Click here to read Part 1.
Rochester, New York, United States
Isabella Cooper-Oakley, age 31
I had suspected, upon finally meeting Giovanini, that I would have left feeling somehow disappointed, but the more we interacted, the more he made peculiar allusions, the more his dark eyes twinkled at John and I, the more I grew convinced that he was indeed the elusive Count of St. Germain. He’d evaded all my hints at his identity throughout the evening, navigating the conversation with clever replies that neither answered nor ignored me. It was deliberate, and though always performed without offense, it tugged at me long after we’d departed Italy.
My irritation developed in the days, weeks even, after our meeting, when I considered all the secrets he carried that would benefit his fellow man if only he did not horde them away. It echoed of my childhood, when strangers occupied hours of my father’s time for issues I was always excluded from, and I disliked St. Germain’s secrecy all the more for it. I disagreed with Giovanini – in our day and age of technological advancement, humanity absolutely was ready for whatever he harbored, and it was cruel of him to withhold it. I wished that I’d had the opportunity to convince him as such, armed with his admission and indisputable proof.
I could not even be calmed by the gift Giovanini had seen me off with – in fact, the mysterious black stone from the astrolabe only added to my frustration, as he hadn’t bothered to explain what I was intended to do with it aside from a simple assurance of “great things.” I’d inspected, squeezed it, heated it, prayed to it, set it in water, even touched it to my tongue, and I could garner no reaction from it, let alone anything attributed to the philosopher’s stone I suspected it to be.
The meeting affected John differently, galvanizing him to construct his own variation of a time machine. He’d built it from a longcase clock, inspired by a story he’d read in The Sun some months back sent by an American associate of his.
We moved from London to Budapest, where John was connected to fellow physicist and electrician Nikola Tesla – a somewhat disorganized personality, but a valuable contributor to the machine’s functions – before the young Serbian left for Paris shortly thereafter.
At first, John attributed my general melancholy to the move across Europe, but in fact, my despair revolved more closely around St. Germain. I wanted Giovanini to admit who and what he was, not just to become his equal, but to see humanity restored to the utopia he’d implied. A return to the Garden of Eden. The thought of it made me sigh, which I did so many times that John couldn’t ignore it despite his own distractions. I was hesitant to admit my mind still circled St. Germain after having made John so wary in Milan, but his response was considerate as he drew me into his embrace.
“When my time machine works, we’ll find St. Germain and you’ll have your proof.”
He kissed my forehead and returned to his workstation, but I remained skeptical as I stood there watching him work.
“With what proof?” I asked him. “St. Germain of the past hasn’t met us – Giovanini did.”
John had a solution for that, too – photography. Current technology was too cumbersome and messy, of course, but the same friend who’d forwarded him the American newspaper also owned the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company in Rochester, and John was certain if there was anyone working on a more portable solution, George Eastman would be our man.
We wrote to him at once, and though we made plans to travel together to New York, John became ill days before our departure and was advised to remain homebound for several weeks. I thus made the journey alone. At first, I was wary; America was an unfamiliar country, and Mr. Eastman was unmarried. John gave a good-natured chuckle when I expressed my hesitation and said, “No troubles there. I expect George is more likely to make advances at me than you.”
Mr. Eastman, his mother, and his sister were kind enough to pick me up from the train depot in Rochester, and though he did seem rather fond of women, he had an unmistakable air of propriety about him. I was quite at ease in his company, even after we left my bags with his kin and separated from them for a visit to the Eastman factory.
Mr. Eastman was well-dressed, very polite and quite eager to talk about his passion for photography, and by the time we’d reached his office, I knew all about the formation of his company over the years, as well as recent developments. He selected a model from his workstation, a simplistic box camera small enough for the metal and wood framework to fit comfortably in my hands. It was preloaded, he explained, with a hundred-exposure roll that would capture any image at the push of the shutter button. I bent closer to inspect the single lens protruding from the front side, the two lines on the top face intended to aim the shot, and the rotating key that wound the film to the next frame.
“It’s perfect,” I breathed. “What will you call it?”
Mr. Eastman shrugged. “My mother suggested Kodak. I don’t know how she came up with it, but I rather like the sound of it.”
