It was hard to wake up. My head hurt, and I wasn’t sure why. I tried to search through my memories of the night prior. Had I stayed up all night? Drank too much? Partied a little too hard?
My mind was blank. Too blank. Had I ever drunk so much that I even forgot my own name?
There was a rumble and a jolt strong enough that I went a little airborne for a second. The consequent landing shook me awake.
I had landed on a cushioned bench seat next to a small window to my right, which made me aware that I was in motion. It was dark, both inside and outside, but the terrain could easily be seen as it meandered by. A soft clank-clank of metal on metal sounded like the vehicle used rails. A train?
I was not alone. Gentle snoring came from a young man sitting in the bench seat across from me. Although he was slumped over and it was dark, his fine features shone as if a spotlight was on him.
To say he was gorgeous would have been an understatement. His overall appearance would have been a perfect model for one of those humungous billboards on the side of the freeway. He was ruggedly handsome with just the right amount of elegance and his high cheekbones and squared jaw created a harmonious symmetry. His rusty brown hair flowed back in a perfectly groomed hairstyle, short except for the perfectly groomed sideburns to each side of his face.
There was only one downside. The man had very questionable fashion choice.
Although it was more popular these days for people to be walking around in cosplay, I couldn’t imagine I would hang out with the kind of person who took it so seriously. Or would I?
His outfit appeared as if it was taken right from the dawn of the twentieth century. He wore a black-tie Victorian style three-piece suit, complete with white collared button up shirt. A top hat and cane rested neatly on the bench seat beside him.
In a panic, I checked myself. How had I ever agreed to let anyone put this outfit on me? The dress had so many frills and ruffles, it billowed around me like a fluffy cloud and the collar was so high and tight I felt like it was choking me. An undergarment jabbed unkindly into my ribs as I tried to move. Some kind of corset I guessed. A stupid medieval device that women suffered through because that was what accepted as accentuating their appeal at one point in history.
Where was my knife so I could cut the damned thing loose?
The vehicle shook again and so did my nerves. I had never been on a train before. In my world, the only time I ever saw a train was when I cursed at it incessantly for making my commute two minutes longer. The interior was like nothing I had encountered before. I was surrounded by wood construction aside from the fabric used for cushions and curtains.
I did not expect there to be so much space available on a train. In commuter vehicles, seats were small and packed together like sardines. Even first class did not have this much leg room. It was just me and the young man who sat across from me in a private room with a door and I could not find a light switch anywhere. My eyes had adjusted to the dim atmosphere, but it would have been helpful to see better.
A hiss escaped from somewhere ahead and a loud horn blared out, echoing across the flat valley that surrounded us. All the noises and all the clues only led me to one confusing conclusion. But, as far as I knew, there had not been a fully operating steam engine in over fifty years.
“What the absolute fuck?”
I hadn’t realized I spoke aloud until the man across from me stirred.
“What was that?” he slurred as he came to.
I froze. I had no idea who this man was, why I was here, and where the hell we were going.
He opened his eyes and smiled, “Oh, hi.”
The arctic cold melted to desert heat with that smile and those bedroom eyes that looked me over as if I were naked. His bright blue irises were a beautiful summer sky and his lips were soft and seductive. I could get blind drunk, drinking in kisses from those flawless, sensual lips.
“Hi.” I peeped like a schoolgirl.
He reached out to me and I flinched back.
He spoke with a hint of a British accent, smooth as velvet. “Is something the matter, love?”
I had no idea what to say but it felt wrong to say nothing.
“I…I’m not feeling myself.” I stammered.
My voice sounded weird, I thought.
His brow furrowed and his smile faded, “Oh dear, I had hoped this trip would help you feel better. I am so sorry it has not.”
I wrung my hands together and felt a scratch. I looked at my left hand and my ring-finger had a gold band with a large solitaire diamond on it. A quick glance over at the gentleman across me confirmed that he had the simple gold band as well. I was married? To that hunk?
Maybe this wasn’t that bad after all. Who cared how he dressed? I could fix that.
“Do you remember where we are going?” He asked hopefully.
I shook my head, no.
His frown deepened. “Do you even know who I am?”
He looked out the window, despondent and sullen, as if he had been faced with the most disappointing moment in his life.
All I wanted to do was make him feel better. What I wouldn’t give just to see that amazing smile again.
My ears started ringing. There was a flat monotone beep that droned on in my mind until there was a loud crack like lightning crashing nearby. A sharp pain ripped through my chest and that monotone noise broke up into short bursts.
Hands pushed hard on my chest, again and again. Muffled voices anxiously conversed over me.
“Charge to two-hundred!” A man shouted followed by the loud whine of an electrical device powering up.
“Wait!” A woman interrupted. “She’s coming back.”
I felt a pair of cold fingers pressed against the carotid artery in my neck. I flinched instinctively.
“Major Downy?” The man called. “Major Downy, can you hear me?”
Yes. That was me. Major Catherine Downy of the private military division called T.A.G., aka Time travel Assessment Group. Why had that been so hard to remember a moment ago? What had I been doing a moment ago? We set up for another test and…
“Major! Answer me!” The man yelled.
I opened my mouth to answer but my throat was so dry I couldn’t swallow.
“Water.” I croaked.
The woman eased the bed into a semi-upright position and held up a cup with a straw. Sargent Natalie Banks, that was her name. She was always so nice.
The man, Abar Ramses, was not so nice. He was our science guy in charge of everything technical. His temper showed more and more as time went on without results. He was red-faced, showing signs of worry and utter frustration so obviously a blind person wouldn’t miss it.
He was ready to push for answers and barely waited for me to finish drinking.
“How did it go? What happened? Do you remember anything?”
