Authors: Janet B. Taylor
Collum spoke, his upper lip curled into a sneer. “Alvarez's descendants and the people who work for them call themselves the Timeslippers, if you can believe it.”
“Aye,” Doug said with derision. “Original, right?”
I spun to face Lucinda. Her eyes were closed and she was scrubbing a hand over her mouth, as if her next words tasted bitter.
“The Timeslippers are now led by Carlos' great-great-
-granddaughter. A woman called Celia Alvarez. I understand you saw her photo in the library.”
“I did,” I mumbled. “Sheâ”
I thought back to the expression on the black-haired woman's face. Bitter. Angry.
“Hope,” Moira said. “Celia and your mother were once the best of friends. Sarah loved her like a sister. It was Celia who contacted your mother in India. I don't know what Celia told her to convince her to go. But I believe Sarah thought she could still reason with her. Unfortunately, she was wrong.”
Sweat popped out on my face, despite the chill. The room began to spin, slowly but relentlessly, around me. Large as it wasâthe room suddenly seemed to contract, to press in until every atom of oxygen was squeezed from my cells.
I took a step back, heading for the stairs, but Collum followed.
“Oh, you can tell yourself we're mad if you like,” he said. “Scuttle back home to your books. Continue to cower in your house and act like the poor wee broken thing you are.”
I whipped around, my face on fire.
He came closer, his voice gone gritty. “But you know the truth now, and you can't unlearn it. If you leave, you'll always wonder what would've happened if, for once in your life, you'd had the courage to do something brave. You'll always wonder if you missed the one shot you ever had at being more than just a scared little girl.”
My gaze flicked to the Tesla devices behind him.
“We are Viators.” Pride infused Collum's voice as he gestured to the others, who were gathering behind him. “That meansâ”
“Traveler,” I snapped, meeting his gaze. “Yeah. I know my Latin. I know what it means. But even if this ridiculous”âmy hands flapped, encompassing everything in the cavernâ“is real, I don't know what you expect
“Sure you do, silly.”
I spun around to find Phoebe standing just above me on the stairs, wearing fluorescent blue jammies that matched her hair. Her grandfather was at her side, his lanky figure wrapped in a flannel robe, his own sparse strands mussed from sleep. Mac gave me a reassuring wink and moved to stand between his wife and Lucinda.
As I remained rooted to the spot, Phoebe gave me a friendly nudge. “No reason to go all barmy on us, Hope. It's no biggie, really. We're just time-traveling thieves is all.”
“Phoebe Marie MacPherson!”
“Just messing with her, Gran. We don't steal anymore. Or at least not much.”
She gave an exaggerated wink, making Lucinda growl.
“Jeez, Lu, I'm only teasing the girl.” Phoebe brushed past to snuggle under Doug's arm. His gentle eyes fixed on me as he hugged her to him.
Lucinda spoke. “I'll admit, some of our ancestors were not what you'd call lily white in their dealings. My own fatherâunbeknownst to most of the worldâwas the source of almost every rare coin traded or purchased over the last thirty-five years. But I stopped all that when I took over.” She shot a grumpy look at Phoebe. “The Viators no longer profit from any artifacts acquired during our journeys. For the last twelve years, our focus has narrowed, and become more concentrated.”
Collum tensed at that but didn't speak.
“All you need to know at this time,” my aunt continued, “is that the Timeslippers”âshe grimaced, as if the word tasted foulâ“have always viewed themselves as our rivals. They also have no morals. No compunction when it comes to preserving the proper timelines. And since Celia became their leader, she has recruited some very unsavory characters. We believe they're trying to locate something that could endanger us all. An object which might have the ability to control when and where the Dim will open.”
“We begged Sarah not ta go.” Moira worried at the knotted belt of her robe. “But she wouldn't hear it. She .Â .Â . she felt she owed it to Celia to persuade her to give up her preposterous quest.”
“It's not preposterous,” Collum shot back. “The Nonius Stone is real. And if Celia gets her hands on it, there's no telling what she'll do.”
The Nonius Stone.
The name was familiar. If I wanted, I could burrow in my memory and pull up the information. But the stairs were empty at my back now. I could run. Leave this place and go home.
I didn't move.
“Well, this is all of us, Hope,” Lucinda said, spreading her arms wide. “We Viators. Excepting your mother, of course.”
The only sound came from the rush of my own blood in my ears, and the chatter from Tesla's machines. I studied each person in turn. Their faces wore identical, earnest expressions. Something wrenched apart in my chest. This was no deception. No elaborate joke. They were serious.
“It was an ambush,” Collum said, his hands in fists. “Celia laid it, and now your mum's trapped there. Alone.”
My eyes burned, but I clenched my jaw and forced my shoulders back. An insane urge to laugh bubbled up inside me as I realized why Lucinda had sent for me. I needed to hear it, though. They had to say the words.
“Why am I here?” I asked in a flat voice.
Phoebe's friendly, animated face was grave when she spoke. “The Dim'll open in six days,” she said. “One of its weird quirks is that it won't allow a person to go back to the same place and time more than once. It's been tried in the past. But the Dim knows, somehow. Doug says it recognizes the person's genetic pattern.”
