From her dais, she drank in the view of snow-topped mountains and the few remaining white flakes, swirling through the sky. The sunlight streamed in through the windows and bathed her in a strategic manner, creating an elaborately constructed image of a princess with a shining halo above her black hair.
But the girl herself hardly noticed such small details; it was the Emperor's advisors who told her how to sit and where to cast her glance. No, her mind was not on the party, for which she was the Guest of Honor. Clinks of champagne glasses and the sound of laughter floated through the air, but she tuned it all out with practiced ease.
Her thoughts flitted here and there. She was seventeen today, she noted offhand. Seventeen, but still very much a child.
A child with her own palace, she amended, not without some satisfaction. On her third birthday, she and her nursemaids had taken up permanent residence in His Majesty's Summer Palace, a place few others chose to visit. In the winter it was too cold, and in the summer, for which it was named, it was still too cold. Its spiraling glass towers and shining minarets were beautiful to behold, but, nestled far up in the hills and snow, it was far away from the politics and scandal that everyone else found so much more enticing.
Lysa didn't mind. A girl of few years and fewer friends, she held no sway over public attention or adoration, and she preferred it to be so. She had always been preoccupied with the study of physics, particularly the art of time travel, and although her cousins had taken part in games and sports, she had never joined them in their pursuits. She did not choose to follow when most of them joined into the military services, and now she was the odd one out of the bunch, a scientist in the midst of soldiers.
And yet she was the Diadochos, the named successor to the Throne.
In this respect, Lysa was quite a disappointment. Most everyone assumed she would overlooked when the time for coronation actually came, despite her clear claim to her father's title. What use was a time traveler as an Empress? Those who traveled always had their head in the clouds, never on matters of national importance. And besides, time was a dangerous profession, best suited to people who were expendable.
Still, this time of the year, her cousins would drop their other engagements and gather at the Palace. It was the only true "event" that was ever held at Lysa's home, and amongst close family, it was the event of the winter season, having a very short guest list.
As was tradition, the gathering was held in the main party hall. It was not as large as the ballrooms other palaces had to offer, but it boasted tall, glittering sheets of glass, mirrors for walls, and a ceiling so high that when it was built, it had been considered an architectural marvel. It appeared fragile, but was built to take damage and last through the ages.
Lysa turned her attention to the crowd and swallowed hard, feeling a bit too casual in her cowl-necked tunic and slacks. It was rather simple of her, but she felt awkward dressing up for these kinds of occasions, considering that her cousins would always show up in their mess-dress. No matter how she looked, she wouldn't fit in with the others. Only her shiny black boots, laced up to just under her knee, gave the slightest impression of the military formality her family members displayed.
Anker, a distant cousin and her father's right-hand-man, approached her first.
Her throat closed and she swallowed hard as he handed her his present. His gift to her this year was a rather maudlin looking pink music box, wrapped in crepe paper. He probably knew she wouldn't like it, but he hadn't bothered to do anything about it.
It wasn't exactly a lack of affection. It was just that he didn't particularly care for anyone or anything, as far as Lysa knew. Most called his uncaring nature a simple defect of his personality.
Whatever flaws he had, his boyish dimples and dark eyes more than made up for them in the eyes of the public, and even Lysa found him charming in his strange way. His attentions were hard to come by, but when they did come her way, her heart beat just a bit faster.
"Happy Seventeenth, Cousin," he said, leaning forward to kiss her on either cheek. He drew away from her and looked her up and down. "You still look like a little school-girl to me. Have you left the Summer Palace and had any adventures since I saw you last?"
He always asked her the same question, and Lysa always answered the same way. "Not yet."
Her cheeks burned when she saw him smirk at her response. Her reluctance to leave the palace was well known, but Lysa thought it a bit unfair. One didn't have to leave their homes to see the world, to know how it worked; she could see it perfectly from where she sat, through the clear glass panels that made up the ballroom.
Acacia, Anker's younger sister, gave him a reproachful glare. "Leave Lysandra alone," she said, before stepping in front of him to offer her own gift. She looked very pretty, her short brown hair pinned back smartly and her brass buttons gleaming on her double breasted jacket. It was no secret that she was the jewel of the family, rumored to soon be promoted to Centurion.
She brought Lysa a antique book on Particle Physics, and presented it without wrapping, not caring for the showy aspect of gift-giving. She was Lysa's favorite cousin for this very reason; she was understated but strong, and she had good intuition.
