Daylight shone through the curtains of the window and young master Geoffrey stirred besides Jocasta. Jocasta was a lovely girl, with long, flowing brown hair, a comely visage, a shapely, curving frame with a full, sumptuous buttocks and two large assets in the form of an ample bosom. Young master Geoffrey was quite a handsome gentleman himself but a curious combination of arrogant and shy and so he had never really gotten along with the ladies. That was where Jo came into the picture for she was a lady of the evening. Their relationship was a simple one: he would provide her economic remuneration and she would provide him a wild evening of carnal pleasure.
The night preceding had been like many nights they had spent together before, and he was joyously sleeping it off. She shook him to receive her payment and he gestured sleepily to a half-sovereign coin on the dresser. Jo stretched herself out of bed and stood up, walked over and claimed her prize. She dressed and then tucked her payment neatly between her mountainous assets and began to make her way to the door.
Outside, in another part of the house, Geoffrey’s father, Sir Henry Reginald Apelquist the Third, Professor of Teslamatics at the Royal Academy of Sciences in London, was engaged in his latest experiment. The workroom was festooned with crackling apparatus: gears and rotating mechanisms, dials and levers, boxes emitting reams of paper with strange symbols etched on them, and cables snaking about the floor, all culminating in three Tesla towers flowing up and down repeatedly with current around a central ring of cable on the floor.
Jocasta came down the stairs from Geoffrey’s room and heard the commotion below. She passed through the kitchen and quickly snagged some wine, bread and meat as she had done a dozen times before; Geoffrey didn’t mind. Curious as to what was causing all the racket, she proceeded into a part of the house she had never been before: the workroom.
The Professor had his back to the door and with all the noise of his equipment didn’t hear anyone enter the room. For a moment, Jocasta simply stood there, looking, not able to make head nor tails of any of it. She knew it had something to do with the new sciences but she was no scholar. No, she was a harlot – and a good one. The half-sovereign coin in her bosom was proof of that.
She turned to leave the room and exit the house by the usual manner when she stumbled. Her prize rolled out from her mighty bosom and careened across the floor over to the loop of cable in the middle of the room. Jo shrugged and walked over to quietly retrieve her prize even as the Professor began his final checks. As Jo entered the circle on the floor and bent over to pick up the coin, a sight Geoffrey might have paid extra for, the Professor pulled the main switch.
The Tesla coils around Jo shook with the force of the current flowing through them and Jocasta found herself in an impenetrable, translucent bubble. She screamed.
The Professor turned, in amazement. Even with goggles over his eyes, the shock of the scene was visible on his face. He froze for a moment, then began trying to affect changes in his equipment, twisting this knob and that, lowering and raising this and that lever, while Jocasta screamed some more.
Geoffrey rushed down the stairs with the sound of thunderous hoof beats and burst upon the scene.
“WHAT THE LIVING HELL IS GOING ON HERE, FATHER!?” Geoffrey exclaimed.
With no other options before him, the Professor slammed down the master switch and the room shook with a great vibration and a huge cloud of smoke roiled up from the apparatus. When it cleared, the Tesla coils were still powered, the translucent sphere in the center of the room was still there, but Jocasta was not.
The Professor cleared his throat before speaking. “It seems, son, that I have disintegrated your prostitute.”
“WHAT!? You murdered her?” Geoffrey exclaimed.
The Professor adjusted his goggles. “I did nothing of the kind. The young lady barged into a delicate experiment without making herself known. There was nothing I could do. You were there.”
“You killed a prostitute – a good one! What if someone comes looking for her?” Geoffrey’s composure was long gone and headed for the hills. Paranoia had seeped into his brain and was quickly taking root.
“Calm down, son. I bear the working classes no ill will, but I doubt anyone will inquire as to the whereabouts of a common trollop,” the Professor said. “Besides which – ” he paused to cough and then continued, ” – it was an accident.”
