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Miss. Princott’s Time Travel Agency by Barbara Russell - Twist in Time Literary Magazine
Auckland, present day. The door of the time chamber opened with a hiss, and I staggered out, my head spinning. Next to me, my client, Mr. Torvalds, exited and beamed. His eyes twinkled under bushy gray eyebrows. “That was something, wasn’t it?” Yeah, something awful. Who would enjoy running from peasants wielding pitchforks on the streets of Paris during the Storming of the Bastille? Only a history professor. He clapped my shoulder. “I have a lot of data to process. My research project on the French Revolution is going to be a success. Thanks, Priscilla. Your agency is the best.” Because it’s the only time travel agency. “Th-thanks.” I wiped my sweaty hands on my skirt and escorted Mr. Torvalds to the exit as he hummed La Marsellaise. I removed my voluminous wig and tossed it in a corner. Wearing my modern clothes again would be a relief. This bloody eighteenth century gown with all those layers, skirts, and frilly laces weighed a ton. “Goodbye.” Mr. Torvalds waved. “See you soon for my next trip, the days of the Reign of Terror.” Horrible. “Lovely.” I groaned. Why couldn’t I have a client who wanted to see the Beatles’ first concert or Henry VIII’s third wedding? I shouldn’t complain. Chronos, my agency, was doing great. I straightened, stepped into the main room, and smiled. The twenty wooden desks were all busy with one or two clients each. My agents smiled, nodded, and listened to our customers with politeness and competence, exactly as I’d trained them to do. Wide floor-to-ceiling windows let the sunlight in, brightening the pink-salmon walls. Pots with yellow lilies and red tulips added a further touch of color. My chest swelled with pride… as much as the stupid corset allowed. At barely thirty years old, I was one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Auckland, getting richer than Bill Gates. The indigo carpet with silver stars muffled the sound of my heels as I strolled toward my office in a swish of silk. I grinned at a man who was buying a trip during the first North Pole crossing with Amundsen and shivered. Going back in time to experience that? No thanks. The sound of the phone ringing and emails pinging echoed in the wide room. Music to my ears. I stopped in front of the shelves to straighten a brochure on Rome. Watch the real gladiators fighting in the arena, a bright red caption read. Not my thing. I adjusted a long blonde tendril that had escaped from my bun and opened the door to my office. The front door bell chimed, and a man walked in. He gazed around, blinking at the crowd. Messy brown hair fell over his eyes and cheeks. Shabby clothes, worn leather bag tucked under his arm, moccasins with a hole on the tip—I knew the type. A scientist. I swallowed hard, checking if any position was free. No luck. My agents were all busy. Now I almost regretted how full the agency was. Perhaps I could just steer him into the waiting area and let him stay there. I cleared my throat and sauntered over. “Good morning. I’m Miss P-priscilla Prismott, I mean, Princott.” Stammering. Great. But hey, scientists made me nervous. They were the only people who asked to witness Nobel’s experiments with TNT, or to see Mt. Vesuvius destroying Pompeii. All for research purpose, of course. “Good morning!” The man held out a hand, his brown eyes shining with happiness as if I told him he’d won the lottery. “I’m Dr. Vance McAvoy.” I knew it. A scientist. I shook his hand. “I’m afraid we’re a bit busy today. Would you like to take a seat and wait, please? You can help yourself to some hot drinks.” I gestured toward the refreshment area where fresh pots of coffee, tea, and biscuits lay on a table. There. Done. I pivoted on my heels. “Actually…” Vance started. “I’m a bit in a hurry. I have to teach a class.” An academic then like Mr. Torvalds. Hopefully, not another historian. But a client is a client, that’s my motto. I could talk to him, and then leave the case to an agent. “How can I help?” I beckoned him to the sitting area as I sat in a creamy velvet armchair, collecting layers of petticoats. The aroma of coffee filled the air. Vance tripped on his own feet. The bag fell from his arms, and when he scooped to pick it up, he hit his head against a table. “Ouch!” I winced. Not a good start. A clumsy scientist could be a problem. How could we run from ancient tribes of head-hunters if he was a bumble-foot? “Are you all right?” “Yes, yes.” Smiling, he sat in front of me. “I’m a researcher.” I know. Please, not another paleontologist who wants to visit the Jurassic Era. I still had nightmares about that bloody T-Rex chasing me. “What do you research?” “British literature.” I blew out a long breath of relief that strained my bodice. “Fascinating.” He opened the bag and fished out a stack of papers. “I’m working on a project on Shakespeare.” Yes! “Oh goodness.” I fought the urge to bounce on my toes. “Specifically, on one of his masterpieces, Lorentio and Juliet.” He tapped a finger on the papers where a picture of the famous battle scene in Verona gleamed. Juliet looked terrific, pointing her sword at Lorentio whose arm lifted a shield. Capulets versus Montagues. The most exciting story ever told. I smiled. “This story has a special meaning for me. I was in a theater, watching this very play, when I met Mr. Shidara, the investor who believed in me and in all this.” I waved a hand to encompass the agency. “His company in Tokyo built all the time chambers.” “Great.” He beamed and shifted his weight. “So, I was