Wizards of Science
sufficiently advanced technology
indistinguishable from magic"
.....Leaning over the railing of the Red
Osprey with Vicki at his side, Paul could make out not much more
than the roiling of the sea. Midday, yet the mist lay heavy. The ferry
had barely passed from the Southampton Water into the Solent, but still
the English mainland appeared only as shadows. Their destination, the
Isle of Wight just a few miles away, could not be seen at all.
....."Timeless," said Vicki, softly.
.....Paul chuckled. "If it’s this
bad in the morning, the navigation event will be a real challenge. We'll
hardly be able to see our own bikes, much less the markers." He checked
his watch—5:30 pm—and switched it to 24-hour time in preparation
for the event. "Map, compass, and odometer in heavy fog. Now that
would be fun."
.....His cell phone rang, startling them
both. Paul pulled the phone from his jeans pocket. "My faculty advisor,"
he said, gazing at the outside display. He flipped open the phone and,
so Vicki wouldn't feel left out, switched on the speaker.
....."Hi, Dr. Richardson."
....."Paul. I think I have something
of an idea."
.....Paul rolled his eyes. His advisor seemed
to start every conversation the same way—almost as if 'I think I
have something of an idea' meant hello. "About the project?"
said Paul to fill the void.
....."We know the EPR waves are a surface
phenomenon—solid surface." Richardson spoke with both his usual
enthusiasm and characteristic Boston accent. "They won't propagate
through liquids. I'm sure the waves would be amplified if surrounded by
water." Paul heard the sound of a hand slapping a desk. "If
I were back at Harvard, I'd just bundle the experiment into my sailboat
and run it from the middle of the Charles. The wave amplification is what
....."We wouldn't want it too
amplified," said Paul. "If you're right about the theory, it
could be dangerous."
....."Of course I'm right. You do have
the capsule with you, yes?"
....."What?" said Paul, momentarily
disoriented by the seeming non-sequitur. "Yes, sir. I take it everywhere
....."Good. By the way, where exactly
.....Paul smiled at Vicki. "Vicki and
I are on our way to the Wight Wabbit Mountain Bike Festival—on the
Isle of Wight."
....."She's not a physics student."
....."Oh," said Richardson. "Dating
civilians, are you?" he added with a smile in his voice.
....."And a native," said Paul,
lightly. "She was born in Southampton. She studies Brit Lit."
....."Well, enjoy yourselves—but
keep the capsule close. We might need it soon. Maybe even tonight."
Paul heard a click as Richardson broke the connection.
.....Paul blew out a breath and returned
the phone to his pocket.
....."Is he always so abrupt?"
.....Paul nodded. "Always."
.....Paul laughed. "Non-physicist."
.....An outline in the mist caught his attention.
"Hey! Land ho!"
....."Cowes, I think—our destination."
Vicki paused. "By the way, what was all that about a capsule?"
....."I haven't told you anything about
what I'm working on, have I?"
.....Vicki smiled. "Are you allowed
to tell civilians?"
....."I am, but... but only if they
probably won't understand it." He nodded over to a stairwell. "Come
on. Let's go down to the entrance level. I'll explain it as we go."
He hefted his pack to his shoulders. "Have you heard of the multi-world
theory of quantum mechanics?"
....."You mean that the universe splits
into multiple universes sometimes?" Vicki hoisted her knapsack as
....."Yeah. Whenever there's a quantum
event?" Paul was impressed. "You may not be the civilian I thought
you were. Well," he went on, "my advisor is the creator of the
....."That theory," said Vicki,
"I haven't heard of."
....."Other than some top tier scientists,
not many have." Paul led the way to the stairs. "Richardson
says it's too much to ask that the entire vast universe split at every
quantum event. He believes that only the region directly surrounding the
....."He believes that a similar region
from a parallel universe is switched in—a corresponding region of
space, but not necessarily the same time. He believes the quantum vacuum
fluctuations are really just these little regions being swapped in and
....."I don't know what quantum vacuum
fluctuations are," said Vicki. "But you keep saying 'he believes
it'. Do you?"
....."Me?" Paul bit his lip, pausing
on the stairs before answering. "I don't know—but...but the
work should eventually get me a Ph.D.
....."Ph.D." said Vicki with a
laugh. "What are you talking about? You're only a college sophomore."
....."Yeah, well." Paul continued
down the stairs.
.....Vicki persisted. "It's strange
though, your advisor letting a lowly undergrad work with him."
....."Thanks a lot." Paul and Vicki
passed from the stairwell to the open lower deck. "But that's why
I wanted to come with him when he came here on sabbatical. That and the
fact that Professor Richardson is one of the most brilliant scientists
....."But he's using you as a Ph.D.
level grad student." Vicki shook her head. "Abusing you, more
.....Paul shrugged. "He arranged my
temporary transfer from Harvard, and my scholarship too—so I could
work on state of the art stuff with him." He bit his lip. "It
was a little hard on Mom, though."
....."Does she work?" said Vicki.
....."She's an American History professor
at Harvard. She sort of liked having me at home with her. Said she thought
I was too young to be away studying in England."
.....Leaning over the rail on the lower level
now, watching the white foam whipped up by the engines, Paul felt a twinge
of homesickness, thinking of Boston far across the ocean. "You know,"
he said, distantly. "In high school, while my friends were learning
about the world, learning to drive, learning about girls, I had my nose
in a physics book."
....."That, I can believe."
.....Paul chuckled. "Now, I guess I'm
trying to catch up. It's lucky I'm a quick study."
....."Paul Hopcroft, boy-genius,"
said Vicki, lightly.
....."Geez! You make me sound like I'm
....."You act like twelve, sometimes."—Paul
bristled—"Sort of like my kid brother. It's one of your endearing
qualities, actually." She patted him on the arm. "I mean, you
say 'Geez', for god's sake."
.....Paul didn't know how to react to a girl
he didn't know all that well patting his arm. "As far as acting like
twelve," he said, tentatively. "You might be right. Sometimes
it feels as if I'm just pretending to be an adult."
.....Vicki laughed. "You're not an adult.
....."You know what I mean." Paul
paused. "But I'm eighteen, actually."
.....A few minutes later, as the Solent
gave way to the River Medina, the Red Osprey slid into its berth.
Paul and Vicki collected their bicycles and wheeled them into the Cowes
....."Your advisor mentioned an experiment,"
said Vicki as they went.
....."The idea is to force a measurable
region to swap in from another universe."
....."But you said dangerous."
....."Well, it's possible that we could
really mess up space and time."
.....Vicki stopped, cold. "You're not
.....Paul laughed. "No, I'm not. Even
if the experiment is wildly successful, a small region around Richardson
would swap with a region from a different time—but only for an instant."
....."Well, that sounds sort
....."But unlikely," said Paul.
"Very, very unlikely."
.....Vicki gave him a long look. "You're
not just saying this to make me not worry, are you?" She glanced
at his pack. "This capsule you always have with you. What is it?
And is that dangerous?"
....."It's perfectly safe. It's an EPR
experiment, but with a very large number of particles. I have one capsule
and Dr. Richardson has the other." Paul gesticulated with the hand
not guiding his bike. "Each capsule is in a single EPR superposition.
If I were to measure the capsule's quantum state, Richardson's capsule
would collapse to a single eigenstate—and that should trigger a
region swap. A short time later, the swap would reverse. And if it didn't,
then when my capsule is moved to Richardson's location—his 'nexus'
as we call it—the swap would be forced to reverse."
He glanced at her and saw a puzzled expression. ....."I'd
better explain it more slowly."
....."No, don't," she said. "Don't
explain. I think I'll go back to being a civilian."
.....Outside the terminal, they mounted their
mountain bikes for the short ride to Newport where they'd buy provisions
for the weekend. Paul noted that now the air was clear. No problem
with navigation here. He glanced out across the Solent but the English
mainland was still invisible in the sea mist.
.....Just outside a grocer's shop in Newport,
they dismounted. Just then, Paul's phone rang. "It's Richardson,"
said Paul, looking at the Caller ID. "Why don't you go in and get
what we need? I'll stay out here and watch the bikes—and see what
Professor Richardson wants." He flipped open the phone and again
for Vicki's sake activated the speaker.
....."I think I've had something of
an idea," came Richardson's voice from the phone's speaker. Vicki
cast an amused look to Paul and then walked toward the store. Paul switched
off the speaker.
....."Are you there?" said Richardson.
....."Sorry. Yes. Go ahead."
....."I am speaking to you from,"
said Richardson in a TV newsman's voice, "from a rubber raft in the
middle of the Jubilee Sports Centre swimming pool."
....."You're going to run the experiment."
....."I am," said Richardson.
....."But I thought the Centre was closed
....."The workman just left. They think
I'm crazy. Paul, I have the full EPR experiment with me."
....."To see if the effect is macroscopic
when surrounded by water."
....."Precisely! Grab the capsule and
let's give it a go."
.....For the next five minutes or so, Richardson
described the experiment at hand and then guided Paul in the positioning
of his capsule.
.....With the capsule on the ground and he
on his knees, Paul made tiny changes in the capsule's orientation.
.....Finally, Richardson said, "Perfect.
Right on center."
.....Paul, sore from kneeling on rocky ground,
stood. "Okay." He glanced at his phone's call timer and worried
about running out of free minutes. "What now?"
....."Now, just stand by. We throw this
little switch and...."
.....Paul heard a whirring sound over the
....."Now, this is interesting,"
said Richardson. "It looks almost as if the—"
.....Paul waited a few seconds for more.
"Hello?" he said into the now silent phone. "Dr. Richardson.
Can you hear me?" He noticed that the phone display showed that the
call had been lost. He pulled up the received call log and redialed, but
the call didn't go through. Again, he tried, but with the same result.
Paul keyed the physics department number, just to see if his phone was
working. He couldn't connect to the physics office, either. He stood there
with the phone in his hand for a minute or so, then tried Richardson again.
No answer. He blew out a breath, snapped his phone closed, chained both
bikes together, and, carrying both packs, walked slowly into the grocery.
.....He found Vicki hauling a basket of provisions
to the checkout counter. She stopped as he came in. "What's the matter?"
....."Nothing, probably," he said,
feeling sheepish for his worry. "It's just that my phone dropped
the call from Richardson—just as he started to run the experiment."
Paul described his attempts to reconnect. He spoke softly, even though
they were the only customers in the small shop.
....."Oh, I wouldn't worry." Vicki
proceeded to the cash register. "Cell phone coverage can be flaky
at times. I'd imagine very much so out here on the Island."
....."Probably." Paul put a hand
in his pocket and gripped his phone. "It would be horrible ,"he
said, more to himself than to Vicki, "if he thought I just hung up
.....The man behind the checkout counter
appeared to be in his mid fifties. His bearing and presence suggested
that he was the owner of the establishment. As Vicki hefted her shopping
basket to the counter, he looked up from a table radio.
....."Oh, sorry," said the man,
turning to her and moving to tally up her order. "The BBC suddenly
went silent." He nodded to the radio. "Wight Island Radio seems
just fine though."
.....Paul shot Vicki a look.
....."Coincidence, probably," she
....."I guess." Paul loaded the
provisions into the packs. "Still, I've got to say I'm a little worried
....."Do you mean the BBC going down?"
said the man, turning towards him. "I admit it is unusual."
....."Oh." Surprised by the proprietor
responding to a comment meant for Vicki, Paul looked up from the packs
and gestured toward the radio. "Does that station give news bulletins?"
....."The local news comes on in just
a few minutes—five minutes before the hour."
....."Mind if we wait around for it?"
said Paul, brightly, striving to keep the worry out of his voice.
....."No. Not at all."
.....Paul bought a few snack cakes. He handed
one to Vicki and started to munch on the other.
....."You're a grockle," said the
proprietor, "American by your accent. You've come here for the bicycle
festival, I assume."
....."Tourist," whispered Vicki.
....."Yes, the festival," said
Paul, absently, impatient for the news. "And I'm a student at the
University of Southampton."
....."Fine institution," said the
proprietor. He turned to stare out the window, thus terminating the conversation.
.....When the news time arrived, Paul heard
an affable announcer report on local politics, sports, a road accident
and the weather. Listening to the familiar, Paul felt his worry recede.
But then, just before the hour, the announcer's voice turned serious.
....."We've just received a report from
the Hampshire Constabulary, I.O.W. Operational Command Unit. They say
that, responding to complaints of mainland television going off the air,
they attempted to contact the mainland to ascertain the cause—but
were unable to make contact. They speculate there may have been a massive
power outage affecting at least the Hampshire region."
....."Oh my gosh," said Paul at
....."They say," the commentator
continued, "it is puzzling that battery backup systems seem not to
have come on line. Chief Superintendent Morley says that terrorism, though
very improbable, has not been entirely ruled out. She goes on to say that
the Island seems completely unaffected. We'll bring you more when we have
....."Let's go," Paul whispered.
.....Vicki nodded and the two of them returned
to their bicycles.
....."It is coincidence, isn't it?"
....."Yeah." Paul bit his lip.
"I'm sure it is."
.....Vicki looked hard at him. "I'm
not convinced you are sure."
....."Well, maybe not entirely."
.....Vicki's eyes widened.
....."But it's in no way dangerous,"
said Paul, quickly. "Even if Richardson is one hundred percent correct,
he'll swap into another universe running only a second behind ours and
then, a second later, he'll swap back. Not in the slightest dangerous—even
if it happens—which I don't believe—not in the slightest—not
for an instant. Nothing to worry about. I mean, he's running his experiment
from a boat in the middle of a swimming pool."
....."A swimming pool?" said Vicki.
....."Yeah. Silly, isn't it? Anyway,
I'm sure it's just a power outage. They happen. I mean, we had a small
one at the university just last month." He paused. ....."Still,
I think we should go back." He checked his watch. "We can just
make the 6:30 ferry."
....."What?" Vicki wrinkled her
nose. "Because of a power outage? What would going back accomplish?"
....."It would.... It would satisfy
....."You are worrying me."
Vicki lowered her pack to rest against her leg and pulled out her cell
phone. "I'm going to try calling my parents." She flipped open
her phone, paused, and then closed it again. "No. I won't
worry. It's just a power outage."
.....Hearing her mention her parents, Paul
noted how little he knew about Vicki. "Your parents. They live in
....."No, in Winchester." She pursed
her lips. "My little brother would live with them also, if they hadn't
sent him away to a posh boarding school just a few miles away from home."
.....Paul was startled by her vehemence.
He seemed to have struck a nerve. But at least it took her mind off the
power outage. "You have a kid brother."
....."Almost thirteen. Alexander."
Vicki smiled in clear sisterly affection. "We call him Lexy."
She hefted her pack to her shoulder—an unmistakable sign she wanted
to get moving. "He's very bright, but shy—which is why my parents
decided to send him off to school. But Peregrine School."
....."A problem?" said Paul crouching
to unchain the bikes.
....."It's sort of snobby." Vicki
grabbed her bicycle to keep it from falling. "Peregrine to Winchester
to Oxford, and then standing for Parliament or something equally detestable."
.....Paul chuckled. "It's probably a
very good school."