There was a knock at the door, and Mr. Eastman’s secretary peeked his head in to announce the arrival of a visitor by the name of Mr. Cooper-Oakley.
“John?” Mr. Eastman turned a quizzical gaze toward me, but all I could offer was a shrug, for I was just as perplexed to see my husband stroll in. He had a disheveled bachelor’s appearance, as though he’d not left the house much in my absence – he needed a shave, his clothes were quite rumpled, and his hair, always a bit longer than fashionable, had grown long enough to tie back behind his neck – but he was healthy and in good spirits.
He smelled faintly of perspiration as I embraced him. “It works!” he breathed into my ear, his arms clenching so tight about my ribcage that it stifled my breath for an instant. He broke away at once without elaboration, and greeted Mr. Eastman excitedly as he apologized for his delay and for the miscommunication.
I had to exercise great patience through the remainder of the evening as the two men caught up with each other, inwardly squirming for privacy and a thorough explanation. We brought John abreast of the phenomenal box camera Mr. Eastman intended to send us off with for field testing, and had dinner with his mother and sister. It wasn’t until we’d retired for the evening that John revealed – nearly bursting with excitement – that he’d arrived by means of the time machine, which he’d left hidden in some trees upon the Eastman property.
“I was certain all the components were there for the machine to work,” he said. “I completed it while you were gone, but it was your idea to add the stone Giovanini gave you. I didn’t ask you before, but why didn’t you tell me he’d given it to you? I could have had this puzzle solved months ago!”
“I didn’t realize….” I began, my thoughts drifting back to countless hours spent mulling over the damned thing. I’d been so convinced it was a philosopher’s stone that I’d failed to consider its usage outside of the traditional sense. Perhaps I’d been misguided by the fact that the stone had been given to me, and not John, or by the impression that it had been useless in Giovanini’s own attempt at a time machine.
John did not appear truly upset however, still riding the high of his success, and I beamed at him. He had that boyish, nervous energy about him that had charmed me during those days at university when we’d met, and I caught his face between my hands so as to kiss him square on the mouth.
“This is incredible, John!” I declared, and he picked me up and whirled me once through the air. I held tightly to him even as he set me upon my feet again. “Let’s return together, then!”
His face, boyishly pleased by my affections, suddenly turned aghast at the idea. “No!” he exclaimed, then having realized how much he’d raised his voice, forced his reply into a hush. “You’ll have to return the long way, I’m afraid. I’ll be returning to a Budapest three months from now, and you’re already there. But,” he added, with a shrug and a gleam in his eye, “at least we have assurance that you’ll return safely.”
Isabella Cooper-Oakley, age 31
The house was in nearly pristine condition when I did finally return to Budapest, not by John’s efforts, but by his neglect. The cupboards were empty, and our rooms – the basement workshop notwithstanding – appeared unlived- in. John was tinkering away in a disaster area of precision parts, maps, and measuring devices orbiting the husk of the longcase clock that would be his time machine.
I smiled at the sight of him; he hadn’t heard me come in, and he bumped his head when I greeted him. Nonetheless, he greeted me warmly, the whiskers on his face scratching my cheek as he leaned in to kiss me.
He was all too eager to show me the intricate additions he’d made, not so unlike what we’d seen on Giovanini’s astrolabe device. The clock’s faceplate had been swapped with a multitude of settings, each which demonstrated the exact position of celestial bodies in any calculated point in time. Various dials and mechanical counters – the gemstones among them – allowed for the adjustment of physical coordinates.
“It looks quite nearly complete,” I said.
“It is,” he replied, though there was a tinge of dejection as he regarded the longcase clock. “Well, it has been, but I haven’t quite gotten it up and running. Mechanically speaking, it functions, but it has yet to journey anywhere. I can’t think of what it’s missing.”
I muttered to myself, and dug around in my handbag. “Perhaps because you’re missing Giovanini’s philosopher’s stone.”
John’s brow pinched. “That garish black thing? I don’t even know what it is or how to find one, let alone how to utilize it. Oh my, is that it?” He adjusted his spectacles on the bridge of his nose as he took it from my hand. “It looks the same cut and everything – good gracious, Isabella, you didn’t pilfer it, did you?”