“An accident!? Oh yes, I’m sure the police will perfectly understand how you incinerated a woman by accident! How will we – ” Geoffrey’s increasing instability was cut off suddenly by the Tesla towers’ current rising in intensity unbidden, the sphere in the center of the room flickered and with a great flash of light, Jocasta was in the room again.
Although only a moment had passed, Jocasta’s raiment was tattered and torn and she was clearly disheveled. Her hair was mussed and dirty and matted with leaves and twigs. The expression on her face was an eerie combination of confusion and stark terror, Geoffrey noted. Silent to this moment, she screamed again.
“Now calm down Miss. I’m sure I can – ” the Professor started. Jocasta kept screaming.
The sphere keeping her prisoner shimmered again and Jocasta tried to push her way out of it.
The Professor shook his head in a way that clearly demonstrated this sort of behavior was unacceptable and he turned to his son. “Geoffrey – control your prostitute!”
Geoffrey just looked at him.
Jocasta screamed, again.
The sphere flickered and Jocasta tried to jump out of the circle. She slammed against the translucent sphere and fell to the floor.
The Professor walked over to her and yelled through the sphere at her.
“ATTENTION, MISS – MISS HARLOT – YOU CANNOT LEAVE THE TEMPORAL-AETHERIC FIELD. EVEN IF THE FIELD INTERFACE SHOULD COLLAPSE, IF YOU RETURN TO OUR TIME STREAM UNADJUSTED YOU WILL BE DISINTEGRATED.”
Jocasta managed to calm down enough to stand up and speak. “What?”
Geoffrey called out to his father. “She doesn’t understand all those fancy words, Father.”
The Professor nodded and adjusted his goggles. “If you leave the bubble, Miss Harlot, you will explode.”
“EXPLODE!?” Jocasta cried.
Geoffrey shook his head and walked over to Jo and his father. “Her name is Jocasta, Father, or Jo if you prefer, not Miss Harlot.”
“I hardly think her name is the most important thing at this juncture but you are correct, son. Everyone should be courteous.” The Professor bowed before Jocasta. “I’m sorry Miss Jo. I am Professor H. R. Apelquist of the Royal Academy of Sciences. Allow me to explain – ”
“Where did the whopping great lizards go?” Jocasta asked, cutting him off.
Under his goggles, the Professor blinked. “The what?”
“I was here in this room and then there was like lightning and thunder and everything got a bit wonky and then I was out in the woods running from a great bunch of giant lizards and now I’m here again.”
“You what?” Geoffrey asked.
The Professor turned to Geoffrey and lowered his voice. “It may be that the field has unbalanced your harlot, son.”
“I know what I saw, sir. Great lizards plodding about the countryside, giant ones with wings like bats overhead, bugs and creepy crawlies six feet long…”
The Professor’s head snapped up and he ran over to one of the many boxes still spitting out papers. “I see! I see! It worked! Geoffrey – it works!”
Geoffrey sighed. “What the devil are you talking about Father?”
The Professor beamed with pride. “I have created a standing co-temporal field in the aether – she is both here now in this room and in the ancient prehistoric past.”
“You mean she’s talking about dinosaurs? She’s not balmy? She’s actually seen dinosaurs?” asked Geoffrey.
“No, no, Geoffrey, she is not balmy. She is perfectly sane. And I, your father, am a genius beyond compare. I have done what lesser men said could not be done. I have wrought a wrinkled knot in the streams of time and aether and through that knot in history, I have passed your prostitute.” The Professor paused, proudly. “This is a momentous moment.”
“And how in the name of all that’s holy in Christendom do you propose I get my prostitute back? No offense,” Geoffrey added the last towards Jo.
She shook her head. “No, no, none taken. I’m keen to hear that bit me’self.”
The Professor hemmed and hawed a bit. “Well – that – I don’t know.”
“YOU DON’T KNOW?” Both Geoffrey and Jo exclaimed at once.
