We (Buck is still with me) have been searching for Jem since our arrival and have found no sign at all. I won’t give up—of course you know that—but as our inquiries have borne no fruit in the northern clan lands, I feel I must follow the one clue I have and see if I can locate the owner of those tags.
I don’t know what might happen, and I had to leave you some word, however faint the chance that you’ll ever see it.
God bless you and Jem—wherever he is, poor little guy, and I can only hope and pray he’s safe—and my sweet Mandy.
I love you. I’ll love you forever.
She didn’t realize that she was crying, until the tears running down her face tickled her hand.
“Oh, Roger,” she said. “Oh, dear God.”
IN THE LATE evening, with the kids safely asleep and the sound of the Pacific Ocean washing through the open balcony doors, Brianna took out a bound notebook, brand-new, and a Fisher Space Pen (guaranteed to write upside down, underwater, and in conditions of zero gravity), which she thought entirely appropriate to this particular piece of composition.
She sat down under a good light, paused for a moment, then got up and poured a glass of cold white wine, which she set on the table beside her notebook. She’d been composing bits of this in her mind all day and so began with no difficulty.
There was no telling how old the kids might be when—or if—they read it, so she made no effort to simplify things. It wasn’t a simple matter.
A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR TIME TRAVELERS—PART II
Right. Dad’s written down what we think we know about this, in terms of observation of occurrence, physical effects, and morality. This next part could best be described as preliminary hypotheses of cause: how time travel might work. I’d call it the scientific part, but you can’t actually apply the scientific method very far with the scanty data we have available.
Any scientific approach starts with observations, though, and we have enough of those to maybe construct a rough series of hypotheses. Testing those . . .
The idea of testing those made Brianna’s hand shake so badly that she was obliged to set down her pen and breathe slowly for two or three minutes, until the black spots stopped swarming in front of her eyes. Gritting her teeth, she wrote:
Hypothesis 1: That the time passages/vortices/whatever the bloody hell they are/ are caused by or occur at the crossing of ley lines. (Defined here as lines of geomagnetic force, rather the folkloric definition of straight map lines drawn between ancient structures like hill forts, henges, or places of ancient worship, like saints’ pools. Supposition is that folkloric lines may be identical or parallel with geomagnetic lines, but no hard evidence to this effect.)
Evidence in Support of Hypothesis: Some. But to start with, we don’t know whether the standing stones are part of the vortex thingy or just markers set up when ancient people saw other ancient people step on the grass right . . . there . . . and poof!
“Poof,” she muttered to herself, and reached for the glass of wine. She’d planned to drink it as a reward when she’d finished, but at the moment felt more in need of first aid than reward. “I wish it was just poof.” One sip, two, then she set it down, the citric edge of the wine lingering pleasantly on her tongue.
“Where were we? Oh, poof . . .”
Dad was able to connect a lot of the folkloric leys to standing stone circles. It would theoretically be possible to check the geomagnetic polarity of the rock around standing stone circles; that should actually go some way toward supporting Hypothesis 1, but might be a little difficult to execute. That is, you can measure the earth’s magnetic field—Carl Friedrich Gauss figured out how to do it back in 1835 or so—but it isn’t the sort of thing individuals do much.
Governments that do geological surveys have the equipment for it; I know the British Geological Survey’s Eskdalemuir Observatory does, because I saw a write-up on them. And I quote: “Such observatories can measure and forecast magnetic conditions such as magnetic storms that sometimes affect communications, electric power, and other human activities.”
“Other human activities,” she muttered. “Riiight . . .”
The army does this sort of thing, too, she wrote as an afterthought. “Yes, I’ll get the army right on that. . . .”
The pen hovered over the page as she thought, but she couldn’t add anything else useful there, and so went on:
Hypothesis 2: That entering a time vortex with a gemstone (preferably faceted, vide remarks made by Geillis Duncan to this effect) offers some protection to the traveler in terms of physical effect.