I swatted his arm with my handbag. “I most certainly did not! Giovanini slipped it to me before we left, and he didn’t say what for. Before my journey to America, I’d driven myself nearly mad trying to figure out how to use it, but it’s rather obvious now, isn’t it?”
After regaling John of his successful visit to Rochester, he consulted his charts and adjusted the dials accordingly.
“That’s the tricky part with all this,” he muttered. “If the coordinates are off just the slightest, the clock may very well end up in a wall or a lake. Wherever – or whenever – you decide to go, you need to be confident about where you’re landing. Geographical changes don’t just account for landmass. Cities have come and gone over the ages, haven’t they?”
He placed the black stone upon the center faceplate, and a low humming fired up from the bowels of the longcase. It was quite subtle, only noticeable in our silence, mere white noise amidst conversation. But the air tingled now, electrified with significance.
“Go on, then,” I said, squeezing his hand. “After all, we have assurance that you’ll return safely.”
* * *
It was only when John returned – and our celebrations thereafter – that we noticed the black stone did not appear quite as luminous as it once had. John removed it from its setting, and as the low hum ceased, he scrubbed the stone as if to clean it.
“I suspect there’s a limit to its usage,” he said, frowning. “If we’re to chase after your St. Germain, we’ll have to plan the journey carefully, coordinates aside. We should make the initial jump back to the earliest point in time your St. Germain can be traced, and move forward from there until we arrive again to the present.”
I spent the next few days consulting my research – pages upon pages of notes taken from countless historical reports, books, and private correspondences – compiling all the speculated identities and cross referencing them with sightings and associations throughout the eras. It was more difficult the further I went back in history, as recordkeeping muddied and there were far less threads to connect, but his patterns were the same, never failing to bear striking similarities to the Count of St. Germain’s appearance, mannerisms, and habits.
From all this, I created his timeline for our itinerary, starting with Santorini Island – his supposed Atlantis. I traced him to Babylon, the library of Alexandria, house arrest in the Byzantine empire, a mathematics school in Muslim Spain, and several other points in time. He left his mark with the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians, crossing paths with the likes of Nicholas Flamel, Vlad Dracul, and Shakespeare before eventually befriending Louis XV and Madame du Pompadour.
Panic flashed in John’s eyes when he saw my proposed itinerary, a list of nothing short of a dozen places in time.
“We can’t possibly risk this many stops!” he insisted, holding the diminished black stone between our noses. “We haven’t a real idea how long its power may last! And, really, how many snapshots of the man do you need to prove your point?”
After a fair amount of arguing and compromising, we decided on a few limited locations, and while John carefully plotted our destinations, I begged the opera for the loan of some costumes. I stowed them within our travel packs and fashioned a leather carrying case for Mr. Eastman’s Kodak.
With our preparations made, we stood before the clock, hand in hand. John reached forward to set the black stone, and as the time machine buzzed with life, the space within the longcase grew ethereal. I became dizzy the closer I drew to it, but followed John’s lead as he stepped through.
Atlantis, 1597 B.C.
Present- day Island of Santorini, in search of the inventor Talos
I experienced a sensation I can only describe as a dream-like freefall. It was dark at first, then light, then dark again, back and forth, as if day and night fought for advantage. I could not make much out beyond that, though I had the impression that objects came and went all around me. It was fuzzy about my periphery, as if I moved at light speed, and yet not at all. I stood upon solid ground, and yet none was there.
All that was true was John’s hand upon mine, warm and solid and a bit clammy. He was there, my rock, my foundation, the only thing that made any sense in the chaos. It was he who dragged me from the neverspace, settling the earth and the sky and finally giving my eyes a fixed point to steady myself.
It was daylight – bright daylight; the sturdy construct of our rented house was gone, and we were surrounded instead by palm trees and beach grass. The afternoon sun hung languid in a deep blue sky, warm upon our skin. Mountains loomed on the nearby horizon, and all around us gusts of sea air rustled the sand dunes, carrying the caws of gulls and the scent of the ocean. There was no one around us, not a house, nor a road, nor any other sign of civilization. At first, I wondered where the time machine had gone, only to find it directly behind us, the belly of the longcase still open from where we’d stepped through.
John looked me over. “How are you feeling?”
“A bit like my insides are flipped.”
