The Earl Grey was good, and now it's getting clearer
|Spaulding began to pour the tea while I looked him over. He would have looked eccentric in most settings here in the 21st century, but I'm sure that would not have bothered him in the least. "I believe I have some correspondence that was sent to you from Dr. Gloriosky," I said. "As best I can tell, he sent it to you from Deadwood, South Dakota some years ago. But it was addressed to a Captain Spaulding. Can I assume that was you?"
"Quite so, young Vincent, quite so." He went on, "I had just become Adjutant for the Brigade, and was setting up my billet at Headquarters when it arrived. I was able to travel right then, so I dropped by Miskatonic to pick up Constantine here about a quarter hour before the fire. I picked him up close to the time so that he wouldn't be missed, and took him with me to the good doctor there in Deadwood. You know, since this is our first actual meeting, I should tell you some things about all this that will help you a great deal."
He then went on to tell me about the nature of time travel, and things about my family that made a lot of remembered strangeness suddenly make sense. My grandfather had often gone on business trips that would last a few days or a week, but he would return with stories about people he'd met and deals he'd made that sounded epic in proportion. That was surely how part of his reputation as a crackpot had started and grown. It also explained a particularly confusing homecoming one summer. Dad and I were sitting in the old man's library just before the fourth of July when granddad came in the front door. He was wearing a burgundy topcoat and what I could only describe as a VERY blue bowler hat. Dad and I sat slack jawed for a moment, but dad jumped up the moment granddad noticed us and rushed to help the old man with his coat. The two of them slipped quickly into the parlor and slid the partition doors closed behind them. I hadn't thought of it in years, but it came to me as Spaulding was talking, and I realized that it all really did make sense now. All these years, I thought I had imagined the snow on that blue bowler and the shoulders of his coat. Now I knew that I hadn't.
As Spaulding went on, it became clear that some of the known rules of physics had been sort of intentionally "lost" over the years to ensure that mankind didn't reverse engineer civilization into the chaos from which it had risen. I couldn't imagine the kind of mathematics it all took, but it all made much more sense than you would think. The most important parts of it were actually quite simple. Numerous devices had been made over the centuries that would allow one to travel in time and space. But each device, once activated, could only travel or have any influence over a period 200 years in its own past or its own future. It was discovered that time has a sort of elasticity and resilience that makes it much harder to have broad ranging effects on the future by someone who was not a part of that future naturally. Thus, for instance, it was determined that one could not go back and murder a man to ensure his great-great-grandson would never be born. That person would merely be born under somewhat different circumstances. This possibility of those changing circumstances was what prompted Her Majesty Queen Victoria to create the Time Brigades. It became their mission to maintain order in the realms of time travel to keep reality from becoming "brittle" through acts of interference that would challenge the basic framework of human civilization.
Mail and packages could be moved through sliptubes managed and maintained by the Aether Postiale, a very lucrative French firm that had been founded by Alexander Graham Bell after he had been unable to secure patents in the United States for the system. Thus, as we chatted, I was able to determine that the "brass footlocker" was indeed a sliptube terminal. There were dials that could be set for time, lattitude, and longitude on the front of the top, as well as a sliding switch that was moving back and forth ever so slightly all the time.
"And that's where you come in, lad." His words snapped me back from my fascination at that switch sliding in its track. "Excuse me?" I said, "I spaced out for a moment. That switch is a bit hypnotic." Spaulding just smiled and went on, "I was saying that Dr. Gloriosky has gotten himself into a bit of a situation, and needs our help, and you're the key to getting this done." I was just a bit dumbfounded, but I decided that I liked Spaulding, and there was certainly nothing holding me here in the 21st century, so....
"Of course, I'll help any way I can." Spaulding grinned broadly, "Top notch, my boy, we'll just pop into the 11th century and get him back then." Alarm bells began ringing in my ears. "Wait a minute, you were saying there's a 200 year "radius" on time travel devices. How can we possibly just 'pop' that far back without causing some sort of ripple effect that will make everything I know fall apart?" With a twinkle in his eye, he nodded towards Constantine. "That's where He comes in, my boy. Give him a windup, and let's get moving."
I looked over at the cat, and his eyes were open and glowing. He sat up regally and looked straight up, exposing a winding port on his neck just below his jaw. I took the key Spaulding had given me, and slipped it into the opening. I turned it clockwise until it just simply stopped and pushed back into my hand. The cat's head dropped down, and the clockwork began to speed up. Spaulding took my left hand in his right, and placed his left hand on the cat's side, nodding with his head for me to follow suit. I placed my right hand on Constantine, and noticed an immediate whistle begin to emanate from Spaulding's vest where his watch chain dropped into its pocket. A rather large pocket watch slid up out of the pocket between us, it's hands spinning wildly as Constantine began to stand. Darkness fell over us, and the air around us became cool and damp. I felt oddly energized, and my skin tingled for a moment as we entered what seemed like a short tunnel with a strobing light running its full length. Then it all went black again, and I knew we'd stopped.
I'd closed my eyes at some point, and as I opened them I found myself looking at a dark stone wall dripping with condensation just over Spaulding's shoulder. He still had a grip on my hand, and Constantine was beginning to sit down, purring audibly. Spaulding immediately resumed speaking, as if we were still sitting in Houston. "Welcome to 1066. No one knows exactly why, but this fellow can move freely through time and space wherever he is inclined to go, and since he seems to have taken a very particular liking to the Coffin family, Dr. Gloriosky presented him as a gift to your grandfather in the middle of the 20th century before he began a particularly odd project that involved some sort of skullduggery back at Miskatonic University. I was able to track him here, but was unable to get here without your help." I wasn't sure I could let go of Spaulding and Constantine, but I did anyway, chuckling a little as my brain once again shot me that picture of me laying in the floor drooling.
We were in a round room with dark, wet stone walls and a large iron-bound door across from where we stood. To the left of the door, sitting on a large stone, was a portly man in a hooded brown robe who appeared to be a monk. As I looked at him, he rose and walked across the room to us. He pulled the hood from his head, revealing short-cropped brown hair and a salt and pepper goatee. He smiled as he got nearer and I recognized him as one of granddad's regular visitors when I was a child. "Why, you're Mr. Finnigan. I'd recognize you anywhere. And anytime, apparently" I said as I looked around the room. He smiled and hugged me tightly as we came together. "A small deception, my boy, a small deception." he said as he released me. He opened the robe as he stepped back, revealing a very expensive looking tailcoat over a white vest and shirt, with a neatly knotted white tie. With a slight bow, he produced a shiny black oval from a pocket in the robe. "I am Dr. Elias Faraday Gloriosky, and your grandfather was like a brother to me." He snapped the rim of the oval against his opposite hand, and it revealed itself to be an old fashioned silk top hat, the kind that could be folded flat to pack into a steamer trunk as one toured the world.
With a flourish, he put the hat on and smiled broadly at us both, then suddenly put his finger to his lips, motioning us to be quiet. Beyond the door, we heard an approaching clamor. Dr. Gloriosky jumped towards us, extending his hands. I knew instinctively that it was time to go, and took his hand in mine as Spaulding took his other hand. As we touched Constantine, the door burst open revealing an angry looking group of men in chain mail with drawn swords. They stared into the room in stunned silence as they began to fade from view, and we once again entered the darkness that led to the tunnel.