....."Oh, he gets scads of Latin and
such. He'll be perfectly suited for life in The Holy Roman Empire."
Vicki gave a hint of a shrug. "But then, my family is sort of upper
crust, although I try to hide it. You know, one of my uncles is Chancellor
of the Exchequer."
....."Quaint title." Paul stowed
the chain in his pack. "Very British."
....."Like your Secretary of the Treasury,
I suppose. Except that here in Britain, it's the most powerful position
after the Prime Minister."
....."I see you're high-born"—Paul
smiled at her—"Your Grace."
....."Shut up." She mounted her
bicycle. "Let's go and check on that power failure of yours."
.....Vicki nodded as well. "Fine then.
Let's go. Once your curiosity is satisfied, we'll just turn around and
come back. Agreed?"
....."Agreed. Thanks for humoring me."
Feeling sheepish, he looked away to his bicycle and idly worked the handbrakes.
"Sometimes my imagination goes out of control. And of course I'll
pay for the ferry." He looked back over his shoulder. "Grockle?"
....."Local dialect." Vicki bore
down on a pedal, setting her bike in motion. "I study the English
language as well as Early British Literature—Brit Lit, as you called
....."Sorry." Paul set off as well.
.....They raced back to Cowes. Being April,
the sun wouldn't set until after eight; they had plenty of light and could
make good time.
.....As they rode, Vicki said, "I don't
really understand what the experiment has to do with a massive power outage—especially
since if Dr. Richardson was in a boat, his experiment couldn't even have
been connected to the mains."
....."This sounds crazy," said
Paul. "But being surrounded by water was to stop the EPR waves from
escaping. He might have been wrong about the amount of water he needed."
.....As they cycled up a hill, neither spoke.
At the crest, Vicki said, "You're not saying that the whole of Britain
was affected—and only because the Isle of Wight is set off from
the mainland by the Solent, we're not involved?"
.....Paul, coasting now down the other side,
....."Well," Vicki insisted, "is
that your explanation?"
....."I told you it would sound crazy."
....."What would be the result of the
experiment if your crazy-sounding theory were somehow true?"
....."Dr. Richardson's theory."
Paul steered his bike to be handle-bar to handle-bar with Vicki's. "The
experiment could result in an alternate Great Britain being swapped with
ours—one displaced backwards in time from the instant of the experiment."
....."A displacement? Do you mean that
the Britain across the Solent now could be in an earlier point in time?"
....."It would be horrible, this theory
of yours. Planes take off and land in the UK every second. There'd be
monstrous numbers of crashes."
....."I don't think so," said Paul.
"The swap is complex and not all at once—relative reality.
The quantum change level of a crash would be large. I think crashes, for
the most part, would be prevented by sub-swaps. A micro-mini-multi-world
.....They rode in silence for a while—until
Vicki said, "How big a displacement?"
....."What?" said Paul, pulled
from his thoughts. "You mean how far back could Great Britain be
.....Vicki nodded. "I'd have thought
the displacement of a tiny boat would be a lot bigger than something as
large as England."
....."You'd think so, wouldn't you?"
said Paul. "But it's the opposite. Think of the EPR waves as acting
on a...a membrane covering England with the edge glued to the shoreline.
There are waves at lots of discrete wavelengths that can amplify by interference.
The bigger the membrane, the more wavelengths there can be, and the higher
the amplitude of the waves—and because of all that, the bigger the
....."Don't know. If I knew the dimensions
of Britain, I might be able to do a mental back of the envelope calculation."
....."It's about 250 miles wide and
500 miles long," said Vicki. "We learn it in school."
....."Okay," said Paul with a laugh.
"Just to have something to do—besides pedaling, let me try
to figure it out—order of magnitude, anyway."
....."Go ahead." Vicki gestured
ahead with her nose. "It looks like about five minutes to Cowes."
....."Okay, let's see." Paul spoke
more to himself than to Vicki. "If we take 300 miles as a typical
dimension for Britain—and if the dimension of Richardson's rubber
boat is, say, ten feet. Then.... Then Britain is 300 times 5280 over ten
times bigger." He bit his lip in thought. "About 16 times ten
to the fourth bigger." He paused. "The time effect goes as a
function of area—the square of the linear dimension. So the difference
between the boat's displacement and Britain's would be 256 times ten to
the eighth. Let's call it two times ten to the tenth."
....."Sure, fine," said Vicki.
"Let's call it that."
....."What?" said Paul, yanked
out of his calculations. "Oh. Give me another minute or two. I'm
almost done." He glanced at Vicki. "There are about three times
ten to the seventh seconds in a year."
....."How do you know that?" Vicki's
expression showed she was bemused rather than impressed.
....."It's an important number for us
computer nerds." Paul thought a little longer. "Richardson expected
his boat might be swapped back in time by a second. So, if he was right,
I'd expect Britain would be swapped back in the order of a hundred years."
....."A hundred years?"
....."Roughly," said Paul. "A
couple of hundred, maybe. But the probabilities aren't linear. The most
likely displacement points are at regions where there's a high density
of quantum decisions—when the world changes a lot over a short time.
Like big historical events, maybe."
....."But a second later, the worlds
would swap back. Right?"
....."No. On its own, the swap
back would also happen after the same couple of hundred years. But using
the capsule it's different. In theory, if I activated my capsule near
where Dr. Richardson activated his, Britain would immediately swap back—I
....."You think!" Vicki shook her
head. "You know. This is one hundred percent crazy."
....."Yeah. Completely." Paul pedaled
silently for a few seconds. "But," he said, softly. "Professor
Richardson is a genius."
..... "Even in the middle of the twenty-second
century," said Wulf as he rejoined Rudolf on the platform, "the
French still can't seem to grasp the concept of clean public toilets."
....."We can still go back, my friend,"
said Rudolf glancing down at the Folgenkoffer—the wheeled
baggage that follows one like a dog. "We can just catch the return
ferry." He took a step away from the tracks but the Folgenkoffer
didn't move; Wulf had the Identikey. "Please." Rudolf gave an
unconvincing bark of a chuckle. "We should go back. Mental illness
is sometimes spontaneously reversible." He paused, then, as his words
seemed to have had no effect, he said, "You are a good friend. And
a very good physicist."
....."You've been a superb friend as
well," said Wulf, "but as to being a very good physicist,"—he
spread his hands in a gesture of futility—"even if true, what
does it matter? I'll never be as good as Felixhaugen."
.....Rudolf shook his head in annoyance.
"We've gone over this countless times. If you are patient, you will
get a professorship, even in Göttingen."
....."Look. I'm thirty-one. I'll be
lucky if I get a professorship before I'm eighty."
....."You exaggerate," said Rudolf
with a wave of his hand.
....."Exaggerate? Felixhaugen's a hundred
and twenty and still going strong. And his brilliance puts me to shame."
....."You don't have to be the greatest
of the great. Being very good is, well..., not bad."
....."There's a saying from pre-second-conquest
England," said Wulf. "'Science is golden'. But that's not true
any more. Nobody cares about—"
.....The train to Portsmouth pulled in, its
noise making further conversation impossible. When the doors opened, Wulf
stepped in. His Folgenkoffer followed him and Rudolf followed the luggage.
Rudolf had no baggage, as he would return home the same day.
.....Walking to their seats, Wulf burned
at the inequity of life; he knew he could never become a truly great physicist—at
least not in modern Germany. And with people living so long these days,
it would take forever for the current professors to retire and make place
for new blood.
....."Ach," muttered Rudolf as
they found seats. "I wish I'd never even heard of the Richardson
Anomaly." He turned and with deliberate intensity, stared out the
.....Wulf flexed his wrist, enabling his
Armbandkönig for mind control. He commanded up his hometown
daily, the Göttinger Tageblatt. He browsed the virtual image
of the virtual newspaper, but couldn't concentrate. It seemed pointless
now to read the news. What would it matter? He terminated the Tageblatt
and commanded up a Latin language instruction package—complete with
virtual image video and directed sound. But after scarcely a minute, he
terminated that as well. Even if Rudolf was sulkily ignoring him, he could
not be so rude as to engage a full-immersive program.
.....Wulf withdrew his French-German phrasebook—A
holdable text made from real Neupapier. He might need it to make his wants
known during his brief stay in England; Francophones tended to ignore
voices coming from an Armbandkönig. Even so, Wulf couldn't concentrate
on French either. His lips stretched into a tight smile. Strange it
is that the inhabitants of England don't speak English anymore.
.....He glanced at the back of Rudolf's head.
Perhaps Rudolf was right; maybe he was crazy—not physicist crazy,
but certifiably insane. Maybe he should abandon this notion of transferring
to Richardson's parallel world, Richardson's England—a twenty-first
century kingdom in an eleventh century world. But there, he'd surely be
the greatest physicist in that entire world, especially since, as far
as physics was concerned, England would be the entire world. And he'd
have money, students working under him, time to do physics—a chance
to become great, even in his own terms. Perhaps he would even surpass
Felixhaugen. And he'd had a classical early education and spoke good Latin.
He should be able therefore, to handle himself on the continent. Wulf
looked past Rudolf's head, through the window, and out onto the still
relatively unspoiled countryside of the French Protectorate of Britain.
.....He'd vacillated during the maglev journey
from Göttingen to Calais—and on the Chunneltrain to Dovres
as well. But now, on the primitive train to Portsmouth, he felt it was
too late to back out. He concentrated on the positive: going back to a
time of cooler climate and one where personal vehicles still had real
.....Abruptly, Rudolf turned from the window.
"Transferring from the twenty-second century Isle of Wight to the
eleventh—just to make your way across the Channel again to England
in the twenty-first century." He threw a glance to the ceiling of
the train car. "It sounds crazy—and a lot could go wrong."
.....Wulf started to speak but Rudolf cut
him off. "Richardson thought it was an Einstein Rosen Podolsky effect.
He was wrong. We say it's an anomalous gravitational wave effect. Maybe
we're wrong as well." Rudolf shook his head. "Or maybe this
reflection wave won't give the same effect, or maybe the wave won't arrive
when we think. It's an almost unique situation and unique phenomena are
notoriously difficult to test."
....."You are right," said Wulf.
"The chances of it happening after this time are barely greater than
zero. There'll never be another chance. Never!"
.....Rudolf let out a long breath. "There's
no arguing with you, is there?"
....."But what about your family? Surely,
you will miss them."
....."You know my family," said
Wulf. "My mother died last year, and yes, I miss her. But I'm an
only child and my father hasn't even deigned to speak to me since I told
him I wasn't going into the family business." Wulf made a disparaging
noise through clenched teeth. "Family."
.....They glared at each other for half a
minute or so. Then Rudolf said. "All right. All right. If you won’t
change your mind, then... then I'll help you all I can."
....."Thank you." Wulf felt a gush
of affection for his old colleague. "Thank you, my friend."
.....At Portsmouth, Wulf and Rudolf boarded
a decrepit passenger ferry for the short passage across the Solent to
the Isle of Wight. Wulf looked forward to the sea voyage, short as it
was, for it might even be comparatively cool on the boat. As the ferry
slipped into the Solent, Wulf looked across to the island little over
two miles away. There, at the narrow end of the Richardson Tunnel, he
would soon attempt the jump. For the first time on the trip, he shuddered.
He forced a smile and tried to convince himself the shudder was due to
an anomalously cool sea breeze.
.....The Island was also a French protectorate,
but the spoken language was a patois—a French, English blend. The
signage though was almost uniformly in French. Just as well as Wulf's
Armbandkönig had no language references for the local dialect.
.....In the ferry terminal, they found a
vehicle rental counter. Rudolf went up to it. "Bonjour,"
he said, "Je voudrais louer une voiture."
.....Wulf raised his eyebrows in surprise;
he had no idea Rudolf could speak French. Feeling sheepish, Wulf drew
out his phrase book and discreetly deposited it into a recycler, then
turned his attention back to Rudolf.
....."L'assurance est-elle comprise?"
said Rudolf to the desk clerk.
.....They went out to find a white microcompact—two
seats and a minimal trunk. But then, all the cars were in shades of white.
Reflective heat shields, also white, topped each vehicle. Wulf imagined
an equivalent parking lot in the twenty-first century. He smiled. It would
be nice seeing cars in actual colors.
.....Rudolf got in on the driver's side while
Wulf hefted his Folgenkoffer into the trunk. Small as the koffer was,
it still entirely filled the space.
.....Wulf swung into the passenger seat and
Rudolf started the engine. The air-conditioning came on automatically
of course, but Wulf switched it to full. He didn't care about the air-conditioner
meter wracking up additional francs. It was his last day in the twenty-second
century—he hoped. And he was determined to be comfortable. He pulled
a map from his shirt pocket, hand drawn using information from the Paul
Hopcroft journal. Using it and the Neupapier map they'd gotten
from the rental agency, Wulf acted as navigator.
.....After a fifteen-minute drive over bad
roads, Wulf directed Rudolf to turn off onto a primitive asphalt thoroughfare.
After another kilometer, Wulf consulted his maps and announced, "I'd
say this is the place."
.....They stepped out onto the asphalt; black,
hot, smelling of tar. Noxious, even in early May.
....."All right," said Rudolf.
"Forgive me. But I must say this. It is my duty."
....."Fine. Go ahead." Wulf chuckled.
"Do your duty."
....."Richardson was wrong," said
Rudolf in a tone more fitting for a lecture to a large class. "His
theory is nonsense. We know that now. But due to an almost unique set
of circumstances—largely related to a gravitational wave burst and
the mass irregularities in the Isle of Wight—Richardson's experiment
in some sense worked. But." Rudolf raised a finger. "But there
is no way of knowing if it will work again. And if it does, we don't know
to what precision."
....."Fine. Have you fulfilled your
....."No. Not quite. Just one more appeal
....."Proceed with your appeal,"
said Wulf. "Reason is listening."
....."The odds of this working are,"
said Rudolf, "according to my best calculations, about eight to one."
....."But one should not be quick to
accept a calculation with a built-in bias."
.....Rudolf threw a glance to the sky, then
shook his head slowly, as if accepting the inevitable. "The best
physicist in England," he said with a sigh. "Possibly irrelevant
since you don't speak English."
....."Oh, I'm sure I'll find German
speakers in England. And it will be an adventure."
....."So that's it," said Rudolf.
"Adventure. It's not about physics, is it, Wulf?"
....."You must admit there's not much
true adventure in the twenty-second century." Wulf flashed a ritual
smile, then narrowed his eyes. "Now, is your duty fulfilled?"
.....With pursed lips, Rudolf nodded.
....."Good." Wulf darted to the
trunk of the car and lifted out his Folgenkoffer. Even with the twenty
kilograms of gold inside, the koffer felt too light for a trip lasting
the rest of his life.
.....Wondering if he'd forgotten to pack
something crucial, Wulf thought about those other things: a change of
self-cleaning clothing and a micro-inflatable jacket should it actually
get cold. He had a good representation of twenty-second century nanotechnology,
including some defensive weapons. Most importantly, he had seeds—Techseeds.
If he found good soil, he'd be able to grow some pretty sophisticated
electronics. And most importantly, he'd be able to grow long-life organic
batteries. He visualized the battery-plants with their broad, ground-hugging
green leaves and their fruit: tiny but powerful little batteries. An
electric eel from the garden.
