The window of time in which the power pull was to occur was ridiculously short, unless, of course, you were spending the night on a park bench waiting for it to happen.
Roger shifted once more, hoping that the tree across from the Culpepper home would continue to provide sufficient cover, especially now that dawn lightened the sky over the square. Fortunately, the constables had only come by once and had been noisy enough on their approach to warn even the deafest of malefactors.
Shifting again, Roger kept his gaze steady on the one lit window among the townhouses on the row. He put his spyglass to his eye once more and saw Robin bending over something, then sit back.
In his week in Bath, he’d had little trouble finding out all that Robin, Dean, and Elizabeth had been up to. All he’d had to do is pose as the greengrocer’s assistant, and the Culpepper’s cook told him everything in exquisite detail. It hadn’t taken him long, either, to pin Donald down. Fortunately, Donald had developed the habit of not noticing his inferiors, making it even easier for Roger to remain unseen. Donald’s landlord had told Roger, again in the guise of the greengrocer’s assistant, all about the burglary in Donald’s room and the missing sack. And it had been perfectly easy to slip into the house, and Robin’s room, where Roger had found the parts and Robin’s work.
The problem had been deciding whether or not he should intervene. After all, it was possible that it would be him and not Robin who would generate that power pull. Roger had decided to wait, but as the night continued to fade, he debated intervening again. He furtively checked a small dial he had under his sleeve. Nothing had registered yet.
Except that the dial began to glow just as Roger caught a flash of light from Robin’s window. That was it. He put the spyglass to his eye again and saw a look of horror on Robin’s face. Roger hurried over to the house. Given all that cook had had to say yesterday afternoon, Roger could understand Robin’s horror. Whatever had happened, she had every reason to believe all was lost. The poor thing had no way of knowing she’d just saved herself and the other two.
Silently, Roger slipped through the sleeping house. He stopped at the upstairs doorway, listening. Robin’s soft sobs were on the other side. He eased the door open, slid through and quietly shut the door.
The charred mess on the worktable told the story. Roger chuckled softly. Still engulfed in tears, Robin didn’t seem to hear. Roger cleared his throat.
“Dean?” she sniffed as she turned around. She jumped. “Oh!” Wiping her eyes, she composed herself. “Oh. Roger.”
He smiled. “Hello.”
“How did you find us?”
Roger pointed. “Your experiment on the table there.”
“This?” Robin almost burst into tears again. “It just blew up on me.”
Roger looked at it more closely. “Well, all the chips are in the right place. Which one originally blew?”
“That one.” Robin pointed.
“That makes sense, then what…? Ah, here’s the answer. Tin solder, isn’t this?”
“Yeah. It’s not very pure, either. I had to use the lead powder the ladies use on their faces to mix with it.”
Roger shook his head. “It wasn’t the lead. Tin can’t conduct ion frequencies. It overloads, as you just saw.”
“Oh.” Robin sniffed. “I did my best.”
“A pretty impressive best, I assure you.” Roger gently put his hand on her back.
Robin snorted. “Not really. I ripped off the parts from Mr. Neddrick, I mean Farquhar.”
“Donald Long.” Roger’s voice didn’t quite sneer, but Robin could tell that Donald was not one of Roger’s favorite people. “That’s his real name.”
“I don’t know why he’s after us,” she said.
“When you say ‘why,’ are you asking what’s his external objective, or the psychological issues driving his behavior?” Roger settled himself on the end of Robin’s bed.
Sniffing, Robin chuckled. “He seems to want Elizabeth.”
“That would be the external objective. Although I’m sure now he’d like to take care of you and Dean, as well.”
“Ah. The ever-popular revenge theme.” Robin sighed. “But why was he so hot on Elizabeth?”
Roger shook his head. “It’s not so much Elizabeth as it is taking over the experiment she was involved in. I must confess it was originally his idea. And I not only gave him the credit for it, he got to make the presentation to our board. The Board simply decided that Donald might be less than humane in the execution, so they gave it to me instead.”
