think of air conditioning. She bought a newspaper, The Philadelphia Gazette, and quietly relayed the date to Oscar: July 23, 1777.
Her job was to find a needle in a haystack; two needles, to be precise. Where could she begin? Mission Control had been little help; they knew just as much as she did. Cate did know that finding Peter first would be helpful. He had been here longer and had more of an opportunity to become established and live a public life.
The heat wasn't as stifling down by the river. As Cate walked along the wharves she imagined I-95 over her head, two hundred years into the future. The tall masts of the ships would give way to barges and enormous warehouses.
The wharves were bustling with activity. The port was only two months away from falling into British hands and it was as if the merchants knew it. The seagulls hovered overhead of the fishermen as they carted in the morning's catch. Cate watched the dockworkers as they unloaded cargo from blockade-runners.
The merchants were on hand with legers, trying to keep track of the product. Cate looked at the names of the ships; they were French.
She adjusted her hat in the morning sun; it was going to be unbearable by midday. She tried to take in the breeze as it came off the water.
"Sorry, miss!" A man's gruff voice came from behind her.
She turned and then stepped out of his way; he had a large crate on his shoulder and was being followed by a string of dockworkers that carried similar items.
"We unload Montague's next!" The first man called to his fellow workers.
Cate could not believe her ears, or her dumb luck. It had to be him.
"Pardon me, sir," she called to the worker who was loading the crate onto a wagon, "please tell me, is it a Mr. Peter Montague of whom you speak?"
"CATE!" Oscar cried, "Cate! Have you—"
"Yes, it is, miss."
"Can you tell me where he may be?"
"Just yonder, miss." The worker pointed to a man at the end of the wharf that was standing at the edge of the dock.
"Thank you!" Cate cried enthusiastically. The longshoreman gazed at her apathetically.
Cate rushed down the creaking wharf to its end. She stopped short at the beginning of the small dock that jutted out into the water. Her nerves seemed to be creeping in on her. She couldn't be certain of his identity—the clothes he wore changed his stature completely and, with his back turned to her, she could not see his face. There was only one way to be sure.
"Peter!" She called as she came down the dock. The wood was uneven and she nearly tripped on her third step. Oscar's voice was jabbering on in her ear but she didn't pay attention to his words. He'd have to wait.
Peter turned to the sound of his name. His face blanched as he recognized the young woman advancing to him. He could not fathom the image of her, standing before him, on this bright sunny day. She needed to look more like the apparition she truly had been. Perhaps he was merely hallucinating.
"Cate…?" He cracked as his voice failed him.
She smiled and quickened her pace to him. She stood inches away and he put a hand to her shoulder to test his senses. He let out a strangled breath.
"Cate, my God," he whispered.
"I am so glad I found you!" She cried as she flung her arms around him, "I'm so glad you're all right!"
"Keep your voice down," Peter chided her gently as he glanced around him. Some of his employees had begun to take interest in the scene. "Er, Samuel… Samuel, meet my daughter, Catherine."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Montague." A lanky youth of no more than fifteen bowed to her.
Cate blinked once at Peter and then immediately played along. She acknowledged the boy with a bow of her head.
"Samuel is one of my attendants here at the wharves, Cate," Peter stated, "He greets all of the ships and helps with unloading."
"You've come so far in your—" She stammered.
"—Shipping business, yes, I know, Cate." Peter finished smoothly. "Carry on, Samuel."
The boy nodded and ran back off to work.
"We need to talk." She grasped his arm.
"Samuel," Peter called to his overseer, "I will be at my house for the rest of the afternoon. If you are in need of anything, come and fetch me."
Samuel nodded to his employer and Cate. The boy watched them go back up into town. Peter's daughter seemed just as odd as he did.
Peter remained tight-lipped and said nothing as he led Cate to his home on the corner of Third Street and Walnut. It was an impossibly large brick house in the Georgian style with three tall stories. Around the perimeter of the property was a tiny, if dilapidated picket fence. Cate furrowed her brow at its disrepair.
"I'd have it whitewashed," Peter commented as he unlatched the gate, "but the British will be chopping it down come November when lumber gets scarce."
"All right, in you go." Peter opened the door and stepped aside to let her in.
