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Ten Minutes Past Teatime by Elizabeth Chatsworth - Twist in Time Literary Magazine
June 12th, 1896 A.D., 4.10 PM The Irish Sea Miss Minerva Minett was rapidly losing faith that her hired sailors were of the highest caliber. Or sober. Or able to obey the simplest commands without discussion, pontification, and an inordinate amount of cheek. She huffed as the unfittingly-named Captain Smart kicked tentatively at her vessel, a twenty-foot-long copper-and-glass goldfish. The submersible swung mere inches above the steamship’s deck, caught fast in a net of chains by the Saucy Sal’s cargo crane. From his deepening frown, it appeared Smart had not expected to awake from a drunken stupor to find a giant goldfish on his ship. Nor had he anticipated that his first mate would charter the Sal to a forty-three-year-old Englishwoman with a fascination for temporal experimentation. He kicked the bug-eyed goldfish once more, then turned to study Minerva’s unconventional attire: tweed trousers, a white blouse, a leather over-corset, and a pith helmet strapped with brass goggles. If he had comments to make upon her bizarre dress, he wisely chose to keep them to himself. Perhaps because of the blunderbuss shotgun Minerva held with an unusual familiarity for a lady scientist. “So, what you’re saying, Miss Minett, is that you’re going to climb into that metal fish alone—” “Yes.” “And we’re going to toss you over the side of the ship—” “Launch my vessel, yes.” “And on the way down to the waves, you’re going to fiddle with them controls—” “Set the exact time and destination of my journey through the vortex of time and space.” “And you’re going to end up—” “In this area, but a thousand years ago. I will then propel the Tempus Pisces toward land, where I shall seek an audience with the monks at the Cell-Ruaid Monastery.” Smart scratched his beak-like nose. “That monastery’s been abandoned for eons.” “Hence my need for time travel. The Royal Society for Paranormal Peculiarities has offered membership to any layman who can persuade the monks to create a scroll with specific words, and to bury said scroll in their graveyard. Tomorrow, in a grand ceremony, the Society elders will dig up graves undisturbed for centuries to find the scrolls.” The Captain’s jaw dropped faster than any anchor. “Are you telling me there’s a club for time traveling grave-robbers?” “No. There’s a club for gentlemen who spend their afternoons drinking brandy and discussing time travel, parallel universes, and the occult. I intend to be the first member to actually achieve temporal fluidity. And the first female member to boot.” “Why would you want to—?” “To demonstrate to the members, to my condescending older brother, Mortimer, to all who insist that women have no place in the scientific ranks, that the female mind is just as capable of ingenious invention as the male mind. Probably more so, given that we consume less brandy per capita and have to work five times as hard to gain access to the same education and opportunities that men take for granted. Why, I had to—” The Captain groaned. “Oh, my God, a suffragette.” He glared at his first mate. “You let a bloody suffragette on board. Didn’t I tell you not to go trawling for charters down by the library?” The brawny first mate shrugged. “She seemed normal enough at the time. I thought she wanted to go fishin’. By the time I realized she wanted us to put her fish in . . .” Smart held up his hand. “Spare me. Well, Miss Minett, pardon my manners, but male or female or something else entirely, you’re as nutty as a fruit cake to believe you can swim through time in a metal fish. You can’t seriously believe­­­­­­—” “It will work. In theory.” “Aye. A lot works in theory. But flinging a madwoman into the ocean sounds like a good way for me to end up in jail. You’ll drown.” “My life, my choice. However, there is a 14.8% probability that I will revolutionize our scientific understanding of the universe. The proof will be in the pudding. Well, in the grave, at least.” He shook his head. “I don’t like it.” “I’m not paying for you to like it. Shall we begin? Or shall I show you how much damage this blunderbuss can do to the things you love?” The Captain glanced furtively at his first mate, who blushed beetroot red. Minerva swung her blunderbuss to point at the barrel of rum that stood beside an oak table littered with tankards. The crew had taken advantage of the Captain’s incapacitation the night before to borrow his personal keg. Smart blinked at the keg. “That’s not supposed to be up here.” “Do we launch, or do I shoot?” The Captain tut-tutted. “No need for violence. I barely know you, Miss Minett, but I’ve identified why you’re a spinster miss, not a married missus.” She snorted. “I highly doubt it. Launch, or shoot?” He sighed. “Go on then, you daft mare. We’ll try and haul you up before you drown.” “Excellent.” She strode across the deck toward the Tempus as the ship’s crane operator climbed into his cab. The crane’s steam engine rumbled into life. Minerva ascended a staircase of packing crates next to her vessel. She stood on the top step, preparing to leap across to the Tempus’s open hatch. Nothing traveled through time as reliably as a giant copper goldfish. In theory. Minerva eyed the hatch, calculating the kinetic energy required to leap aboard in a single bound. She had no desire to land face-first on the deck before an ever-growing band of onlookers. A dozen sailors now stood around the goldfish, showing various stages of amusement and concern. Smart said, “You know, miss, you’d be a lot safer throwing your vessel around on dry land—” “Hardly. Dry land means earth, stone, animals. If I stand on the ground as I dematerialize through time, I could rematerialize inside a rock, a tree, or even a surprised cow.” She nodded at the Tempus. “As you drop my goldfish into the sea, I’ll