“I insist on taking a time portal,” stated the historian, a human-Vulcan hybrid named Kalothin.
“We’ve got some accuracy issues with ‘em,” explained Chief Engineer Kevin O’Connor.
Kevin’s boss, Admiral Carmen Calavicci, looked on. “He’s right, you know. A better choice, truly, would be for you to delay your observational voyage until the Audrey Niffenegger can be repaired. Time ships are better when it’s a trip of over a millennium, and yours is about fifteen hundred years.”
“I want to go now,” he insisted.
Carmen shot time traveler Richard Daniels a quick look – the guy seemed to have nearly no Vulcan blood in him whatsoever if he was that impatient. “You’ll need to sign a waiver, then, absolving us of any liability in the event that you don’t get to 1616 Padua. Plus Richard here will accompany you.”
“Standard operating procedure,” Rick explained. “It’ll be fine. Our pretext will be that we are itinerant day laborers. You’ll need to camouflage your ears, of course.”
“Yes,” Kalothin conceded.
“And Boris Yarin will give you a shot of a temporary version of stem cell growth accelerator,” Carmen added, “that way; you can’t be killed by any nasty bugs.”
“But that’s nothing against amputations,” Rick stated, “so try not to get a finger cut off.”
“I’ll, I’ll keep that in mind.”
They were ready in less than an hour. Their attire was cloaks, flaxen shirts, breeches and clogs. They each wore somewhat flat hats as well.
“Ready to see Galileo?” Rick asked. Kalothin nodded. Rick looked at Kevin. “Let’s go.”
Kevin hit the controls and they were whisked away. He looked at a monitor and frowned, once they’d disappeared. “Damn.”
“What’s the matter?” Carmen inquired, a bit of alarm in her voice.
“Shoulda waited for the Audrey to be fixed. Looks like they’re off both spatially and temporally.”
“How bad is it?”
“I’ll triangulate and find ‘em. I am thinking they’re still in Europe. And I think they’re within two hundred years or so, give or take a decade.”
“Let’s put a rush on this,” Carmen commanded, “Those people still believe in witches.”
They landed in a farmer’s field, where there were indeterminate plants growing. Barley? Wheat? Hay? Rick had no idea.
“This doesn’t look like Padua,” Kalothin complained.
“I’m sure it isn’t,” Rick sighed. “Kevin’ll have to find us.”
“How long does that generally take?”
“From his end, minutes. From ours, it’s usually a day or two when we’re this far away spatially and temporally. Shoulda waited for Audrey.”
“I – yes, you’re right of course. Perhaps we can salvage the situation. Whatever this time period is, it may still be worth studying.”
“Huh. If it’s medieval times, our clothes and our pretext are probably okay. Hold onto that portable PADD and don’t let anyone see it.” Rick indicated a small device that Kalothin was holding. “You might have to adjust the translation setting. These folks might or might not speak Italian.” Rick had no such worries, as he had a tiny communicator permanently embedded behind his left ear. A tap or two and it would switch to German or Bantu or whatever the natives were speaking. But he still carried a portable PADD. The device was no bigger than a stick of chewing gum, and had two rings that could be worn around the fingers. The device was tucked into the palm of his hand; the only evidence of its existence was the two carrying rings around his knuckles.
“Let’s go this way,” Kalothin suggested. The crops seemed to be thinning; it may have been near the border of the farmer’s land.
There was, in a kilometer or so, a village. They listened for the sounds of speech and adjusted their translations accordingly. There was a small acting troupe performing on a raised platform as people threw bits of copper or even left a little produce in payment.
Snatches of speech – donde esta – and – derecho – and – iglesia – and Rick’s translator kicked in. It was Spanish.
The little play ended with a song. There was an actress, a rare but not impossible sight. There were darker people, including the actress. Kalothin shepherded Rick over to the side of the stage. “My guess is that this is Moorish Spain. I heard what I thought were a few Arabic words in there before the translator latched on.”
“Right. Got any idea of the year?”
“Something before 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella drove out the Moors.”
“What are you fellows whispering about?” asked a not unpleasant voice – the actress.
“We have been traveling for so long,” Rick explained, “that we are uncertain of the year.”
“Oh! We travel a great deal as well,” she indicated her troupe. “It is the year of our lord, 1417.”
“I admit,” Kalothin added, “we are even uncertain of the name of this village.”
She shrugged. “I think we are in Cordoba. It can all run together after a while. I am Irene, of Castile.”
“Ricardo,” Rick said, “and, uh, this is José. We are from, er, Barcelona.”
“I believe we have been there,” Irene stated. She walked over to her troupe to converse with them a little.
“Pity we’re not at the Isle of Man,” Kalothin said, “this is the year that their parliament first met.” Rick looked at him so he quietly added, “I know, I know, I shoulda waited for Audrey.”
Irene returned. “Do you have another performance?” Rick inquired.
“No. It is nothing as organized as all that. Are you hungry? We do not have much, but we can share with others who wander.”
The audience had scattered and the troupe walked to a small encampment. One of the men started a fire, and the meager produce was washed in a nearby creek. Bits of copper were traded for a chicken, which Irene plucked as they sat together. The remainder of the troupe – all male – built up the fire and sang songs that neither Kalothin nor Rick recognized.
“It’s rather rare to see a woman acting,” Kalothin ventured.