Doug took up the explanation. “When someone tries to return again to the same point in space and time, The Dim just shuts down, see. All the lines turn to green. We don't know why, though I believe it has something to do with the Dim disallowing a paradox to occur. For instance, you could cross your own path. And, oh, all kinds of awful .Â .Â . Well, let me show you.” He whipped out a small notebook and began sketching a series of intersecting lines.
Phoebe laid a hand on his arm and stepped out from the others.
“Listen, Hope,” she said, her small blue eyes locked with mine. “Lu, Gran, and Mac already went back to look for Sarah a few months ago. Though they didn't find her, they found clues. A noblewoman, new to town, had recently joined the baroness's household in Baynard's Castle in London. No one they spoke with knew where the woman came from. And the baron and his family had left town for their castle in the country. There wasn't time to go after her. But they did find out the woman's name. Sarah de Carlyle.”
My mother's name felt like a slap. I lurched back, but Phoebe grabbed my hand, her gaze locking me in place.
“The Dim won't let them go again, see? And Viators never travel with just two, cause if one gets hurt”âher face scrunched into a frownâ“or worse, the other person would be all alone. That leaves you, me, and Collum.”
She took a deep breath and exchanged a quick look with the others. Lucinda nodded, and Phoebe squeezed my limp hands between her small, cold ones.
“We're going after your mum, Hope,” she said. “The three of us. And this time we're going to bring her home.”
I nodded thoughtfully, as if all this was perfectly ordinary.
Sure. I get that. Want me to travel through time with you? No problem.
I'm on it.
My feet were backing up the stairs. I forced them to stop as my vision filled with the image of Mom's face in the tapestry. She'd looked so angry. So scared.
My head jerked as a detail I'd registered, but had no time to examine, pricked at me. The hoop of embroidery she'd held in her lap seemed to magnify in my mind. The stitched words had been tangled in vines and flowers, and written in a language only a scholar would recognize.
I knew it, though. Aramaic. It was one of the many my mother had taught me.
My cunning mother had sent her sister a message through a thousand years, just hoping she would find it and come for her.
I nearly tripped as I stumbled down the step. “Th-the embroidery,” I gasped.
The others were arranged in a semicircle around me. Together. Bonded. Only I stood alone. Lucinda was nodding, almost smiling.
“Yes, we know about the message,” she said. “And I'm very pleased. Your mother prepared you well, Hope. You have more knowledge of history, and archaic languages, than many learned professors could absorb in their lifetime. Do you now understand why? You've been training for this since you were four years old. We need that knowledge. We need you.”
The last time I heard my mother's voice was the morning she left us forever. She'd been pacing, the rising sun painting her bedroom pink and gold. I'd gone to apologize for being such a brat to her the night before, when she'd dared suggest I go with her. I paused in the hall outside when I heard her arguing with someone over the phone.
Of course I want to tell Hope the truth.
es. Last night. And she got so angry.
The female voice on the other end grew louder.
As I hid in the dusky hallway, I watched Mom's restless shadow flit across the wall. Her heels clacked as she roamed the room.
Listen, IâI don't know what else to do. Hope's just so fragile. I assumed she'd grow out of it as she got older. As she assimilated into .Â .Â . well .Â .Â . but it just gets worse. Though her mind is the most astonishing I've ever known, the phobias and anxieties she's racked
The voice on the other end of the line cut in. On the wall, my mother's shadow covered her eyes.
Yes, and I take full responsibility for that. But I wouldn't change it. Not ever. You weren't there. It wasn't even a choice. I will never regret taking Hope from that awful place.
I'd startled at that. Oddly, I had no memory whatsoever of the Eastern European orphanage where my mother had found me when I was four. Was the voice telling her she should've left me there?
she was saying, so that I had no time to process the comment,
I've begun to think it might be kinder to keep all this from her. If the thought of a plane ride practically incapacitates her, how do you supposeâ?
The voice spoke. Mom sighed and said,
I know, but
I'm beginning to believe she may never have the strength to bear the truth.
I remembered creeping away, the apology still captured in my throat.
So she thinks I'm a weakling? Fine,
Let her think it. Who cares?
Anguish, bitter and dense as lemon peel, nipped at the back of my tongue as I realized it was my fault that Mom went on that trip alone. If I hadn't been such a coward, if I'd gone with her, maybe none of this would have happened.
My throat clicked when I swallowed. I took a step toward them, my eyes dry and flinty as they locked on my aunt's. “So when do we leave?”
D CLIMBED BACK UP THE STAIRS
, Moira ordered us all to bed.
“Rest,” she said, shooing us to our rooms. “That's what is needed now. We can discuss all this further after everyone's had some sleep.”
Back in my room, the girl who glared from the silvered bathroom mirror looked like she'd been through a natural disaster. Pale, chapped lips. Dark curls frizzed and matted. The skin under my eyes like bruised fruit.
I mouthed to the mirror.
Unable to bear the fear in my own eyes, I averted my gaze, splashing my face with cold water until it ran down my chest, drenching my nightgown. Wet and shivering, I burrowed beween the sheets, praying sleep would erase the dread that slithered over my skin.