“Ugh! What’s that smell?”
“We’ve landed in some slimy dribble.”
“Are those fish entrails?”
Standing, he shook free from a tangle of stringy, wet, tendrils. The back of his hand went to his nostrils. Coughing, then gagging, he vomited.
I dodged the spew then dislodged fish guts clinging to the delicate details of my ball gown. This was not where I expected to land. In the hull of an ancient wooden ship.
Rows of boards were overhead with gaps between. Golden light streamed through cracks and we saw shadowy figures, speaking in foreign voices.
“If you logged in for 1492, Spain, we should be at the ball. Not here.”
“I did. I swear.”
“Then what happened? We should be in the presence of royalty. Not in the belly of an old ship with fish scraps covering us.”
“You act like this is my fault.”
“You are the one who logged in, right?”
“Yes, but you watched me. You saw me punch in Castile 1492.”
I composed myself. “You’re right. It’s just that, well, this isn’t where we are supposed to be.”
It started in the lab two months back. We were experiencing a pandemic of a disproportionate degree. With every new virus that had mutated since 2020 lockdown and stay-at-home mandates had become normal. But my colleague and I were never ordered to stay at home. We were essential workers as the creators of the cures.
Out of frustration I yelled, “I wish I were somewhere else. If I could only time-travel and escape the madness of staying perfectly healthy. I mean, humans have stayed alive for thousands of years without needing a cure for every micro-organism.”
I laid my head on the lab table and sobbed. Shortly I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. Brad, my colleague, was at my side.
“We can,” he said.
I dabbed my eyes with a tissue and inhaled deeply. “You’re right. We can do this.”
“That’s not what I mean,” he whispered. “We can time travel.”
“Oh yeah? Right! We can close our eyes and imagine we are someplace else. Go to my happy place.”
“More than that,” he said.
“Are you delusional? I can see this is getting to you, too.”
Ignoring my sarcasm, he sat beside me, looking around the room as he gauged his whispers so others wouldn’t hear.
“I’ve been experimenting at home. With time travel.”
I was fully awake, not dreaming, and well into the twenty-first century. Time travel had been an illusion of writers for decades. Now my lab colleague of ten years has cracked the code.
“So?” I responded slowly, not sure I wanted to hear more. But it was a diversion from day fifteen, of the fifteen-hour days, kitchen and cots lock-in. I propped my head with elbows. “Tell me more.”
“Where would you want to go?”
I pulled something from my memory. I was fascinated with the story of Christopher Columbus when he petitioned Queen Isabella for funds to sail to the Indies in search of spices, silk, and gold. To raise money for his venture, she planned an elaborate ball as a fund-raiser.
In my position with the lab, I had been to many of these fund-raisers. I was the monkey on the rope, convincing donors to reach deep into bank accounts. World security was in their hands because we had the cure. It only need to be funded.
I liked the atmosphere of the balls. Fancy dresses, drinks clinking, the best food, what was not to like? Oh…that would be the company. And of course, my duty at these events. But at this fund-raiser I might be the belle of the ball instead of the monkey on the rope.
In my dreamy state I replied, “Spain, 1492. I want to meet Christopher Columbus.”
“That’s odd,” he said.
“Wait a minute, you’re telling me I have an odd request when you’re telling me you’ve conquered time travel?”
We must have been slap happy or delirious from overwork because we laughed until we cried. And when we thought we had recovered, we laughed some more. I went to the bathroom to splash water in my face. When I returned, Brad hadn’t moved from the lab stool.
“Do you want to go?” he asked.
“We can’t leave. We are close to this cure. Just a few more days. Then I’m going home and I’m going to reconsider this job for my future.”
“When this is over, do you want to go to Spain?”
That’s how it started. This insane idea to time travel. Brad had time-traveled twice. First, he went to Haight Ashbury in 1969, “Summer of Love”. After two hours of watching a stoned out party, he jumped back to the present. Then he went to Ford’s Theater in 1865 when President Lincoln was assassinated. Both times were smooth sailing.
1492 Spain was his third time-travel trip and the furthest away.
I’m still not sure why, but I agreed. Wearing a dress made for Queen Isabella’s ball, we went to his secret place. I don’t think I asked enough questions. But in the back of my mind, I thought we wouldn’t really go anywhere.
Inside a large rusted propane tank at the back of his wooded property, I strapped into a seat with my ball gown spilling over. Hi-tech gages, panels, and joy sticks lit up the moment he pressed a button just inside the lid.
“What’s your weight?” he asked.
“With or without this ten pound ball gown?”
He laughed, “With.”
“What’s your height?”
“Five feet, four inches, but with these heels, I’d say, five feet six inches.”
“Okay, if these numbers are correct then our calculations should land us at Queen Isabella’s ball on the evening of August 1, 1492. Put on these goggles. And oh, you might experience a second or two of a lag when we land. That’s our bodies and minds syncing. Don’t worry, you’ll be okay.”
We made our way topside as dawn broke. Three ships were trekking along in rough waters as men dressed in ancient garb steadied the ship.
“We must be in the Nina, Pinta, or the Santa Maria,” Brad said.
“That means we missed the ball,” I pouted.
“The calculations were correct on my other time travel trips. I don’t how this one went wrong. The only variable is you.”
“Maybe you made a mistake,” I defended.
“No, I carefully input your height and weight. Five feet six inches tall and one hundred thirty-five pounds. Is that exact?” he glared.
I recalled the last time I weighed myself. It was a month before the lock down on this pandemic research. Eating always calmed my nerves. And I had been doing my share of snacking.
I hem hawed, “Well, if I’m honest, I’d say I’ve added ten pounds since I weighed last. But you know when it comes to women and our weight, we always lie.”
Brad gasped. “You know the importance of accuracy. You are a scientist, Miranda!”
“Yes Brad. But first I am a woman.”
We re-entered our world and Brad promised a next time. Eager for another reality break, I promised honesty.