Cate stepped into a small front hall. To her left was the sitting room, filled with books, two Windsor rocking chairs and a wide, stone fireplace. To her right was a dining room. Toward the back of the house and through the dining room was the large kitchen with an enormous hearth. There was a tiny woman stoking the fire underneath a large pot that hung over the flames.
"Peter, did you—" Cate breathed anxiously.
"No, no!" He whispered back, "I knew I'd be a helpless cook so I hired someone. Esther! I have someone here who you need to meet."
The woman wiped her hands on her worn apron and came into the sitting room. Her cheeks were a shiny red from the heat of the fire. Her silvery hair was tucked neatly under her mobcap. To Cate, she smelled like a campfire.
"Esther," Peter placed his hands on Cate's shoulders, "this is my daughter, Catherine."
Esther's eyes widened for a moment, "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Catherine."
"Pleased to make yours, Esther." Cate responded.
"What are we having for dinner today?" Peter asked the woman.
"Well, Joshua Pettigrew dropped off some fish this morning," Esther replied, "so I will put it into a pie. We also have corn, pudding, carrots and the bread is cooling."
"Wonderful!" Peter exclaimed, "Cate and I will be in the sitting room. We have much to… converse about, considering she's been at her aunt's in Baltimore these past few months."
A flicker of comprehension floated over the bewildered woman's face. Her mouth turned upward into a smile from the confused frown in which it had been previously set. With a short nod, she turned back into the kitchen.
"So," Peter gestured to the chair before the fireplace in the living room, "let's discuss."
Cate took a seat across from him and could not contain herself.
"Begin. At the beginning, please," she stated firmly.
"I've been here since February," Peter's voice was low, "I invested much of my allotted funds from M.C. into a lumber shipping business—when you have a firm view of the future, you get the upper hand—and I purchased this house in May. Esther came on board just last month. The shipping business is doing very well right now and I'm stocking up until September when, how do you say, the shit will hit the fan."
"Eh, just prepared," he replied nonchalantly, "we'll be roughing it soon enough. Though, I have a plan."
"I'm sure you do. And what is it?"
"Well, my very first order of business," Peter leaned in to Cate and beckoned her closer. She obliged. "Was to gain a subscription to City Tavern—"
"Aren't you, though?" He relished in her frustration, "After doing so, I very casually ingratiated myself to certain members of Congress and struck a deal."
"You did not." Cate expelled a huff of laughter, "who did you meet with?"
"All on a need to know basis," Peter raised an eyebrow slyly; he'd wanted to share his feats of glory with someone for quite some time. Cate's reaction made him swell with pride.
"So what did you plan?"
"Like I said, need to know."
"And your communication device?"
"Do you have yours on right now?"
"Turn it off."
Cate gave Peter a reproachful look.
"Humor me, Cate."
She frowned at him but switched it off.
"You do know," Peter said, "that your listening device has the power to render you brain dead, don't you?"
"That's why I removed mine," Peter showed her his ear. There was a reddish welt on the inside of it.
"No," he replied easily, "Jacqueline found out the night before I curved. If she's gone after me, I'd imagine she turned hers off, as well."
"Everyone thought you were dead."
"Oh, well," he pondered glibly, "there's a very good chance the others are."
"Yes, she was the first to come after you."
"Oh, dear Fiona," Peter's confident façade had begun to crumble, "She's not cut out for this."
"I need to find her."
"I suppose you should," he said seriously. "Do you know how long she's been here?"
"She got here a month after you did."
"Oh Lord," Peter closed his eyes for a moment, "well, if we do find her, she's your sister."
Cate nodded. "All right, Dad."
Peter turned back to the kitchen: "Esther, could I trouble you for some tea?"
The old woman responded from the kitchen and could be heard going out back into the alley to get water for the kettle.
"Do they have any idea of where she ended up?" Peter asked immediately.
"She got a job as a maid for someone just a few days after she arrived."
"What day did she arrive?"
"I've been keeping newspapers filed upstairs—for posterity, of course."
"Perhaps we can look through them?"
"We'll do it this afternoon—after dinner." Peter nodded, "Esther's fish pie is to die for."