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art by Jason Stirret

Foundering Fathers

Brian K. Lowe lives in Los Angeles, where he deals with the 21st century by writing stories that mainly take place in the past. Additional unclassified information can be found at brianklowe.wordpress.com. This is his third appearance in Daily Science Fiction.

"Soames, you haven't by any chance solved those fourth-dimensional differential equations of yours, have you?"
My valet's face remained impassive, but I had learned by now to read his eyes, which most would term "steady" with perhaps a touch of "stern," and they told me a sad tale of continuing futility.
"Not at this juncture, sir."
"And when, pray tell, might this juncture be located?" Tasting the bitter fruit of experience had taught me that upon our present course, "when" was far more critical than "where." The moment when we returned to the 26th century, I was going to seize one Cyril Bassington-Santiago by the scruff of the neck, and, public school chum or not, pitch him bodily into this infernal used time machine of his and set it on a one-way course to the late Pleistocene. Which, knowing the fickle nature of the mechanism, it would never see.
"According to the chronograph, sir--" Soames made a show of consulting the device. I took this as an uncharacteristic sign of his unease. Soames does not typically make a show of anything he does. "We have emerged in the latter half of the 18th century. I shall know more precisely presently, sir."
I despaired that his use of the word "presently" was a subtle attempt at humor, since for all of Soames's sterling qualities, jollity is absent from their midst. It would be funny, in a gallows sense, since our present was also our past--although to be scrupulously correct, our future was also our past, right up until our present.
"I was thinking rather of the time of day, Soames. I find this undisciplined ratcheting back and forth in time parches the old Webster throat." In truth, though, I feared even Soames's ability to find the makings of a decent scotch and soda prior to 1900.
"Perhaps you should take the opportunity for a small perambulation, sir. Exercise does stimulate the brain."
I thought it would be more productive for him to indulge in some mind-stimulating exercise, while I remained behind in the relative comfort of the chronosphere nursing a soothing beverage. Nevertheless, if my sacrifice could in any way grease the gears of Soames's marvelous thought processes, I was prepared to perform my duty for the greater good.
I let myself out. We were ensconced in a shady lane off of a dirt road. The sun was high, the sky was clear. Spying the outskirts of a town, I strode forth to see the sights.
It took some little time to reach the city center. The streets were crowded; women carried shopping baskets on their arms while dark-skinned servants in colorful scarves held parasols over their heads. Men in long coats and powdered wigs looked as uncomfortable as they did fashionable. My chameleon suit not only mimicked local styles, it protected me from temperature and humidity. It did nothing, however, to protect my sense of smell, which was assaulted on every side. How fortunate that Soames had dispatched me to be my own Mercury on this errand , for amidst such a fragrance of humanity I doubt he would have been able to do less than proclaim the establishment of a public bath, directly here in the street. Such a declamation would doubtless constitute what my nanny would have protested as a Really Bad Idea. Like the crowd, then, it seemed that the time to explore one of the nearby business establishments was ripe.
No sooner did I direct my sight down the street than I espied a sign with a foaming tankard, and there I set my steps.
There were only two patrons in the taproom, conversing quietly. I sat at a rough table and gestured to the nearest servant.
"A glass of your finest ale, my lady."
The Webster men run more toward the genteel and cultivated than the classically handsome, but we have always made up for that with our scandalously fulsome bank accounts. I placed a local coin, supplied by Soames via the ship's computers, on the table.
"And that's yours if I can count on your individual attention."
Her eyes widened as she saw the coin. "You can 'ave as much of my ale as you like, sir," she said loudly, "but we runs a respectable establishment 'ere!" She snapped up the coin and dropped it into her capacious bosom, dropping her voice to a stage whisper. "Me name's Annie."
After a word with the barkeep, she headed for the stairs. I looked at her, then the barkeep, and finally at my empty table.
"Well, sir, you paid for it. Aren't you going to use it?"