"Have you taken an interest in the world since I saw you last?" her cousin asked, only half-joking. Acacia would serve Lysa no matter what, but she always tried to encourage Lysa to read more, to think more, to see more. It was important to her that the Diadochos be prepared for her station.
Lysa wasn't sure how to answer. To say no would be to admit ignorance, but to say yes would invite more attention to the matter. She could feel herself blushing and thanked her dark complexion for hiding her emotions. Opting not to answer, she smiled and leaned forward to kiss Acacia on her cheek.
Her skin had scarcely brushed against her cousin's when they heard a loud blast echo through the room and the halls outside. The pleasant chatter that had filled the hall moments ago was now gone. Lysa was startled and froze in place, but her cousins knew the blast for what it was; a gunshot. As Acacia and Anker reached for their weapons, gunmen in ragged, mismatched clothing poured into the little room.
"Everyone freeze!" yelled a tall woman with a heavy Russian accent. She had strikingly long hair the color of dark honey, and she appeared to be leading the others in as she strode confidently into the middle of the room, flanked by men on either side of her. "We're not here for blood!"
Her cold eyes said differently.
Lysa jumped off her chair and swung around behind it. It was a ridiculous hiding spot, and she knew that, but it was the best she could do. She hoped that no one had noticed her in the chaos of the moment.
Instead of freezing, the guests flew into a panic, and shots were fired almost immediately. Many of Lysa's guests ducked under the tables for cover, while others pulled out their own weapons, shouting at each other as well as at the rebels. Within moments, everyone who remained standing was also aiming at least one gun at someone else. No one was firing now, but the hall was tense.
"Lower your weapons!" The woman yelled. There were several guns aimed at her, and she swerved from side-to-side, before she settled her aim on Acacia. "I said-"
Anker stepped in front of his sister and smiled. "Lower yours, súka."
Lysa had never heard Anker swear before, he was usually too collected. Her heart pounded wildly against her chest and little beads of sweat trickled down near her ears. Anker and the woman were still exchanging words, but something else distracted Lysa.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a heavy-set man crawling behind the dais, holding an old-fashioned automatic rifle. He hadn't noticed her yet, and she wondered if she could get away before he saw her, only a few feet away.
She heard yells and then shots began to fire in earnest. Behind her, a pane of glass seemed to explode, and pieces of glass flew in every direction. He would notice her now, no doubt. She scrambled to get out of his line of sight, but her flurry of movement caught his attention. He grunted and cut the distance between them with surprising speed, leaping onto the dais. Before she could even think to scream for help, he hit his gun against her head. She saw a burst of color and then fell to the ground.
When she came to, she was completely disoriented. There was shouting and loud blasts, and nothing else seemed to make sense. Not much time had passed, but it took her a moment to place where she was with her head throbbing so badly. Her hands were tied behind her back and her mouth was taped shut, but whoever had done this to her was now nowhere to be seen. Lysa hoped, somewhat spitefully, that he'd been shot.
As she struggled to escape from the bondage, panic started to set in and she began to pant heavily, unable to breathe through the thick tape against her mouth. She heard screaming and shouts all around her. She couldn't move, she couldn't breathe. She struggled against the ropes, but it was no use. She wriggled around on the dais, but no one seemed to notice her.
She paused, collecting her thoughts and taking a few deep breaths.
I can do this.
She forced herself to look around the room with clear eyes, calming down. Happily, most of the guests had apparently escaped, leaving behind only a small number of her closest cousins. The sound of gunshots rang through the room, and she heard her cousins yelling to each other. She winced as another bullet flew. Today was supposed to be a day of celebration, but it appeared that fate had something else in mind. The shimmering "Happy Birthday!" banner hung in tatters from one corner of the room, spatters of blood decorating the bottom of it.
Already her small group of friends thought her useless. Her only hobby was studying physics, something which no one thought particularly highly of. Now that fact was being paraded for all to see. Once the rebels took care of her cousins, she would be held hostage, and then her father would have to negotiate for her.
Everyone knew that the rebels wanted to capture a sample of the virus so that they could wreak havoc on the infrastructure, and it would be unthinkable if she allowed it to happen. The odds weren't in her favor, however. His Majesty would do anything for her, if it meant getting his little Lysandra back. It was not because she was to succeed him; even she knew that he would probably choose someone else. No, it was the bond that existed between a father and a daughter, the bond that could not be broken.