“Right.” Leaning towards the time machine, he removed the black stone from the main faceplate, and the queasiness faded. He shifted his spectacles as he stared at the stone within his palm, and I leaned closer to see the change in luster. “This trip certainly took more out of it.”
I decided not to fret over the expenditure; the stone hadn’t diminished so much as to be concerned about getting elsewhere, and I was so giddy with excitement that it was difficult to be a milksop over it. I regarded our conveyance as John tucked the gemstone safely away.
“It’s a bit silly, isn’t it?” I mused. “A longcase clock standing just so in the sand like this?”
We carried it towards a cluster of palm trees to conceal it, breaking quite a sweat in the process. The sand was unstable, and I stumbled over my skirt as often as John tripped over his own feet. With the time machine out of sight, and our packs in the husk of the clock, we debated how to approach the city. The ancients were not documented to have been a modest society, but we had little to guess at their actual attire, and so we decided to approach with caution and adapt our clothes as we came into contact with others.
Not far from our landing site, we crested a sand dune and found ourselves overlooking a sprawling metropolis flanking the oceanfront. My breath caught in my chest at the magnificent sight, a picturesque fusion of nature and civilization far apart from anything I’d seen anywhere in my travels. Unlike the tired, dingy edifices of most European cities, the city before us sparkled like a brand new thing, catching the sunlight as if built entirely from pale marble, silver, and glass. The sophistication of its architecture was difficult to comprehend, yet there it stood with spiraling towers and skyscrapers arching towards the clouds. Thousands of structures sprang from the sloping landscape as if grown from its very soil, and causeways stretched between them, buttressed by sweeping cantilevers.
Horseless carriages glided down the wide roadways, and conveyors swiftly scaled great heights without any rails or cables that I could see. On the far side of the cityscape, a sleek-bodied dirigible cruised the air with more dexterity I thought possible, and speeding upon the open water were scores of small ships that impressed me as recreational crafts, and not merchant. Most lacked sails, but they didn’t look like any steamship I’d seen. Nor did they perform as such, as one cut a path across the waves with remarkable speed.
It was marvelous and fantastical and entirely too awesome to be real.
“John….we did go backwards in time, yes?”
John’s jaw hung open. He sputtered for a response, his head dipping down to consult the charts within his notebook. After a long moment of pages flipping back and forth, he gave an affirmative nod. Giovanini had not deceived us; great knowledge had indeed been lost.
“It looks like Heaven,” John breathed.
“Or Mount Olympus,” I said, nodding towards the mountain in the city’s immediate backdrop. Perhaps it was sheer proximity that made it more imposing than those in the distance, or the fact that it loomed in the water, but I drew the Kodak from where it was nestled under my arm and snapped a photo. As I wound the key to the next frame, I said, “That’s the volcano that destroys it all.”
John consulted his maps again with a frown. “There’s no mountain in the bay on any of these,” he said. “It must have blown off its own topper and sunk into the water.”
“Along with a quarter of the island,” I said. “The eruption will be so intense that the ash from it will be found in Europe for centuries to come, blacking out the sun for weeks and prolonging winter by years.”
I thought the information was fascinating, but John slid an annoyed side-eye at me – I hadn’t mentioned any of this when we selected our destinations, and Atlantis had been a tough sell for him as it was. I pretended not to notice by raising my binoculars to my eyes, through which I observed how the pedestrians below were dressed. My bustled petticoats wouldn’t do here, I quickly discerned, and I advised John to remove his waistcoat and unfasten the uppermost buttons of his shirt.
“You’d think a society that could engineer such marvels might choose a better place to settle than a hotbed of natural disasters,” he said, pulling the shirttails from his waistband.
I lifted the hem of my limp skirt, and stepped out from the pool of petticoats at my feet. “Perhaps not, if they were advanced enough to counter most of them. Giovanini said the ancients were far more sophisticated than surviving relics suggest.”
“All the same, let’s find St. Germain and be off.” John paused with his hands at his suspenders, suddenly looking skeptical as he noticed me unhooking the front busk of my corset. “I say, are you sure we should be undressing this much?”
I passed him the binoculars. “Take a look for yourself,” I said, and tore the front of my chemise from hem to belly.
John flinched as I gathered the extra fabric and tied it just under my breasts. “That was nice underwear!”