....."Having second thoughts?"
came Rudolf's voice from behind.
.....Wulf opened his luggage. "Of course
not." He extracted a soccer ball sized pouch and re-closed the koffer.
.....The pouch held a body bag of sorts—an
aluminum colored null-bag with a sticky-zipper seal. There was also a
hockey puck sized control module with switches, dials and a meter.
.....On the side of the road, on some wild
grasses, parched even so early in the summer, Wulf unrolled the null-bag.
He maneuvered his Folgenkoffer into the bag, then stood and gazed at the
shiny aluminum against the dull green grass.
.....Rudolf watched, morosely. "I assume
you have an English history text," he said in a dull voice, "and...
and a good almanac."
.....Wulf chuckled. "You mean so I could
perhaps place a few bets on say, the World Cup?"
.....Rudolf himself chuckled. "Well,
yes. Now that you mention it."
....."Yes, I might possibly win a bet
or two," said Wulf, with a sigh. "But it would be far from certain.
My insertion into the new universe would change history in a small way
overall, but for events that my presence would directly affect, that small
history change might be a big change for me—like losing
a sure bet."
....."I see you've thought about this."
....."Yes, and I've read Journal articles.
I don't want to play that game." Wulf examined himself critically.
He was in semi-formal summer dress: sandals; white socks, light khaki
shorts, short sleeve shirt; and a wide brimmed hat to protect against
heat and ultraviolet radiation. "And as for big history," he
said absently, distracted by his self-inspection, "my presence wouldn't
change things very much." He glanced at Rudolf. "I want to live
history, not feel I'm watching a re-run of it. So, no almanacs. No history
.....Wulf scanned his exposed skin, almost
as white as his clothing; with the ozone depletion, one didn't stay outside
much these days. But a few days ago, he'd had his sun-block treatment.
It would last a month—even if he were lucky enough to have the water
to bathe daily. He smiled. And a month from now, he wouldn't need the
treatment—not in a world that still had its ozone cover.
....."You have everything, then?"
.....Wulf looked down at his wrist, at his
Armbandkönig. "I'll be fine," he said more to himself than
to Rudolf. "I have a law-enforcement module on my König."
....."What?" Rudolf seemed scandalized.
"It's illegal for a private citizen to have one of those."
.....Wulf smiled. "I'll try to remember
.....Rudolf laughed, but it looked forced.
.....Wulf crawled into the bag while Rudolf
picked up the control capsule. "Wait," said Wulf. "Better
drive back a hundred meters or so. There may be a shock wave."
.....Rudolf nodded. "Do be careful,
yourself. If it works, you'll be arriving at the Isle of Wight just about
at the time of the Norman Conquest."
....."The little island probably won't
even notice the invasion for another generation." Wulf began to draw
up the sticky-zipper. "And anyway, with twenty-first century England
swapping in, there might not even be a Conquest." He stopped
zipping, leaving only his head exposed. "I'll leave an air-hole open
until I hear you stop the car. Then I'll seal myself off. For safety,
give me a minute to do it. Then key the transfer." He tented his
legs, making volume in the bag. "I should have enough air for about
five minutes." He took a last look around, then looked out at Rudolf.
"Well... Auf Wiedersehenf."
....."You do know," said Rudolf,
seeming resigned to the inevitable, "that once you go, there's no
.....Wulf chuckled. "Well, the physics
is somewhat ambiguous on that point."
....."For all practical purposes then."
....."Agreed. This is truly goodbye."
....."Well then good luck, Wulf, my
.....Wulf sealed the null-bag save for a
few centimeters for his nose. He felt a sudden claustrophobia—a
fear he'd never had before. Visualizing himself in his grave, he shuddered.
"No," he whispered. Not a grave. A womb. I am to be reborn.
But the question is, where—and more importantly, when?
.....He heard Rudolf driving the car
back. Then, when the sound ceased, Wulf took a last breath of outside
air and sealed the breathing-hole. The dark was absolute and the silence,
profound. Wulf experienced an even greater press of claustrophobia. He
worked to control his frantic breathing. Already in the heat and the closeness,
he began to sweat. He closed his eyes.
.....In his null-bag cocoon, Wulf heard a
sharp retort, like a gunshot. He felt himself in free fall, but only for
a moment. He hit the ground with a cry of bewilderment and pain, and felt
droplets of sweat roll off his forehead.
.....Panting and disoriented, rebreathing
his own air, he kicked against the metalized fabric. When it didn't rupture,
he fumbled for the seal strip. He found and pulled it, opening the top
rectangular edge of his yielding but impenetrable prison. A draft of cold
air swept over him and he reveled in it—as if bathing in precious
.....Crawling from the null-bag, he saw that
the sun was still overhead—by reflex, he grabbed his hat and put
it on. But the climate was cool—cold, in fact. He pulled free his
Folgenkoffer, knelt and rummaged though his scanty store of clothes. There
was nothing warm except his jacket, compressed flat. He inflated the garment
and slipped it on. Warmth returned to his chest and arms—this time
a pleasant warmth. But his lower body remained cold. His knees in particular
felt frozen. He got to his feet and rubbed them warm. Only then, did he
.....The first thing he noticed was the absence
of the black asphalt road, then the absence of any road, path, or other
signs of human habitation. He felt a giddy exhilaration; his experiment
had succeeded. He had transferred. It would be great to tell Rudolf. He
laughed, the sound startling him in the otherwise silent woodland. He
stood in something of a shallow valley and saw mainly trees. As for telling
Rudolf, he could always leave a message in a bottle and hope someone would
find it in Rudolf's century. He grimaced; of course that bottle couldn't
exist in Rudolf's world—not the Rudolf he knew at any rate. A different
world and a different Rudolf. And anyway, he didn't have a bottle.
.....What he did have, was a sense of freedom.
But he now had to journey to the mainland—to twenty-first century
England, and there begin to make a life for himself. And that meant he'd
have to figure out how to get across the Solent.
.....The English mainland was north of the
Isle of Wight. Mentally, he chastised himself for not thinking of obtaining
a navigation module or at least a compass for his Armbandkönig. But,
using the position of the Sun and the time and month, he could deduce
which way was north. He packed his null-bag into the Folgenkoffer, not
that he needed it anymore, but littering was immoral and, of course, there
was no recycler in the neighborhood. He withdrew a few of the gold mini-ingots
and slipped them into his jacket pocket.
.....He glanced at his Armbandkönig
but the time/date display was blank. Mentally, he slapped himself. Ach.
I'm off the grid. And that meant he couldn't really deduce which
way was north. He stopped, thought, and then pulled a twig from a tree,
stuck it in the ground and marked its shadow. Despite his impatience,
he'd have to wait until the shadow moved. From the movement, he'd be able
to get a rough idea of east and west.
.....While he waited, he recalled the drive
out and speculated that it shouldn't take more than an hour or so to hike
to the coast. There, he expected he'd encounter modern Brits—some
might even speak German. And if he didn’t find any who did, his
Latin should work. Good old Latin, the universal language of the medieval
.....The shadow moved. Wulf got his bearings
and moved as well. Mind-controlling his Armbandkönig, he requested
his Koffer to follow.
.....Before long, he'd passed through the
valley and had ascended a hill at its north end. From the summit, he scanned
the horizon. With almost an electric shock, Wulf felt in his gut that
he really had transferred. Intellectually, he'd known it when he'd scrambled
free of his null-bag but, gazing out at the countryside with no high-rise
buildings blocking his view and no signs of an industrialized society,
he now believed it in his soul.
.....In the distance, he saw the blue ribbon
of the Solent and beyond, he could make out gentle hills on the mainland.
He saw no sea traffic, but that didn't particularly worry him. What need
would twenty-first century mainlanders have of commerce with the tiny
eleventh century Isle of Wight? He sighed, realizing he'd have to arrange
passage to the mainland himself. But that shouldn't be a problem; he had
the gold in tiny coin-sized ingots, and he had the Latin. And similarly,
it shouldn't be a problem finding people to sell him prepared food and
rent him shelter should he need stay over—but could he find someone
to sell him pants? It was cold. He needed long pants. He had no idea where
to buy things—pants for example. He shook his head. Subconsciously,
he'd probably expected the equivalent of a Kaufhof department
.....To fix the geography in his mind before
setting off, he again scanned the horizon. Nothing of note. But behind
him, way across the valley on the other side, he saw a another gash of
blue, a river, and bounding it he could make out a structure not unlike
one of the college buildings in Göttingen. He smiled at the constancy
of architecture. He speculated the structure must be an abbey or monastery
of some sort. After all, that's what the building in Göttingen was
.....Suddenly eager to see people again,
Wulf faced north and strode with a quick pace toward the Solent.
.....Descending the north side of the hill,
Wulf came upon a dirt path. Moving through the meadows and low brush of
the countryside had been easy for Wulf, but not so for his Koffer. Almost
constantly, he'd had to lift the trunk over ruts and fallen branches.
Forgoing the loamy softness of the grasses then, Wulf trod the path. The
Folgenkoffer rolled smoothly while Wulf kicked up billows of dust with
every step. And he had to tap his toe to the ground every so often to
dislodge a pebble or twig from his sandals. Still, he made good time.
.....After about a quarter hour of solitary
walking, Wulf saw a distant movement on the path—a movement that
resolved into a person walking toward him. Wulf took manual control of
his Folgenkoffer. An eleventh century man might get the wrong idea about
luggage that followed its owner like a dog. A twenty-first century
man might as well.
.....When the man got within hailing distance,
Wulf tried a Latin Greeting. "Salve, amicus!"
....."Hwæt eart þu?"
said the man in a patently unfriendly manner. He looked Wulf up and down.
"Ic þe axige. Hwæt eart þu?"
.....Wulf tried again—with friendly,
sociable Latin, but delivered in a louder voice. The man replied with
equal volume. Wulf took a step backwards, almost tripping over his Folgenkoffer.
He glared as the man took two steps forward, bringing him into scent range.
The native, dressed in a dull brown tunic and sandals with leggings, smelled
of wood smoke mixed with things less pleasant. And he and his garments
were not precisely spotless.
.....They stood glowering at each other.
Things weren't going well and Wulf didn't know why. There'd been no real
communication—verbal communication anyway, and yet Wulf thought
himself at the brink of an altercation. Why isn't Latin working? Is
it my pronunciation? Then Wulf understood; only the educationally
elite would speak the language. And the man before him was certainly not
of that group.
..... The man shifted his gaze from Wulf
and looked hard at the Folgenkoffer. Wulf at first thought the man was
dazzled by the obviously advanced technology. But then, from the man's
look of avarice, he suspected another motive—and was glad his König
included the Law Enforcement module.
.....The man made a sound like a savage animal
and lunged forward. Wulf flexed his wrist and thought hard. A humming
sound emanated from his König and the man ran into what seemed a
wall of glass, his face distorting as it hit the transparent barrier.
He rebounded off it and, staring wide-eyed at Wulf, shouted Wicca! Then
he turned and, at a run, went back the way he'd come.
With an almost smug satisfaction, Wulf watched him go. Then he heard his
Armbandkönig sound an alarm beep and looked to his wrist. The low
power warning flashed urgently. Wulf wrinkled his nose; the battery was
relatively new; he'd installed it just a few months ago. He wondered first
if the battery had been a dud. Then, it hit him; that's why the police
wore such clunky-looking Armbandkönige. Batteries. The Law Enforcement
Module must take an enormous amount of power. Wulf sighed with disappointment.
He'd have to forgo the security of that module—at least for day-to-day
.....Wulf opened his Folgenkoffer and pulled
out a little box of batteries. Kneeling, he laid out his-null bag on the
ground as a tablecloth. He removed his Armbandkönig, slid open the
battery compartment, and popped out the old battery, letting it fall to
his null-bag. He took a replacement battery from the box and inserted
it into his König —but it wouldn't go in all the way. He pulled
it back out and compared it with the old one. Damn! The battery
model numbers were different. He went through all the batteries in the
box—they all had the wrong model number. Frantically, he grabbed
another box, one containing seeds in various compartments. Quickly, he
checked the compartment label, then let out a breath he'd not realized
he was holding. The battery seeds were of the right model. Yes, he would
have the right batteries, but it would take a few months. That is,
if I can find a safe place to plant and grow them.
.....And as for the wrong batteries,
they could still be useful. With some wire and a laser annealer or even
a museum-piece laser soldering iron, he could whip up a truly impressive
power source to impress the natives.
.....He repacked his Folgenkoffer, and tossed
in his temporarily useless König. He stood and started again down
the path, but this time with heightened caution. It was unfortunate but
now he'd have to impress the natives with his knowledge, not his technology.
.....As he walked, he grew ever more anxious
to get to the coast, and increasingly annoyed with the path that meandered
gently around obstructions rather than plowing through them. At length,
he rounded one such obstruction and saw before him a village with the
blue of the Solent beyond.
.....Perhaps fifteen high-peaked thatched
roofed structures, huts, obviously dwellings, sat clustered close in a
tiny valley out of view of the water. Wulf saw a larger building with
a wide doorway and expansive windows—unglazed but with shutters.
It had the look of an inn—a place for food but perhaps a little
too small to offer accommodations.
.....A flat field near the huts seemed to
be some sort of a market. There were no fixed stores or stalls, but people
had items scattered on the ground around them and seemed to be selling
things. Wulf wondered if he could find pants to buy. Of course, there
was still the problem of finding a peddler who spoke Latin.
.....Raising his gaze to the Solent, Wulf
saw a lone ship—not much more than a scow with a single sail. Two
men unloaded goods from the boat. Though attired for sailing, they looked
a cut above the villagers—better dressed and, at least from the
distance, they seemed more acquainted with barbers. They moved with an
obvious familiarity with the boat and an air of ownership.
.....Wulf quickened his pace and headed for
the vessel. If anyone, sailors would know the Lingua Franca of the times.
Visiting shores in various countries, they'd certainly have a smattering
of Latin. Wulf put a hand in his jacket pocket and fingered the little
gold ingots. Yes, he'd most certainly be able to buy passage to the mainland.
.....He widened his gaze, taking in at one
glance the whole of the scene. It was classic, medieval, perfect for its
time. Too perfect! He'd have expected that there'd be some indication
of the influence of twenty-first century England just two miles away across
the water. He raised his gaze to the shadowy hills of the barely visible
mainland. He would have thought he'd be able to make out some signs of
technology: big buildings, power plants, even aircraft—especially
.....A deep worry swept over him. Was it
possible he'd transferred to a world where England hadn't swapped? No!
Quantum multi-world theory says one goes back to the same world that one
left—and only then does a new world split off. Wulf clung to
that thought as he now almost jogged toward the boat—pulling his
Folgenkoffer rather than letting it follow.
said Wulf, walking up to and greeting the older looking sailor in front
of his craft.
....."Salve!" said the
man. "Quid agis?" He looked Wulf up and down and then
smiled. "Et quis tu?"
.....Wulf smiled also—in relief; the
man spoke Latin and he was civil. Wulf introduced himself as a traveler
and said he'd like to book passage back to the mainland. The man, though,
....."I can pay well," said Wulf
in Latin. He withdrew an ingot from his pocket and handed it over.