Escape seemed impossible, but she found herself thinking of it anyway. No doubt there were militants surrounding the grounds, and she wouldn't be able to get far, not spacially. But perhaps temporally... if she could get to the Machine and travel through time, she would stand a much better chance.
It was fortuitous that the rebels thought her useless, or else they would not have left her tied up on the dais with broken glass near her hands. Lysa struggled with the shard in her hands and worked it furiously against the rope, trying to ignore the perilous situation her friends were in below. They wouldn't think she was useless for much longer; not as long as she could escape. The rope was thick, and it didn't help that she was shaking with fear. She accidentally slashed at her wrist and palm a number of times before the rope finally gave out. The blood trickled down her hands, and the pain seared up and down her arms, making her dizzy. She tried to tell herself that the pain didn't matter, so long as she escaped.
It was all she could do to hold back her scream of triumph as the pieces of rope fell away.
She wiped her wrists against her shirt and winced. They were wet and sticky with blood. Taking a moment to observe the scene before her, she saw that her cousin Daria had fallen, but that she was probably still breathing. Acacia and Anker were both still fighting, but they were tired, and Acacia was hiding more than she was actually shooting. In Anker's gait and expression, Lysa noticed an anger she hadn't been expecting. Anker never gave the slightest care to anything, but she supposed she'd never seen him in a high stress environment before.
It seemed hopeless; they were outnumbered by the rebels, and as soon as she stood up, they would notice her and tie her up again. There were still at least six of them, and they were armed.
Her heart was beating fast, too fast. She needed to think clearly to make it out alive. To save her cousins. To stop being so fucking useless.
Slowly, she tuned everyone out until all she could see was the glass door at the other end of the hall, leading to the stairways and tunnels. It was simple, really, just a straight dash. Child's play. She jumped off the dais and hit the ground running, her black boots pounding against the hard marble floors.
Breathe in, breathe out. Don't fucking trip.
She had to get to the Machine.
She was nearly all the way across the room when they noticed her, the tape still on her mouth and her left hand bleeding profusely as she ran. They began to shoot, but they weren't aiming for anything vital, and to her advantage, Lysa knew that. A bullet skimmed across her calf, and she screamed and slowed for a moment before picking up her pace again, not quite as straight as before the injury. She was at the base of the staircase when the glass door she'd left behind only moments before exploded. As she ran up the stairs, one fact comforted her: if she died, she couldn't be used against her father, and maybe Acacia and Anker could escape and get reinforcements; people who were trained for this sort of thing.
As long as she wasn't captured alive, the free world was safe.
"Lysandra, stop, or we'll shoot to kill!" a young man in a leather bomber jacket shouted up at her. His lack of accent gave her pause. A traitor, perhaps? She stopped at the top of the staircase and held up her arms above her head, slowly turning to face them.
The young man who had spoken was of average height and he had fair hair and eyes. The rest of his face, however, was covered with a piece of red cloth. He wanted his identity to remain hidden, no doubt. She observed him without allowing her expression to change, and then gazed at the rest of the group. Only two of them, the tall woman and an older man, had followed him into the stairwell; she imagined that the rest were still exchanging bullets with her cousins.
Their guns were trained on her, and she wondered if they were bluffing. They might have been armed, but these rebels were hardly older than herself. Their shoes were probably two sizes too big, and their likely stolen jackets looked two sizes too small. Did this wretched group think they could face down the weight of the Empire?
"You're unarmed. We won't hurt you if you don't run," the man said, his voice slightly muffled by his mask. He began to slowly inch up the stairs, keeping his eyes on her. "We're trying to save people, not hurt them."
Yeah fucking right.
Lysa breathed heavily through her nose, taking the moment as an opportunity to relax from her short dash. It was hard to breathe when her lips were taped together.
The woman with the honey-colored hair chuckled, looking up at Lysa through her thick lashes. "We've got you, Little Pig," she said. "No use in trying to run again."
Lysa swallowed hard. She was glad her mouth was taped, or else she would have given it right back to the Russian bitch. How dare they speak to her this way? Not only did they insult her, but they insulted her father, His Majesty Anatole. She bit back her rage and then moved as if to step down and join him. The masked man visibly relaxed, and even lowered his weapon a bit. No doubt he'd heard about her and her incompetence, she thought, trying to hide her amusement.