Sargent Banks gave him a hard look but didn’t say anything.
I shut my eyes tightly and went back to the place I was before I was so rudely interrupted. We had everything ready, I was in position, I heard the team call for launch and…nothing.
It was so damned frustrating. I couldn’t blame Ramses for being so upset. We had been testing his device for months. The best scientists in the world all supported the work that had been done and no one could deny the incredible technological breakthrough that Ramses made. Nothing said that the device wouldn’t work, but every single test we tried had failed. Completely.
When I didn’t respond fast enough, Ramses already has his answer.
“Dammit!” He threw a fist onto a table. Instruments went flying and clanged on the floor. “I really thought we had it this time!”
I hid my frustration so much better than Ramses.
“Well, we just recalibrate and try again.” I suggested calmly.
Sargent Banks spoke up hesitantly, “But, Major…”
“But nothing.” I snapped over her objection.
That was a clue that I may not have been as composed as I tried to pretend, but no one dared challenge my authority. I knew what they were going to say. Each time we tried this test, it was harder to bring me back. I didn’t care. I had to get this damned thing to work. No matter the cost.
“We go again.” I ordered with no room for argument.
“At least take a rest first, please.” Banks pleaded.
“Fine.” I grumbled.
The world lurched and I stumbled. My stomach upturned and I felt about to vomit as I tried to steady myself against a wall. The wall shimmied and shook, seeming more unstable than I already felt. Was I that drunk again?
No. The wall was definitely shaking. The floor was also shaking with a loud rumbling clatter. Was I on a train?
“I told you that you should have stayed in the cabin.” A man with an accent spoke with a hint of irritation laced in his words.
I shook my head to clear my foggy brain.
A delicious morsel of a man stood in front of me scowling. Was that a coat with tails he was wearing? He looked absolutely ridiculous. I lost myself in a fit of giggles, until I noticed what I was wearing.
“What the fuck is this?” I held my hands out while looking down at the awful fluffy dress.
“Not again.” The man groaned. “Come on, let me get you back to the cabin.”
The man reached out to grab an arm and I recoiled quickly.
“I don’t know you. Fuck off!” I shouted at him.
He looked hurt and angry, and also on his last nerve, “Anna, you need to stop this nonsense right now!”
Why was he calling me Anna? That wasn’t my name. Was it?
The train lurched again. This time it threw me so off balance that I crashed into the young man and we both tumbled to the floor.
Damn, he smelled nice.
Crack! Beep, Beep. Pulse check.
“We got her.” Sargent Banks said, lackluster.
Abar Ramses let out a long sigh of relief.
“We can’t keep this up, Ramses.” Banks protested. “It is going to kill her eventually.”
“It’s not our call, Banks.” Ramses set a cool cloth on my forehead, looking worried.
It was the first time I had seen him look so stressed. I knew our tests were not what he expected but I felt so close. I knew that if we just kept trying, something was bound to prove that we had achieved the impossible. Imagine being able to change the mistakes of the past? That would change everything!
“We go again.” I said.
God it was hot. How wasted was I to wake up in a sauna dressed in the most hideous outfit I had ever seen? So much cloth and ruffles trapped sweat on nearly every inch of my body. I felt like I was about to die.
The steam room was so loud with the hissing and the clanking I could barely hear the other people near me.
I waved away billowing steam to get a better look and realized I was in no sauna. Steam hissed through old metal tubes with valve fixtures.
I vaguely remembered a class back in college that went over the rudimentary construction of a steam engine, but that technology was so old it was way past obsolescence. No one used those engines anymore, not even when someone tried to recreate past experiences. Reconstructed engines were always supplemented with modern technology for safety reasons. This engine did not make me feel safe in the slightest.
Two men stood face to face as if they were about to come to blows. The stark contrast between the two was comical.
One was a well-groomed man in a vintage suit and the other was a man in overalls so caked in soot, it was a wonder if he ever washed them.
I struggled to listen into the argument while the engine huffed and whined chaotically. Something was wrong, it didn’t take a genius to figure that out.
The train was going too fast. The breaks weren’t working. Disaster was imminent.
The train hit a curve and there was a loud screech of metal on metal. Everyone was tossed around like ragdolls as the train cars were yanked off the rails one by one.
Flatline. Charge. Shock. Epinephrine. Charge. Shock.
“Asystole.” Sargent Banks reported flatly. “She is gone.”
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Abar Ramses trashed around the lab, knocking things over and throwing objects in an uncontrollable rage.
Many years later, T.A.G. was officially shut down. After the deaths of Major Catherine Dawny and several other volunteers, the project was scrapped. An investigation was launched into why the program failed and what could be learned from it for the future, but the findings were inconclusive. It was decided due to the mortality rate that further investigation into the project was too dangerous and any documents relating to it were put on the highest tier of classification. NDAs were signed by any surviving participants in the program.
What they will never know is that Abar Ramses really was a genius and his device really worked. While the person’s body stayed in their future, their consciousness was transported to a designated point in time. An unsuspecting host would then have to contend with thoughts and actions that were not their own.
What Ramses failed to account for in his theory was the strength of a person’s individual will. A future mind and a past mind forced to inhabit one body fought for control. In that battle, both of them lost all sense of who, what, and why.
In times where mental illness was wholly misunderstood, a poor unsuspecting young lady was plagued with moments she could not remember. Moments where her husband reported that she was not herself. That she had taken on a completely different personality. Like she was someone else entirely. They thought her sick.
On June 8th, 1907, the most disastrous train wreck in history occurred. One hundred and three passengers on board were killed when the runaway train hit a corner too fast and derailed. Two of those passengers were a young married couple. Mr. Jonathan and Mrs. Anna Drake.
Maybe their history could have been changed. We will never know.