Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 25
Stories
Under the Surface
by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Nanoparticle Jive
by Tomas Martin
Walks Before Greatness
by Kate Marshall
Counterclockwise
by Alethea Kontis
Whiteface Part II
by Jared Oliver Adams
Orson Scott Card - Sneak Preview
Shadows in Flight - Chapter 2
by Orson Scott Card
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

Counterclockwise
    by Alethea Kontis

Counterclockwise
Artwork by Kevin Wasden

Philosopher physicists postulate that it was not merely one celestial event but a combination of the "Fiery Trigon" (the conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars), the appearance (and subsequent disappearance) of a new star in the heavens, and the metaphysical energy produced by the solar eclipse that aided the successful Gunpowder Plot explosion of 1605 in creating the Fawkes Schism, which fractured off a pocket of the British Prime or Known Universe and facilitated the mutual juxtaposed existence of the Secondary and Tertiary Universes (commonly referred to as the Second Kingdom and Nodnol, respectively). All Hallow's Eve, roughly a week before the anniversary of the Blast and the legendary fabled night when the veil between the living and the dead is lifted, ironically became the day on which the energies of these multiverse bonds are the strongest. Instead of ghosts, persons, places, and objects are pulled seemingly at random from the Tertiary world into the Secondary, or the Secondary into the Prime -- the former of each universal-plane pairing being the less stable of the two.

Edith slid her finger down the yellowed page and read the passage a third time. Damn and Blast. Only a bleeding idiot tried to study on holiday.

Masked merrymakers filled the pub in varying states of dress and drunkenness. Thankfully, nobody wanted to waste precious partying time on a party pooper with her nose stuck in a book. Edith reached for her tea, only to realize her cup was empty.

A hand appeared before her holding a tumbler of ice and pungent amber liquid.

Damn and Blast. She'd gone and jinxed herself.

The hand was attached to an older gentleman in a three-piece suit and bowtie. Her father had once taught every day in a suit like that. He'd been buried in it, too, per his wishes.

The stranger stood patiently by while Edith took his measure. He had kind green-grey eyes, a friendly smile, and lacked the predatory air surrounding most terminally single men, so Edith motioned for him to take the chair across from her. A rare occurrence, to be sure.

"Hello," said Edith.

"Hello," said the stranger.

"Do I know you?"

He just kept smiling. "You looked bored. And thirsty." He shifted the spine on her musty textbook. "Gladney and Coulter. Brilliant. Are you a genius or a masochist?"

"Mostly I use it to intimidate strange men."

Those agate green eyes twinkled. "And when that doesn't work?"

"I hit them with it."

"Excellent plan." He lifted his tumbler in salutation and Edith looked down at her own. "Macallan. Splash of water."

She held the glass up to the dim lights. "And a drop of Quixilver?"

"My dear Miss Hornby. First off, I would never blaspheme the Single Malt Gods with such a contamination. Secondly, if the honourable Messrs Gladney and Coulter couldn't knock you out, the most fashionable date-rape drug of choice hasn't a chance. Furthermore," he took a sip, "if I rendered you unconscious, then I'd be bored. That would be a shame."

Edith laughed, despite herself. That this gentleman knew both her name and her taste for scotch bothered her, but his posh attitude and subversive wit intrigued her. "You have me at a disadvantage, Mister . . .?" Edith happily adopted the stranger's old-fashioned formality.

Though seated, he still managed a small bow. "Edward Moriarty, at your service, Miss."

Edith rolled the twenty five-year-old Macallan over her tongue. The smoky flavor might only have been duplicated by the pub itself burning down . . . which is exactly how long Edith guessed Benny would have kept this precious bottle before he sold so much as a thimbleful. Edith's whole body sighed in happiness. The only thing better than a nice glass of scotch on a long, dark night like this was a nice glass of free scotch.

All right. She'd play his game. "Tell me, Mister Moriarty, do you often dress like a professor and stalk young women?"

"One should dress one's best for every occasion," he answered. "You can blame your friend George for the intimate knowledge of your name and alcohol preference."

"Ah." Mystery solved. That was so like George. "I thought perhaps you knew my father."

"I knew of him. A gentleman and a scholar." Edward raised his glass again.

"There were few like him," Edith toasted wistfully.