"Come on, Lysandra," he said, coaxing her.
She shivered as sweat trickled down her back, waiting for the right moment to make her move.
"Stop talking to the Imperial brat! We need to go now!" yelled the older man, shooting carelessly into the air. Bits of ceiling and dust showered them, and Lysa took her chance. She jumped backwards and hit the landing, hard. Her back protested, but there was no time to heed the pain. Shots were fired, and she rolled towards the door, crashing through the glass.
She leaped back up and ran down the hallway, leaving a trail of blood behind her. It was her clothing; the fabric wicked the blood right off of her, and she knew this was making her worse than she would be otherwise. She needed to put on some bandages, as soon as was possible. It was already becoming difficult to stay standing, and she was certain that it was only adrenaline that kept her from falling down.
This was Hall SE106, but she didn't need to check the sign to know that; it was her home, after all. She took the winding passages that only she would know, punching in passwords that the rebels wouldn't be able to break in time to catch her. This was what they had feared when they initially considered kidnapping Lysa on her home turf. Yes, she was just a young girl, yes, she was the weakest of her cousins, and yes, it would be in the middle of her birthday party. But if they didn't manage to capture her in the ballroom, they wouldn't catch her at all.
Not if it were up to her, anyway.
She found herself in a familiar room, stark white and empty but for two objects. At the far end, the Machine sat enormous, almost a living, breathing presence, and at the other was a small refrigerator. She ripped the tape off of her mouth and howled in pain. She limped towards the fridge and opened it, shoving beakers out of her way in search of what she needed.
She didn't have much time; she could already feel her body beginning to let go.
In the back were the bandages, and she made quick work of them, ripping off the ends of her blood-soaked pants to allow her better access to the gunshot wound. They weren't meant for real wounds, but they would have to do. Her hands, legs, and back were covered in blood, though she was lucky, as none of the wounds were particularly deep.
Hypodermic needles were on the side rack, and she quickly peeled one out from its sterile case and attached it to a hypodermic syringe. She tried to hold the needle, but her left hand was shaking uncontrollably due to the blood loss. Swearing under her breath, she switched hands, praying that she would keep her accuracy even though she was not right-handed. She filled the needle with a few drops of a clear solution and then stabbed it into her arm, hissing in pain, before repeating the process a few more times. Just in case, she pocketed the oral typhoid pills and rehydration powder. From out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that there was a sample of the virus in the fridge. What was it doing there, in plain sight of everyone? It wouldn't do for anyone else to find it, and so she wrapped it in tissue and pocketed it as well. She would be going far away from the Now, though she didn't know when was safe.
In the past, there were philosophers who considered time to be but a man-made construct, an unnatural way to measure the sequence of events that passed. In this way, it was argued, mankind could measure his births and deaths, a coping mechanism to keep him from floundering in the reality of the great nothing.
Man was more than capable of breaking his creations, however, and so it was with time. Like space, it could be traversed so long as one had a lot of money, the right equipment, and some confidence.
That was not to say that many had actually done it, of course. Lysa, along with her late mother, was one of the few who had developed a connection with the Machine; she was a natural. Whenever she returned to the Now, her father would have doctors test her to see how she had reacted to the Machine, to see if they could replicate her success in others.
It was one of Lysa's few uses, in her opinion.
The Machine was waiting for her, and she opened it up as if she were greeting a friend. As she pulled the switches, the metal gears inside began to whir, its technology looking deceptively ancient considering its power. Her left hand was shaking badly but she managed to close herself in and then tied the straps around her torso. There was no point in getting spliced.
Just when she had gotten herself comfortable, she heard the door to the room outside open. She thanked the higher powers that the Machine hid her, and tried to school her erratic heartbeat. Could they hear the soft hum of the Machine? Did they know to listen for it? She prayed to the gods above that they did not.
"Is she really in here? Chërt!" the woman swore. "We're going to be killed, Alexei. We're going to die. We should have killed the Imperial Pig's daughter first." She began to murmur in Russian, and Lysa frowned, unable to understand.
"Zatknis, Natalya," the man said, his voice low. "She might still be here." There was no mistaking it; he was the same man who had spoken to her earlier. He spoke Greek like a natural and he knew all the pass-codes, but he was clearly allied with the Russians.