wondering how much a trip to Verona in 1527 would cost. I want to see every detail about the clothes, food, and language. The feud between the two families. If it’s true that everyone died. You know, all the possible details.” I took out my phone and did a quick calculation. “Let’s see… you know that, by law, you can’t stay longer than 10 hours, right?” “What?” I lifted a shoulder. “The longer you stay, the higher the probability of causing a time ripple. Or dying. We can’t change history. Never. And of course, it’s not allowed to go backward. No one should take advantage of knowledge of the future.” “Oh. That makes sense.” “And an agent must escort you and stay with you all the time.” He raised a brow. “We need to keep an eye on our clients and be sure they travel safely.” I punched a few numbers in the calculator. “Just a reminder, while we’re in Verona, we can’t interfere in any way with history. We’re observers. We’re watching a film. Okay?” Vance nodded eagerly, his cheeks flushed. “We do not engage the locals for any reason. We walk, listen, and come back here. Also, no gadgets from the future. They might shock the people. Last year, a theologist wanted to witness the Virgin Mary giving birth and brought a camera. I can’t tell you the mess it created. People thought hewas the messiah.” I shook my head, remembering those angry Roman centurions chasing us. “You want to take notes? You’ll do it with pencil and paper. Clear?” “Crystal.” “It’s five thousand dollars for the trip to Verona, one thousand dollars for the installation of the microchip to understand the language, plus a few hundred dollars for the vaccinations. Yellow fever, tetanus vaccine, anti-black plague, insurance, clothes, induction course… the total is about…” I stomped a finger on the display. “Eighteen thousand dollars, and you’ll have to sign a waiver in case, you know, you get stabbed, roasted, or eaten.” “Sheesh.” Vance whistled. “Will you manage to cover the cost? I can…” I sank my teeth into my bottom lip. Gosh, I wanted to go. Every client had to be escorted by an agent, and it could be me. Finally, a trip that didn’t involve wild beasts, guns, or exploding volcanos. Just a family feud with lots of swords. I could handle that. “I have plenty of funds.” Vance smiled. “When can we go?” “In a week or two? I need to study the era a bit, and I have to prepare a few documents.” “Perfect.” ~ * ~ So here we were, Vance and I, in front of one of the time chambers. The three-foot thick, seven-foot tall metal door seemed like that of a Swiss vault, but the inside of the chamber with its dashboard, gauges, and the digital displays looked like Star Trek’s Enterprise. I beckoned Vance in. He was shaking. “Are you nervous?” “A bit.” “It’s normal. You’ll relax once we’re there.” I pushed a button on the wall, and the door closed with a thud. Blue and white lights shone from the dark ceiling. I opened two panels on the wall, revealing two dressing rooms. “In you go. You’ll be provided with clothes and money appropriate for the era, the shots, and the microchip.” Vance rushed inside. “I’m so excited.” On the display of Vance’s room, I typed our destination and the year, and the door slid closed. I entered my dressing room and inserted the date. A panel opened, revealing a red and white gown with a golden sash. A fat leather pouch contained a few hundred dollars in golden florins. I slid on the dress, a pair of slippers, and combed my hair into a long braid. I looked at my reflection in the mirror. The gown was fitted to the waist with a long skirt and wide sleeves. Perfect to conceal my Seeker, the device that would bring me back to modern Auckland. I fixed it on my wrist, closing the Velcro straps around it. With its rotund screen and blinking numbers, it could pass for a large watch. When I left the dressing room, Vance was already out, wearing a green jacket with puffed sleeves and green tights encasing his thin legs. A leather satchel was strapped across his shoulder. He rubbed his neck. “How do I look?” The green brought out his hazel eyes. “Dashing. Is the micro-chip in all right?” He nodded. “A bit painful.” Tell me about it. I had ten installed at the base of my neck. Could speak Latin, ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. “We’re ready.” I opened my bag and picked up a box of Snorinol, super powerful sleeping pills, and slipped the blue box with the glittering half-moon in my pocket. “You said no modern stuff,” Vance said. “I know, but these pills, despite being for sleeping, help with the nausea. I always have it when I time travel. If you need them, let me know. Half of one, and I’m fine, just a bit sleepy.” I inserted the coordinates for Verona and the year of destination, 1527, in the display. “You might experience mild discomfort and the sensation of being pulled down.” He paled. “I’m ready.” I pulled the time lever. The ground shook. Flashes darted in every direction. A hissing sound whistled in my ears. Vance cried out. The floor disappeared, and the feeling of being suspended in the void made me queasy. Then I was pushed down, and I staggered as my feet touched the ground again. “D-done.” I gobbled half a pill to stop the wave of nausea. “Oh gosh.” Vance staggered on the cobbled street, his eyes wide. “Please.” He held up a hand. I steadied him and handed him half a pill. “It’ll go away in a moment.” We stood in a secluded alley. Vance sweated as he sidestepped the cracked stones and masonry. “This spot,” I stomped a foot on the ground, “is our starting point. We must come back here to return to Auckland. Otherwise, we might end up stuck in a wall of my...