"Oh! That reminds me! I brought you a present." Curious, but his enthusiasm was fascinating and mildly contagious. If it weren't for the hint of grey at his temples, Edith might have guessed he was younger than she. Mum was right -- men really didn't age past fourteen.

The gift he spoke of was small enough to hide in his closed fist, behind those long fingers and well-manicured nails. With a magician's flourish the hand disappeared, leaving behind a small, wind-up toy penguin. Puzzled, Edith turned the key in its back and watched the mechanical animal's cheap tin wings flap as it waddled across the lacquered table. "George told you I liked penguins?"

"You've always loved penguins," Moriarty said.

"Have I? Since when?"

"Since now."

This was without doubt the oddest encounter she'd ever had. But he was just so confident. "Who are you?"

"I am the man who's spent all day looking for you." The clock behind the bar began to chime. He downed his scotch in one irreverent gulp and took her hand as the clock struck out midnight. "I will miss you, Edie." He pressed his lips to the back of her fingers. "And I will always, always love you."

George's pack of masked misfits along the far wall howled in merry unison at the twelfth bell. With a sad smile, Edward disappeared.

Widdershin.

Edith cupped the penguin tightly and held it to her heart along with all her unanswered questions. Tonight was Halloween and Edward was a Widdershin, a denizen of Nodnol in the Tertiary Universe. Edie put a hand to her breast. Sometime in his life they'd met before and they'd meant something to each other. Which meant in her life, they would meet again.

Next time, she would be ready for him.

Edith sat back in the uncomfortable pew, clasped her hands together, and tried not to fidget. She had promised George that she'd be there for his sister's Bat Mitzvah, and then gritted her teeth when she'd discovered it was being held on Halloween. For the last three years Edith had sprung out of bed on October thirty-first, dressed herself impeccably, and then waited for long and disappointing hours until that final stroke of midnight. For three years, Edward had not come.

Her list of questions for him had multiplied and divided several times over. She had thrown herself into her studies and researched the practical and philosophical whys and hows of multiverse bonds. She could have had Messrs Gladney and Coulter to tea and never been at a loss for words. Ultimately, there was still more unknown than known about the Fawkes Schism and the Fiery Trigon that may or may not have made it possible. There were many hypotheses with regards to harnessing the energies of the Schism, and the prediction that a similar cataclysmic event might reincorporate the universes when the convergence happened again . . . sometime in the twenty-fifth century. To date, none of the research or trial studies had come to definitive conclusions, only further speculation.

"That is truly the most poetic gibberish."

Edith failed to repress a snort at the whispered comment, but successfully clamped a hand over her mouth before giggles could escape. Edward placed a concerned hand on her back and led her out of the synagogue as she converted her faux pas into a mild coughing fit. Once safely in the courtyard, she let it all out and doubled over in laughter. Edward leaned his lithe, suited frame casually against the fountain wall.

"Forgive me," he said with a seriousness that far outweighed their little indiscretion. "It's good to see you smiling, Edie." Once again he used that pet name Edith allowed no one else. "It always is."

"Always? So this is a habit we have."

"My favourite one." Oh, the way he looked at her . . . like she was rain on dry land. A girl dreamed her whole life about being on the receiving end of a look like that.

She and Edward were closer in age now, close enough that no one would notice anything untoward about their familiarity. And he'd said "always," which meant she could look forward to their meeting again another time. More than once.

"I did wonder when I was ever going to see you again," she said coyly.

The smile left Edward's face, and his brow creased deeply. Edith mentally kicked herself. She had presumed too much, just like she always did. He was amiable enough for her to forget they weren't friends. Just because he happened to be both handsome and nice to her meant nothing. A fine scotch and a kiss on the hand did not a marriage make, but Edith couldn't shake the feeling that there was something special between them. Or would be. Damn and Blast this convoluted, forwards-backwards universe. She stuck out her hand. "Edith Madeleine Hornby. Lovely to meet you."

That wide, overbright smile split his face again and set her at ease. He had such nice teeth. "Edward Devon Moriarty, at your service."

"Tell me about yourself, Edward." Preferably something other than your dapper sense of style and your fondness for me, Edith thought.

They walked down the garden path together in the cool twilight. He was tall; she took three steps to every two of his. Her kitten heels clicked on the cobblestones. "I'm a professor at Nodnol University."