activate my chronetic engine, transporting my vessel back in time and space so I’ll fall safely onto the waves, no matter their height. A short paddle east, and I shall encounter the good monks of Cell-Ruaid. Then back to my goldfish, a temporal leap to ten minutes from now, and you should find me bobbing in the sea approximately five hundred feet starboard. Naturally, I will avoid re-materializing directly in the hull of this vessel.” “Well, that’s considerate of you, miss.” “Indeed. Are you ready, Captain Smart?” “No, not really—” She leapt across to the Tempus, squirmed inside to the oohs and ahs of the crew, and slammed the hatch closed. The Captain shrugged and gestured to his crane operator to proceed. Through the bulging eyes of the of the goldfish, Minerva watched the sailors back away to safe distance. The fish slowly rose and swung out over gray waves that melted into an overcast sky. Not ideal weather for time travel, but anything short of a squall should not impede her journey. Her fingers danced across the controls, checking and double-checking her instruments. She set the chronometer to June 12th, 996 A.D., 4.10 PM as her vessel swayed on its chains. A flick of switch, and the chronetic engine beneath the floor hummed. Anticipating the coming drop, Minerva placed her left hand on the steering wheel, her right on the time lever, bracing herself on the pilot’s chair. Perhaps some sort of safety strap might have been a good idea? One that attached to the chair and fastened over the lap, similar in style to a gentleman’s trouser belt. Maybe she could call her new invention the seatbelt. . . The sailors leaned over the side of the ship, keen not to miss a moment of her possible demise. Smart shouted, and the fish dropped. Her stomach lurched, then . . . BANG! A nightmare swirl of spectral light. The universe set upon her, tore her apart, built her anew, slurped down her atoms, and spat her out like a bad oyster into the year 996. The electric light within the Tempus flickered between life and death as monstrous, black waves seized the vessel, shaking it as a terrier shakes a mouse. Darkness clawed at the windows, winds howled, and pain shot through Minerva’s fingers as the steering wheel wrenched from her grasp. She flung herself at the wheel, wrestling for control as her goldfish writhed and tossed in the tidal maelstrom. She locked her body against the wheel’s force, leaning back, praying to a god she didn’t believe in as the fish almost bellied up, almost sank like a stone, almost . . . The cabin shuddered and groaned, torn between the outside forces and Minerva’s will. She swore as her favorite teapot smashed onto the riveted floor behind her, and dozens of leather-bound history tomes tumbled off the bookshelves. Her library- inspired décor had been designed to provide a pleasant research setting should she find herself adrift in time. But perhaps interior padding would have been a more suitable complement to the seatbelt she didn’t have? A dive to the depths was an option, but her experiments in the River Thames had been fraught with fear that the fish would fail to rise on command. For now, staying atop the waves seemed her best chance of survival. If her dashboard compass was correct, the shore lay a mere two miles ahead. The fish groaned, and a couple of rivets popped like champagne corks from the interior seams. Sea water sprayed across Minerva’s cheek as she engaged the main propulsive drive. The floor rumbled beneath her boots as gas turbines ignited. Had she finally run out of the luck that had kept her alive through laboratory fires, exploding submersibles, and one very public crash in Hyde Park on her prototype flying bicycle? Decades of solitary study, public mockery, and the occasional flash of genius cut short by a watery grave. Would she never walk into the Royal Society with her head held high, accepted as an equal at last? The Tempus lurched from wave to wave like a drunken sailor. She kept her course as best she could, glancing between the compass and the fish’s bug-eyed portholes. A black wall of water swelled before her. And then . . . A golden dragon’s head crested the giant wave, eyes staring, jaws gaping, teeth glinting. Minerva blinked. Her chest clenched, squeezing her heart into a thudding tattoo. The dragon’s long, slender neck broadened into a wide chest . . . no, a hull? Good heavens, was that a . . . ? The longship’s bow swept toward her, sail down and oars drawn in. Minerva yanked her wheel hard left, the engine screaming as nature’s might tossed her fish at the oncoming beast. Two toy boats, powerless to resist the wrath of the sea. Mouth dry, Minerva braced for impact. Her teeth shook as the longship’s wooden planks smashed against the Tempus’ reinforced glass portholes. The longship’s boards splintered, revealing a single-masted boat with its sail furled, shattered rowing benches, and sailors clad in furs and leather scrambling to escape her goldfish’s attack. Minerva slammed her engine into reverse. The Tempus wrenched itself away from the dragon, allowing the sea to rush in through the broken boards to claim its prize. As waves battered her vessel, Minerva watched, horrified, as the longship began to sink. * Alfhild held tight her sister’s son as titanic waves smashed over the edge of the foundering longship. Dreng’s skin was almost blue from the cold, his left arm bloodied and limp against her leather breastplate. The thirteen-year-old’s blond hair hung in rattails as Alfhild barked orders at the warriors struggling to plug the gaping hole in the ship’s hull with sacks of plundered grain. A far cry from the riches she’d promised them. She bit her tongue to stop herself from cursing the gods. What had she done to anger them? Did she not follow the sacrificial rites correctly? Were her gifts not pleasing? Had she not lived her life, putting her clan first, her honor next, and...