Southern England, August 1859
I was woken up in the middle of night by the steady pinging sound. I lay in the bed for a few seconds, panicking, as my sleepy brain failed to recall where I was. The last time this had happened was my sophomore college year after a night of dollar shots at the local dive bar. What was in those shots? Tequila? Vodka? Kerosene? Who knew? They may, or may not have been on fire. I was not the only unwary student who ended up somewhere he or she shouldn’t be that night. Befuddled kids had popped up all over town. The OLCC eventually shut down the offending saloon (unfortunate issues with “accidentally” serving minors) and that was the last adult beverage I ever partook. The current feeling was similar, but without the hangover and the 3am alcoholic loathing. I did, however, curiously burp cucumbers.
The pinging continued as I sat up in the bed and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. After a minute I remembered why I couldn’t see my giant alarm clock numbers across the room—I was stranded in 1859. Fuck. The relentless pinging was starting to annoy me, not the least for having woken me up after I finally fell asleep on the bag of lumps that was my mattress. With filtered moonlight coming through the window, I could now see the outline of a lump (my waist pouch) on the vanity table and a bit of artificial light peeping out of the partially opened zipper. The scanner! It came to me all at once—the scanner had been remotely activated. I launched out of the bed, tripped on my shoes, and grabbed the scanner out of the bag. Its screen read:
ARE YOU OK?
I nearly teared up. Georges!! He had shot a radio signal to my scanner. But how? The wormhole must be open, there was no other way. I had to get to the outhouse immediately (and after waking up in the middle of the night, there was also a pressing and practical need for that journey, lest I be forced to use the pee pot under the bed.) I quickly dressed in my jeans and shoes and clicked on the flashlight of my phone so I could search for a coat or sweater or something as the night had turned chilly. In the bottom of a chest of drawers I hit the jackpot—discarded garments set aside for mending, among which was a man’s wool cable-knit fisherman’s sweater, frayed on the edges but otherwise serviceable. I assumed it belonged to Reg and as I pulled it on, I thought about him wearing it. And then I thought about him taking it off and then I froze for several seconds in pleasant distraction. Snap out of it, Jules! This is not the time for pleasant distraction! I shook my head as if to exorcise my untimely and unbidden amorous thoughts. That took a few more seconds.
I held the scanner and typed my response to Georges, who replied with a very mushy French term of endearment. Sap!
<IS THE WORMHOLE OPEN?
<YES BUT IT’S ONLY THE SIZE OF A BUTTON SO YOU CAN’T GET THROUGH
<ARE YOU SURE? BECAUSE I’VE BEEN DOING KETO
<NOT FUNNY. MAYBE KIND OF FUNNY. ARE YOU NEAR THE ORIGINAL WORMHOLE EXIT?
<NO. I’M HEADING OUT THERE NOW
<BRING YOUR PHONE, TOO
I returned the scanner to the fanny pack which I had strapped on. Using my phone flashlight in lieu of a candle since I had no means to light one (I supposed there might be matches available in the 19th century but I didn’t have any), I descended the stairs and exited the house via the conservatory glass doors. The moon was partially full, and now that the clouds had parted I could see well enough to find my way to yon privy with the flashlight off (having only tripped over one broken shovel and sworn very quietly). Once inside the small shed, I quickly concluded my most urgent business, then clicked the flashlight on. There it was! A baby wormhole, floating a meter above the toilet seat. Great location. I typed to Georges on the scanner.
<I’M HERE. I SEE IT
<YOU SHOULD BE SEEING WIFI BARS ON YOUR PHONE NOW. I’M PUSHING THE SIGNAL THROUGH THE WH WITH OUR RADIO ARRAY
Yes! Three bars on my signal strength indicator. My phone buzzed and I answered immediately.
“How may I direct your call?” I said in my best “Judy, the Time/Life Operator” voice. Again, Georges did not find me as hilarious as I intended.
“Jules, I am so relieved! Jill and Keiko came through and then the power went out. When we got the lights on the wormhole had dissipated.”
“Tell me about it! I think the wormhole took a lightning hit. I’m probably lucky it didn’t fry me or stop my heart. Did the CME event happen?”
“Yes, we are still on generator power and half the world is limping along without power and computers. That is why I’m using WIFI; the cellular networks have not recovered yet. But never mind that, where are you?”
“When am I, you mean. Georges, the wormhole spit me out in 1859! How did that happen?? I’m still in England, possibly the at the corresponding geographic location of the 15th century village. I’ll send you the coordinates to confirm. Did the EMP kill the wormhole? Or the lightning? Or both?”
“We don’t know. It took me an hour just to get the tiny tunnel stabilized. I think the residual electromagnetic energy is keeping the wormhole from re-establishing its original size. The Wand is almost unresponsive.”
“We just need to get this opened enough for me to dive into it over the shitter.”
“Nothing. Is there anything I can do from my side to open it? “
“Jules, we don’t know. It’s three in the morning and almost nothing is working yet. We’ll figure something out soon. Are you going to be okay there for now?”
“Yes, I made a friend. He’s letting me stay in a spare room.”
“He?? A man? A male person? Did I hear you correctly?”
“Poppette, you didn’t have to return a certain… favor, did you?”
“For crying out loud, Georges.”
“Ok, I’m done. Listen, Jules, until the LTE towers come back up, you’ll have to be close to the WIFI signal in order to connect. I’ll send you an SMS message when the cellular network is online and I have the LTE signal extended through. That will give you a longer range.”
“I’ll set up the array with a 500 watt repeater, so I think I can give you a few miles at least.
“Ok, I’m going back to bed now. I’ll come out here and check in with you in the morning after my daily constitutional.”
“Nothing. Good night, Georges. Omigod! Boomers!”
“Jules, what are you saying?”
“That bar. In college.”
“Gah! I still have nightmares about that, I mean, the parts I can remember. Didn’t I get married that night? Whatever happened to my wife? What was her name…?”
“It wasn’t legal. Barbara.”
“Oh, that’s right. Nice girl. Maybe I’ll call her. Bonne nuit, Cherie. I am happy that you are not a pile of disbanded molecules.”
“You do say the sweetest things.”
I ended the call and turned off not only the ringer but the vibrating notification, lest my voluminous Victorian skirts should buzz mysteriously during tea. I briefly wondered if I should camouflage the wormhole; but on closer inspection I decided that if I didn’t someone didn’t know exactly what he was looking for, he would probably take the wormhole for a knot in the wooden plank wall. Since it was dim inside the privy, even in the daylight, and since most visitors would be single-minded in purpose, I deemed it a non-issue.
With the phone in my pocket, I headed back to the house and back up to my room to see if I could get a few more hours of sleep—an act that would be easier now that Georges and the team knew I was alive and were working on getting me home. A decent night’s rest would also enable me to continue my marginally convincing charade of being an upstanding, contemporary, Victorian gal on the go.