Roger smiled guiltily. “I know it sounds awful, but I promise you, the whole project was thoroughly vetted so that it would be completely respectful of Elizabeth’s identity and privacy and freedom of choice.” He paused. “As far as she could make a choice. When we chose her to remove and bring forward, I could only promise a certain adventure and myself as her husband. She wasn’t capable of understanding the rest.”
“Oh.” Robin thought. “Uh-oh. You’re not still planning on marrying her, are you?”
“That.” Roger sighed. “I’ve been told that she’s Dean’s wife, so I strongly suspect that Dean has made a stronger claim.”
“You have no idea how strong.” Robin looked at her time machine and sighed.
“Robin, you didn’t fail just now,” Roger said. “Given your lack of knowledge and the lack of materials, you’ve given yourself a fighting chance. One of my colleagues was convinced that you three were forever lost. And when we saw that power pull, she was certain that Donald or I had generated it. She refused to believe that you could have been the one.”
“I guess.” Sadly, Robin picked at a chip. “So, you’re going to take us home now?”
“Yes.” He smiled as her face fell even further. “Don’t worry. You’ll still be traveling. We just have to get through the debate.”
Robin grimaced. “How hard will it be?”
“It’s one of the strictest rules of time travel,” Roger said. “You just don’t bring people beyond their natal time. You wouldn’t believe the debate that went on to get the Board to agree to bringing Elizabeth forward.”
“Hm.” Robin thought. “I hope they don’t get upset because I was already there.”
Roger looked at her, puzzled. “The base unit?”
Robin smiled weakly. “Well, when we found Elizabeth… Actually, Dean found her first, then went and got me. Anyway, I started checking out the consoles you had in the room, and I sent myself to your time. That’s how I figured out it was a time machine. I came right back, to within three minutes of when I left.”
For the first time, Roger looked angry. “You didn’t. Damn you. Oh, hell. You wouldn’t know better. Robin, don’t ever try that again. The timetron is only accurate to within plus-minus three days. That’s why you never go to any time within a week of your previous visit or departure. You don’t want to run into yourself.”
Robin snorted. “I almost did. The only thing I can’t figure is why I was able to land back in the castle at the exact time and day I set and haven’t been able to since.”
Roger thought. “The power source. That’s one of the reasons I chose that castle to hide Elizabeth. There’s a power source there for the time machines. As it turned out, I was able to get the machine to set me down at the exact time I set it for, as well.” He sighed. “As you can see, Robin, there’s still a lot we don’t know about time travel, which makes it all the more dangerous for you to be traveling on your own. You know even less.”
Robin sighed. “I suppose.”
“Well.” Roger thought something over, then decided it was better not to say anything just then. “Let’s get your stuff packed.” He paused. “I’m curious. Which do you like more? The time machine or the history?”
Robin stopped clearing her worktable long enough to think. “You would have to ask that. I mean the technology is so amazingly cool, even though I don’t understand it entirely. But I also love the history, really seeing the world as it was. That’s why we’ve been here so long. Well, in the seventeenth century. We were trying to go back home when the machine blew. I should have figured out that Elizabeth wasn’t going fit in after the second village we went to tried to hang us.”
“What happened in the first?” Roger asked.
“Oh, we ran afoul of a very narrow-minded clergyman and got ourselves accused of witchcraft.”
“I see. And the second village?”
“That was the crooked steward. We ran a better inn than he did.” Robin smiled. “In a way, I wish we could have stayed. We’d made a lot of friends in the village. I really got a kick out of talking to the pastor. He went to Oxford. As a matter of fact, I think he knew an ancestor of mine. He said I was just like this Lady of Hawkesland.”
“Hawkesland?” Roger looked at her with amused amazement.
Robin, busy stuffing her sack, didn’t notice. “Something like that. He seemed really thrown because I was a man, or he thought I was. The lady’s husband was Lord James Haverfield, Earl of Hawkesland. Lady Eleanor was her name. That’s funny. I just thought. Eleanor is my middle name. What a bizarre coincidence.”