"Really? My father was a professor. But then . . . you knew that. Or you will know now that I've told you." She shook her head. "This is confusing."

"I know. Try not to think about it."

"You remind me of him a little," she said.

"A compliment, to be sure. My concentrations are Universal Bridge Theory and Philosophy Physics."

"Like Messrs Gladney and Coulter."

"Somewhat like, though significantly less traditional . . . or stuffy . . . or verbose. You know of their work? I mean . . . it's just that you're so young . . ." He seemed surprised. Of course he was. Her past was his future, and the situation she'd referenced hadn't happened yet for him.

Multiple encounters between people of Nodnol and those here in the Second Kingdom were uncommon, but certainly not rare. It wasn't different from meeting any other stranger, save for the impossibility of friends to share memories . . . or become friends at all. There was also the way the air seemed ionized between them, but Edith wasn't sure if that was the fault of the universe, or her own feelings. Either way, her skin prickled. She rubbed her arms briskly. "Gladney and Coulter wrote the textbook for my Philosophyst class at University."

"Ah. Of course."

"Do they have the same books in your universe as they do in this one?" There was the furrowed brow again. "Is that an impertinent question?"

"No and no, respectively," he teased. "Our scholars and scientists do make sure seminal texts annually make their way across an event horizon. They do the same here when transferring information to Britain Prime."

"I suppose they do. Have you been able to cross over your whole life? Is it something you can control?"

Edward lifted a scolding finger. "No fair asking how many times we've met, or how well we know each other."

Finally. "Well, that's not fair at all. How well do we know each other?"

"Oh, Edie." His footsteps slowed to a halt. "Long enough for me to have made Universal Bridge Theory my life's work. Long enough for me to have spent that life pining after a beautiful and intelligent woman I could never have." He raised his arm as if to touch her cheek, then hesitated and shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers. "Long enough that knowing we've only met once before in your life physically hurts."

Edith put a hand on her heart and tried to comprehend the mechanics of how she could mean so much to someone she barely knew. "Just tell me one thing. Tell me where we meet next time, and how long I have to wait for that meeting."

"I'm not sure I should. I don't know how much more I want to disrupt the order of the universe."

"I don't want to spent every year not knowing," said Edith. "And when it happens, I don't want you to waste most of that day searching for me." He failed to suppress a smirk, and she paused. "But you already know this. You already know that I've asked, and you've answered, and now you're just teasing me."

"Oh, my dearest Edie, you are too clever by half. Yes, for Fawkes' sake, yes. Do you know the old hay barn, the one by the river?"

"Yes."

"We meet there. Always there. In the late morning, about ten o'clock. One year hence. And the year after that, and the year after that . . . or was it two then . . . am I shocking you?

Edith wasn't so much shocked as she was thrilled to realize such a life lay ahead of her. "A year then. I'll be waiting for you."

"Yes, you were. Or you will be, rather. And it was lovely every time." He shook his own head. "See? What did I tell you?"

His hands were still in his pockets, so she took his arm. She wanted him close to her, and she didn't think he'd mind. "You were so very polite when we met. You only gave me the vaguest hint of what you were, or that we knew each other at all."

"I'm a gentleman, Edie. If I had greeted you so familiarly --"

"-- I would have had nothing to do with you," she finished.

"Exactly."

"But that means then . . . for you . . ."

He nodded without looking at her. "This is goodbye."

"Oh, wow."

"I love you, Edie. I've loved you forever. I miss you already. And I will always, always love you."

Those familiar words, words he didn't know that he would one day repeat to her, echoed in the pit of her stomach and the butterflies there alit on them. Shoving sensibility aside, she grabbed his jacket in both hands and pulled him to her. "Goodbye, Edward," she said, and kissed him.

"EEEEDIEEEE!"

The yell was followed by maniacal laughter. Was he drunk? She pushed open the door of the musty barn. Edward stood before her, head thrown back, screaming up into the cold downpour like a madman. For once he wore no jacket or tie; his shirt was mussed, filthy, and possibly torn. Were those bloodstains?

"Edward?" She wasn't sure he would hear her over the din of the rain, but he turned his head to her and smiled.

His face was a ruin. One cut split his lip; another bisected the opposite eyebrow. The left side of his face was angry red and slightly swollen -- wounds too fresh toshow any sign of bruising. A smudged shoeprint marred his white linen shirt under one arm. Whoever had attacked him was right-handed, kicked him when he was down, and had hands and feet the size of small anvils. But why?