“Well – technically, just technically, you understand – when I pulled the main switch to the ‘off’ position, the field should have theoretically shut down and you should have – theoretically speaking, mind you – disintegrated.”
“You mean I should have exploded!” Jo put her hands on her hips.
The Professor lowered his head like a chastised child. “Um, yes. Theoretically.”
“Theoretically,” Jo repeated. “Well being, theoretically, that I didn’t explode and that I’m trapped in here, how do you plan to – ”
The Tesla coils crackled into life again and the sphere about Jo flickered and shimmered, and with a puff of smoke, she was gone again.
“Oh, this is an unmitigated disaster,” Geoffrey cried.
“Now now son. Occasionally science affords us these little – setbacks,” the Professor said.
“Setbacks? Setbacks? You’ve doomed her to live out her days in the prehistoric past.”
“We don’t know that yet, son. For all we know, she disintegrated as soon as she got back there. Maybe I can find a way to undo the knot in time without killing her, I just need some time to think.”
“Oh well, yes, please try to bring her back without killing her, Father. I would very much appreciate that.”
“Is she really as good as all that?” the Professor queried.
Geoffrey’s face turned red. “What did you say?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Let me check my figures.” The Professor turned sheepishly away and began looking over his equipment and its many dials and readouts.
Time passed and Geoffrey began pacing about the room. The Professor adjusted dials and knobs and settings, flipped switches and sighed, often. He took notes. He examined readouts. He took measurements with strange devices that rotated and made pinging sounds. Eventually he collapsed on his stool and took a deep breath.
“Don’t tell me you can’t bring her back,” Geoffrey said.
Exasperated, the Professor replied, “I don’t think I can. I don’t think I know how. I’m afraid your young friend is – ”
And just like that, she was back.
Jocasta’s attire had changed; she was wearing very archaic clothes: a white blouse with a checkered skirt that went down to the tops of her feet, a brown over-skirt around it, and a leather bodice cinched over her ample feminine charms.
The Professor leapt to his feet and ran over towards Jocasta.
“Where have you been now, my dear? What have you seen?” the Professor inquired.
“England is at war, sir!” Jocasta exclaimed.
“With whom, Jo?” Geoffrey asked.
“The French. It’s all knights and horseback and chivalry and all that nonsense. The French landed at Pevensey, I’m told.”
“Pevensey, are you sure?” the Professor asked.
“That’s what they said,” Jo answered.
“She’s in 1066,” the Professor said, “during the Norman Conquest. William of Normandy landed his troops in Pevensey and will move out from there to conquer all England. Amazing!”
“The thing is, Professor, I saw some men interrogating a captured Frenchman scout but he didn’t speak no English.”
“Yes, so?” the Professor asked.
“So, I understood his French, sir. I don’t know no frog-talk.”
The Professor beamed and scribbled furiously in a notebook. “It is as I thought! She’s become attuned to the local memetic matrix! She’s absorbed key features of the local temporal culture, like language! This could lead to whole new avenues of science! I shall write a paper…”
Jo raised her voice. “Can you get me home, sir?”
The Professor cautiously began, “Well, as it happens, we were just discussing that and – ”
There was a loud pop and just like that, Jocasta was gone again.
Geoffrey looked in despair at the loop of coil on the floor and the Professor went over to his son and placed a fatherly hand upon his shoulder.
“I think I CAN do this, son. I think if she successfully makes a few more trips, I can precisely establish a temporal ratio between the two intersected time streams. With that ratio, I should be able to construct a crude temporal lathe to deform the knotted aetheric matrix slowly and under control and pass her safely through the temporal-aetheric interface.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, father. Just tell me you can do it. Without her exploding.”
“I think I can, son.”
“You think,” said Geoffrey.
“We are far beyond the pale of routine scientific matters, my son. We are on the frontiers of human knowledge, savage scions of Prometheus, pioneers groping blindly into the infinite.”
Geoffrey just blinked.
The Professor simply said, “I’ll make it work.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear.”