Query: why facets? We used mostly unfaceted ones coming back through Ocracoke, and we know of other travelers using plain unfaceted ones.
Speculation: Joe Abernathy told me about one of his patients, an archaeologist who told him about some study done on standing stones up in Orkney, where they discovered that the stones have interesting tonal qualities; if you strike them with wooden sticks or other stones, you get a kind of musical note. Any kind of crystal—and all gems have a crystalline interior structure—has a characteristic vibration when struck; that’s how quartz watches work.
So what if the crystal you carry has vibrations that respond to—or stimulate, for that matter—vibrations in the standing stones nearby? And if they did . . . what might be the physical effect? D.B.K.*
She made a swift note at the bottom of the page: *D.B.K.—Don’t Bloody Know, and returned to her writing.
Evidence: There really isn’t any, other than the aforesaid remarks from Geillis Duncan (though she may have noted some anecdotal material in her journals, which you’ll find in the large safe-deposit box at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Edinburgh. Uncle Joe will have the key or will have made provisions for you to get it).
NB: Grannie Claire traveled the first two times without any stones (though note that she was wearing a gold wedding ring the first time, and a gold and a silver ring on the second journey).
Grannie said that going with a stone seemed slightly easier—but given the subjectivity of the experience, I don’t know how much weight to put on that. Doing it with a stone is the most horrible thing I . . .
Maybe better not to say that. She hesitated for some time, but, after all, her own experiences were data, and given how little there was of it . . . She finished the sentence, then went on.
Hypothesis 3: That traveling with a gemstone allows one better control in choosing where/when to emerge.
She stopped, frowning, and crossed out where. There wasn’t any indication of people traveling between sites. Be bloody handy if they could, though. . . . She sighed and went on.
Evidence: Pretty sketchy, owing to lack of data. We know of a few travelers other than ourselves, and of these, five Native Americans (part of a political group called the Montauk Five) traveled with the use of stones. One of these is known to have died in the attempt, one survived and traveled back about 200 years, and another, a man named Robert Springer (aka “Otter-Tooth”), traveled back more than the usual distance, arriving (approximately) 250–260 years prior to his year of departure. We don’t know what happened to the two other members of this group; they may have traveled to a different time and we haven’t found any mention of them (difficult to track down a time traveler, if you don’t know when they may have gone, what their real names are, or what they look like), may have been blown out of the time vortex for unknown reasons, or may have died inside it.
That little possibility unnerved her so much that she set down the pen and took several large swallows of wine before resuming.
By the evidence of Otter-Tooth’s journal, these men all did travel with gemstones, and he procured a large opal with which he intended to make the return trip. (This is the stone Jemmy made explode, in North Carolina, presumably because fire opals have a high water content.)
It hadn’t—and, thinking back, she couldn’t imagine how it hadn’t—occurred to her at the time to see whether Jemmy could make water boil by touching it. Well, she could see why it hadn’t occurred to her, in retrospect; the last thing she’d wanted was any more dangerous peculiarity near her children, much less dangerous peculiarities being inherent in them.
“I wonder how often it happens that two time travelers marry each other?” she said aloud. No telling what the frequency of the gene—if it was a gene, but that looked to be a decent bet—in the general population was, but it couldn’t be very common, or people would be walking into Stonehenge and Callanish and going poof! on a daily basis. . . . “Somebody would have noticed,” she concluded, and sat twiddling the pen for a bit in meditation.
Might she have met and married Roger if it weren’t for the time-traveling thing? No, because it was her mother’s need to find out what had happened to the men of Lallybroch that had led them to Scotland.
“Well, I’m not sorry,” she said aloud to Roger. “In spite of . . . everything.”
She flexed her fingers and picked up the pen, but didn’t write at once. She hadn’t thought further with her hypotheses and wanted them to be clear in her mind, at least. She had vague notions about how a time vortex might be explained in the context of a unified field theory, but if Einstein couldn’t do it, she didn’t think she was up to it right this minute.