Before she could ask anything, he took her in his arms and kissed the breath right out of her. She tasted the salt of his sweat, the sweet of the rain, the copper of his blood, and the desire he had for her that made her own blood boil. He kissed every part of her he could reach and she indulged him for a bit, laughing at his vigor. He spun them both back into the barn, out of the rain, and made as if to take her right there in the scratchy hay.

"Edward, wait. Stop!" She pushed at him reluctantly. "What on earth have you gotten yourself into, you fool?"

"I'm going to do it, Edie. I'm going to change the future. Or the past. Both. If not in this lifetime, then the next." He punctuated each sentence with a kiss on her forehead, her lips, her cheek, her neck, her shoulder.

"I swear you make less and less sense every time I see you."

"No!" he cried. "Don't say that. Don't say anything. Don't tell me anything about the future! I don't want to know what I'm up against. And above all" -- he squeezed her so hard she thought her insides might pop out -- "don't ever tell me how we met."

"You can't change the past, love. What's happened has happened."

"Can't I?"

"No, you can't. And what's all this about other lifetimes? And who was it that beat you bloody? You're not exactly fit for receiving a lady, sir."

"You're no lady, Miss Hornby. You're my girl."

It made her giddy to hear him say it. Far less scandalous a thing, too, now that they were both roughly the same age. She was the elder, but only slightly. "Always," she said. "From beginning to end."

He tossed her into the hay at that remark and tickled her until she squealed. She had always adored the smell of hay. It reminded her of him, of this special gift the topsy-turvy world had given them.

"None of that talk now, Edie. Beginnings and endings are both stopping points. I have reason to believe our Siamese universes experience nothing of the sort."

"Really? I'm anxious to hear this new hypothesis."

He raised himself up on his elbows and stared down at her. "You want to engage in a philosophical discourse on stuffy dead scholars when we could be making love?"

He did have a point. However . . . "There will be no lovemaking until you explain to me exactly why you're bleeding on my new dress."

"I am? Terribly sorry, madam. Best to just take it off."

"Edward, I'm serious!" Edith punched his shoulder. Defeated, he rolled away to lie in the hay beside her.

"Edie, fair Edie, my Second Kingdom sweetie," he sang. "Guess what your widdle Widdershins has gone and done?"

She turned to him and propped her head on her fist. She couldn't bear the thought of being with him and not looking at him, even if he did look a fright. "I've been asking. I think his brain's addled."

He reached around to his back and pulled a slim volume from his waistband. "I've brought you a present."

"Hmm. It's not a penguin, but it'll do for now." She sat up so that she could examine the book properly. It was rough and homespun. The pages were irregular, there was no title embossed in the cover, and whoever had bound it had made a mess of the glue. The crooked endpapers pulled a chunk of four or five extra pages with them when she opened the book. The title page read: Breaking the Guf, by E. L. Morgenstern.

"How's your Kabbalah?" Edward asked.

"The Well of Souls?" Edith guessed.

Edward kissed her heartily. "I love that you're such a genius. As such, you won't be surprised to know that while much knowledge is shared between worlds, just as much -- if not more -- is being, and has been, suppressed."

"It wouldn't surprise me," said Edith. "But why? Apart from scholarly ego, of course."

"Because there are people in my universe" -- he kissed her hand -- she never wanted him to stop touching her -- "and yours, darling, who never want to heal the breach. In that sacrilegious little tome you have there, Morgenstern posits that when the universe was fractured off into seconds and thirds, so was the Well of Souls. We know for a fact that a finite number of souls were trapped in Nodnol and the Second Kingdom, right?"

"Correct."

"It would follow then that those souls who are 'finished' living in one direction might be reborn to live in reverse?"

"Yes," Edith said breathlessly. "It would make perfect sense. But if those souls are continually recycled and never move on . . ."

". . . then the Messiah can never return to earth. But beyond that, if the universes are healed and once more become one with Britain Prime, there's a chance that every soul living in my world and yours will simply cease to be."

"Because we all should have died long ago."

"'All the woulda-coulda-shouldas all ran away and hid,'" quoted Edward. "I paid a hefty price for stealing that book."

"You stole it?"

"From the Tertiary Minister's very library."

"How did you escape?"

