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thorog in time_n_jaalami

Chapter 12fth

"I apologise for the mess, I don't usually have visitors over. Or I at least get some warning." Professor Ruzicka (for it was he) placed his hat on top of a pile of books sitting on a table. "Please hang up your coats. Er, would you like tea? I think I still have a kettle here somewhere..." Without waiting for an answer, he wandered through a doorway into what looked like a kitchen.

Sor hung her travel coat up and examined her clothes again. "You know," she said, "this dress is actually quite nice. Do you think I could take it back with me?" She turned around. "Kat?"

Kat was kneeling down beside the table, reading the spines of the books without touching them in the manner of a customer in a rather expensive bookshop. "Why don't books have dates on the spines?"

"Because that'd be stupid." Sor wandered over and picked up a book at random, brushing the dust off its cover. "Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Volume 29, 1886. 1886? What happened in 1886?"

"I don't know. That was before TV, right?"

Sor opened the book and started leafing through it. "Look at this," she said. "It's like a...a..."

"A really old book?"

"Yeah. Listen to the titles, though! "A treatment of Hertz' photoelectric effect by superposition of complimentary cathode rays." What does that even mean? Or this: "A theoretical exploration of the effects of the luminiferous aether on the motion of the outer planets". Do they try to confuse you?"

"Well, that journal's a bit out-of-date," the Professor said as he re-entered the room, a sheet of paper in his hand. "I'm afraid I can't find the teapot. I could swear I had one here. Maybe it's in the lab..."

"Out of date?" Kat said. "The aether doesn't even exist."

The Professor looked up. "You're remarkably well-read, young lady. Michelson and Morely only announced their results a few months ago, and the community is still arguing over whether or not those results are conclusive."

"Well, um, they're right. Trust me."

"Kat," Sor said, "should we even be telling him this stuff?"

"He'll find out eventually anyway."

"Ladies, interesting as this is," the Professor said, "we should sort out why there are two of the both of you. Come, the laboratory's downstairs." He started off through another door without looking to see if they followed him, still reading the paper in his hand and frowning.

Kat glanced at Sor. "I think he's older than our Jan," she said.

Sor nodded. "Come on, let's see what the lab's like!"

The Professor took them through a couple of rooms - one that looked like a dining room and one that was some sort of study. Books and papers covered every surface, and dust covered those. In the corner of the study, a door stood ajar, and from behind it came the sounds of people talking. The Professor opened the door and gestured for the two of them to precede him.

They descended, a step at a time, into a world as organised and polished as the one above was dusty and cluttered. Glass tubing snaked its way along the ceiling between condensers, reflux tubes, flasks, measuring cylinders and beakers. Several dials and switches were connected to the tubes, and in a couple liquid slowly flowed, like marbles down a race. In the middle of the room, mounted on a table, a clockwork mechanism spun back and forth, its gear wheels clicking relentlessly. A lady, hair braided and hanging down her back, was seated at the table, a watchmaker's monocle to her eye as she focused on some piece of clockwork. Another lady, sitting at a bench against the far wall, looked around as they entered. "Professor!" she said, in slightly accented English. "We heard you come in. Did you bring guests?"

"Er, yes. Katarina and Kathleen, meet yourselves."

* * *

"So, wait, you came here on a refridgerator?" Katarina asked. "How does that even work?"

"I'm not sure," Sor said. "It was Kat and Jan who did all the sciency stuff. I'm just sort of along for the ride."

"But you must have some purpose on board."

"I really don't know. Honestly, we're not very organised right now. We've only just got the thing working, and Jan...our Jan...we kind of weren't able to get to him."

Kat was standing to one side, eying Kathleen. "So," she said cautiously. "You're me."

"Yup."

The two looked at each other intently. "And, you repair clocks," Kat finally said.

"It's not a clock," Kathleen replied testily. "It's a clockwork mechanism."

"Yeah," Kat said. "A clock."

Kathleen shot her counterpart and glare and turned back to her work. Kat wandered over to Sor and Katarina.

"...entropy gets reversed, I think. Anyway, what it ends up doing is reversing time, so you can effectively time-travel. Um, yeah. Kat?"

"I pissed my other self off!" Kat said, grinning.

"That's...not hard," Katarina said, a smile playing around her lips. "I don't suppose you know how this works?"

"To be honest, not entirely." Kat replied.

"Well, how do you understand it to work?"

"To be really honest, not at all. I just built it."

"So...you decided to travel time and space on the back of a machine whose processes you didn't understand at all?"

Sor and Kat looked at each other. "Pretty much," Sor said.

Katarina smiled. "It looks like you'll fit right in then."

"Ladies!" the Professor called. Katarina and Kathleen both stopped what they were doing and hurried over to the bench where he was fiddling with some piece of machinery. They started talking in low tones and passing pieces to him as he assembled...something.

"It feels really weird," Sor said to Kat. "Watching ourselves, I mean."

"You told them we came from the future?"

"Well, yes. They're us, Kat. If we can't trust them, who can we trust?"

"Sor?"

"Yes?"

"They're us."

"Well, OK, I guess. But, look, are we?"

"Are we what?"

"From the future."

Kat paused. "You mean...from their future, right?"

"Well, yeah. They're us. Unless you think history's recycling the same few people over and over again, that doesn't happen. I'm sure Jan'd be bragging if he found a scientist with the same name as him."

"So how're you planning on checking?"

"I don't know. How much history do you know?"

"You know I suck at history."

"Hm. Well, we could-"

"Excuse me, ladies!"

Sor and Kat looked up. Their counterparts had moved away from the bench and were talking quietly to each other. The Professor was still standing at the central bench, carefully lowering the machinery he'd been working on into the clockwork contraption. "If you'd like to come here, you can see the marvels of our current age!"