Lysa took a deep breath. She had led them here, she realized, her heart sinking. It was dark in the Machine, but if she turned on the light now, it would give her away. She turned the Time dial blindly, knowing that it was her only shot. The Machine shuddered and hugged her close. She would be safe, now.
Time and space fell away.
In the blackness, she felt only warmth. She remembered her mother in that moment, her sweet smile and loving arms. After a few seconds, she began to feel her body again, and then a hard floor beneath her.
"Are you okay?" asked a voice.
She blinked away the blindness to see a girl with long blond braids staring down at her. Lysa stiffened and then turned her head in every which way, trying to understand her surroundings. She had turned the dial without thinking, and now she was paying the price.
As the warmth faded out of her body, she began to shiver violently, and then turned away from the blond girl to vomit out what remained of her lunch. It left a sour taste in her mouth, but the shivering stopped as her body readjusted to the temperature.
The blond cocked her head to the side, gently lifting Lysa up until she was in a sitting position.
They were in a building with small corridors, lined with lockers on the walls. Lysa groaned; this wasn't nearly as easy as a daytrip with trained professionals monitering her. It seemed that she was in the same place her home was in the Now, but around her was a completely different environment, what looked to be a school. How far back in the past was she? She usually only traveled short distances; this was certainly the furthest she had ever gone.
Luckily, there was no one there but the blond, who didn't seem particularly clever. Was she Russian? No, she looked more English than anything else. It was something about her bright blue eyes and her wide mouth. Pretty in a toothy sort of way.
Lysa tried to speak, but her voice cracked. Everything hurt. The girl hushed her and pulled out a plastic bottle full of water, holding it to her lips. Lysa stared at it, unsure of what to do. There were so many questions she wanted to ask, and here this girl was with her stupid presents.
"Drink it, silly!" the girl said, speaking in Greek. Her accent seemed very slight, but it was there. She spoke with slightly tighter vowels with her mouth pinched in. Lysa took note of it, wondering if the difference was due to the time period or because the girl was English in origin.
She grabbed the bottle with her sticky, bloodied fingers and drank deeply, thankful that the girl had enough tact to not mention her disgusting state or her shoddy job at bandaging herself. The drink was cool and washed out the acrid taste of vomit from her mouth. Before she knew it, she had finished the entire bottle. "What do I do with it now?" she asked the blond, careful to imitate her accent.
The girl bit her lip and shrugged. "Toss it."
Lysa stared at her. She felt her insides begin to burn with anger. In the Now, you didn't just toss plastic.
The girl squirmed a bit, noting Lysa's glare. "Um, yes, anyway. My name is Maxine. I'm half English, but I grew up here. Are you new? The headmistress will kill you for not wearing your uniform, you know." The girl looked over Lysa's bloodied form with questions in her eyes, but she didn't voice them.
Lysa sat up and licked her lips. Of all the people she had to meet, it had to be the talkative one with a penchant for wasting plastic. She rested her palms against the cool, carpeted floor and prayed that the dizziness wouldn't overwhelm her.
The most irritating thing about time travel was that the Machine itself couldn't travel, only the passenger. This wasn't usually a problem, as her mother never let her go so far back as to not have access to the Machine.
She was quite stranded, without much an idea of when she was.
Maxine stood up and away from Lysa. "Let me get you to the nurse," she said, doing a quick appraisal of the bloodied girl's body. Lysa put up a hand to stop her, but Maxine ignored the other girl, forcing her to stand up. Lysa's head was spinning, but she knew that it would only be a little bit longer before she could pass out properly.
Maxine proceeded to walk her down the hall. "Don't worry, New Girl. You'll fit right in."
Lysa could have laughed. Fit in? Here? The corridors were dark and narrow, with burgundy carpeting and little inspirational posters taped up above the classroom doors. Lysa would never fit in here. Not to mention the fact that she was definitely older than Maxine. Still, what the blond didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
As they walked to the nurse's office, she began to formulate a plan. She would pretend to be a new student, since Maxine had been so easy to fool. The school wouldn't have her on record, but money spoke a lot more than legal documents did, and Lysa carried gold with her wherever she traveled; it was one of the few commodities that was always valuable.
The worst thing to do in a new time was to ask what time it was; there was no easier way to give oneself away as a traveler. With this in mind, Lysa restrained herself from voicing the one question that begged to be answered.