.....The man stared at it with clear astonishment.
"Is this truly gold?" he asked at a whisper.
....."It is." Wulf spoke in a firm
voice. "And it is yours if you will transport me to England—now."
....."For me? The entire ingot?"
....."In truth," said Wulf, fumbling
for words, inconvenienced by the lack of words for yes or no in Latin.
He took back the ingot and held it high where it glistened in the sunlight.
.....The man stared at the ingot and then
at Wulf. A moment later, he bowed. "As you command, my lord."
He bowed a second time. "Just give us a few moments to unload our
cargo." He shouted something to his comrade onboard in a language
other than Latin. Then both men hurried to move barrels and wooden chests
to the shore.
.....Minutes later, the first sailor invited
Wulf to board. "My colleague," said the man, "will stay
here to guard our cargo, while I pilot you across."
....."Fine," said Wulf. "Thank
you. Tell me if I can help."
.....The man on the shore pushed the boat
free, and the sailor on board set the sail. When the boat had crossed
about half the distance, the sailor asked very courteously, "Might
I have the ingot now?"
.....Wulf gave it to him.
....."Thank you, my lord." The
sailor sighed. "Honesty requires me to say that you are richly rewarding
me. You could almost buy the boat for this amount of gold."
....."You are welcome to it," said
Wulf, astonished by what gold could buy at this point in history. He turned
his attention to the other shore growing steadily closer. Wulf could begin
to see clearly the features of the landscape. Ahead he saw a forest of
great trees. "A lot of trees," he said softly to himself.
....."England is covered in them,"
said the sailor.
....."What?" said Wulf, startled.
Then it registered. "Turn back!" he shouted. "Don't land.
Take me back to the island. Please!"
.....The sailor looked at him as if he'd
suddenly lost his mind.
....."I'm sorry," said Wulf in
a more controlled voice. "I have... observed what I needed to see."
....."Of course," said the sailor,
his face once more showing a mask of obsequiousness. Without further words,
he swung the boat around.
.....Wulf looked back at the now receding
mainland and wondered what had happened. It was certainly not twenty-first
century England. It could only mean that he'd arrived too early. And he
certainly didn't want to be on the mainland when it swapped. If he were
lucky, he'd wind up in an eleventh century England while the rest of the
world would be in the twenty-first. But since he himself was from the
twenty-second century, he couldn't be sure where and when he'd actually
....."What year is this?" he asked
the sailor; he was certain it was 1066, but it would be nice to hear it.
....."Excuse me, my lord?"
....."The year. What year is it?"
....."It is the second year in the reign
of King Edgar, my lord."
.....That's a great help! "Thank
....."Are you a stranger to these lands,
sire? From Normandy, perhaps?"
.....Wulf laughed. "A stranger. That
is so. I am from... from Germania. And I am not a nobleman—not a
lord, not a sire. My name is Wulf."
....."And mine is Halfdan, my... my
friend." He narrowed his eyes. "But I thought people spoke our
language in Germania." He smiled. "With an atrocious accent
perhaps, but still the same language."
....."Actually," said Wulf, thinking
fast, "I come from North New Germania. We speak a different language
.....By the time the Halfdan had brought
his craft to shore, he and Wulf had indeed become friends. Once on solid
ground again, Wulf offered to buy dinner at the inn for Halfdan and Offa,
his colleague. This was out of friendliness but also with an ulterior
motive; Halfdan would be able to order food in a language the proprietor
understood. Halfdan accepted but insisted on paying for the meal. He had
plenty of money now.
.....After dinner, Halfdan and Offa returned
to their boat. They intended to sail back to the mainland.
....."Farewell, my friend," said
Halfdan as they parted. "I hope our paths may cross again."
....."I hope so as well." Wulf
felt disingenuous saying that as he thought Halfdan and Offa would likely
be on the English mainland when the switch happened. Still, he stood on
the shore and waved at his only two friends in this world, as they sailed
back across the Solent.
.....When they had gone, Wulf mentally kicked
himself. He should have asked Halfdan to arrange accommodations for him
at the inn. Briefly, he thought about doing it himself, but he didn't
want to flash around any more gold, and anyway, it was very unlikely that
he'd be able to make himself understood.
.....As darkness fell, Wulf, leading his
Folgenkoffer behind him, walked back up the path—out of the village
and into the wilderness. He felt exhausted as he scoured the countryside
for a safe spot where he could sleep rough.
.....Taking shelter next to a fallen oak,
Wulf took the null-bag from his Koffer, rolled it out and crawled in.
An experienced camper, he stripped but kept his clothes with him in the
bag so they'd not get wet from the morning dew. Morning. He sorely
wondered what the next day would bring.
.....Warm in his ersatz sleeping bag, he
turned his thoughts to the longer-term situation. He sighed. He could
do nothing but wait for the twenty-first century England to appear. He
wished he knew how long he'd have to wait. It could be weeks, or months.
Wulf shuddered. It could even be years. No. The experiment couldn't
be that far off. He sighed. Tomorrow, he'd have to come up with a
plan. He'd need a place to stay and a way of fulfilling his needs while
he waited. Gold would do it—if only he knew the English spoken in
the reign of King Edgar, whenever the hell that was.
.....And damn it. I forgot to try to
....."Britain swapping back a few hundred
years," said Vicki, scornful amusement in her voice. "This really
....."Yes, it is." Paul bit his
lip. "I certainly hope it is. You mustn't tease me about this when
we're back at the University."
....."I'll try not to." Vicki paused,
and then laughed. "It's funny that we're actually acting on something
that's so loony."
.....They dismounted at the Terminal and
walked their bikes inside.
....."Lots of people in here,"
said Paul as they entered the passenger lounge.
....."But not a full boatload, I think,"
said Vicki. "We shouldn't have any trouble going home with our bicycles."
.....In the lounge, they found people milling
about, exchanging information and rumors. There was broad agreement that
the contiguous land mass of Great Britain had gone silent, and also dark.
Further, one of the terminal staff had relayed news from a short wave
broadcast from Ireland.
.....Paul heard the story from a frenzied,
middle-aged woman after it had been filtered through an indeterminate
number of people. "An Aer Lingus flight bound for Heathrow
had to turn back to Ireland," said the woman. "The pilot couldn't
contact the tower or even see the airport. He said that mist enshrouded
all England, and there was no radio or radar activity, or runway lights.
No lights of any kind."
....."Is the Southampton ferry still
going to sail on schedule?" asked Vicki.
his watch—"in ten minutes?"
....."Oh, yes." The woman grasped
her handbag with a shaking, white-knuckled hand. "They were going
to cancel it but thankfully a member of parliament returning from holiday
on the island stepped in. The MP made a big fuss and they changed their
minds,"—She nodded toward a prosperous-looking individual reading
a newspaper—"but only after the ferry pilot insisted. He said,
bless him, that his schedule indicated that the ferry leaves for Southampton,
and he saw no reason why it shouldn't. But, I'm afraid it's the last one
off the island." She looked pleadingly to Paul. "Whatever happened,
Cowes wasn't affected. And...and since Southampton is so close, less than
twenty miles away, Southampton might well be fine—except for the
telly and radio. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it?"
....."Yes ma'am," said Paul in
a soothing voice. He looked out the window onto the Solent. Mist still
obscured the mainland. There might not even be a mainland for all Paul
could see. He shivered.
.....Glancing from the corner of his eye,
he saw that Vicki looked scared. He tried to think of something to say
but couldn't. In truth, he was a little frightened himself.
.....A boarding call came from a ceiling-mounted
speaker. Paul found its squawking normalcy comforting. I'm letting
it get to me. It's just a massive power outage, maybe even the result
of a terrorist attack. That would be terrible, but Britain is still there.
It's ridiculous to think otherwise.
.....The boarding, Paul noted, was disorganized
compared to when they'd come; no one asked that they stow their bicycles—which
was good. They wouldn't have to spend time retrieving them when they docked.
.....Right on schedule, the ferry eased out
of its slip into the small harbor and into the Solent: the waterway separating
the Isle of Wight from the British mainland.
.....Leaning over the railing once again,
this time with their bikes between them, Paul and Vicki peered into the
mist, a far heavier haze than when they'd come.
.....Listening to the rhythmic thrum of the
engines and feeling it through the railing, Paul experienced a subdued
exhilaration—the excitement of a movie. For him, working in theoretical
physics was like being a kid at play in the world. But now, he felt that
what he did might have import, maybe even world-import. He smiled, realizing
he was pretending; he didn't really believe it—not really.
.....Five minutes out of harbor, Paul, squinting,
could make out the outline of the mainland. But it would be at least another
forty minutes or so until they docked at Southampton—forty minutes
of sailing up the wide Southampton Water—forty minutes of feeling
.....Just a few minutes later, while Paul
basked in his daydreams, he heard the engines go soft and felt the ferry
.....Almost by reflex, he looked up, over
his shoulder, at the wheelhouse. There, he saw a few people—he couldn't
tell how many—in what seemed vigorous debate. Paul turned and, leaning
his back against the railing, watched. After about a minute, he pushed
off from the railing. "I'm going up there."
.....Vicki turned and followed his gaze.
"Why? Do you think something's wrong?"
....."No. Not really. Just my curiosity,"
he said, resting his bicycle against the railing. "An occupational
hazard for us physics types."
.....Paul started for the stairs. "There
might be news."
....."Wait!" said Vicki, leaning
her bike against Paul's and following him. "I'm just as curious as
.....They ran up the stairs and darted into
the wheelhouse. The MP that the woman in the lounge had pointed out was
there, arguing with a man in uniform.
.....As Paul and Vicki slipped into the wheelhouse,
the MP turned to look at them. "The Captain says,"—he
shot a contemptuous glance to the man in uniform—"that he won't
take us to Southampton."
....."I can't," said the Captain,
not to Paul or Vicki but to the MP. "Southampton Water is treacherous.
I can hardly see the shoreline and with the radio beacons out, I don't
dare risk it."
.....Paul looked out the window. The shoreline
was much clearer from the height of the wheelhouse.
.....Vicki stared out as well. "It's
clear enough." She pointed. "That's the Calshot spit. It's probably
not even a half mile away."
.....Paul turned to stare at her; it was
clear that despite her levity, she sorely wanted to go home. She turned
and their eyes locked. "You're an American," she said. "You
have a home to go to. But my family—everyone.... Everyone I know
lives in the UK."
....."I'm sorry," said the Captain.
"This area is off limits to passengers. I'll have to ask you to leave."
.....Ignoring the captain, the MP took a
step toward Vicki. "Do you have information I should know?"
he said more in the tone of a command than a question.
.....Vicki glanced pleadingly to Paul.
....."I was on the phone with the Southampton
University professor I work for," said Paul, addressing the MP, "when
he threw the switch on an experiment he was doing. It's just possible
it could have caused...caused the power to go down, communications channels
to fail, and more."
....."Much more," whispered the
MP. Paul stared at him quizzically. It was obvious he knew a lot more
than he was saying.
.....The Captain looked at Paul with undisguised
incredulity—not so the MP.
....."And I think," Paul went on,
"that I might be able to reverse the blackout."
....."Blackout, hell!" sputtered
the MP. "The whole of bloody Britain has gone dark. No lights, radio,
emergency communications systems. Nothing!"
....."And just how do you intend to
reverse the blackout?" said the Captain, his voice filled with sarcasm.
.....Paul swung down his pack, rummaged through
it, and brought out the capsule—a book-sized device covered with
dials and controls.
....."What the hell is that?" said
....."It's complicated." Paul stowed
the capsule back in his pack. "But if I can activate it roughly where
my professor activated his, it should fix the problem."
....."Best I can offer, sir." Paul
shrugged. "I might be totally wrong. My professor might not have
had anything to do with it."
.....The MP turned to the Captain. "Well?"
....."I still can't take the risk. It's
my responsibility as captain. I can't put my ship at risk for some theory
from two kids who just happened to waltz into my wheelhouse."
.....The Captain and the MP exchanged a long,
....."Wait!" said Paul. "I
think I have something of an idea."—Vicki shot him a bemused
glance—"What if we,"—Paul moved close to Vicki—"What
if we were to borrow a life boat and just row the half mile to shore?"
....."More like three quarters of a
mile," said the Captain in a hostile voice. "And it's dangerous."
....."What do you think?" said
Paul, turning to Vicki.
....."I want to go home."
....."Fine," said Paul. "Then
let's go for it."
.....The Captain gave a chuckle that sounded
more like a snigger. "I don't think so." He stretched his lips
into a mirthless smile. "I'm not in the habit of letting kids make
off with lifeboats for joyriding."
....."In that case," said Paul,
more for effect, "I'll jump in and swim for shore."
....."Don't be ridiculous." Abruptly,
the Captain replaced his scowl with a condescending smile. "Can't
you see? You're just kids. If I allowed anything to happen to you, they'd
yank my license in an instant."
....."Let the kids have a boat,"
said the MP. "My responsibility. And...." He cleared his throat.
"And I'll go with them."
....."You'll what?" said the Captain.
....."I have experience with small boats.
I used to row for England." He turned to Paul, thereby effectively
cutting the Captain off from issuing more objections. "But it must
be twenty miles from Calshot to Southampton."
....."We can hitchhike," said Paul.
"And in any case, we have bikes."
....."Fine," said the MP. "That's
.....A half hour later, Paul and Vicki had
loaded their bicycles and packs from the Red Osprey into a lifeboat
and had climbed in after. Paul held out his hand to help the MP into the
boat, but the man shook his head. He smiled, gently. "I'd rather
like to come with you, but....But sadly, at my time in life I only experience
....."I thought you rowed for England,"
....."Something of an exaggeration,
I'm afraid." Again, he cleared his throat. "Actually, I hardly
know which end of an oar to dip in the water." He leaned in and whispered,
"But I'm not going to let you go until I see you put on your life
.....Paul and Vicki slipped on the jackets.
.....The MP took a step back and in a loud
voice, ordered two of ship's crew to lower the boat—which they did.
.....The life boat had a sealed emergency
provisions locker which also contained, according to the crew, detailed
maps of the coastline bordering the Solent: the Isle of Wight and, more
importantly, southern England. Paul hoped that if the worst had
happened, then with a scale of distances and with Vicki's knowledge of
the geography they'd be able to locate the university's Jubilee Sports
Centre by dead reckoning. If he could get to the spot where Richardson
did the experiment, he should be able to use the capsule to undo
.....With only the two of them at the oars
of the big lifeboat, progress was slow—but steady. As they rowed,
the ferry grew smaller and finally became lost in the gloom. Paul felt
cut off from the world. He was very glad for Vicki's company.
.....Vicki glanced over her shoulder in the
direction the boat moved. "I don't like this," she said at a
whisper. "We should see houses, but all I see are trees. I've never
been there, but I don't think the spit was supposed to be heavily forested."
.....Paul looked. "And big trees, too.
Doesn't look very English to me."