Roger swallowed. “More bizarre than you think. Maybe I’d better go wake Dean and Elizabeth.”
“Wait.” Robin put her hand on his arm. “Why are you letting go of Elizabeth so easily?”
“Because I never thought the experiment would work in the first place,” Roger said, although there was clearly more to be said.
“Is there some other reason why this experiment is important, Roger? I mean why would this Board thoroughly vet things and want to make sure you’d be humane about it for something this, uh, Donald wanted to do on a whim. Especially since you didn’t think it would work.”
Roger sighed. “I can’t really tell you. Except…” He looked at her thoughtfully. “Well, I expect you’re going to know sooner or later. Our world is facing the extinction of humankind. For a lot of complicated reasons that we really haven’t got time to go into now, fertility rates are so low, it’s entirely possible that humans will die out in another three or four generations. If something isn’t done very, very soon, the gene pool will get too small to regenerate.”
“But what about fertility treatment? Even in my time, there’s a lot that can be done.”
Roger winced. “Most of those advances are now outlawed, and for very good reason.” He stopped as he heard movement below. “Another very long story. And it sounds like we’d better get a move on.”
Robin decided to wake Dean and Elizabeth, herself. The two were packed within minutes, largely because they didn’t want to bring much with them, and what they did want had been packed the night before in anticipation of being kicked out.
Robin decided that the least she could do is leave a note for Sir James, but when she went to deliver it, she found Sir James emerging from his wife’s rooms, wearing his dressing gown and nothing else. Sir James went beet red, but with embarrassment.
“I’m so sorry, sir,” Robin stammered. “I didn’t think you would be up so early.”
“Well, I…” He coughed politely, then smiled. “I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday afternoon.”
“Oh, I apologize for that, sir.”
He waved her off. “Perhaps it was said in haste, but there was the bitterness of truth in those words. I like to think of myself as a rational man, which means I should be able to bear the truth, even when unpleasant. I owe you an apology, Mr. Parker. You and your brother and sister-in-law have always shown tremendous loyalty to me and to my family. I should never have doubted you. I am a changed man, Mr. Parker. What on earth is that?”
Banging sounds and the cries of the kitchen staff echoed up through the hall.
“Sir!” yelped the cook’s son from below stairs. “It’s Mr. Farquhar. He’s brought a gang of men. They’re wrecking the kitchen!”
“He’s angry about that contract,” Sir James said to Robin. Then he called downstairs. “Send Mr. Farquhar to me in the back salon.”
“But he’s after the Parkers!” the cook’s son bellowed back.
“He’ll find them there.” Sir James turned to Robin. “Get your brother and his wife out of here. I don’t know how long I can hold him.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Robin ran upstairs. Roger, who had heard the commotion, was just emerging from her room.
“It’s Farquhar,” she gasped. “I mean whatever you said his name was. He’s apparently after us and brought the cavalry with him to make sure he gets us.”
“Nothing like an enlightenment to ruin a favorite tactic,” said Roger.
“Charges of witchcraft.”
Robin shook her head. “Never mind that. Sir James said he’d try to hold him in the back salon.
“Excellent.” Roger went to the door. “I’ll see what I can do to calm him down.”
He left as Robin gathered her two sacks together and took a last look at the room. Then she hurried to Dean and Elizabeth’s room, knowing that they’d heard the commotion.
Only the cause of the commotion was already in Dean and Elizabeth’s room, assisted by two thugs, each of whom was bigger than Dean. Donald had one hand wrapped tightly around Elizabeth’s upper arm and the muzzle of a pistol pressed against her temple.
“Perfect,” Donald said. “I have everything I need.” He nodded at the thugs. “Marshall, Timkins, you will take care of the Messers Parker, just as I told you. As much as I’d like to be around for that part, I’m afraid I’ve more important business with this young lady.”
