Chapter Twenty-Seven

This is the last chapter of But World Enough and Time. Come back next week to celebrate the book’s launch. Or pre-order the book here.

science fiction, time travel, science fiction serial, time travel serialThrough half-closed lids, Robin watched the room she was in slowly grow lighter as the daylight outside slipped in through the cracks in the drapes. She would have rather been sleeping, but her mind was far too full, in spite of her exhaustion.

She was home. Sort of. At least, she was back in her own time, although she wasn’t sure she felt like she belonged there. Elizabeth had given birth to Dean’s little girl. Robin’s niece. She was an aunt. She wasn’t sure that made any more sense than time travel. About the only thing Robin knew was that she wanted to do more traveling.

She rolled onto her back and opened her eyes. Robin looked at the little specks of light on the floor and guessed that it was later than early morning, but not midmorning yet. It was odd how she’d come to check the position of the sun rather a clock. Looking around the room again, she saw that there was a clock on the bedside table that appeared to be running. Eight a.m., or more precisely eight twelve a.m.

Fuzzy with sleep, she stumbled out of bed and went to the bathroom. That felt normal, at least. Still wearing her night t-shirt, she went downstairs and headed for the kitchen.

Yes, there was coffee. That felt reassuringly normal, too, even though she had lived over a year without a coffeemaker. But there was comfort in the former routine, and so she made coffee. Coffee in the eighteenth century was strong enough, but not always consistent. And for all she had made fun of pre-ground coffee from cans, the familiar consistent product smelled awfully good.

Mug in hand, she went into the living room. The timetron had somehow landed on the couch in all the rush and turmoil. Robin picked it up and turned it on and then off again a few seconds later. Within minutes, there was a knock on the door.

Robin was not terribly surprised to see Roger on the other side.

“Morning,” she mumbled. “Come on in.”

“Thanks,” said Roger as he followed her into the living room. There was an awkward pause as if Roger wanted to say more.

“Didn’t you say that machine is only accurate, like, days or something?” Robin flopped onto the couch and motioned for Roger to do the same.

He sat across from her on the nearest easy chair. “Plus, minus three days. I’ve actually been here for two. I saw you guys come in last night. I didn’t think Elizabeth was that far along.”

“She wasn’t.” Robin yawned. “Sorry. I just got up. I didn’t think you’d show up so fast when I turned on the machine.”

“It’s easy when you’ve got the time pinned. But she wasn’t that far along?”

Robin chuckled. “Yeah. We had a baby last night. A girl. She’s a little moose, actually. Full-term, as far as I can tell. But Elizabeth swears she counted only six months. We’ll take them to the hospital later. Elizabeth insisted on cutting the cord last night, so I figure there’s no rush.”

“You may not have to go at all,” said Roger. “I’ve got enough training to do an initial scan to make sure she and the baby are all right.”

Robin thought that one over. “Cool. I was trying to figure out how I’d help her get acclimated to this century before the baby came as it was. After last night, I think she could use a little breathing room before forcing an emergency room on her.”

“Good call.”

“I’ve just got to figure out how to get a birth certificate for the baby. I could call the county, I guess.” Robin sighed.

“That reminds me.” Roger shifted and pulled a packet out of his biker jacket. “Elizabeth’s papers. There’s a passport, copy of her birth certificate, a California ID card and a Social Security card.”

Robin opened up the envelope. “These look really good. How did you get them?”

“It’s very simple, actually. We do it all the time to establish a personna in a given time. And they are legitimate, so if Elizabeth loses her ID, or needs to change it, she can get new paperwork.”

“Wow.” Robin yawned and stared moodily at her mug. “Oh. Can I get you some coffee?”

“Sure. I’m guessing you haven’t had breakfast yet.”

“I’m not even sure there’s any food in the place. It doesn’t get used that often, so there’s not usually perishables in the fridge.” Robin lifted herself off the couch and stumbled into the kitchen. “How do you want your coffee?”

“Like I always do.”

Robin, turned, puzzled. “And how am I going to know that?”

He chuckled, guiltily. “That’s right. I’m sorry. I’ll drink it any way I can get it.”

“Oh?”

He shrugged. “Side effect of spending too much time when you can’t get it at all.”

Robin handed him a mug. “Well, you’ve got it black. If you want sugar and creamer, they’re right here.” She pointed to the jars of powdered creamer and sugar next to the coffee maker.