.....They rowed without talking and Paul
could only hear the splash of the oars and creak of the oarlocks. The
closer they got to shore, the clearer the air became. When the mist had
entirely lifted, they saw a sandy shore, behind which was a forest of
great trees. The trees were not tightly spaced but they were large; their
high branches merged to form a continuous canopy. The sun, bright but
low in the sky, cast long shadows and, against the green brightness, the
terrain beneath the canopy looked dark and creepy.
.....Then came a scraping sound as the boat
slid onto the bank.
....."Well, we're here." Paul pulled
in his oar, then fetched the map from the locker.
.....Vicki pulled in her oar and hopped out
of the boat. Paul followed.
.....Gazing at the great trees, Vicki said,
"They're oaks. I was taught that our forests looked like this—before
people hacked most of them down."
.....Paul laughed, nervously. "It sounds
almost as if you don't believe this is twenty-first century England."
....."I'm not really sure it is,"
said Vicki, softly.
....."We have oak groves in Massachusetts,"
said Paul, dismissively. "They look sort of like these. No need go
back a hundred years."
.....Vicki gazed into the forest. "A
lot more than a hundred years."
....."Come on," said Paul, reaching
into the boat to lift out his bicycle. "This has got to be just some
remnant of those old forests." He reached in to the boat again for
Vicki's bike. "Geez! A lot more than a hundred years. No way!"
....."Hey," she said. "This
time travel idea was yours, not mine. Are you saying you were making it
.....Paul looked off into the forest. "No,"
he said, weakly. "But... But I can't say I really believed it. It
was just a physics hypothesis. Theoretical."
....."There's supposed to be a little
village. Calshot." Vicki looked off into the forest. "It can't
be very far ahead."
....."Yeah." Paul studied the map.
"Not far ahead, at all. And if there isn't a village there, then...."
Paul raised his head and gazed off into the forest.
....."Let's zero our bike odometers,"
said Vicki, "and take a compass reading." She reset her odometer
and got back astride her bike. "A map, compass and odometer navigation
exercise. Just like you wanted."
....."Yeah, really." Paul took
the reading and slid the map into his shirt pocket. He pointed the way,
mounted his bike, and then stopped.
....."What's the matter?"
....."What do you mean, nothing?"
said Vicki. "You look almost as if you're about to cry."
....."It's just.... It's just that when
I'm doing physics, I do it because it's fun. I don't think about who it
might hurt or if I'm putting someone I care about in danger." Paul
squeezed the handbrakes.
.....Vicki touched his arm.
.....Paul, feeling himself flush, stood hard
on the raised pedal. "Okay, let's go!"
.....Although the sun was lost to them, the
light was sufficient and they made good time as their bikes, side by side,
moved silently over the flat and firm ground between the trees.
.....A flash of movement caught Paul's eye
and he gripped tight his hand brakes. Vicki braked a few feet further
.....Two children froze from their play and
stood staring. Both were boys: bare-footed, one about ten years old the
other seven or eight, with flaxen hair and blue-grey eyes. Each wore only
a single garment that looked like a tee shirt—brown, loose fitting,
and reaching almost to their knees.
.....Paul wheeled his bike forward to be
even with Vicki's. "Hi!" he called out.
said the older kid, his eyes wide and fearful.
.....Paul rolled his bike a yard forward.
"Come on. I'm friendly. I won't eat you guys."
.....The taller boy turned to the other and
shouted, "Rinnath on waeg!" As one, they turned and
ran. After a few seconds, they were lost from sight.
....."Geez!" said Paul looking
the way they'd gone.
....."Frea Aelmihtig. Frea Aelmihtig,"
said Vicki, under her breath. "I know that. Never heard it spoken,
but I know it." After a pause she intoned, "Firum foldu,
Frea Aelmihtig—the Earth for Men, God almighty." She gasped
and added, "Oh, my god!"
.....Paul turned to her. "What's
....."Do you know any Old English?"
she said in a soft, far off voice.
....."I knew an Old English
Sheepdog, once." When she didn't answer, Paul felt suddenly cold.
"Are you saying they were speaking Old English? You mean like Chaucer,
....."I mean like Beowulf."
....."Beowulf! That's many
hundred's of years ago, isn't it?"
....."About a thousand, actually."
....."No," said Paul.
"Even in the highly unlikely case that we've swapped, we can't have
swapped back a millennium." He tried unsuccessfully to laugh. "That's
a long, long time."
....."Time." Vicki shook
her head. "It seems to me that time is acting very mean."
....."Mean?" Paul managed
a bark of a laugh. "The M in GMT."
....."Sorry. Just babbling."
Again, Paul looked off into the forest. "I hate to admit it,"
he said softly. "But I'm beginning to think...unless I'm dreaming."
just having a bad dream," said Vicki, with a sigh. "But...."
....."Come on. Let's see about
this Calshot village." Paul bore down on a pedal.
.....It took under a minute for
them to break into a clearing where stood about a dozen small houses clustered
in a semi-circle. The structures, of unpainted wood, had thatched roofs
and very low walls. Paul's gaze though, was riveted on a line of ten or
fifteen men standing shoulder to shoulder facing them. Most carried spears
and they all looked angry—and more than a little disquieted by the
....."Looks like we were expected,"
....."I guess," Paul whispered
back. "I wouldn't have thought that word of mouth could outrun bicycles."
.....Vicki nodded at one of the
doorways where the two boys they'd encountered looked out. "But it
seems kids can outrun them."
.....One of the men took a few steps
forward and stared hard at Paul. "Ond þu, hwa eart þu?"
.....Paul could tell he was being
asked a question—but that's all he could tell. Vicki seemed to be
concentrating hard on the words.
....."I don't think this is
a dream," said Vicki, softly.
....."Hwanon comon git?"
the man insisted. He stared for a few seconds, as if waiting for an answer.
Then he turned to those around him and whispered. All at once, the villagers
surged forward with spears held for action.
.....Paul knew it was too late to
escape; he was astraddle his bike and the bike pointed the wrong way.
But maybe he could get up enough speed to force his way through the line
of men. And if he couldn't, he still might be able to open up a path so
Vicki could get free. He had just moved a foot to a pedal when he heard
Vicki shout, "Hwæt!" He glanced at her and then
at the men; the attackers had stopped in their tracks.
....."Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in
gear-dagum," Vicki shouted, gesturing with the hand not holding
the handlebars, "þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon."
.....The men looked at her with
puzzled expressions and some of them lowered their spears.
.....Vicki leaned in toward Paul.
"Let's get out of here!" she whispered, urgently.
.....Taking advantage of the men's
confusion, Vicki and Paul turned their bikes around, mounted and sped
off. After about a five-minute ride, out of breath from the exertion and
fear, they stopped to rest.
.....Paul, still on his bike, leaned
against a tree. "What the heck did you say to them back there?"
....."It was the beginning
of Beowulf," said Vicki, dismounting and breathing heavily. "We
learn that in school." She gave a self-effacing smile. "I should
have been able to say something a little more germane after taking a year
of Anglo-Saxon. You'd think I'd be able to speak it, wouldn't you?"
....."Why were they so angry?"
....."The Anglo-Saxons weren't
fond of strangers."
....."Not fond is a nice way
of putting it," said Paul with a grunt of a laugh. "You learned
that in school, I bet."
.....Vicki nodded. "If someone
comes into a village without welcome or without calling out, the villagers
have a right to kill him." She reprised her smile. "Or so I've
....."I don't think I like
it here," said Paul. He was ready to believe that Dr. Richardson
had done the incredible. Now he hoped he could make himself believe he
could undo the incredible. "We've got to get to Southampton."
....."How close do you need
....."To the nexus?" Paul
thought for a few seconds. "I don't know, exactly. It's a surface
wave phenomenon so it has a one over R rather than an inverse square law
....."Is that an answer?"
.....There came a whap, whap, whap
sound from above and Paul hunted for its source. "Hey!" He pointed.
"A helicopter. That is the most comforting sight I've seen in hours."
....."Probably from the Island."
Vicki looked thoughtfully up at it. "I wonder why it makes that sound—since
the blades move smoothly."
....."Hard to explain if you
don't know physics." Paul shifted his bike to a low gear. "I
think we'd better get going. We might be able to reach Southampton before
it gets really dark."
.....With seeming reluctance, Vicki
tore her gaze from the aircraft. "I think we should lie low until
it does get really dark."
....."Hard to explain if you
don't know Old English."
....."All right. All right.
I'm sorry about the physics arrogance. It's an occupational hazard, they
....."Well I'd say
it's a problem with self-confidence." Vicki gave Paul an avuncular
pat on the knee. "With regard to physics, that is."
....."What?" said Paul,
startled by Vicki's pat of familiarity. "Self-confidence? No. Of
course I don't.... Well, it's hard not to feel inadequate when you're
working with a genius."
.....Vicki laughed. "Undergrads
usually think their advisors are geniuses—when really it's just
that they're more experienced. You're probably a lot smarter than you
think you are. And Richardson probably thinks so too."
....."Yeah. Right." Paul
gazed down at the handlebars and tried to assess what his advisor thought
of him. "I mean, I know he thinks I'm bright...and a little lazy.
Undisciplined." He looked over at Vicki. "But Professor Richardson
really is a genius."
....."He thinks you're lazy?
I don't believe that. How do you know?"
....."He told me." Paul
smiled, sheepishly. "As for the physics arrogance, I really am sorry."
....."Oh, I probably overreacted."
Vicki gave a warm chuckle. "Well, anyway, myrkfaelen means fear of
.....Paul gave a quizzical look.
....."The Anglo-Saxons were
afraid of the dark. If there's a bright enough moon, bandits will travel
at night, otherwise nobody does"—a howl, long and deep, reverberated
through woods—"um... except wolves."
....."Wolves?" Paul shivered.
"Let's not wait for night."
....."Yes." Vicki looked
nervously around. "Maybe that would be best. It'll be dark soon enough
.....Paul straddled his bike again
and rummaged through his pack. "We should probably wear these now."
He pulled out a headband-mounted LED flashlight and slipped the elastic
on so that the lamp sat in the middle of his forehead.
.....While Vicki found and slipped
on her own LED unit, Paul pulled the map from his pocket. He examined
it under the brilliant, blue-white LEDS, then put it away and switched
off the light. "Okay." He pointed. "That way!"
.....They made slow time in the
increasing darkness, with frequent stops to check the compass and odometer
readings against the map. Despite the darkness, they rode with their lights
off. They had no wish to attract bandits or wolves.
....."It's amazing how well
one can see in the dark," said Paul as he rode, "after the eyes
become dark adapted." He stopped for a map check. "Except for
....."What will happen when
you throw the switch on your capsule?" said Vicki, stopping her bike
and looking over Paul's shoulder at the map.
....."The Island of Britain
should swap back into the 21st century."
....."But we're on the 11th
century version," said Vicki. "What will happen to us?"
.....Paul put away the map and bit
his lower lip. "I think that since we weren't on it originally, we
can't be swapped back with it—conservation of mass. I think we'll
stay in the 21st century."
....."Yeah, I think."
Paul bit his lip, then remounted his bike and started away.
.....Vicki hurried to catch up.
"And if you're right," she said, pausing for breath, "where
will we wind up?"
....."Probably at Richardson's
nexus—where he threw the switch on his module." A few seconds
later, Paul added, "And we probably won't be harmed—for the
same reason the planes probably didn't crash—avoidance of excessive
....."I'm sorry." Paul
threw her a glance. "It's the best I can theorize at the moment."
.....At their next compass and map
stop, Vicki asked, "What if it doesn't work?"
....."We just go back to the
Isle of Wight. I'm sure Richardson will find a solution." Paul cast
a prayerful glance at the sky, what little he could see of it through
the tree branches. "I'm sure of it."
.....Lowering his eyes from the
canopy, Paul froze. "Uh oh!" Ahead, a compact band of men stood
firm, like truncated oaks among the forest's mighty trees. Most carried
spears, the rest, swords. These were not scared villagers. Catching movements
out of the corners of his eyes, Paul saw more men coming from left and
right. There was no escape. And Paul had no illusions that Vicki's reciting
Beowulf would help.
.....Vicki seemed to understand
that as well. "This is serious," she whispered. "It's a
raiding party. Norwegian or Danish, I'd guess from their clothing."
.....One of the men ventured forward
and barked out some words. They sounded like a command. Then, as the men
began to converge on them, Vicki threw her hand to her forehead and as
her hand came away, a brilliant blue-white light shone out illuminating
the man in front. He froze like a statue.
.....Paul, embarrassed by the slowness
of his reaction, switched on his LED lamp as well. Then, swiveling his
head from side to side, casting a beam over the raiders, he screamed loudly
and gutturally. He bore heavily down on the pedals and felt his bicycle
lurch forward. He could see Vicki leaning on her pedals as well. The men
in front didn't give way—but neither did they move to stop them.
.....Unimpeded, the two bicycles
raced by the men. Only after Paul and Vicki had pedaled furiously for
about five minutes did Paul dare to look behind. He signaled a halt. "Okay.
I think we can rest now."
.....From then on, they rode with
their lights on.
.....A little after midnight, Paul
signaled another halt. He dismounted and eased his bicycle to the ground.
"This, as close as I can tell, is Southampton University." He
gave a soft yet harsh laugh. "The grounds of the University, that
.....Vicki swung off her bike, threw
down her knapsack, and collapsed beside it. "I am really
....."Yeah, me too." Paul
took off his pack. He knelt beside it and brought forth the capsule. Opening
the control panel cover, he moved his hand to a red-colored toggle. "Throwing
this switch should do it." He hesitated, then pulled back his hand.
....."What's the matter?"
said Vicki. "Why didn't you flip it? Don't you think we're close
enough?" Paul turned off his LED lamp so he could look at Vicki without
blinding her. Vicki turned off hers as well.
....."I've been thinking."
Paul gazed at his friend. "I really don't know what might happen.
It could be very dangerous. While I'm willing to risk my life, I'm not
going to risk yours."
....."What are you talking
....."Only one of us is needed
here." Paul reached in his pocket and handed Vicki the map. "You
should go back to the lifeboat and row back to Cowes—or at any rate,
row as far as you can into the Solent. I'm sure some craft will pick you
.....Vicki canted her head. "I
really don't know what you're talking about."
....."Our Southampton might
materialize right on top of us. We could be killed."
....."Do you really think that
....."No," said Paul.
"But it might. I'll stay here and wait as long as I can—until
morning hopefully, maybe longer. Then I'll throw the switch. Whatever
happens, you'll be safe. I want you to be safe."
....."Paul." Vicki hesitated.
"Paul, I'm not going to leave you here."
....."You've got to."
....."Not bloody likely!"
With a quick, sinewy motion, Vicki darted her hand to the capsule and
threw the switch.
....."When will England swap?"
said Wulf, the sound of his voice rousing him from sleep. In his dream,
he'd asked the question of Rudolf. Quickly, he rolled to a sitting position
and, from the crinkling noises of his null-bag, he remembered where he
.....Covered with perspiration,—the
null-bag obviously didn't breathe—Wulf unsealed the bag and stood
naked in the morning light. In the next minute, his sweaty body turned
clammy, and then cold. He grabbed his clothes from his bag, shook them
in the clean, sweet-smelling air and dressed.