"How much further?" she asked instead, working to keep her accent hidden.
Maxine squeezed her hand in concern and clutched her tightly. "Not much. Whoever roughed you up is going to be in so much trouble, don't worry."
Lysa nodded. "Thanks, Maxine. You're a real f-friend," she said, struggling a bit to sound convincing. "I'm sorry I was so rude earlier, with that whole bottle thing. Is that normal around here?"
"I guess... isn't it normal where you're from?"
There was an awkward pause, and Lysa wondered what these people talked about for friendly conversation. The blood trickled down her leg even now, and it made her feel itchy. They walked in silence for a while, though Lysa had to pause every so often, nearly blacking out a few times.
They turned yet another corner when Lysa remembered that she had ingested water.
"Say, have there been any cases of typhoid lately? Do you think the water is safe to drink?" Lysa asked, trying to keep her voice casual though her heart was pounding with concern. Had she come this far to die of infectious disease?
Maxine stopped walking and looked at Lysa blankly. "What?"
"Typhoid- you can get it from drinking... Never mind." If typhoid were an issue, Maxine wouldn't look like she'd just mentioned something alien. Deciding to try a different tactic, she said, "How long have you gone to school here?"
Maxine paused for a moment, counting under her breath. "Oh, I'd say I've been here since fall of 2136? That was when they first approved my scholarship. My mum didn't want me to go here, she rather preferred that I have an American education... well, she was born in America, you know how Americans are- well she's not still loyal to America of course!"
If Maxine were a scholarship student, then she wasn't as stupid as Lysa had assumed. She filed the information away in her brain. At least now, she had a vague idea of when she was. It was peacetime, which was good, since it wouldn't do to get stuck in a war. A war would break out in 2143, and she would have to vaccinate herself for a particular strain of Avian flu if she stayed past 2152, but she didn't see that happening.
Maxine continued babbling about something or other, but Lysa wasn't paying much attention, just making sure that she caught enough cultural details so that she wouldn't stick out too much later.
Her legs were about to give out when they finally reached the nurse's office. The woman was appalled by the abuse Lysa's body had taken, and took it upon herself to redo all the bandages, ignoring Lysa's pleas that they be left alone. To her relief, the older woman used sterile methods. Her name was Janice Harper, she said, and she had been a nurse at the boarding school for forty years. Lysa wanted to laugh at her. Time was the irrelevant prison of the masses.
While the nurse wrote down information like her weight, height, and name, Lysa kept her eyes on the various educational posters in the room. Some of them advocated hand-washing, while others warned about the spread of sexually transmitted infections. On the whole, it seemed as though these were clean people, and she was thankful for that.
Janice only asked her to explain her injuries once, and when she said it was private, she wasn't pressed on the matter. Lysa was provided with a new uniform, but the nurse marvelled over the scraps of torn fabric that she'd been wearing earlier.
"Well, your clothes aren't exactly wearable anymore. It's a shame about the pretty red top... and the slacks, well, what a remarkable fabric! I bet they wicked the sweat right off. Running pants?"
Lysa cracked a smile. "Yeah, I suppose you could say that."
After meeting with the nurse, she was taken to the administrative office, where she knew she would have to plead her case. She fed them a sob story about abusive parents who had kept her locked up her entire life, and the headmistress more or less bought the story. At least, she was curious enough to let Lysa stay, provided that she was able to pay a reduced tuition. It was charitable of them to take her in; she imagined that the headmistress simply didn't have the heart to turn her away.
Lysa felt a little bad about telling the lie, however. Although she had grown up away from the capital city and hadn't had the chance to see her father often, her father had only been kind to her. But a time traveler had to do what a time traveler had to do, and she figured her father would understand, if he ever came to know.
Over a period of several weeks, Lysa adjusted to life in the new time period. When she missed home, she went stargazing, taking comfort in the fact that even when all else changed, the sky was very nearly the same.
She found that the students bathed every morning, wasting enormous amounts of water. At first, it appalled her, but she grew to enjoy the luxurious lifestyle. Back in the Now, she hadn't been allowed to bathe more than every two days, despite the fact that she was the Diadochos. She missed some things, like her feather bed and down pillows, but there were certainly bonuses to living in the past.