She glared out into the living room, watching him take his first sip through the corner of her eye. He seemed pleasant enough. Light blond hair, hazel eyes that were slightly narrowed. He looked mostly Caucasian, but not entirely. His body was trim enough, not perfect, but no particularly bad rolls, either.

Then there was that calm. On the surface, he didn’t seem to give a damn about anything, but after a while, Robin realized he just didn’t worry. He reminded her of somebody who had lived a very, very long time. An old soul, she thought.

The stairs creaked. Robin looked across the half wall separating the kitchen from the open dining room to the stairway. Dean was slowly stumbling downstairs.

“Is Elizabeth awake?” Robin asked.

Dean looked at her through half-open eyes. “Yeah. Have we got any tea?”

“For you or for her?”

“Both,” Dean grumbled. “Oh. Hi, Roger.” He stopped at the entrance to the kitchen and yawned. “I thought I heard voices.”

“Is the baby awake?” Robin asked.

Dean nodded. “Elizabeth is feeding her. What about that tea?”

Robin began rummaging through the cupboards. There was tea. But Robin’s assumption that there wasn’t much else in the cabin to eat was correct. She volunteered to run get breakfast, and Roger volunteered to join her. The ride out to the nearby town’s small grocery was filled with meaningless chitchat that was, nonetheless, oddly comfortable, Robin thought. And as they waited at the checkstand to buy the Danish and other basic groceries, Roger’s hand slipped into Robin’s. Blushing, she pulled it back.

“Oh,” Roger said, suddenly nervous. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I’d done that.”

As soon as they got back, Roger asked to see Elizabeth and the baby, and Elizabeth agreed to let him up. Robin was astonished to see that even overnight, the baby had grown and matured.

“My lord, she looks like she’s a month old already,” Robin gasped.

“I know,” said Elizabeth, from the bed, where she was propped up by pillows. “Dean assured me, she was smaller last night.”

“I’m sure she was,” said Roger, who was holding up the baby’s hand and pressing it against a small hand-held screen. “Well, preliminary tests indicate she’s healthy. I’ll be able to get a better reading on any genetic pre-dispositions when I run the saliva test. The other good news is that her cells seem to have settled down, so she’ll grow more normally now.”

“Huh?” asked Dean.

“It’s a side effect of being in the drop,” Roger explained. “It excites cell growth. Elizabeth is the first person to go through while pregnant, but it doesn’t seem to have had any negative effects on your baby. It just made her grow faster, is all. Which probably explains why she came so early and yet was a full-term baby.” Roger looked over at Robin. “I wish I’d known about the baby before we got separated.”

“That. Well…” Robin sighed. “Roger, I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but I was going to tell you. Only we got a little side-tracked if you’ll remember.”

“Too true,” Roger said. “And Donald made sure I knew that at least one part of the experiment had worked. That Elizabeth was pregnant.”

“Are we going to be running from this Donald for the rest of our lives?” Elizabeth asked.

Roger shook his head. “No. I can’t say more, but, no, not the rest of your lives.” He smiled as he handed the baby back to Elizabeth. “So what is your baby’s name?”

Elizabeth smiled as she looked up at Dean. “Her name is Robin Mary. Robin for her aunt and Mary for my mother.”

Robin felt her face grow hot. “Oh.” Tears filled her eyes. “Wow. That’s…  That’s….”

She never finished.

Dean laughed. “Aw, come on, Robin. How could we not?”

Smiling, Roger picked up Elizabeth’s free hand and pressed it to his small screen.

“Looks like you’re doing well, also, Elizabeth,” he said, looking over the read-out. “Goodness. You didn’t even get any vaginal tearing pushing that little moose out. Uterus is receding nicely.”

Dean looked at the read-out. “Geez, how can you tell all that from just putting her hand there?”

“It’s neuro-radiopathy,” Roger explained. “It uses modulated x-rays to tap into the nerve impulses and spectrometry to read blood density and things like that to spot problems. It’s reading completely normal on tissue soundness and pain, which it wouldn’t have if there had been any tearing. And the position it notes for the uterus is right in line with where it should be this many hours after childbirth. How are you feeling, Elizabeth?”

“Tired,” she said.

“How about emotionally?” Roger sat down next to her.

“I am fine,” she answered, a little stiffly.

“Really?” Roger asked. “Not feeling overwhelmed or frightened by all the strange things in this world?”

“In this time,” Elizabeth corrected, then fell silent.

Dean gently pushed Roger up from the bed and took his place. “Honey, it’s okay to talk about how you feel. It’d be weird if you weren’t all scared and messed up by things here.”