“Except that your experiment has already failed,” Robin said coldly. “You might be able to put Elizabeth on the suspend an, but what about her baby?”
“What?” Donald looked at Elizabeth more closely. “Your daughter. How? And how do you know about the suspend an?”
“Roger’s here,” Robin said. “In this house.”
“Damn, it’s a trap.” Donald waved at the thugs. “Go find this Roger. He’s the one I told you to keep a lookout for. Find him now!”
The thugs were barely out of the door when Dean pounced on Donald. The two rolled on the floor with Dean’s hands locked on the wrist of the hand that still held the pistol. Robin pulled Elizabeth and the sacks from the room.
“Is this everything?” Robin whispered to Elizabeth.
“Yes. Dean said we won’t need much where we’re going.”
Robin glanced down the hallway. The thugs had hurried down the servants’ stairs, leaving the door to the stairwell wide open. Dean burst into the hallway, slamming the door shut just as the crack of pistol fire went off.
Robin and Elizabeth scurried after him down the front stairs. At the next to last landing, Robin paused.
“I’ve got to get Roger,” she said. “You two get to the cathedral as fast as you can. We’ll meet you at the communion table.”
“It’ll be harder for them to catch us if we split up,” said Robin.
She waited just long enough to make sure Dean and Elizabeth were down the stairs, then Robin headed toward the back salon.
As she came up on the room, she could hear the scuffling going on within. Flattening herself against the hallway wall next to the door, Robin eased around the open doorway and peered into the salon.
Roger was locked in a wrestling match with either Marshall (or Timkins), with Sir James, now dressed, but looking somewhat disheveled, backed into the sideboard across from Robin, a pistol limply grasped in one hand. Timkins (or Marshall) lay in a corner unconscious. Donald was on the other side of the doorway from Robin, but far enough into the room that he couldn’t see her.
Donald still had his pistol, but instead of aiming at Roger, he raised it toward Sir James. Robin rolled the rest of the way into the room, grabbed an inkwell off a nearby table and hurled it at Donald. The inkwell caught him in the upper arm, and though Donald recoiled, he didn’t drop the pistol. He whirled around and finally saw Robin.
“That’s it, Farquhar,” Robin hissed. “Leave Sir James out of this. I’m the one you want, and we all know it.”
“Yes, you are,” Donald said, smiling and raising the pistol.
Robin’s eyes were glued to the muzzle, and it seemed like an eternity before the gun went off. The odd thing was that the shot went wild, shattering a China sconce behind her to the left. Slowly, she realized that Donald was on the ground, a gasping Sir James above him and looking quite pleased with himself.
“I’ve sent Samuel for the constable,” Sir James said over the crashing sound of a desk splintering under the weight of two grappling men.
Roger was on top, but Marshall (or Timkins) scrambled out from underneath and took off running. Donald slowly pulled himself to his knees, but Sir James applied his foot to Donald’s backside and gently knocked him back down. Roger got up, panting.
“Well, Sir James,” Robin said. “You saved my life. I guess we’re even.”
“Yes, well a good clerk is worth a great deal,” Sir James said.
“I’m just afraid we can’t stay,” said Robin. “My friend, Roger, here, has brought me good news of my family’s fortunes and Dean and I must go and oversee it all. Thank you for everything, sir.”
“Wait!” Sir James mopped off his face. “You said that Mr. Farquhar here really wanted you?”
“Yeah,” said Robin. “That’s part of the news. He was, uh, my father’s business partner who had heard about the reversal of our bad fortune and wanted Dean and me out of the way. I had never liked him. In any case, that was why he wanted to marry Miss Deborah. To get at us. I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t prove it and he didn’t because, well, it’s obvious he couldn’t.”
“Hm,” said Sir James. “That explains why you didn’t support the match. All’s well that ends well, I say. Are you sure you must leave?”
“Yes, and quickly, sir. Um, my mother is all alone and needs protection.”
“I see. Well, Godspeed.”
“You, too, sir.”