The Professor took a deep breath and grabbed some papers from the shelf. “Let me get some additional equipment. You stay here and comfort Miss Jo if she should – when she returns.”
Professor Apelquist left the room and closed the door behind him. He re-opened the door a moment later. “And record anything she says – it could be important!” He closed the door again behind him, only to re-open it again. “And don’t touch anything!”
“I won’t touch anything – now go!”
The Professor nodded. “Right. Back in a moment.”
Geoffrey heard his father rummaging throughout the house – in the attic, in the kitchen, in his bedroom, looking for what, Geoffrey had no idea. Time passed but he did not call out to his father. There was no point in disturbing him. Jo’s life was at stake. And so he paced. And he paced. And he paced some more. And eventually, the Tesla towers sprang back into life and with a blaze of electrical current and an emission of noxious smoke, Jocasta was again in the sphere.
“Jo! We think we can bring you back! Father thinks if you can just make it through a few more trips he can bring you back!”
Jocasta beamed. She was wearing a somber black dress with a hint of a white blouse poking out from around her neck. She wore a broad leather belt with a large buckle and had buckles on her shoes as well.
“That’s good news!”
“Where are you? When are you? What’s happening?” Geoffrey asked.
“It’s the Civil War,” Jocasta said. “Roundheads and cavaliers and what not. All bowl-headed gits shooting muskets at other gits, I’m afraid. I’ve tried to blend in as much as possible – tried not to be noticed.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s for the best. Just do what you can to stay out of sight and unnoticed and we’ll do our utmost to bring you back.” Geoffrey said.
The door to the room opened and the Professor staggered in carrying all manner of strange tools, a couple of pots and pans and lengths of wire and cable. Geoffrey moved towards his father to help.
“We’ll get you back Jo, some how. I promise,” Geoffrey said.
But when he turned back to face Jocasta, she was gone.
Geoffrey helped his father set up the new equipment as best he could. He had no idea of the scientific principles behind the work but he did as he was told. All he could think of was how much time he had spent with Jocasta and how much she had meant to him. How they’d walked together, laughed together and had outrageously good sex together. As his father worked on the equipment, he suddenly spoke.
“Father?” Geoffrey asked.
The Professor didn’t look up from his work.
Geoffrey continued. “I do believe that if we get Jocasta back, I shall ask her to marry me.”
The Professor still didn’t look up. “That’s fine, son.”
“Did you hear me Father? I’m going to ask Miss Harlot to be my wife.”
The Professor looked quizzically at a piece of equipment and gave a screw another quarter turn. “I heard you. I’m happy. I’m also extremely busy. Now hand me that length of copper wire I gave you.”
There was an explosion of light and sound and Jocasta appeared again.
“Where or rather when have you been this time?” the Professor asked.
“A terrible time in England’s future, I’m afraid sir. I have become a laborer and cleaning lady in a military hospital. There is another terrible war going on. Men come back from France having spoken of fighting in the trenches. There are great pits dug into the earth by high explosives and guns the size of which you would not believe. Men hurl great volleys of death at each other over miles of distance and gigantic airships populate the heavens. Craft like ornithopters but without flapping wings hurtle through the skies at unfathomable velocities. Gigantic six-legged war machines trod the shuddering earth slaughtering all in their path. Whole towns and villages are smashed to powder and ruins in the fighting. Men come back from the front lines in great chains, one standing behind the other with his hand upon the shoulder of the man before him.”
“Why is that Jo?” the Professor asked.
“They are blind, sir. The Germans have a terrible weapon of poison smoke which they precipitate upon our soldiers and those it does not kill, it makes blind – by the thousands, sir.”
“By the thousands? Dear God!” the Professor exclaimed.
Jocasta began to collapse into tears. “Truly it is horrific sir. Please tell me I can come home soon. Please tell me – ” And then she was gone again.