“My brothers used to act, but they have died,” she explained as she plucked. “And so I am filling in.” Once the chicken was plucked, it was placed on a spit and roasted on the fire. “Have you jobs?” she asked.
“We go from town to town, doing what needs to be done,” Kalothin explained. “And then we move on.”
“Do you sing?”
“Rather poorly,” Rick admitted. “Not so well as you do, I’m afraid.”
“The ability is mostly inborn, I believe,” she opined. “Ah, it smells as if the chicken is mostly done. I believe the limbs can be taken off the flame now.”
The other members of the troupe took their shares and, once the remainder of the meat had finished cooking, Irene finally took her share and offered them some, along with a few carrots and cabbage leaves. “This is our feast,” she joked.
“It’s fine,” Rick assured her.
They ate in silence. Kalothin got up, as it was getting dark. “Off to look around for a bit.”
Rick looked up. “Don’t wander too far. We shouldn’t be too far from each other.” The time portal could still work, even if they weren’t right next to each other, but proximity would be helpful all the same.
“Just a look.” Kalothin indicated the underside of his left hand, where his portable PADD was tucked. He left to take readings.
Back in 3102, Kevin clicked around. “Damn time portals. We shouldn’t even tell people ‘bout ‘em, I’m thinkin’. Too much dang trouble.”
“I’m sure you’ll perform your usual magic,” Carmen patted him on the arm.
“Come,” Irene coaxed.
“Oh?” Rick asked.
“Yes, over here.” Dinner forgotten, they walked to a clearing, away from the others. The stars had come out. With no earthbound lights, save from various campfires and cooking fires, the visibility was off the charts. Thousands of stars were out. The moon had not yet risen.
Irene lay down on her back on the damp ground. “Isn’t it spectacular?”
Rick lay down beside her. “Hell, yeah.” He could see the Vulcan system’s star, the Xyrillian home world’s sun and any multitude of other friendly Alpha Quadrant territories.
“The priests say,” she explained. “That the stars are lights that God has hung in the sky. But I think they are the souls of the departed. I like to think that my three brothers are up there,” she pointed at Orion’s Belt, “and my mother is there,” the North Star, “and my Papa is here.” She indicated Arcturus.
“Maybe they’re worlds. Maybe there are people up there.”
“Worlds? How very curious. If they are worlds, as you say, where would you be from, Ricardo?”
He hunted around until he found Saturn. “Uh, there.” Close enough.
“Wanderer? Oh, yes, a planet. Actually, a wanderer around that bigger wanderer.” It was as close as he could come to telling her where he’d really been born – on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.
She laughed. “Wanderers around wanderers! Do they dance, around a maypole, or the like?”
“And what do they do when May is over?”
He smiled at that. “They dance even when it isn’t May.”
“How funny. Tell me, when you work, what do you do?”
“I fix things.” Timelines.
“I have never had such a knack. Tell me, have you seen any marvelous machines?”
Rick wracked his brains. What could he tell her about that would be era-appropriate? A compass? A steel-tipped plow? A clipper ship? A compass was old news. The others were far from being invented. “Uh, I dunno.”
“Ah, then you have not been to Cadiz.”
“I haven’t,” he admitted. That was the truth, in any era.
“There is the most wonderful thing. It is as a wheel. But wheels roll on the ground, yes?”
“This wheel, it is, eh, it is like this instead.” She put her hand out and turned it, palm facing the ground.
“That’s horizontal. Wheels are usually seen vertically,” he explained. Her hand was still extended, so he took it.
“Yes, yes, well, this wheel, it is very large, Ricardo. And it has four extra, eh, spokes. They are rounded, with a hollow center, like handles.”
“So a person would be able to hold onto the sides of this horizontal wheel?” He wasn’t following her.
“Perhaps, but a horse or an ox or a mule, they can be tied there. And you tie two mules, opposite one another. And you bade them to go to the left.”
“All right. And what does that do?”
“Strapped under the wheel, there is a great millstone, and another beneath that. The miller – he is the one who owns the great wheel – he places threshed grain between the two millstones. And as the mules are driven around in a circle, they make the upper millstone go up and down.”
“And what does this do?”
“It grinds the grain. And it is fast, too! But it is expensive. I have seen this particular miller, he is a wealthy man. People bring their grain to him from afar. And he gets a cut off the top, of the proffered grain. But he is wealthy, like I said, and he is very fat and his children are fat. They are, eh, they are set.”
“I imagine they are.”
“It is not, you see, I do not wish for a dull life, to stay in a small backwater village, such as this one.”
“But it would sure be nice to have the wealth, eh, Irene?”
“That is correct,” she said, “so you have never seen such a marvel?”
He’d seen the latest of time ship technology, on Kevin O’Connor’s PADD as the engineer was in the process of inventing it. He had the permanently implanted communicator, and it could effortlessly translate most of the galaxy’s known languages, and could reasonably guess at the remainder. He’d traveled at Warp 9 so many times, it was a yawner. “No, I have not seen such marvels.”
He leaned over and kissed her. There were still some things that were not improved by technology.
The following morning, Kalothin caught up with him. “These people aren’t too far beyond primitives,” he complained, “and in some ways, they’re worse.”
“I don’t know,” Richard replied, “they’ve got their own marvels.”
He heard a signal chime from his implanted communicator, and they hid behind a haystack as Kevin recalled them back to 3102, where other marvels awaited.