Every day after her morning shower, she examined her cuts, applying antibiotic ointment and redoing the bandages. They haphazardly ran across her back, down the palm of her left hand, and even along her scalp, hidden by her thick black hair. Pink and puffy at first, they were bright against her olive skin, but they grew harder and tighter as the days went by. Maxine helped her with the ones she couldn't reach, and her silent ministrations meant more to Lysa than anything else had in a long time.
The scars, she could get used to. They weren't readily visible, and besides, her beauty was never her main priority. There was, however, one troubling thing: her left hand never quite regained its strength. She was able to avoid overuse of it for normal tasks, and learned to depend on her right hand, but there were days when it would start spasming almost out of nowhere. She exercised great caution in regards to it, but it wasn't wholly avoidable.
The nurse met with her several more times, but the care she was able to give was limited, and Lysa didn't have the funds to go to a real hospital. Her hand healed, but it healed badly.
To tell truth, however, she had nothing to complain about. Frankly, she was lucky that she'd come out of the Now with all her limbs in the first place.
Once she was deemed suitably well, the headmistress informed her that she would sit for her entrance exams and begin taking classes with the other students. Although Maxine tried to help her study, she did quite poorly on some of them; history and geography in particular. Geography had changed quite a bit in the future, and the history that Lysa considered important had not even happened yet. On the other hand, Lysa excelled in maths and sciences.
Her physics teacher was especially impressed with her, often holding lengthy discussions before and after class on highly theoretical subjects. Most interesting to Mr. Brown was what Lysa had to say about time and space, however.
"Are you saying, Lysandra, that given the right materials, you could transport particles?" he asked her one morning, when he finally understood what she had been hinting at for the past few weeks.
He looked excited. "Perhaps you should make it this year's project, then. Every year, students work with a partner on an ambitious project, and I think your topic is bold, if not exactly possible."
Lysa was much more pleased than Mr. Brown could know. If he helped her find the materials she needed, everything else would be simple. She planned to do much more than transport particles by the end of the year; if she could make the new Machine, she could get back home and set things right.
She picked Maxine to be her partner on the project before anyone else could. The girl was fairly popular amongst the others, known for her sweet nature. Although Lysa had been put off by the girl's excesses in the beginning, she was starting to warm towards her. No one else would help her with such simple geography and history issues, after all. If it had been any other girl, she would have laughed at Lysa and let her find her own way through things.
It was funny, because back in the Now she had been deemed useless; it was here in the past that she was finally able to shine and put her skills to use. During her free hours, Lysa worked on studying the virus she had filched from the Now. The rebels would succeed sooner or later, she knew, and it was only a matter of time before a vaccine was needed to prevent a bio-terror attack. Her Microbiology teacher thought that she was just overeager to learn how to treat slides, and was more than happy to provide her with the best microscopes she had in store. They weren't as good as the ones Lysa was used to, but they were a snap to focus.
At night, she worked on the Machine in her dorm room, furiously solving equations, checking equalities in text books, and, eventually, putting parts together. Maxine helped with the physical work, which was a godsend, as Lysa couldn't always lift the heavy metal by herself.
Maxine was luckily not educated enough in the field of physics to know that Lysa was using equations that had yet to be invented.
Sometimes, Lysa dreamed that there were sunbeams on her eyes, seeping in through the tall glass windows of her bedroom in the old Summer Palace. For a few moments, she would lay there, her eyes screwed shut, savoring the memory. She tried to hold on to the images of fast cars and glittering buildings, the comforts of home. She knew that when she opened her eyes, the illusion would end.
All too soon, the pain in her left wrist would start up again- that slow, dull pain which plagued her in the mornings and for which she knew no cure. Eventually she always gave in to it, opening her eyes and rubbing her wrist to try to relieve the ache. The drab carpeting and drapes which surrounded her were disappointing, but she knew that someday she would return to the Summer Palace.
To get her old home off her mind, she started to look for ways to integrate further into her new world. Lysa wasn't particularly sporty, but she enjoyed running, and she kept up this habit by joining the school's track-and-field team. In this way, she made friends and slowly became more comfortable in the time period. She shared stories in the locker room after practice and listened to the latest gossip. She became inspired to watch movies, read popular novels, and even listen to the music on the waves. She still stuck out, but she didn't seem as alien as she once had, slowly gaining her bearings.