The room fell silent and Geoffrey walked over to his father and took him roughly about the shoulders and shook him, crying. “Dearest God in Heaven – you bring her back! Do you hear me, sir! This very instant! YOU BRING HER BACK!”
There was another loud crackle of the Tesla coils surrounding the circle of coiled cable on the ground and a puff of smoke, but when the smoke dispersed, Jocasta was not there. Instead, in the circle was a small envelope with a wax seal on it. The Tesla coils shuddered current up and down their length and then shut down, smoldering tell-tale wafts of smoke floated to the roof. The sphere in the center of the room silently faded away to nothingness.
The Professor sighed and collapsed exhausted onto his stool. “That’s it then. The field is gone. The intersected time streams have flattened back out. Wherever she is, whenever she is, she’s not coming back, I’m afraid. It’s all dead now. The field effect is no more.”
Geoffrey stood there, taking it in that he had just lost the woman he planned to propose to, forever.
The elderly professor got up from his stool and walked over to the coil of cable on the floor and picked up the envelope without incident. He returned to the stool and examined the envelope he held. It was not made of paper, it was slick and smooth to the touch and he could bend it slightly and it returned to the shape it had before. It was fastened with a wax seal that he could not identify. He motioned over to Geoffrey to bring him the letter opener from the table and Geoffrey did so. The Professor broke the seal on the envelope and opened it, withdrawing a folded letter printed on similar material to that of the envelope itself. He drew his fingers across it. It was white as ivory with no imperfections of pulp or any sign that it had ever been manufactured from wood or cellulose of any kind. When he drew his finger across the text on the page, even after licking his finger, it did not smudge. The Professor seemed astonished by the unknown material even as his son broke his contemplation’s.
“For God’s sake Father – what does it say?”
The Professor cleared his throat and re-situated his goggles on his face before reading. He held up the strange letter to the light.
“My dearest Geoffrey,
I shall not appear to you again. The learned men and women of this time have arranged it so that they may ‘collapse the trans-Einsteinian field which precipitated me to this point in the space-time continuum.’ The practical upshot of which is that I shall remain here for the rest of my days. But fear not, you and your father have done me the greatest service. When I first arrived here, I perceived wonders I am told I may not speak of, wonders that if the merest hint were made available to you in what I must now regard forever as the past, it would ‘rend asunder the timeline and rupture all reality.’ Which I suppose I must not do. I had no idea how to survive in this time of miraculous strangeness and unspeakable devices of science, and so I relied upon the instincts and skills which have enabled me to survive thus far. I am pleased to say those humble skills have served me well. For you see Geoffrey, men and women in what to you must seem the far-flung future, had done away with coitus. This much and little more I am permitted to tell you. Considering it messy and troublesome – not to mention often disappointing for the fairer sex – they wrought machines that brought forth the young immaculately into the world. Can you imagine such a blasphemy? Machines recreating the miracle birth of Our Lord on an industrial scale? I fear I cannot explain more. Anyway, discovering they had done away with the coitus and with no other means to support myself, I grabbed the nearest gentleman and simply re-introduced the practice and they have made me Queen for it! And so you see, far from the humble half-sovereign you once paid me for a single night’s fornications, I am rich beyond measure. And I have you and your father to thank for it. Fare thee well, my lovely Geoffrey, fare thee well.
We are pleased to call ourselves Jocasta the First,
by the Grace of God, Queen of Terra and Luna.”
About the Author
A new voice in the field of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy fiction, New Orleans-based fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Black has a Bachelor’s in Military and Political Journalism and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. His most recent story, “The Night Mississippi Declared War on the Moon,” was published in Dark Oak Press’ Capes and Clockwork II, edited by Alan Lewis. His short fiction has appeared in Dark Oak Press’ Dreams of Steam III and Seventh Star Press’ A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. Brandon lives with his guardian and protector, Battle-cat Princess Kaleidoscope, in his home town of New Orleans, Louisiana. Find out more about Brandon’s work at http://www.brandonblackonline.com.