Monday, June 1, 2009

Daily Story 47: Long Has Paled That Sunny Sky

Harvey wouldn't stop staring at his watch.
"Harv, you're making me nervous. Quit it."
"Yes, miss Liddell. I apologize." Harvey slid the watch back into his waistcoat, anxiously wiping his brow with a handkerchief even though he didn't appear to be sweating. He shifted his short, pudgy frame from one leg to the other, anxious and twitchy. Without thinking he reached for his watch again but caught himself before pulling it out. "Miss Liddell," he said, "It's just that strictly speaking I was only cleared to come to Oxford to gather some historical information, the English perspective on aspects of the American Civil War - at a meeting that was to take place in just a few minutes. I'm very nearly late."

Miss Liddell looked down at him with a mixture of annoyance and pity. "Strictly speaking, Harv, I shouldn't be here at all. So if you want to run off to your meeting and leave me unattended..."
Harvey's cheeks turned beet red, his eyes wide as saucers. "N-n-no!" He wiped his pasty forehead again, and clutched the handkerchief like a life preserver.
"Don't stutter, Harv. You sound like... nevermind. We're going to go to a furniture shop at 49 High Street, and I'm going to have a little talk with the proprietor. Then we can go back, and nobody will be the wiser. Now let's get going, 1862 smells atrocious."
Harvey was looking at his watch again. "But, miss Liddell, you aren't cleared for any of this. You're a... a receptionist, not a Chronology Technician!"

She smiled, a little smirk that somehow scared him and made him think about the fact that a regular receptionist never would have been able to sneak into the secure area without setting off all kinds of alarms. He sighed and hurried after her down the street, grateful that she had at least worn period-appropriate clothing. The simple blue dress she was wearing had no logos, no screens. She had turned off her tattoos, and reverted her hair back to a natural blonde color.

"Stop, Harv. We're there."
Harvey looked across the street and saw the furniture store, a strange-looking man lounging in the doorway. He wore an apron, and had a top-hat at the back of his head. In combination with his rather large nose and lack of chin it was a peculiar sight. Harvey was looking around for some route of escape, wondering whether he could get back home without destroying the timeline, when he noticed a curious appearance in the air; it puzzled him very much at first, but, after watching it a minute or two, he made it out to be the lower half of someone's face, looking out from under a hood. The rest of the body was visible only as a slight ripple in the air, like heat distortion.
"How are you getting on?" asked the mouth, nearly giving poor Harvey a heart attack.

Before he knew it he had been shoved roughly into an alley. "Miss Liddell... I... this is highly unusual!" She ignored him, as did the newcomer who had thrown back his hood and now appeared to be a disembodied head. He smiled and leaned against the wall, allowing the tip of a shoe to show from under his light-bending cloak. "After Theophilus Carter again, my dear?" he asked with a grin.
"He's a madman." Somehow she was now holding a sinister-looking rod, white-knuckled and shaking.
"So? The judge said you were mad as well, dear. And I know for certain I am."
"He should have been executed, not dumped somewhen! Why are you assigned to this case, anyway? Where is Dodge?"
"As if they would let you two see each other again! It's a wonder they didn't take your boyfriend's badge. He's here, however. Doing what he can for you."
She raised an eyebrow. "What does that mean?"
There was a strange wrinkle in the air that might have been the man shrugging. "We saved your father, after a fashion. You're no longer the youngest, by the way; he's had six children rather than four already."
In an instant she had pressed the strange black rod up against his head, though it didn't wipe the smile from his face.
"That you've left some version of my father somewhere in the distant past is little consolation to me. I'm stuck in 2380, all alone."
Harvey shivered. 2380? She was a receptionist in 2305. He mopped his forehead again, pulling out his watch and moaning in despair when he saw the time.
"The new old you is happy, at least. She's out on a day trip to Godstow, I believe, or I would introduce you. Duh-duh-Dodge is with her - undercover. Too much older than her to spark up the old relationship, of course."

She stepped back, looking through the smiling man at the shopkeeper across the street who still stood oblivious in his doorway.
"We let you off on temporary insanity when you killed him last time, but you won't be that lucky again and we'll still save a copy of him. We need him."
She seemed to sag and deflate, as if shrinking. A hand appeared in the air and took the rod from her, and she turned to Harvey as she wiped tears from her eyes.
"Good choice, dear. I'll tell Dodge you said happy Independence Day, and that you look good as a blonde." He lifted his hood back up and moved aside.
"I... Harv, go do your thing and then we'll head back."
Harvey shook his head. "No, no, it's no good. I'm late. We'll have to schedule another run, it will take months."
Nodding, Alice Liddell tapped the subdermal control in her arm and a shimmering mirrored surface appeared in front of them. She stepped through her reflection and vanished, and Harvey followed - pausing only a moment to look back at the smile floating in the alley and wonder what exactly had just happened.