Though the styles were different, Lysa slowly learned to enjoy the entertainment of the age. It was the news that really confounded her. There were a limited number of government-issued headlines and little else to keep one informed on the happenings of the day. Lysa understood the value of government controlled news, after all, her father had people who controlled the media in the Now, but the scarcity of information bothered her. It seemed as though the government were trying to convey that nothing was going on at all.
The unchecked use of water and the freedom of resources seemed to indicate national prosperity, but Lysa soon realized that Maxine and the other girls were all rather tense, though they never mentioned any unhappiness. It was the sort of stress that came from years of worry and a political climate dominated by silence. It seemed that despite widespread denial on the part of the government, war was on the horizon, and everyone knew it.
On this subject, perhaps Lysa knew more than her classmates, because the war which was to come was the one which established her family's rule. She was not one for history, but she at least knew which side would lose.
It still surprised her when Maxine approached her on the subject one night before bed.
"I know you're different," the blond girl said, broaching a topic she had thus far tactfully avoided. "You're not from around here." The words from anyone else would have been cutting, but Maxine kept her tone light.
"A common misconception."
The girl took a seat on the floor and put her head between her knees. "Can you at least tell me what you are?" she asked. "I'll always be your friend, Lysa, no matter what, but I need to know. If you're some kind of government pet robot or something..."
"I can't tell you," Lysa said, and though she felt regret, her voice remained steady. Inside, she felt a certain degree of turmoil. There was an urge to bring Maxine closer to her, but also the knowledge that time travelers had died for much smaller indiscretions.
The blond girl's shoulders slumped. "They say a war is going to break out," Maxine said, her voice cracking slightly, "and my dad, he's... he's military. I'm glad he's serving his country, but I don't want him to die in Russia for no reason, you know?"
Lysa sat down beside her friend and gave her a hug. She could not deny Maxine, and so she broke a cardinal rule of travel: she told her friend the future.
"There will be a war in the years to come, but I cannot tell you if your father will live or die, I'm sorry. If he serves, it will not be in vain, for we will be victorious, and the Russians and their allies will fall." She spoke with a degree of patriotism that could be expected in an Imperial Princess, but somehow it felt strange to hear herself saying those words. She let Maxine go.
"And you know this?"
Lysa allowed herself to smile. Perhaps it would reassure Maxine. "Yes, I know this."
The younger girl shuddered, but she did not ask again. Years later, Lysa would replay this conversation in her mind, focusing on Maxine's reaction, but now recalling that Maxine had been only half English, and that her mother had hailed from the Americas.
Life went on, and as she came closer and closer to having the Machine finished, she actually began to slow down. She told herself that there was no rush, that time travelers went at their own pace. The truth of the matter was that Lysa was enjoying herself; she had finally gone adventuring outside of her glass house, and she didn't want to go back. She wondered what her cousin Anker would think of her if he could see her in this new world.
In the Now, she was useless, but here, she could be of use. No, the buildings weren't as tall or beautiful, and no, she wasn't a princess here, but it felt like a home. And besides, a war was going to break out within a few years, and Maxine's people could use her knowledge of medicine and technology to their advantage.
She was needed here. If she returned to the Now a few years older, no one would really notice the difference.
It wasn't a bad plan, but trouble came in the form of a substitute teacher.
Class had started out normally enough. A few of the girls in the back had been giggling about the handsome young man subbing for the physics teacher, which made Lysa determined to ignore him. She was a fool for not recognizing him at once, of course, but perhaps she should be excused, considering the life of relative peace which she now led.
They were given a quiz on the material to make sure everyone was caught up on the text, and she involved herself in it thoroughly. She was drawing out a ray diagram, a beam of light bouncing off of a mirror, when she felt a prickling sensation near her spine. At first, she ignored the queer feeling, working on making her lines as straight as possible.
When it didn't pass, however, she looked up to search for the source of her discomfort. This was when she saw him, his eyes fixed quite singularly on her.
The first thing she noticed was that he was as handsome as the girls had claimed, and the second thing was that he was the one who had tried to kidnap her in the Now. She would never forget him, the light-eyed traitor.
"Fuck," she said, attracting the attention of the students seated near her. Everything suddenly felt surreal, every breath was forced and even her heartbeat seemed to slow as she considered her position.
Once again, she was unarmed and he had the upper hand. Why hadn't she considered finding a gun somewhere? Her decisions and priorities were coming back to haunt her.
She gripped her pencil so tightly that it broke; her life here was over.