"I broke into his chambers right before ten o'clock this very morning."

What gall! He'd gone and disappeared right in the middle of being beaten to death for his crime. What gall . . . and what luck. Then again, he'd never mentioned anything about this miraculous discovery in the past. His future. Why not? But he'd told her not to say . . .

Edward rubbed his sore jaw. "Good thing our overlap didn't waste time. Not sure I would have survived much longer."

"Edward, this is serious. What should we do with this book?"

"We should mass produce it. Show it to everyone; flood the universes with it. Make sure every body and soul who crosses an event horizon has ten copies."

"But even if it is true, no one will be able to repeat the circumstances surrounding the Schism for centuries. If ever."

"Maybe, maybe not," he said.

Damn and Blast. Edith squeezed the book, wishing both it and the responsibility surrounding it into someone else's hands. "Do you believe this? Do you really believe that you and I are not unique . . . that we've been born over and over for centuries past, and will continue to be born over and over for generations to come?"

"If someone told me our destinies had always been entwined and always would, I would believe them."

"So would I," Edith admitted. "But you would risk the possibility of us -- or at least, our souls sometime in some far future -- ever having a life together? Or not having a life at all?"

"Edie, you know this is not the way the world was meant to be. The fabric of the universe shouldn't be folded like this. By continuing on this path we're just unraveling everything and hurtling towards chaos."

"But I want to survive," she said. "I want my children to survive. I want to hope that one day I'll see you again." The fear overwhelmed her, and she knew there was no further discussing it. She leapt to her feet, pushed her way through the doors of the barn, ran to the riverbank, and pitched the book into the middle of the rushing river.

Edward caught her, but not in time to save his precious profane treasure. "What have you done?! What's the matter with you?" He yelled at her as the rain soaked them both. "After all I went through to get that? I thought you were on my side, Edie." He dropped her wrist as suddenly as if it had burned him. "I thought you were smart."

"I thought you were a gentleman," she said quietly.

Edward yelled into the sky again, the same primal scream as before, only this one was born of frustration instead of triumph. What had she done? How he must hate her now. But she knew, deep down in her heart, that it was the right thing to do.

"I know the rules say we can't change history or the future," he said, "but do me a favour and try. Don't look me up. Don't run into me. Don't tell me that we're meeting here, or ever again. For Fawkes' sake, I love you, Edie, body and soul. I threw away years of a life I could have had, a real life, pursuing some phantom question that could never be answered. Pursuing you." She reached out to him, but he stepped back. "I'm such a fool." He turned and walked away from her. He did not look back.

Edith fell to her knees beside the river and stayed there, until long after the rain had stopped.

Edith knew how the multiverses felt; she wondered that they didn't simply collapse altogether of their own accord. Emotions and desires fought a bloody battle, tearing her insides apart slow bit by slow bit, while passersby were none the wiser. Perhaps she would spontaneously explode and split her own soul off from the rest of this nonsense. She placed her hand over the hollow in her stomach at the thought. No. Not explode. Implode.

She could see him there, across the University courtyard, alone on a bench beneath the trees. A strongish breeze stirred the autumn leaves around his feet. He nodded to the errant professors who walked past. He waited for someone, looked for her, straightened his vest and jacket for the thirteenth time, tried to appear casual and not desperate. Little did he know her heart was already beside him, touching him, holding him, breathing in the same copper and ozone air. She could still feel his lips on hers, taste the blood and rain and passion she had betrayed on the riverbank. He had asked her not to come, so many times, yet here she was, and she cracked into pieces every time she looked at him. She alone had been the ruination of the man she loved, and he had ordered her to stay away from him. To change her future and his past. Because she loved him, she had ignored him, every time.

She should leave.

Here and now, just like every other meeting after that fateful morning, they had never fought. In this time and place his love was innocent and hopeful. This young Edward believed in her, and himself, and the possibility that somehow, one day, even if not in this lifetime, they would be together. It was a romantic notion: that she might be able to travel beyond the boundaries of the Second Kingdom and see the Known World, hand in hand with her soul mate.

Who was she to think she had any power at all over the flow of time or the path of fate? Who's to say that by not meeting him he wouldn't be ruined all the same? She'd certainly read enough empirical evidence to suggest that she wouldn't affect his destiny one way or the other. Their destinies.

Damn and Blast.