Elizabeth sighed. “I am here now. I want to accept it and learn to like it.” She sniffed. “It’s not so bad. Being in magic carriages and strange lights and everything. It’s not bad at all now.”

“I’m sure you’re doing very well,” Roger said, reassuringly. “But at the same time, having a baby and having to adjust to this very different time, that’s a lot to handle, Elizabeth.”

Robin smiled. “Roger’s right, Elizabeth. This world is pretty strange compared to what you’ve been used to. If you get scared or something, no one is going to think you don’t want to be here.”

Elizabeth smiled weakly. “I do want to be here. It’s only that if I keep thinking about how much all these strange things frighten me, all I’ll be is frightened all the time. You accept them as normal, so I’m trying to look at them the same way.”

Roger nodded. “That’s very brave, Elizabeth, and not a bad way to look at things. But if it gets to be too much, you do need to talk about it.”

Robin Mary squawked suddenly.

“I’m tired, now,” said Elizabeth, “and my baby needs to be fed.”

“Well, then we’d better leave,” Roger said.

He followed Robin out of the room.

“Isn’t that great,” he said, sliding his hand onto Robin’s seat.

“Roger!” Robin slipped away and glared.

“Damn.” Roger’s sigh was genuine and a little tortured.

“What’s wrong?” Robin asked.

“I can’t stay.” Roger hurried down the stairs. “I thought I was going to be able to, but it’s clear I can’t. Where’s your timetron?”

Robin walked over to the sofa. “I suppose hiding it from you wouldn’t work.”

Roger paused. “No. And you don’t really want to do that.” He held his hand out.

“A lot you know about it.” Sourly, Robin put the machine in his hand.

“You don’t understand, Robin.” He reached his hand out to her then self-consciously pulled it back. He used his finger to trace something on the top of the machine. “Things were…  Will be going badly. In my natal time. I can’t tell you right now. You just need to trust me.” He stopped and looked at her, his eyes penetrating, yet warm. “I need you to promise me two things. One is that before you do anything else, you’ll see to it that Dean and Elizabeth are well settled in.”

“What the hell else am I going to do?” Robin grumbled. She glared at him. “I’m not going anywhere or anywhen.”

“Yes, you are.”

“What?” Robin gaped, too afraid to believe that it could be true.

“Robin, this is serious. Things are very bad when I’m sending you. I wouldn’t do it, except that it was the best plan I could think of. I can’t tell you more.” Roger handed her the timetron. “But when Dean and Elizabeth are settled, I need you to go to the coordinates I entered.”

“You mean I get to time travel again?”

“Of course.” Roger smiled. “Robin, I wasn’t going to stop you. I just needed to get you trained. You’re good, but there are things you didn’t know and you needed to learn them. I mean, need.”

“Roger. That’s…”

His face became serious again. “I just don’t want you rushing off from here. It doesn’t matter when you leave, you’ll be right where you need to be, whenever you leave here. So make sure Dean and Elizabeth are okay, first.”

“They’re not in any danger, are they?”

“They’ll be fine. I promise.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Roger grimaced. “I can’t tell you. Just trust me.”

Robin folded her arms. “And what makes you so sure you can trust me?”

“I can’t tell you.” Roger smiled again and started to reach out to her. “Yeah, I’ve got to go. This a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.”

Robin’s heart lurched. “Am I going to see you again?”

“I can’t…” He stopped and moved close to her. “What the hell. You’ll see me when you land. In fact, you’ll see me for a really long time. Many times.”

He put his hand on her cheek and kissed her long and deep and passionately. Robin almost felt her legs giving way.

“Now,” he sighed as he pulled away. “I’ve got to get the hell out of here before I cause any more trouble.”

He pulled out his own timetron, closed his eyes and vanished.

Robin stared at the empty space for several minutes.

“Robin?” called Dean from the landing. “We saw the lights go. Did Roger leave or something?”

“Yeah. He left.” Robin pulled herself together. “Everything okay up there?”

“Everything’s fine.”

“Good.” Robin took a deep breath. “Great. I’ve got some laundry to finish and if Elizabeth’s up to it, we’ll make some plans.”

“Great. We’ve already talked some things over.”

Robin nodded. She looked at the time machine in her hands, then slowly laid it back down on the couch. She would be time traveling again, very soon. But first, she had Dean and Elizabeth to take care of. There would be time enough for that.

Anne Louise Bannon

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