“I do hope the Atlanteans agree.” As I released my hair from its pins, John frowned at my exposed arms and stomach, and I sighed. “Did you not stress how important it was to blend in? Come on then, off with those suspenders. And tie your hair back.”
He complied, albeit reluctantly. “How do these fellows keep their trousers up, anyway?” I caught amidst his low grumbles.
We found a path that led us down the slope and to the road below, where we encountered passerby along the wide walkways leading to the city. At once, John’s discomfort seemed allayed as we not only passed without drawing much attention, but without being the most scandalous specimens about. Men and women alike strolled along with sun-kissed, bare limbs. The men were often shirtless and the women bared their midriffs and wore skirts ranging from the short and flouncy to the long and flowing. The textiles were light and gauzy, often brightly colored so that our attire was drab and modest in comparison.
Immersed in the crowd, bits of conversations flittered to my ears, none of which I understood. Though I recognized the Cretan hieroglyphs upon scrolling marquis and painted signs, I knew little more of them than other than the characteristics separating them from Egyptian, and the spoken variety was nothing like the Greek or Latin I was familiar with. A woman passed us seemingly talking to herself, until a secondary voice emitted from her handheld device, and I stared after her so intrigued that John had to tap my arm so that I’d face forward again.
We paused near an alley where an artist was suspended on a platform, painting frescoes similar to those that archaeologists found all over Crete.
I laughed. “It’s but graffiti art to them,” I said to John, and snapped another photo. “What do you suppose they’d think if they knew that’s what survived of them in our museums?”
John stepped closer and pushed the Kodak gently back under my arm. “I think,” he said, “that we should be less conspicuous.”
I disagreed, suspecting there was little reason to hide the Kodak; in this city full of technological wonders, John and I seemed almost primitive in comparison.
We pushed onwards towards the main plaza, where we were accosted by a young woman carrying pamphlets and wearing a brightly colored sash. John was so enthralled with the pamphlet – and the printing press that he surmised had produced it – that he hardly noticed a beaded trinket had been pinned to his shirt, or that a sash had been draped across my shoulders.
“Do you suppose we’re supporting some political endeavor?” asked John, as the woman moved on. “There’s quite a few of these wranglers about the plaza.”
I grabbed John by his shirt, inspecting the medallion more closely as it tickled a distant memory of something I had seen somewhere before, shrouded in age within a display case. “Giovanini had something like this among his collection,” I said. “Talos is here, somewhere.”
“Well, he’s here in this pamphlet, surely,” said John, and I snatched it from his hands.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that the ancients possessed their own variant of photography, but upon finding the realistic portraits within the pamphlet, I lamented the Kodak’s abilities; even Mr. Eastman’s cutting edge techniques did not produce such refined results.
I zeroed in where John had pointed, and there was the Count of St. Germain – Giovanini – the man we’d spent an entire afternoon with in Milan. No span of time would ever blur his face from my mind. Looking up, my eyes searched the plaza for the woman who’d approached us, and when I’d spotted her I waved for her attention despite John’s protest.
“Where might we find him?” I asked the woman as we met halfway, not thinking at first of its impracticality. She didn’t comprehend my English, of course, but my question was received all the same as I pointed fervently at St. Germain’s portrait. She directed us to a large assembly hall at the corner of the plaza, and as John and I passed a series of columns and stepped into the cool shade, we found ourselves in what appeared to be a symposium of sorts. There was ample seating surrounding a center stage, upon which a demonstration was occurring before a panel of faces I recognized from the pamphlet. Among them was St. Germain.
I started to raise the Kodak, but then decided against it as a handful of people traversed the aisles between the seated areas, some departing, others finding more choice arrangements. “Let’s get closer.”
We found benches near the edge of the stage, off center from St. Germain’s focal point, and listened as the demonstration carried on. Sitting this close to him, watching him interact with familiar mannerisms, I couldn’t help but smile. He reached for a nearby chalice of clear liquid – his favored mineral water, I presumed – and our eyes met for the briefest instant. I raised the Kodak to my face, clumsy though it was, and pushed the shutter.
Alexandria, Egypt 48 B.C.
