I kind of had an idea when I saw the books.
|My grandfather was standing there with Constantine when I turned around. "How much do you know so far?"
I thought about it for a moment before I answered, trying to be mindful of the limitations of timelines. "I suppose a lot of how I answer that depends on what you think I know, doesn't it?" He threw back his head and bellowed that infectious laugh I had always admired. As I walked towards him, he stepped forward, letting the light and shadow play across his gray hair. It was obvious he was close to our own timeline now. Aboard the Pandora, his hair had been quite a bit darker, but it still seemed like only yesterday. Of course, it had been less than a week, to me. But over a century had passed between the actual battle over Hy Brasil, and several years had passed for him. I thought for a moment how hard it must have been for him to keep that battle a secret from me before the time came for it to happen, then realized that he had prepared me for keeping secrets from a young age. We had played games requiring the players to be observant of their surroundings from the time I could walk and talk. He taught me how to listen to what people said and figure out all I could about them before telling them anything about myself. We would often spend hours sitting in the park watching people while he taught me how to recognize what they all did for a living by the way they moved, or spoke.
I found myself thinking about all the secrets he must have, and how the greatest secret he had was the one I wanted the answer to most urgently. We embraced and he said simply, "I'm sorry I had to figure out a way to die, Vincent. But people were beginning to ask questions again."
My mental wheels began to slip a little, and I backed up a step. "Again? I suppose there's a lot you need to tell me, isn't there?"
He looked a little sheepish as he explained how he had begun venturing into the Aether when he was a very young man. Apparently, his exposure to time travel as a youth had caused him to age much more slowly than his contemporaries. For that reason, he had kept moving often, and travelled quite a lot. By doing so, it was not uncommon for him to be gone when a friend or acquaintance would pass away. By missing funerals he avoided the attendant crowds of people who would begin to question his rather obvious vigor at his age. With all these things wandering around in my head, I finally interrupted him and blurted out, "Granddad, just how old are you?" He looked me full in the face for a moment, his gray-brown eyes darting around in thought. "Well, I was born on May 4, 1865. My mother went into labor just as Abraham Lincoln's casket was being placed into the grave in Springfield, Illinois. They rushed her back home from the cemetery so she could deliver me. I remember her being able to describe every person at the graveside and how they were dressed as they took her away." He smiled as the memories of his childhood played across his face.
I ran the numbers through my head twice. "So that would make you 149 years old right now." He cocked his head right and looked up a moment. "Yep, that would be right, although I don't feel a day over 60." It was obvious we had a LOT to talk about. But I had to figure out how to broach the subject. Then it dawned on me that it was an exercise in observation. Granddad was wearing his camel topcoat that I'd bought him for Christmas back in 2009, and it had nearly no signs of wear or abuse. So he wasn't too far off our normal timeline. "Well then, I suppose I can pretty much tell you what I know, since it's been such a short time at this point." I went on to tell him about my exploration of Dr. Gloriosky's file box, my visit to the storage facility in Houston, and the fact that it was less than a week since we had sent HMA Cloudwitch to her doom. "I am also the proud owner of a very large automobile of dubious locomotive mechanics, new equipment that I can and will use to traverse the Aether and, of course..." I gestured towards Constantine, "a very singular clockwork cat." Granddad looked at Constantine as a huge smile broke across his face. "He's a good fellow, isn't he? I can't think of him as a device, no matter what I do." We stood and admired him for a few moments as he stared back at us in his most benign pose as just another statue of a cat. He looked quite ordinary that way. Except for the two foot gap between his butt and the floor, that is. We both looked at that at the same moment, and the humor of it struck both of us at the same time. As we laughed, I couldn't help but think about what lay ahead. The entire universe stretched out before me as he and I placed Constantine on the coffin of books and took a seat on either end.
We ended up in the back parlor of Mrs. Hudson's home. My landlady was sitting at her sewing table across the hall when we materialized. She looked up and smiled sweetly as if two men and a cat sitting on a coffin in her parlor was just another day in the life. It rather suddenly occurred to me that she obviously knew much more than I had ever thought possible. "Hello, John, it's been months and months. Come to the kitchen, and we'll make some tea while Vincent and the cat put whatever you've brought with you away." My grandfather seemed to lose years as he sprang to his feet to accompany her. There was obviously much more to discuss, but I wasn't able to even start as Constantine winked.
He and I, sitting on the coffin, were in a small, windowless room. There was a skylight high overhead, and three overstuffed chairs with a small table sat in the corner of the room. Numerous bookshelves lined the walls, filled with books, boxes, and numerous devices. Many of them looked familiar, and I recognized that many of them were from my grandfather's home. Before I could investigate them further, Constantine floated off the casket and towards the wall. As I approached him, he stopped and turned towards me. I laid my hand on his head as he winked, and we were back in Mrs. Hudson's rear parlor. Granddad was sitting in an old high-backed chair next to my landlady, stirring his tea. "Well, we've got a lot to discuss, my boy, and not a great deal of time to discuss it. I need you to help Gloriosky and Spaulding over the next few weeks, but there is one thing I need you to do first." I leaned forward expectantly. What he said made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. "I need you to make sure they don't actually catch Mr. Cooger and Mr. Dark in Picadilly Circus."
What was I getting myself into?