“It has to be in there somewhere, though,” she said aloud, and reached for the wine. Einstein had been trying to form a theory that dealt both with relativity and electromagnetism, and plainly they were dealing with relativity here—but a sort in which it maybe wasn’t the speed of light that was limiting. What, then? The speed of time? The shape of time? Did electromagnetic fields crisscrossing in some places warp that shape?
What about the dates? Everything they thought they knew—precious little as it was—indicated that travel was easier, safer, on the sun feasts and fire feasts; the solstices and equinoxes. . . . A little ripple ran up her back. A few things were known about standing stone circles, and one of the common things was that many had been built with astronomical prediction in mind. Was the light striking a specific stone the signal that the earth had reached some planetary alignment that affected the geomagnetism of that area?
“Huh,” she said, and sipped, flipping back over the pages she’d written. “What a hodgepodge.” This wouldn’t do anyone much good: nothing but disconnected thoughts and things that didn’t even qualify as decent speculation.
Still, her mind wouldn’t let go of the matter. Electromagnetism . . . Bodies had electric fields of their own, she knew that much. Was that maybe why you didn’t just disintegrate when you traveled? Did your own field keep you together, just long enough to pop out again? She supposed that might explain the gemstone thing: you could travel on the strength of your own field, if you were lucky, but the energy released from the molecular bonds in a crystal might well add to that field, so perhaps . . . ?
“Bugger,” she said, her overworked mental processes creaking to a halt. She glanced guiltily at the hallway that led to the kids’ room. They both knew that word, but they oughtn’t to think their mother did.
She sank back to finish the wine and let her mind roam free, soothed by the sound of the distant surf. Her mind wasn’t interested in water, though; it seemed still concerned with electricity.
“I sing the Body Electric,” she said softly. “The armies of those I love engirth me.”
Now, there was a thought. Maybe Walt Whitman had been onto something . . . because if the electric attraction of the armies of those I love had an effect on time-traveling, it would explain the apparent effect of fixing your attention on a specific person, wouldn’t it?
She thought of standing in the stones of Craigh na Dun, thinking of Roger. Or of standing on Ocracoke, mind fixed fiercely on her parents—she’d read all the letters now; she knew exactly where they were. . . . Would that make a difference? An instant’s panic, as she tried to visualize her father’s face, more as she groped for Roger’s . . .
The expression of the face balks account. The next line echoed soothingly in her head. But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face;
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists;
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees—dress does not hide him;
The strong, sweet supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton and flannel;
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.
She didn’t remember any more, but didn’t need to; her mind had calmed.
“I’d know you anywhere,” she said softly to her husband, and lifted the remains of her glass. “Slàinte.”
NAY GREAT SHORTAGE OF HAIR IN SCOTLAND
MR. CUMBERPATCH proved to be a tall, ascetic person with an incongruous crop of red curls that sat on his head like a small, inquisitive animal. He had, he said, taken the disks in trade for a sucking pig, along with a tin pan whose bottom had been burnt through but could easy be patched, six horseshoes, a looking glass, and half a dresser.
“Not really a tinker by trade, see?” he said. “Don’t travel much. But things come and find me, they do.”
Evidently they did. Mr. Cumberpatch’s tiny cottage was crammed to its rafters with items that had once been useful and might be so again, once Mr. Cumberpatch got round to fixing them.
“Sell much?” Buck asked, raising an eyebrow at a disassembled carriage clock that sat on the hearth, its internal organs neatly piled into a worn silver comfit dish.
“Happen,” Mr. Cumberpatch said laconically. “See anything ye like?”
In the interests of cooperation, Roger haggled politely for a dented canteen and a canvas bed sack with only a few small charred holes at one end, these the result of some soldier taking his rest too close to a campfire. And received in turn the name and general direction of the person from whom Mr. Cumberpatch had got the disks.