Roman Annexation, in search of the mathematician Carpus of Antioch
There was hardly a breath spared for motion sickness upon our next journey. Though John had set us successfully upon the roof of the Library of Alexandria, his calculations were flawed, and we arrived in the midst of a siege. Caesar’s sacrificial ships burned in the harbor, destroying the Egyptian fleet and spreading to the city despite the blockades thrown up in the streets. John took one look at the billowing black smoke and chaos in the streets, and immediately set to work on the time machine. I stayed at the terrace and watched men flee from the library and dump armfuls of scrolls into waiting carts.
“St. Germain would want to preserve the knowledge,” I said. “I’m going downstairs.”
John dropped his notebooks and grabbed me as I reached for a cloak from our packs. “Are you mad? It’s too dangerous.”
“Very well, then,” I said. “Recalculate.”
John cast an uneasy glance at the black stone, now further spent, and shook his head. “I dare not risk it.”
“Then stay here and set the next coordinates, while I try to salvage this opportunity.”
“Absolutely not!” John cried, though I heard more fear in his voice than command. “Isabella, be reasonable – in all your studies, when have you found accounts of St. Germain in the seat of conflict? He most certainly would have received word of this and fled by now.”
A nearby explosion startled us, and in the brief lapse of John’s attention, I sprang into action, disappearing in the tower alcove. His distraught shouts did not follow me down the stairs, and with water from our cantina, I soaked my veil and wrapped the damp portion around my nose and mouth.
The library was massive, with a practical layout separating the various schools of learning. Shelves lined the walls, heaped with papyrus scrolls and surrounded by ladders and stairways by which to reach them, but as I coughed on smoke, I was reminded I had not the luxury of time to explore. I kept to the pillars as the men scoured the shelves, scouring for anything that might indicate a useful direction.
When a man rushed passed me carrying an overloaded basket, I recognized astronomical equipment and immediately traced his path. The hall took me to another set of stairs and opened to a prominent wing with a planetarium and several workstations. There were but two men left here collecting various apparatus, and an elderly scholar stacking texts and scrolls for the next runner, one of whom pushed me out of the way with an irritable bark.
I swore as much for the assault as I did for my general frustration. St. Germain wasn’t here. Perhaps he was among those near the entrance, loading the carts. I turned heel and retraced my steps at a run as it occurred to me how much hotter it was than when I’d first passed through this hall.
The fire had engulfed much of the entrance and spread farther in along the draperies. As my eyes burned from the smoke, I realized someone called for me – or, rather, at me. The men remaining near the entrance, sweaty and smeared with soot, assisted escaping this way.
Crackling overhead gave everyone an increased sense of urgency, and a man turned to me, hand outstretched, as he spoke what I believed to be Greek. When I hesitated, he made a grab for me, withdrawing only to avoid to falling wreckage. It burst ablaze as it hit the floor, spitting flames and ash as the gap widened between us. Despite the close call, the man once again reached for me, but I was shoved aside as the runner from the planetarium caught his arm instead and hoisted himself over the blaze.
The heat was too intense now, and before another rescue attempt could be made, I fled in the opposite direction, back to the time machine and the safety of John’s arms.
Córdoba, Spain 1000 A.D.
Al-Andalus, in search of the astronomer Maslamah al-Majriti
“I don’t suppose you’ll consider skipping this trek?” John asked, unsatisfied at his reflection in the longcase glass. We sat outside the city of Córdoba, hidden amongst trees just off the main road. “I don’t look remotely Mediterranean. Your St. Germain has the right features to weave in and out of these cultures, but not me.”
“Oh, but my dear John, you’re quite in luck!” I declared as I fastened a sash over his tunic. He was tense under my hands. “Blonds are all the rage among the Berbers, and thanks to a thriving slave industry, you’ll find plenty of folk boasting fair features.”
Mentioning slavery was a poor choice; my jest not only fell flat, but it took lengthy persuasion to convince John to go through with the outing after that. He had not thoroughly forgiven me for my dash through the library, which I heard all about in a diatribe that was much like the first I’d received upon that burning rooftop. I held my piece as he criticized my reckless behavior, and only after he appeared to be losing steam did I promise endlessly that I’d never again endanger either one of us. As if to emphasize my vow, I fastened my veil across my mouth and pleaded with my eyes.