She should just march right over there. She couldn't fight fate, but she at least had to try. For him. Because he'd asked. She should leave.

"Hullo." His greeting was fragile and timid. It was out of her hands now.

She launched herself into his arms and felt his chuckle vibrate through her breastbone. "I wasn't sure you remembered me."

Oh no. No no no no no. This could not be the last. Her breath left her. Her body ached. It was too much. Edith gasped a hysterical sob and wept into his shoulder.

"Hey . . . hey," he held her tightly and rubbed her back. "It's all right. Whatever it is. I promise it will be all right."

It most definitely would not be all right. But right now, here in his arms, she could pretend. She tried to contain herself. She wanted him to remember her as a goddess, not a wet handkerchief. She smiled as he handed her a dry one. Always the gentleman.

Her breath hitched against her will. She wiped her nose and prayed she didn't look as wretched as she felt. "Forgive me," she said, and in those words asked his clemency for far more than the fault of acting the damsel in distress. "I've had a stressful morning and --"

"-- and then I went and gave away that our next meeting will be your last. It is I who should be asking forgiveness."

"You know me so well."

"I always have," he said cheekily.

"And you always will." Edith did her best to set aside her inner turmoil and remember what their second meeting had been like for her, the things he'd said, how he must have felt. How he must be feeling right now. It was so long ago . . . and yesterday at the same time. She could remember brilliant purple wildflowers still blooming along a cobblestone path and how the deep crease in his brown betrayed his concern . . . ah. Judith's Bat Mitzvah. Well, he certainly hadn't changed the path of his own fate by not seeking her out; how could he have expected her to do the same?

How had he started that conversation? Had he asked her forgiveness then? She thought maybe he had. All she could think to say now was, "I'm older than you."

"That didn't bother you before."

"No, I expect it didn't." And then she remembered: he had introduced himself. "I'm a professor here at the University."

Edward laughed. "Edie, dearest, I know that."

"'Dearest?' My, I must have made some impression on you."

"You did." Those green-grey eyes twinkled. Oh, how she'd miss that.

"I should make a list of all these things I've told you, so I remember to say them in future. In the past, rather. Damn and Blast, this never stops being confusing."

"Try not to think about it."

She laughed. "You've said that to me before. Many times."

"Perhaps I should make my own list," he said.

"Perhaps." She should tell him about the barn. "Write this down as well: Ten o'clock in the morning. The barn by the river."

"The old hay barn?"

"The very one."

"One year hence? Two?" She hesitated and he pleaded, much like she had in the days of her innocence. "Please, you must tell me. The waiting is so painful."

"Two years hence. And the year after that, and the year after that. Or two . . . I can't remember." She hated herself, knowing every word she spoke damned him to her fate.

"Thank you, dearest. Oh, that reminds me! I have a present for you."

Edith smiled and tried her best to memorize ever moment now, while at the same time trying to remember everything that had happened before. How distraught he must have been to arrive empty-handed the night he'd said his goodbye.

She didn't wince when he placed a book in her hands. No slim volume this one; it was large and weighty and all too familiar.

"Gladney and Coulter's Multiverse Metaphysics and Metaphilosophy," he announced proudly, "Nodnol edition. As promised."

Edith's nerves quieted. What else could this be but a message to herself to lighten the mood? "Thank you, Edward."

"I read it, too." He was so sweet. Like a puppy trying to impress her.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. Once you get past the egos and the doublespeak, it's really rather fascinating. It inspired me to look more into Universal Bridge Theory."

Of course it had. What a fool she was.

"Perhaps you can help me. One of the more interesting passages referenced the theories of a text I'm not sure exists. At least, it doesn't seem to exist in Nodnol."

"Who's the author?" She wanted to kick herself the moment the words were out of her mouth.

"E. L. Morgenstern."

"Never heard of him," she lied.

"Her," he corrected.

"Sorry?"

"Morgenstern was a woman. Doctor Edith Langtree Morgenstern. Edith. Isn't that funny?"

"What a coincidence."

"Apart from that" -- he pointed to the book she clutched to her breast -- "I can't seem to find any evidence of her at all. It's very strange."

"Perhaps you're looking in the wrong universe," she said.

"Perhaps," he mused. He seemed to catch her wistful glance and perked up. "Come now, what are we doing lingering here speaking of stuffy dead scholars? The night is young . . . and so am I, it would seem."