Sor and Kat filed over to where he stood, and watched expectantly. This wasn't the Professor who'd let them into the house and wandered off to find a kettle. Something was noticeably different now he was in his realm of machinery and science.

He flicked a switch on the machinery and turned to a bank of dials beside it. "Kathleen," he said, peering at several readouts, "would you be so kind as to engage the primary current?"

Kathleen reached over and slowly pulled a large lever towards her. A gentle humming filled the room, and the clockwork gently began to move. Gears spun, counterweights pirouetted, escarpments ticked over. The Professor stepped back, a smile on his face.

"There we go, ladies. Finally, a working model of Babbage's analytical engine. Much less powerful than he intended his to be, of course. Katarina, pass me the punch cards, please. With these we will try a mathematical sum." He took the cards off his assistant and started to feed them into the machine. The hum increased, and different parts of the machine sprung into life. Suddenly the Professor frowned. "Hold on," he said, and there was a thunk, followed by a tch-thock tch-thock tch-thock and the jangle of something come loose.

"Kathleen!" The Professor called. "Turn off the electricity, please!" His assistant quickly reversed the switch and the humming stopped abruptly. The clockwork gently coasted to a halt, until silence once again reigned in the room.

Katarina bent down and recovered a small brass gear-wheel that had come off of the machinery somewhere, while Kathleen gently removed a side of the machine and pulled out a mangled punch card. "I think it's the secondary reciprocator," she said. "We might have to give it a bit more room in the backswing, or somehow stop the cards from running through during that period."

The Professor sighed. "That does sound reasonable. Maybe tomorrow. I have an appointment with that insufferable fool Simpson about my progress." He started for the door. "I'll start dismantling the reciprocator tomorrow morning."

"Uh, Professor," Katarina started.

"Yes?"

"What about our guests?"

"Oh, yes. Show them to the bedrooms here. I'm sure they'll do." And with that he departed.

Silence. "So, uh, that was the Professor," Katarina said. "He can get rather absorbed in his work at times."

Kathleen had picked up the remains of the punch card. "By 'at times', she means 'all the time'. You'll get used to it, or you'll go insane." She peered at the card. "I think it's punching something, though. Or trying to."

"So that's what this is?" Katters asked. "A giant computer?"

"Computer?" Katarina said. "I guess it computes sums, yes. But it's not that big compared to, say Schikard's mechanical device or even the one suggested by Babbage."

"Uh, yeah. You know how Sor said we come from the future?"

"You mean this works?"

"Well," Sor said, "that's the interesting bit. Is there a chance we could get dinner ourselves?"

* * *

Kat reflected that it didn't matter how you did beans, they still tasted, when you got right down to it, like beans. But it was better than nothing, and by her reckoning she hadn't had anything to eat for a good six hours, what with inventing the machine, grabbing Sor, ending up in Victorian England, meeting herself and witnessing the failure of the world's first computer. She shovelled a second helping onto her plate as Sor answered the girls' questions around mouthfuls of dinner.

"We both come from America. Kat's from California, I come from Boston."

"What about your Professor? Did he migrate there too?"

"No, he's from New Zealand."

"But he must have visited to give you the plans."

"No, he just emailed them to Kat."

"Email?"

And Sor started off about the internet.

So it went. Kat was content just to listen. She managed to pick up a bit about her counterparts, but not much. Sor's clone, it seemed, was actually from Russia, but her parents emigrated to England just after she was born. Kathleen was born in London itself, to working-class parents, and had run away from home at an early age. She said this proudly, as if daring anyone in the room to deny it. Katarina merely smiled and continued eating, as if she knew something more than what her friend was telling.

"And what about the Professor?" Sor asked. "Where does he come from?"

"His family's from Poland, but they emigrated here a long time ago," Katarina said. "They made their way up in the world - it's partly why he can afford to fund his laboratory without much outside assistance."

"His parents pay for his lab?"

Katarina lowered her eyes to the plate. "Well, his inheritance does."

"His...oh." Sor looked at Kat, as if for help.

"Is that why he always seems to wrapped up in his work?" Kat asked.

Katarina opened her mouth, but Kathleen beat her to it. "Yes," she said. "It hit him hard. He throws everything he has into his research now. We can but hope that one day we'll make a breakthrough big enough to keep this place off. He's not making money, and he needs to live on something."

They kept talking for a bit, and soon the girls excused themselves for sleep. "Our rooms are just down the hall from you," Katarina said. "Call if you need anything."

Kat and Sor made their way to their own rooms. While not exactly spacious, they were still adequate for what both of them hoped were temporary lodgings. The rooms had gas-lamps, and Sor sat staring at the flickering flame for a while before finally blowing it out and crawling into bed. It occurred to her that with all the things that had happened that day, she didn't have a change of clothes for tomorrow, and then sleep claimed her.
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OhEmGee writings! Things to note:

* I have a lot more backstory for these characters planned, but whoever gets this next might get rid of them by the end of their chapter. Or these folk may come back! We have yet to see.

* I'm aware that Sor and Kat have seemingly forgotten about their apparatus. Well, they haven't. They just have other things on their minds right now. They'll retrieve it in a bit.

* I'm not aware whether or not London would have mass electricity by this stage, but I figure not.

* Oh, wait, I never gave a date. Oh well. It was supposed to be around 1890-1893.

* Most of the mentioned science in here is real.

* Katarina is growing noticeably different from Sor. Kathleen has yet to develop a personality in my head, although she'd getting there.

* You know, I really need sleep now. Night!
Blech, beans.
Mwahaha! A shot in the dark and it hit!
galaxy salsa

August 2008

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