Roger nodded. “It was good to meet you, sir. Perhaps we shall meet again under more pleasant circumstances.”
Donald lifted his head. “Robin Parker. Do you know who the father of Elizabeth’s baby is?”
Robin glared at him. “Of course I do.”
“Don’t be too sure,” Donald growled with a snigger.
“Oh, hush, you vile creature.” Sir James kicked Donald in the side for emphasis.
Robin nodded at Sir James then she and Roger hurried out.
“We’d better not count on Sir James being able to hang onto Donald that long,” Roger said as they got onto the street. He paused long enough to grin at her. “That was some pretty fast thinking.”
Robin shrugged. “I told Dean we’d meet them at the cathedral.”
“All right. Follow me.” Roger started down the next alley.
Robin stopped him. “Do you know where you’re going?”
“Yes. I’ve been here several times.”
“When, and how long ago?” Robin glared.
“About twenty years past, and twelve years back on my natal time continuum.” Roger grinned. “And I’ve been here for a week already.”
“Great. I’ve been living here for the past six months. We’ll go through the marketplace.” Robin headed down the street.
“You are stubborn, young lady,” said Roger, scrambling after her.
Robin didn’t bother to glare at him. “Don’t you ‘young lady’ me. You’re just a kid, yourself.”
“I’m a lot older than I look.”
“They all say that.” Robin looked behind her. “Damn. He’s coming, and he’s got reinforcements. Let’s go.”
Donald shouted as he and three more thugs came after them. Robin and Roger dashed into the market, already busy with the common man’s business. They dashed around stalls, hoping to lose Donald and company. The four men spread out and covered a lot of ground fast.
Robin and Roger wound up backed into a corner next to stacks of cages containing chickens.
“Don’t say it,” Robin grumbled as they ducked behind the cages.
“Say what?” asked Roger.
“I told you so.”
Roger shrugged. “We can still get out of this. But we should split up. You take my timetron.”
Robin pushed it back at him. “How will you get back?”
“We have ways.” Roger shoved the time machine into her hands. “It’s too complicated to go into now. That’s another reason you shouldn’t be time traveling. Promise me you won’t until I get to you.”
“All right. Only to get home. I promise. But how will you find us?”
Roger looked back into the marketplace. “You’ll want to hide. Find someplace you can stay for a couple weeks. And use money, if at all possible. Your debit and credit cards can be traced, although I don’t think Donald has been able to break into those records. Then, when you’re settled, turn the machine on for a couple minutes and turn it right off. Donald can’t trace this machine, but I can. Now, go!”
Roger reached up and pushed over the cages. Squawking hens went everywhere. Roger took off right away. Donald and the others chased after him. Robin waited a moment, then ran off in the other direction.
A minute later, she arrived at the cathedral, panting heavily. Dean and Elizabeth appeared from a side apse as she came clattering up the aisle.
“Come on,” Robin gasped. “Roger’s led them off after him, but they’ll be after us as soon as they discover I’m not with him.”
Robin led them outside and around the building’s side to a courtyard lined with shops. The Summer Gardens were across the square and down some stairs. On the other side of the gardens was the Avon River. Robin hurried Dean and Elizabeth there.
The gardens were deserted at that early hour. Pleasure boats for rowing on the river lay piled on the bank in anticipation of the winter. Dean and Robin turned one over and set it in the water. Carefully, they got Elizabeth on board and shoved off.
Just over an hour later, Robin decided that they had gone far enough downstream. She and Dean maneuvered the boat aground.
“Okay,” said Robin when they were all safely on the shore. “Let’s all get touching.”
“Uh, Robin,” Dean said. “Shouldn’t we be trying to get more modern?”
Robin smiled softly as she entered coordinates. “Actually, I think we’ll be safer if we stay period. We’re going back to L.A. People will probably think we’re on some sort of movie shoot, but if anyone asks, we can tell them we’re part of a living history group. Everyone touching?”
Certain that everyone was, Robin took a deep breath and focused on home.
Needs em dash [AB1]