Edith laughed. "So it would seem."

"Then let's shake off these somber robes, go find some ghosts and goblins, and make with the merry. What do you say?"

"I say that's a fine idea, young man," she teased.

"May I carry that heavy book for you, Professor?" he teased right back.

"Yes, please."

"Edie?" he asked more tentatively.

"Yes, Edward?"

"May I hold your hand?"

Her heart fell into dust, imploding and exploding all over again. "Yes, please."

Well, if it was going to happen anyway, she was going to have fun.

The difference between men and women was that an act which would turn the latter off immediately would not necessarily dissuade the former. Therefore, the moment Edward materialized in her study, Edith stepped right up and kissed him soundly.

"And to think," said Edward when they came up for air, "I actually resisted coming to the Second Kingdom. It's lovely to meet you, Miss . . .?"

"Professor Edith Hornby," she said, enjoying every second of watching him slowly blush from neck to forehead.

He backed up awkwardly -- knocking into a low table and catching it before it toppled over completely -- and bowed formally. "E-Edward Moriarty, mum."

She dismissed his formality with a wave of her hand. "None of that now. We are old friends, you and I."

"But . . . I've only just met you."

"Yes, but I haven't."

She waited for the brow to furrow and wasn't disappointed. The crease there was not as deep as it would be. He was not as broad in the shoulders and certainly not as confident, but his eyes were greener, if that were possible, and he was still surrounded by that ionized air of hope and possibilities. Edith was jealous of the life the young man before her had ahead of him. So much love and pain, so much joy and sorrow. Such was the meat of all great romances.

"This is all terribly confusing," he admitted.

"Try not to think about it," she said.

Oh, how she would miss that smile. "That's what Professor Kenyon always says."

"He sounds like a wise man."

"That's right . . . you won't have met him yet. You don't know that I've taken his place. You won't care that he's . . . no longer with us."

"Of course I care," said Edith. "It just doesn't have the emotional impact now as it will one day. Tell me about him. We were friends?"

"Yes, mum . . . er . . . professor. From what I understood, you both have been exchanging texts for decades. Professor Kenyon was the best and smartest man I've ever known, if a bit stodgy and old fashioned."

"I'll tell you a secret," said Edith. "I happen to know girls simply adore stodgy and old fashioned. You'd be wise to take a page out of your Professor's book."

"Duly noted. He mentioned you might be happy to see me," said Edward.

"Did he? Sly old git."

"That's the Professor. Speaking of books, where should I put these?" He lifted the three volumes he had brought with him across the event horizon.

"There on my desk is fine, thank you. That stack next to it is for you when you're ready to leave."

He did not meet her gaze, though she knew the brazen man he would become hid in there somewhere. "Professor MacGregor bade me ask you if you had any special requests for next time."

"Absolutely," she said, damning herself without shame. "I would very much like to have your world's edition of Gladney and Coulter's Multiverse Metaphysics and Metaphilosophy. I'm curious to see how it differs from our texts. Mr. Moriarty?"

Addressing him directly forced him to look at her. "Yes, professor?"

"I dare you to read it."

"The Gladney and Coulter?"

"The very same."

"I accept the challenge."

"Excellent. Shall we drink to seal the bargain?" She poured him a finger of her finest scotch. He saluted her and took a sip. His eyes widened and there might have been tears in the corners, but she gave him credit for not coughing it up. "You'll acquire a taste for it," she assured him.

"I certainly hope so." He cleared his throat, and she kindly didn't bring attention to it. "Edith and Edward. They were the parents of Guy Fawkes. Did you know that?"

She found his attempt at small talk sweet as honey. All joking aside, she wished she really had written down a list of things to do and say. "Oh, that reminds me! I have a present for you." From the pocket of her robes she pulled her most prized possession -- a small, tin, wind-up penguin. Slightly rusted, but little worse for the wear.

"Thank you, I think."

"You gave this to me when we first met," she told him. "I've loved penguins ever since. Be sure to return it to me then. It's very important. Can you do that?"

"I can, and I will," he said. "I promise."

"I do love you, Edward. And I always, always will."

He met her eyes this time and did not look away. "I like you too, professor."

"Please," she said. "Call me Edie."

"Very well, then," he said. "Happy Halloween . . . Edie."


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