.....He knelt at his Koffer to retrieve
his shaver, and then paused. Shaving seemed ridiculous—and pointless
here where no man he'd encountered had been clean-shaven. He shrugged.
Habits are hard to break. He shaved. As he did so, he absently
wondered if his shaver battery was compatible with his Armbandkönig.
Probably not. The shaver has a proprietary acceleration-charging system.
.....He stretched, feeling the elation
he usually did upon emerging from a sleeping bag in the woods. But he
was thirsty and felt the need of a shower. He'd look for a stream to take
care of both needs. He shook out his null-bag, stowed it in his Koffer—and
then realized he'd no idea where he was going next. But then he remembered
the plan he'd hatched while drifting off to sleep; he'd go to that church
or monastery he'd seen earlier. That would be the best place to find Latin
speakers. And, if it was indeed a monastery, he might be able to join
it—or buy his way in. It would be a good place to bide time until
.....Retracing his steps of the
previous day, Wulf climbed the hill forming the northern delineation of
the valley where he'd arrived in this world. From the crest, he could
see that distant Gothic structure—but unlike similar structures
in Göttingen, not imitation Gothic. He estimated he'd be
able to get there by dinnertime—sooner if he didn't have to break
trail all the way. And that reminded him; he felt hungry. He looked hard,
but could see no signs of a village between him and the church. He'd be
starved when he got there. He hoped, as in his own world, there was an
ecclesiastical requirement to feed the hungry.
.....After he'd descended the hill
forming the southern edge of the valley, the path he trod ended. At that
point, he had to break trail, hefting his Koffer over brush and downed
tree limbs. Worse still, he no longer could see the church. There was
a hill ahead—far ahead. He thought, and sincerely hoped, he'd see
the church on the other side of it. He remembered the church was on the
bank of the river he'd seen. And that river ran towards him. That should
make it hard to get truly lost.
.....The day seemed warmer than
the previous. But at some point—Wulf, without his Armbandkönig,
couldn't tell when—it began to rain. He slogged on, his sandals
squeaking with water at every step, and his sun-hat doing little to repel
the rain. He began to shiver and stopped to unpack his null-bag. Then,
with the bag wrapped around his waist like a kilt, he set off again. At
length, he ascended the hill in front of which he'd assumed he'd find
the church. From the summit, he did see it, but the building—a complex
of buildings as he now observed—still lay a couple of kilometers
ahead. He'd no idea how long he'd walked. With the Sun obscured by rain
clouds during his journey, he couldn't even estimate. But the soreness
of his muscles and feet attested to a long trek. But that seemed impossible
considering how small the entire island was. He let out a long breath
and trudged forward dragging his Koffer behind—the wheels had long
since been clogged with wet grass and dirt. But at least the rain had
stopped, leaving in its stead a heavy mist.
.....Finally, soggy, sore and famished,
Wulf arrived at the entranceway, not of the church itself, but of a large,
enclosed field. not unlike the university quadrangle at Göttingen.
A massive, black, iron gate set in the stone arch halted his progress.
By habit, he looked for a pushbutton but of course there wasn't one. But
there was a little bell hung from the peak of the arch with a thin rope
attached to the clapper.
.....Wulf shook the rope, sending
a dull clanging into the foggy air. He waited what seemed a long time
and wondered about ringing the bell again. He didn't. He wouldn't want
to be seen as rude—especially as he came as a supplicant.
.....He sniffled. He seemed to be
catching a cold. And that was strange. Almost nobody caught a cold anymore—nobody
of his age in his world. But here there must be an abundance of bugs lying
in wait for him—bugs he'd have no resistance against. That frightened
him. The mere concept of disease made him uneasy. It was biology and biology
seemed squishy and messy. It was probably one reason he'd taken up physics.
A cold. That's all I need!
.....He saw a figure scurrying toward
the gate from within. The figure wore a brown dress-like garment, which
came almost to the ground. Over that, he—for as the figure approached,
Wulf could tell the gender—wore a cloak with a cowl. When he reached
the gate, Wulf saw that it was just a boy.
....."Ic grete þe, broðor
min," said the Boy. "Ac, hwæt eart þu?"
.....Wulf gave greeting in Latin,
and hoped for the best.
.....The boy looked befuddled for
a moment, but then he responded in a rough, ungrammatical Latin, "Good
evening, my brother. What is it you want?"
.....Wulf smiled at the 'good evening'
part; it was hardly evening, and with the rain and mist, it was far from
good. He said, "I'd like to speak to someone in authority."
.....Again, the boy seemed befuddled.
Apparently the limit of his Latin had been reached.
.....Wulf repeated his request with
.....The boy gave a 'wait right
there' hand motion and ran back to the building from which he'd come.
Wulf smiled; the hand motion, it seemed, had retained its form for at
least a millennium.
.....A few minutes later, the boy
returned at the heels of another man, a much older individual from the
way he moved.
.....Wulf was thrilled to find that
the man spoke a fluent, graceful Latin. Wulf asked if this place was a
....."Indeed it is, my son,"
said the man. "I must say, it is pleasant finding a young traveler
speaking the language of Rome. How may I be of service?"
....."I would like to become
a..."—Wulf couldn't think of the right word in Latin—"a
member of your order."
....."Would you, indeed,"
said the man with a warm smile. He bad the boy open the gate then reached
out his hand. "Well then, come in. Do come in. I'm sure our Abbot
will be happy to speak with you."
.....In a room hung with tapestries,
comfortably small and well appointed, the abbot sat at one side of a table.
Across from him, sat Wulf. Though far from young, the abbot had a firm
and vibrant voice. He explained the ways of the monastery.
the Abbot, "we are a double monastery, for both men and women. Separate
buildings to be sure, but sharing a common church and most important,
a common protective wall." He crossed himself. "From the terror
of the north, dear Lord deliver us."
....."Vikings?" said Wulf.
....."They are our scourge."
His hands clawed the arms of his chair. "But, with our wall and God's
grace, we've prevailed. Besides, the Vikings know they've long since striped
us of anything of value. They no longer waste their time with us."
He leaned forward and with a furtive look, as if trying to keep a secret
from God himself, said, "Here, so far from Rome, our monks are circumspect,
but not necessarily...celibate. And so, our walls embrace men, women,
as well as children—and not only children of the nobles." He
leaned back and regarded Wulf with a stern expression. "But be assured,"
he said, pointing a bony finger, "we have very severe punishments
....."I do understand."
Wulf, though sitting, gave a hint of a Germanic bow. "My own upbringing
has been very strict."
....."Good." The abbot
softened. "You are clearly well-educated. Your Latin is very good,
even though your accent is somewhat foreign. But why would a boy like
you want to become a monk."
....."I may be older than you
.....The abbot laughed. "How
old are you? Eighteen? Nineteen?" The monk, not waiting for an answer
reached for codex on the table, opened it, and flipped through some pages.
.....Wulf wondered if he should
inform the abbot of his actual age. But he would certainly not be believed.
Wulf's friends had long told him that with his blond hair and round face,
he looked young, and would always look young. But not that young.
Wulf, thoughtfully rubbing his chin, considered it might also be due to
the superior razor technology of his era. But most likely, with the long
life expectancy of his time, people even in their youth probably just
aged more slowly.
....."Times are not easy,"
said the abbot pushing the codex forward. Wulf saw that it was a ledger
....."Usually," the abbot
went on, "when a man sends his son to us, he sends also money for
his upkeep—until the son is able to himself support the life of
....."That is only fair."
Wulf took a stack of ingots from his pocket and stacked them in front
of the abbot.
....."Dear God," said
....."I hope this is enough,"
said Wulf earnestly, for he knew neither the value of the gold nor the
price of admission. Of course, he had a great many more ingots in his
Koffer, but he didn't want to come off as ostentatious.
....."Your family has been
most generous." The abbot took a quill and bottle of ink from a shelf.
"But I'm surprised your father is not with you."
....."My father is"—Wulf
wondered how he should phrase it—"is not of this world."
....."Oh, I am sorry."
The abbot did look sorry. "But I'm sure he's in a better place.
....."I would think so,"
said Wulf, trying not to smile.
.....The abbot pulled the ledger
to him and made an entry. "The year of our Lord, 961," he said
as he wrote.
.....Wulf sucked in a breath, drawing
the abbot's attention.
....."The third year in the
reign of Edgar," Wulf stammered, attempting to disguise his shock.
....."Just so. And your full
said Wulf, weakly, "Wulf Schröder."
....."Odd name, if I may say."
.....Wulf, mentally re-running the
experiment, hardly heard him. The experiment must definitely have
transferred me to near the time of the swap. So, in this universe, the
swap must happen not in 1066, but around 961. It must!
.....The abbot made his entry—'Wulf
of Schröder', then looked over at Wulf. "I'll appoint a monk
a few years your senior, Edwin, perhaps, to instruct you in your monastic
duties." He chuckled, good-naturedly. "With your fine Latin,
perhaps we will make a teacher of you. Even with that accent."
....."I might possibly be of
use teaching science."
....."Science?" The abbot
laughed as if he'd been told a truly funny joke. "Science, indeed."
Wulf knew better than to pursue it.
....."I wonder, my noble lord,"—Wulf
didn’t know the proper form of address to one's abbot—"If
it is no trouble, might I perhaps have a small plot for a garden?"
.....The abbot raised his eyebrows.
"I think that might be arranged." He gave an avuncular smile.
"I think it pleasant that a young person such as yourself is interested
in gardening. We must indeed discuss horticulture sometime."
.....The abbot closed the codex
with a slap of finality and pushed himself to his feet. "But come...Wulf,
my boy," he said. "You look as if you've had a long journey.
You must be hungry."
....."Thank you." Wulf
stood and again gave a slight bow. I thought you'd never ask.
.....As they walked to the dining
hall—Wulf could smell the food and it didn't smell bad—he
felt very satisfied with himself. He had achieved his goal of finding
a place of shelter and food—and he'd even be able to grow his batteries.
In a fleeting thought, he wondered what people here did for toilet paper.
He suppressed a smile. He realized he was woefully ignorant of the mechanics
of day-to-day living. He might just as well be from another planet.
.....When he'd first come to the
monastery, Wulf had for months scanned the skies, looking for aircraft.
For the twenty-first century, in contrast to the twenty-second, was the
era of passenger planes. More than once, gazing through a hazy sky, he'd
seen a white brilliance—an aircraft, he'd thought, but only to find
it was Venus or Jupiter.
.....Wulf had returned to his original
belief that the transition would have to happen no later than 1066, the
year of the original swap. That faith had kept him alive, or at least
sane. As for the faith he was supposed to profess as a monastic
monk, that was another matter. He'd come here at age thirty-one. And now
at forty-one, he'd grown accustom to the daily prayers, services, the
required copying of religious manuscripts, the toiling in the fields,
the rituals of obedience, the petitioning for absolution for real or imagined
transgressions. He'd grown to appreciate the monastery for the trappings
of a belief system. But as to his actual beliefs, he never thought about
.....Now, standing, looking out
the window of his chamber in the Hall of the Wizards, Wulf remembered
his first year: the struggle to learn the language, the months of being
constantly ill as tenth century viruses cruised his non-resistant blood
stream, the constant striving and pressure to fit in. And tomorrow, the
tenth anniversary of his joining the monastery, despite his protestations,
there would be a celebration in his honor.
.....In the beginning, many were
suspicious of him. Some thought him a creature of the devil because of
his odd ways and his strange garden that bore no fruit or vegetables.
But when, in the early spring of the following year, the Vikings attacked,
he drove them away, almost single-handedly with the aid of his Armbandkönig
and a wooden staff hiding another miniaturized wonder of technology. Was
it any wonder that the monks, seeing their salvation leap from his wrist
and staff, should think him a wizard? Yes, he had tried to convince the
abbot he was no wizard, but the man would have none of this 'false modesty'.
.....In deep recollection, Wulf
rubbed his hand along the stone windowsill. It was the abbot who'd ordered
the 'Hall of the Wizards' built. Wizards plural. Wulf smiled as he remembered
the abbot exhorting him to bring more of his kind to come for the eternal
defense of God and the monastery. When told there were no more
of his kind, the abbot suggested with the strength of an order, that he
marry and have lots of wizard children.
.....And he did marry. Gingerly,
Wulf rummaged through the bittersweet memories. He'd fallen in love with
a laywoman of the convent and the new Wizards Hall was the place they
called home—a happy home until she had died while bearing their
fifth child. Wulf winced at the memory. But even then, he knew it was
a pain he'd have to get used to. With an expected life span of four or
five times what was usual for the times, he'd no doubt have many such
loses to bear.
.....Wulf raised his chalk to his
improvised blackboard. The texture of the chalk and its smell as it scraped
the board always reminded him of his previous life as an academic. Chalk
is the true scent of theoretical physics. He had tried every day
to do some physics, to assure himself he still knew how.
.....Hearing Dolfy at play with
a friend, Wulf turned to the window. Soon he would begin teaching physics
to his children. He looked forward to it—particularly to teaching
Dolfy, his elder son named for his old physics collaborator. I wish
the abbot had permitted me set up a school for teaching science.
But he could teach Dolfy—in secret, in German. Wulf had always talked
in German to his children, to try to keep his mother tongue alive. And
German was safe; the abbot thought that German was a special language
for wizards. Wulf sighed. Unfortunately, Dolfy thought so too.
....."When I grow up, I want
to be a great wizard like my dad." Wulf smiled, hearing Dolfy outside
chatting with a friend. Wulf thought it was Harold, another eight-year-old.
....."And then," Rudolf
went on, "I'll turn anyone I don't like into frogs. And then I'll
feed the frogs to the dogs. Or I'll cook them and eat them. And then No
one'll ever tease me again."—Wulf raised his eyebrows.
....."I'm sort of scared of
your dad," Wulf heard Harold say. "He might turn me
into a frog."
.....Wulf tensed. Somehow, he'd
have to put a stop to people believing he had that sort of power.
....."Yeah, he might do that,"
said Rudolf. "I've seen him do that sort of stuff."
.....What? I must have a very serious
talk with Dolfy.
....."Really?" said Harold,
a fearful fascination in his voice. "You've seen it?"
....."Sure, lots of times,"
said Rudolf with an air of casual indifference. "And I can do some
magic myself. But I'm not allowed to."
.....Wulf knew people thought badly
of him for 'sparing the rod'. Maybe they were right.
....."Come on," said Harold.
"I don't believe you."
.....Ah. The voice of reason.
....."I live in the wizard's
hall," said Rudolf. "Of course I can do magic."
.....That does it! Wulf slapped
down his chalk and rushed outside.
....."Hello, Mister Schröder,
sir," said Harold as Wulf approached. The boy appeared a little awestruck.
Wulf did a snap mental comparison of his son to his friend. Dolfy was
eight, but next to Harold, he looked six. The different aging rates,
no doubt. Wulf gave a theatrical. "I think Harold, it would
be good if you went home now." He turned to his son. "Rudolf
and I need to have a talk." Wulf could see Dolfy stiffen at the use
of his real name.
....."Yes, sir." Harold
....."What you told Harold
wasn't entirely true, was it?" said Wulf when Harold had gone.
.....Dolfy cast his eyes down.