John looked away, still somewhat disgruntled, but I was hopeful when he consulted his notebook. “Where will we find your St. Germain this time?”
There was only one place to find him – teaching at the school of Astronomy and Mathematics he’d founded under the name of Maslamah al-Majriti. Though my Urdu was nearly useless for conversing, the Arabic text was comprehensible, and the school wasn’t difficult to locate once we’d gotten into town.
It was a modest structure, accommodating only a handful of students; hardly the college I’d imagined, though it was blessedly open to the public according to a notice posted at the entrance. The study rooms were open and breezy, with long tables stretching almost as far back as an archway leading to a pleasant, yet modest, courtyard. Beyond that was an adjoining area with more workspace and various scientific apparatus.
“Maslamah al-Majriti made the first recorded mention of conservation of mass,” I said to John, keeping my voice low so as to not disturb those in study. “He used the concept to explore purifying gemstones, and later invented a process for producing mercury dioxide. His discoveries spread through Europe, and alchemy as we know it was born.”
I nodded to the alchemical lab beyond the breezeway, where a figure paced amid the workstations within. I could not quite see his face, but my intuition prickled with certainty that it was St. Germain. I needed to get closer.
There were eyes upon us as we admired the star charts mounted upon the wall opposite the courtyard, and I looked over to see a dark-skinned beauty sitting at a desk surrounded by parchment and wells of ink. She was different from the others here, as she did not appear to be studying, but rather transcribing astronomical tables.
By my research, Maslamah was said to have a daughter, Fatima, but by all accounts St. Germain was quite celibate. Taking on a ward for the sake of learning sounded just like him, however, particularly during this golden age of Muslim intellectualism.
The quill was paused in Fatima’s hand as she regarded us.
In truth, she looked right through me, bestowing all of her silent favor upon John. My husband was clueless – nose-to-the-wall without the aid of his spectacles, the long ends of his honey-brown hair curling from behind his ears and peeking out from his head covering.
“Don’t be obvious about it,” I whispered. “But you have an admirer.”
Of course John was obvious about it, despite his efforts. He was always clumsy about such things the instant he was conscious of them. The woman smiled behind her veil and lowered her eyes to her work, though she was quick to hazard a second glance.
John cleared his throat and pretended to study the star charts further. “What do I do?”
“Stay here, and distract her so I can investigate the alchemical lab.”
He blanched. “Distract her how? I can’t speak a word of Arabic, and I don’t want to walk out of here with twowives.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, John.” I squeezed his hand to reassure him. “Just make eyes at her until I can sneak past.”
I meandered about the room in my play to escape Fatima’s notice, making a show of observing the various wall hangings, and suppressing jealousy every time she cast her sultry dark eyes towards John. I was about to make my move into the courtyard, but halted my steps at the last second and averted my face as St. Germain emerged from the alchemical lab.
He greeted Fatima, the timbre of his voice familiar and gentle as it always was, and regarded her work with a searching eye. I glanced over my shoulder towards John, who returned a nervous expression that implored me to make haste.
An idea occurred to me as I noticed a bench facing the archways to both the study hall and the laboratory. Feigning fatigue, I sought it for a short rest, and adjusted the Kodak at my side so the lens faced St. Germain and Fatima. When I was certain that the angle was proper, I pressed the shutter.
The gentle click of the box camera did not escape notice, and I held my breath and regarded the mosaic tile as if I hadn’t noticed St. Germain pause. I chewed at my lip and refused to meet his eyes, though I felt the full weight of his scrutinizing gaze upon me and the exposed Kodak at my hip. He moved as if he intended to speak to me, but John appeared at the archway and said, “Let’s go, Isabella.”
I did not mind that he’d done so, for not only I was quite certain St. Germain could not yet speak any form of English, but the summoning provided a reasonable excuse to make a swift, albeit graceless, departure.
As a shy, awkward kid, M.K. Beutymhill adored Victorian charm, fairy tales, and RPG’s, none of which she ever outgrew. A stubborn independent streak introduced contact sports to this cocktail while surviving Charm City (balance is good, amirite, my ladythugs and gentledudes?). This juxtaposition between the whimsical and the visceral is present in her tales, where fantasy and science often collide into a blend of steampunk, gaslamp fantasy, or speculative historical fiction.