....."Well?" Wulf insisted.
....."Well maybe I can't do
magic yet," said Dolfy with some defiance—a trait that Wulf
secretly admired in his son. "But you are a great wizard."
....."I am not a wizard,"
said Wulf with some heat. "Magic is not science."
....."But you can do things
that no one else in the monastery can do."
....."People where I'm from
do it all the time."
....."Then they're wizards
too," said Dolfy. "And German. That's not a real language for
talking. It's only for wizards."
....."It is a real
language," Wulf insisted. "And it is the language of science."
....."Scientists know how things
work, don't they?" said Dolfy.
....."Yes," said Wulf
tentatively, puzzled by this new direction.
.....Dolfy pointed to Wulf's wrist.
"Your Armbandkönig," said the boy. "How does it work?"
.....Wulf chuckled. "I'm a
physicist. I sort of understand how the universe works. But modern electronics?"
He shook his head.
....."It's magic," said
Dolfy, brightly. "You are a wizard. You must be."
.....Wulf blew out a long breath.
"I suppose in a matter of speaking, I am." Wulf gave it up.
Dolfy had won.
.....In his laboratory, which still
seemed primitive to him after all these years, Wulf closed the lid of
the reliquary with a slam of finality. For months, he'd worked on his
idea of using quantum linear superposition theory to send a message through
time and multiple worlds to his old friend Rudolf. 1066 was still half
a century away but there was a possibility, a minuscule but theoretical
possibility, that Rudolf could hasten the time of appearance of twenty-first
century England. And it gave Wulf something to do—something that
let him think he was still the scientist he'd once been.
.....He'd taken a reliquary, a box
intended to hold sacred relics, and modified it. In a fit of enthusiasm,
he'd had the legend, Tide Gemære, Time's Boundary, engraved on its
lid. And he'd replaced the chased silver braid ornamentation with a pattern
that was, in truth, a resonant antenna tuned at the aftershock frequency
of his original time transition. And with the microelectronics from his
previous world embedded in it, Wulf thought the reliquary might itself
return to his world.
.....Wulf shook his head. It was
time to give up childish dreams. With a heavy sigh, Wulf stowed the reliquary
on a shelf; perhaps he'd use it as a time capsule for his memoirs should
he ever choose to write them. But now he had another task to attend to—his
first meeting with the new abbot. And after that, he had a class to teach.
.....The abbot's residence smelled
sweet, like the chapel—as if incense had been recently been burned.
And despite the windows admitting the sunlight, the place was dark—dark
with a black oak desk, dark ponderous chairs, faded religious wall hangings.
.....The abbot, a thin and tall
man of about forty-five, welcomed Wulf with great courtesy and perhaps
a little awe. "Überhexenmeister Schröder,"
he said in a sonorous voice, "how good of you to visit us."
He smiled. "How may we be of service?" he added in a graceful,
cultured Latin. Wulf was both impressed and chagrinned. The abbot was
aware of the title he'd been known by among the German-speakers. Despite
Wulf's disapproval, they had styled themselves Hexenmeister,
wizards, and had bestowed the honorific Überhexenmeister, over-wizard,
on Wulf himself.
....."Father Abbot," said
Wulf with a bow. "You are most kind." Wulf raised his issue
without further preamble. "If it would please you, Your Grace, I
ask that I may be allowed to teach science in our school."
.....Again, the abbot smiled. But
despite his smile, he said, "It would not please me."
.....This came as a shock. Wulf
....."I will not countenance
you teaching something as useless as science," said the abbot, his
tone abruptly serious. "Our students, with all their other duties,
can only learn so much."
.....Wulf began to frame a counter-argument,
but the abbot cut him off. "However," said the abbot raising
a finger as if gauging the direction of the wind, "I would allow
the teaching of God's Magic."
....."God's Magic?" said
....."That which you teach
.....The abbot smiled. "Don't
deny it. I know you are training them to be wizards like yourself."
The finger this time pointed at Wulf. "Oh, I know what you teach
them in that tongue you call German—a language that is by no means
spoken in Germania."
created a phrase on the fly—"I teach them Magic Science."
....."Just so," said the
abbot. "I assume you are raising a host of wizards for the defense
of our monastery."
....."Your grace," said
Wulf, "I assure you that—"
.....The abbot waved him quiet.
"Fear not. I know of your long and great service to our monastery
and our Lord—your repelling the scourge from the north, your teaching
of Latin to the laity, your love of horticulture." He leaned forward
at his desk. "And although you look not much older than a boy, I
know your age. You have the attributes of Methuselah—the purity
and lifespan that graced people who lived long before the flood. You are
indeed God's magician." He gave a dismissive wave of the hand. "If
you want to call your teachings Magic Science, fine. Call it what you
wish." Wulf realized it was more than a dismissive wave; it was a
wave of dismissal. "Thank you Father Abbot," he said with another
bow. Wulf backed out of the abbot's presence.
.....Feeling the need to do some
'Magic Science' teaching, he strolled toward the classroom; he'd relieve
Dolphy early today. As he walked, he replayed his meeting with the Abbot.
Although magic again triumphed over science, Wulf realized that in a way,
he had triumphed as well. He'd been permitted to teach his 'magic science'—and
to teach it in German so none but the teachers and the taught would know
the actual subject of the instruction. He smiled. And who is to say
that the Schrödinger wave equation is not magic?
.....At the door of his classroom,
he blew out a breath. What he really wanted was a true academy—not
this one-room schoolhouse where all ages and levels were thrown together.
And he was tired of bowing and scraping. He was sixty-three, no mere youth
.....He stepped inside and was immediately
faced with a minor insurrection. Three of the younger students, boys,
two of his own and the other Rudolf's, stood resolutely side-by-side.
.....Wulf paced to the front of
the room of nine students, all Schröders—a male non-wizard
marrying a wizard took the wizard's name. Wulf cast an inquisitorial gaze
....."They say they want to
learn more than just science and mathematics," said Rudolf in a bewildered
voice. "Actually, they say they want to be taught less science
....."What?" Wulf practically
bellowed. He turned on the students. "Explain!"
.....The boys exchanged glances.
Then Kierulf, Wulf's youngest son, said with a quavering voice, "We
don't see why we have to learn all this stuff. It's not important. Not
to us." He looked to the other boys for support, then continued.
"When I grow up, I want to be a calligrapher."
Wulf threw up his hands. "A calligrapher," he repeated in disbelief.
He took a step toward Kierulf and the boy took a half step backwards.
"Soon, there will be machines," said Wulf. "Machines called
printing presses. Books will be as common as grass. And there will be
sheets called newspapers. So numerous that they'll be thrown in the streets
and trampled on. And there will be machines making cheap paper."
He cast a glance to the ceiling. "Calligrapher?" He stared back
at Kierulf. "Calligraphy will be useless."
....."You keep telling me about
these machines," said Kierulf, petulantly. "But where are they?"
.....Wulf gasped. His son had as
much as called him a liar.
.....With some satisfaction, he
watched the boys fidget under his gaze. Calligraphers, monks, potters,
shepherds—maybe. But they'll none-the-less be able to solve the
general relativity field equations with spherical symmetry and the Schrödinger
wave equation for the hydrogen atom. I'll see to that.
....."You must study science
and mathematics," said Wulf, firmly.
....."We don't want to,"
said Kierulf, his eyes filled with both fear and defiance. "And we
.....While a small part of Wulf's
consciousness admired his child's courage, a far larger part didn't. He
took it as a personal defeat—the medieval age triumphant. He looked
away toward the window, drawn by the light—and his glance fell on
a peg near the window supporting a two-foot long rod by a leather loop.
The rod had been there as long as Wulf could remember; it seemed a part
of the architecture.
.....Wulf had never administered
corporal punishment. But now, after a quick glance at Kierulf, he strode
to the window. Children today have it far too easy. There is something
to be said for the good old days. He pulled down the rod and strode
.....Each evening, the comet grew
ever brighter in the sky. And each evening, Wulf first took it for an
omen before remembering and chastising himself. This night was no different.
....."Omens," he said
aloud, even though alone. "I'm a scientist. I must remember that."
Standing on the parapet of the Hall of the Wizards and leaning on his
staff, he studied the sky with a feeling of disquiet; the comet shone
with unnatural brightness. This was the year of the Norman Conquest. Although
he knew very little history and liked it even less, he did know 1066.
He had no idea if there'd been a bright comet around the time of the invasion
and for the first time since he'd arrived in this universe, he wished
he had a history module in his Armbandkönig. As for England swapping
to the twenty-first century, Wulf had grown to believe that in this universe,
the swap didn't happen and wouldn't happen.
.....Gazing at the hazy brilliance,
thoughtfully he rubbed a hand across his face, encountering his beard—a
long beard, befitting a man of one hundred and thirty six years. He smiled
with the realization that now he doubtless looked the part of a medieval
magician. Methuselah. Consciously, he shifted his weight from
his staff. But I'm not old. Not really. The long, intricately
carved, ash pole, filled as it was with nano-electronics and batteries,
was less a device of defense and more a staff of office now—and
a crutch, an aid to walking. He stood erect. No. A crutch of convenience,
.....He lowered his eyes from the
heavens as Überhexenmeister Erik Schröder, came through
the door from the high hall and joined him.
....."Good evening, Herr
Hochüberhexenmeister," said Erik in German, the secret
and exclusive language of the wizards.
....."Good evening, Überhexenmeister."
Wulf disliked these titles; his children and children's children were
called Überhexenmeister and he was the Hochüberhexenmeister,
the high-overwizard. All other of his descendents were simply Hexenmeister.
Childishness. He noticed that Erik seemed uneasy. "What
is it, Erik? I won't bite you."
....."I've just come from the
Father Abbot. And...and he commands you to come to him immediately."
....."That's what he said,
....."Ach," said Wulf,
regaining his temper. Erik wasn't to blame that the current abbot was
an idiot. "I'm sorry I barked at you. But our Reverend Father Abbot
should learn to ask and not simply demand."
....."He has a visitor who
wants to see you."
....."A visitor? To see me?"
Wulf wrinkled his eyes in puzzlement.
....."I don't know who he is,"
said Erik. "He looks like a Norman knight."
....."Indeed?" Wulf looked
out from the parapet to the Abbot's residence away and below. Candles
flickered brightly from the unshuttered windows. "Yes. It does seem
our abbot has an important guest—by the look of it, at least a ten-candle
visitor." He thumped his staff on the ground. "I am curious
what he wants. I will meet with him. Odd that he came at night."
....."Do you wish me to accompany
....."Thank you, but I can
manage." Wishing people would stop offering him help when he didn't
need it, Wulf turned and started toward the door to the Great Hall. As
he walked, he lamented the frailty of human life and its brevity. Yet
he had no cause for complaint—he, with an expected lifespan of four
times that of people of this century. But he wasn't about to become old
without a fight. He quickened his step and strode into the Abbot's residence.
And I'm more fit than that fat abbot.
.....The abbot didn't rise to greet
him, but the visitor did. From his chair, the abbot made introductions.
....."My lord, this is Wulf
of Schröder." Then, almost as an afterthought, he said. "And
Wulf, this is Duke William's trusted comrade, William Fitz Osbern."
.....William Fitz Osbern made pleasant
greeting, then turned to the sitting abbot. "If you would be so kind
as to leave us."
.....The abbot, looking as if he
were struggling to comprehend the language, raised his eyebrows and seemed
to be about to object. But then he issued an obsequious smile. "Of
course, my Lord." He struggled to his feet and started to reach out
to enfold William's hand in his own—a sign of friendship and respect.
But William kept his own hand at his side. The abbot, his arm already
half extended, pointed a finger at Wulf. "I shall be in the chapel
at prayer," he said in an imperious voice. Then he strutted from
.....When the man had gone, William
took the abbot's chair and indicated that Wulf should sit in the chair
he'd just vacated. Without comment, Wulf did so, laying his staff across
....."I have come to ask your
help," said William. He spoke Norman French—in a manner that
suggested he expected everyone to be proficient in the language. Indeed,
many in the church and the nobility already were able to speak it, although
for the most part not very well. Wulf though, knowing what was to come,
had studied the language well and was proud of his mastery.
....."My help?" Wulf gave
the answer tradition required. "I am a mere, humble monk—obedient
to my abbot."
....."Don't talk nonsense!"
William pounded a fist against an armrest, then pointed at Wulf. "I
that know you and your... your magicians run this monastery."
.....Wulf hunched his shoulders
and bent to exhibit an attitude of self-deprecation, but William would
have none of it. "No false modesty, please. The abbot, as much as
he may think otherwise, is just a figurehead." He coughed a harsh
chuckle. "A mere figurehead, albeit not particularly humble."
.....Wulf gave a touch of a nod.
....."I'm here on a delicate
mission," said William, "relating to...." With elbows on
the chair's armrests, he brought his hands together almost as if in prayer.
Wulf with a hint of a smile, "to Duke William's invasion of Sussex,
I assume." Wulf didn't remember much about the Norman Conquest, but
he did remember that.
.....William snapped alert. "You
are remarkably well informed." He stood, as if taking command of
the situation. Again, he pointed a finger at the seated Wulf. "And
you and your wizards, so called, will be part of that invasion."
.....Wulf inwardly bristled at the
assumption, but was more interested in another part of William's statement.
"So called wizards, you said." Wulf wrapped his fingers around
his staff. "Am I to assume you question our abilities?"
....."Question, no," said
William with a laugh. "I don't believe in magic one little bit."
.....Wulf laughed as well. "Neither
do I."—William raised his eyebrows—"What we achieve,
we achieve by science."
....."Yes, yes," said
William dismissively. "Of course you do."
....."If you don't believe
we have any...any powers, in what way can we help you?"
....."The English are a very
superstitious people." Again, William sat. "If they thought
you and your wizards have joined us...." He spread his hands. "Your
wizardly visage is the weapon of fear."
....."Ah, I see. But being
English ourselves," said Wulf stretching the truth, "why should
we help you."
....."Because," said William
with a smile, "I am asking you nicely."
....."Should you oppose us,"
said William with an open, easy smile, "we just might decide to burn
your monastery to the ground and lay waste your fields."
....."An offence against God,
....."Perhaps not," said
William. "You are known as God's Magicians—but God and magic
is an awkward partnership." He shrugged. "I should think it
wouldn't take much to convince people that you are instead, the devil's
magicians." He gave a tight smile. "This is all highly speculative.
But of course you will join us. I'm sure you agree that Duke William's
claim on the throne is just."
.....Wulf admired William's skill.
The man was a born politician. He'd given Wulf an easy way to accept without
losing face. And Wulf knew that the Normans would be victorious and there
was no harm on being on the winning side. It could bring advantage to
....."Yes," said Wulf,
rising to his feet. "Duke William is the rightful king. We wizards
will join your cause." He thumped his staff to the floor for emphasis.
....."May I ask," said
Wulf. "Why did you come here at night to propose this? Surely you
don't wish to keep our involvement a secret."
.....William chuckled, a sinister
self-satisfied sound, thought Wulf. "No. But the news that the wizards
have joined Duke William and support his cause is an asset—to be
released at the most useful time."
.....Again, Wulf was impressed.
The man knew how to manipulate people. That was sure.
.....William Fitz Osbern shifted
in his chair. "And of course," he said, matter-of-factly, "I
had some other business to attend to on the island."
.....Wulf understood the subtext;
he was not to think he and his wizards were so important that William
would make a special trip on their account.
.....Wulf again sat. "So,"
he said, facing William, "what form do you wish our support to take?"
....."Your wizards will to
need set off for Shamblord by dawn tomorrow," said William as if
it were the simplest thing in the world. "A ship awaits you there—to
transport you to Pevensey, where Duke William's forces are assembling."
He leaned forward with an expectant expression. "How many strong
will your wizards be?"
.....Wulf stroked his beard. "About
forty, I should think." He remembered his long walk from Shamblord
those many years ago, before he knew the town had a name other than Cowes.
....."It is required, I'm afraid,"
said William in a conciliatory tone. "Of course, I can provide a
horse for you."
....."I am not infirmed,"
said Wulf in suppressed anger. "I will walk with my people."
.....Again, Wulf felt outmaneuvered.
"And from Pevensey," he said, trying to impress, "I assume
we proceed to Hasting."
.....William, looking truly astonished,
raised his eyebrows. "If you continue to surprise me this way,"
he said, "I may to need reassess my disbelief in magical powers."
He stood, bringing the meeting to a close.
.....Leaving the Abbot's residence,
Wulf walked toward the chapel, intending to let the abbot know he could
end his prayers and return to his chambers. But then, he changed his mind.
"Let him pray himself hoarse, for all I care," he said aloud.
He turned toward the Great Hall of the Wizards. And anyway, who am
I to interrupt a private conversation with God.
.....The sky in the east glowed
red while in the west, the stars still shone crystalline white against
a lightening cobalt. The wizards, in a line, walked from the Great Hall
to the gate set in the wall that enfolded the monastery.
.....At the rear of the line, wizards
in training carried supplies for the trip on their backs: clothing, food
and, by tradition, devotional texts, their weight being more a penance
than a source of spiritual guidance. One monk pulled Wulf's Folgenkoffer
as a common small wagon, its advanced construction obscured by age and
.....Wulf glanced at the Folgenkoffer;
he hadn't activated it in years—not even as a play wagon for the
great-grandchildren. Perhaps at Pevensey he would activate it, if only
to confound William Fitz Osbern—assuming the man even deigned to
greet them on their arrival.
.....Passing through the gate, the
wizards walked in ones and twos as the narrow dirt path required. Wulf
led the way with Rudolf's youngest son, Erik, at his side.
As they pressed on, Wulf could sense that some thought his pace too slow,
especially the younger wizards, a few of whom were merely children. But
they must learn that in a group, wizards process at a stately walk, not
a chaotic rout.
.....By lunchtime, Wulf had begun
to entertain second thoughts about William Fitz Osbern's offer of a horse.
He was hot and his feet hurt.
.....Sitting on the grass by the
side of the road resting and eating a traveler's lunch, he contemplated
the landscape, fresh and brilliant in early bloom. He plucked a flower—blue,
monk's hood, probably, but he was never very good at identifying flora.
He brought it to his nose and smiled, remembering when he'd first traveled
to the monastery so many years ago. He wondered if the flowers had really
looked as vibrant or smelled as sweet as he'd remembered. Had memory enhanced
their qualities, or were his senses dimming with age? He blew out a breath,
shook his head, and threw down his flower. I am not old!
.....With the help of his staff,
Wulf struggled to his feet. Then, with a conspicuous show of energy, he
rallied his wizards and set off alone down the road. Let them catch up
to him when they could.
.....The weather had shifted from
clear to overcast by the time the wizards had reached the hill overlooking
.....The wizards snaked down the
hill and into the village, then through it to the waterfront. There, Wulf
saw a single ship dwarfing a number of small boats on either side. The
craft, a single-sailed vessel closely resembling a Viking dragon ship
or a merchant knörr cargo ship, was the focus of a hub of
activity. Men hauled aboard bushels of what looked like forage. Others
stowed provisions clearly not meant not for animals: salted fish and meats,
barrels of drink, baked goods bought from vendors on the dock.
.....Squawking Gulls and Fulmars
swooped from water to deck and back, fishing and stealing whatever they
could. A small group of men, farriers by the look of them, carried blacksmithing
.....The wizards, observing the
scene, closed from a sinuous line to an assemblage at the periphery.
....."This looks more like
a provisioning boat for beasts of burden than a ship for magician monks,"
said Erik. "Unless they expect us to eat oats."
.....Wulf nodded, then pointed to
a man at the center of activity—clearly the master of the vessel.
"Wait here. I will go speak with him."
.....As Wulf grew close, the man
looked his way. "Ah," said the man, "our wizards have arrived.
I'm Hugh. I command this vessel." He gave a slight bow—Wulf
appreciated the gesture of respect.
.....But then Hugh said, "You're
late. We were about to set off without you."
....."Without us?" said
Wulf in confusion. That made no sense. His wizards were the reason for
.....Just then, two of the men loading
the ship dropped a barrel, splintering it and drenching the deck with
a liquid, mead by its smell. While Hugh yelled at them, Wulf scanned the
ship and saw that it was full to the gunwales with forage. And, from their
tools, Wulf saw that the blacksmiths were indeed farriers—specialists
in caring for horses' feet. I wish someone would care for my own feet.
But then Wulf understood. William the Conqueror relied on mounted knights.
So the ship's main function must be to provide for horses—and wizards
were no doubt an afterthought. Wulf clenched a fist as he comprehended
that William Fitz Osbern did indeed have 'some other business on the island'.
Wulf, offended at being housed with horses, considered turning around
and returning to the monastery—but that would surely provoke a Norman
retribution—and he was too tired at the moment to undertake the
.....Hugh turned back to him. "Well,
you are here now. It's best you board. We sail with the tide—in
about an hour, if I read the sea correctly. The weather's turning against
us, but we'll be fine."
.....Wulf nodded, then turned and
called to the others to follow him onboard.
.....The ship, under sail and oars,
plied east on the Solent, then proceeded in rough water up the southeast
coast of England.
.....Wulf, feeling vertigo and nausea
from the rolling of the ship, pressed himself hard against a large sack
of grain and kept his eyes fixed on the featureless sea. Closing his eyes
just made him feel worse. In his youth, he had loved the sea—although
at the moment he could not understand why.
.....Before long, the sea became
less featureless; Wulf observed in the distance, what looked like little
clouds upon the water—a multitude of cloudlets.
....."What do you make of that?"
he asked Erik, still at his side.
....."I think they're sails,"
said Erik, squinting into the briny spray. "But that's impossible.
There would have to be hundreds of ships out there."
.....Wulf nodded, excitement growing
within him in spite of himself. "Duke William's fleet," he said
almost with reverence. This was history and he was part of it—and
not just as an observer. He was a participant in the Norman Conquest.
.....The sails grew larger and Wulf
could see the prows of the ships of the fleet—the Viking inspired
carved figures dancing in the water. The wizards as a whole seemed transfixed
by the spectacle. Their horse provisioning craft merged with the armada
and took a place in the most forward group of ships. Wulf speculated that
William Fitz Osbern had ordered that the wizards deploy with the first
wave of Normans breaching the shore. He had said that the wizards' power
was in their visage. No doubt he wanted the superstitious English to know
fear before the first arrow was loosed or the first lance set. And that,
of course, was why they journeyed on a longship with its shallow twenty
inch draft, rather than a slower knörr cargo ship.
.....Wulf saw land ahead—at
first, not clearly, as the overcast had turned to a light mist.
....."What is that?"
Erik pointed to the shore where loomed a formidable castle against the
grey sky. Peering through something of a fog, Wulf could discern that
some of the castle seemed to lay in ruin—as if victim to a great
battle, but not a recent one. But then, the castle, strangely, did not
stand overlooking the sea, but instead looked to be about a mile distant.
....."I don't understand this,"
said Wulf. "I don't know of this castle. This is the Pevensey shore,
isn't it? Or have we become lost?" Ahead, in the ships closer to
shore, Wulf could see some of Duke William's knights pointing at the castle
and looking at each other in astonishment.
....."Damn this weather,"
.....Then, from behind him, Wulf
heard one of the younger wizards call out, "That bird. Is that a
cormorant?" By reflex, Wulf looked first back at the wizard and then
up to where he pointed. The movement brought back his vertigo and he gripped
a gunwale to keep from falling. He gasped, his fingers clawing at the
wood. For it was no cormorant but instead an archaic aircraft.
.....Wulf felt a shock, as if his
mind had cleaved in two—leaving a brace of men, one of the eleventh
century and one of the twenty-second, to uneasily share a common body.
That twenty-second century being saw the aircraft as archaic while the
other couldn't comprehend it at all.
came Erik's voice, seemingly from a long way off. "What is wrong?
Are you all right?"
....."Fine, fine," Wulf
managed, needing time to think, time to adjust.
....."It's not a bird,"
came a young monk's distant voice. "It must be a kite. A really big
.....Wulf breathed heavily as a
flurry of thoughts flashed through his mind; he'd been waiting for twenty-first-century
England for years—generations. And now here it was. But I've
built a very good life for myself on the Isle of Wight. He knew though,
that his eleventh century was about to become very different. He'd not
be able to preserve that way of life, even if he wanted to. And maybe
he did want to. He didn't know what he wanted.
....."No," came another
voice. "Can't be. Who would fly a kite in this weather?"
.....Wulf wondered what would be
best for his wizards—his children, his grand and great grandchildren.
He thought of his original master plan: his desire, his pitiable idea,
to be the finest theoretical physicist in this world. He sighed. Physics
is a young man's game. With sadness, he let loose of that long-held
....."Well, if it's not a kite,
what is it?"
....."But," thought Wulf,
invigorated now by remembrance,"there is a good side of it—a
very good side." He'd gained his long life through genetics, but
perhaps now he could attend to the aches and pains that accompanied it
with modern medicine—or what passed for it in the twenty-first century.
....."It looks like—like
a thing of sorcery."
.....Wulf salivated at the thought
of a modern world with global victuals; for over a century now, he'd dreamt
of the taste of chocolate. And, he realized, he was sick to death of lyre
music—and that went for panpipe, crwth and monochord music as well.
What he needed was a good, loud symphony orchestra: Beethoven, Wagner,
Sibelius, Gottfried. He had grown up during the Great Classical Revival,
and those composers had been part of his life. Suddenly, he missed them
....."Dearest God!" came
a wizard's voice. "On the shore. They look like metal houses on wheels."
.....For Wulf, things were moving
much too fast. The immediate question though, was what should his wizards
do? He'd thrown in his lot with history's winning side. But that was before.
It was absurd to think a band of armed Norman knights could take over
twenty-first century England, or even be taken seriously by the English.
.....He dug his fingernails into
the wood planking of the inadequate vessel. He'd do what duty demanded.
Stand with Duke William—even if it meant virtual suicide. He had
given his word of support. That had not changed.
....."This must... this must
be the wizard prophesy fulfilled," came a bewildered young voice.
.....Wulf felt the eyes of his wizards
on him. He thought fast. Maybe he could gain control over this future.
The aircraft was clearly from the twenty-first century, if not the twentieth.
And his wizard technology was still a hundred years ahead. Maybe he could
come up with something. Maybe.
....."Erik", said Wulf,
softly, "we have a problem."
.....Erik, his eyes on the strange
mechanical contrivances dotting the shoreline, said, "I know."
.....As soon as Vicki had thrown
the switch, the capsule emitted a whirring sound, the same sound as Paul
had heard over the phone when Richardson activated his device.
.....Then, suddenly, water and darkness.
Paul gurgling water, felt himself sink. He pawed upward but the weight
of his clothing and shoes dragged him down. He felt one foot contact a
complex of hard, rod-like structures—My bicycle! He let
his legs fold under him, then sprang up with all his strength, expelling
the last of his air with the exertion.
.....He pawed the water above, felt
his body slide upward and, after a few agonizing seconds, his head broke
the surface. He coughed out water and took a frantic breath before sinking
again. Rolling into a ball, he yanked off his shoes and again fought for
the surface. His ears cleared and he heard splashes to his left as his
head cleared the water.
....."Vicki," he gasped.
"Is that you?" He blew out some more water. "Are you okay?"
....."I'm okay," came
a labored voice.
.....Through water-blurred eyes,
Paul saw a glowing redness in the distance. Treading water, he shook his
head and blinked a few times to clear his vision. The red glow resolved
into a word: EXIT.
.....The swimming pool! Paul stroked
toward the sign and heard Vicki following behind. Then, his eyes adjusting
to the dim illumination of a starry night sifting in through the windows,
he saw her overtake him. She climbed out of the pool at a metal ladder
and Paul, following, became engulfed in the torrent of water spilling
from her clothes.
....."We did it!" shouted
Paul when he'd emerged from the pool. He raised his hands in victory.
"We've brought Britain back!"
....."I am so glad to be back
in this building," said Vicki, "chlorine smell and all."
She laughed, then pointed to a towel hamper. "Come on. Let's dry
off. I'm starting to shiver." She darted to the hamper, pulled out
two towels, and tossed one to Paul. As Vicki toweled herself down, clothes
and all, she absently gazed out the window, upward, toward the sky—then
....."What's the matter?"
Paul joined her near the window and followed her gaze. "What do....
Geez! What's that? It looks like a comet. My god, it's almost as bright
as the moon." He furrowed his forehead in puzzlement. "I didn't
know of any comets coming. Certainly not a comet like this." He looked
at the diffuse fiery brightness with its ghostly arced tail. "This
....."When beggars die,
there are no comets seen," Vicki whispered, her face showing
fear. "The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."
said Vicki, still at a whisper.
....."No. Can't be. Halley's
Comet isn't due again for years. And Halley's hasn't been this bright
....."It was very bright just
before the Battle of Hastings." Vicki broke her gaze from the comet
and looked, wide-eyed at Paul. "1066. It was taken as a portent for
William the Conqueror."
....."Wait a minute. Are you...."
Suddenly the truth and significance of Vicki's words registered. The capsule
hadn't pulled modern Britain back from the age of the Anglo-Saxons, but
had instead hurtled them into that very Britain—the twenty-first
century kingdom in an eleventh century world. He staggered, leaning for
support against the glass wall of the Sports Centre. Vicki had her world
back, but his—everything he knew: his family, friends, Harvard,
Boston, the United States, everything but England—gone. He was an
orphan. Everyone who was really important to him lived in another universe.
.....Vicki touched his arm. "I'm
so sad for you. Your family—"
....."Only my mother. My father
died when I was a baby."
....."I'm sorry." Vicki
glanced back at the comet. "I'm sure your Dr. Richardson will know
what to do."
.....Paul, too upset to speak more,
nodded. He was angry: angry at the universe, both of them; angry with
himself; angry at Dr. Richardson; and even angry at William the Conqueror.
When that bastard William sets foot on England, he's going to be in
for one nasty shock. Finally, Paul found his voice. "Come on,"
he said, "Let's go find Professor Richardson." He bit his lip.
Richardson damn well better 'have something of an idea'.