One of the pair had turned to examine me. His friend wore an amused expression.
When I frowned, the speaker pointed toward the upstairs where my waitress had disappeared.
"Is that the private salon?" I asked.
He laughed. "You could say that, sir. It's very private."
Now, no one has ever accused the Websters of being megalocephalic (for which I had Soames), but neither are we bringing up the rear of the mob of human evolution. A light burst in my head.
"Oh, heavens. I just wanted a beer. It's so hot."
"Then you have overpaid handsomely. But Mr. Dawes and I would be honored to help consume your credit." He gestured at the barkeep. "Paul Revere, sir, at your service. And my colleague is Mr. William Dawes."
I moved to their table, shaking hands vigorously. Hardly in town and already making friends!
"Barclay Webster. So honored to make your acquaintance."
Three tankards arrived. Mr. Revere made short work of his and ordered three more. When I offered to stake my new friends another round, he assured me that I had already done so. So I toasted their health, and they mine, and then the health of their friend George, and then a different George, and all the while I blessed the 26th century medicines that would keep my blood alcohol levels to no more than a pleasantly fuzzy level…
"To Thomash Paine!" Dawes roared, lifting his glass.
"To Thomash Paine!" we echoed. And we drank.
"Barclay," Revere said, "I want to let you in on a little shecret. Can you keep a shecret?"
I nodded, slowly. "No Webshter hash ever betrayed a shecret."
Revere nodded, too, and I thought his head would fall right off. "Good. Because young William and I and some comrades are working on a bit of mischief that King Georgie would not appresh--appress--like too much. A group of us thinks the colonies should shecede and break away from Great Britain. Whaddaya ya think?"
"Are you talking about a rebellion? People could get hurt!"
Dawes hiccupped. "Good heavens, Paul! He's right! Did we even think about that?"
Revere snored.
"Oh, he's in for the night, then," Dawes declared--and his own head promptly dropped to the table--but a hand from above caught him, lowering his face gently to the wood.
"Good evening, sir. Will you be returning for supper, or dining out?"
"To be honest, Soames, my friends and I had not even contemplated supper. What time is it?"
"It is well dusk, sir, and if it is not too much of an imposition, I was rather hoping you might be dining out tonight."
I frowned, making the world fold in odd corners until I stopped. This ancient brew was quite heady.
"Really, Soames? Is there some reason you wouldn't want me coming home? Have you a lady friend?"
He nearly blinked. "Oh no, sir. I was researching this time period--" I stole a look at my two companions, but they were dead to the world--"and it appears we have arrived at a very propitious moment. This is April 18, 1775. On this very night Paul Revere and his comrade William Dawes will undertake to warn their fellows of the encroachment of British troops, an event chronicled in a famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, long a particular favorite of mine. The opportunity to see the ride itself would be of great interest."
All of the alcohol in my head immediately fled south, leaving me sober as a priest on Sunday.
"Paul--Revere, you say?"
He did not register my apprehension. "Yes, sir. Not only is it the inspiration for a very fine poem, but it is a pivotal moment in 18th century history. Fascinating on many levels, sir."
"I say, Soames, allow me to introduce you to my two friends." I indicated the duo snoring on the table. "This is Mr. William Dawes and Mr. Paul Revere."
Soames' s lip actually twitched. "Oh, dear. Sir. They must be awakened immediately. If they do not rouse the countryside, the colonist leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock will be arrested by the British, and summarily hanged."
"Executed, sir."
"Executed! How barbaric!"
"Indeed, sir. Earth's cultures were uniformly disposed toward barbarity in this period. In fact, matters did not markedly improve until the abolition of television in 2077."
He turned to Dawes, slapping him lightly on each cheek. I followed his lead with Revere, but as Dawes had warned, there was no moving him. I appealed to Soames for one of his magic hangover elixirs.
"I fear, sir, that it only works on a gentleman after he has enjoyed several hours of sleep. And to force something down his throat now could choke him."
By now Dawes was staggering around the room under his own power. "What's going on? Who's he?"
Soames stood,. "I am a courier, sir, with reports of the British on the march. They are moving on Lexington."
Dawes sobered on the instant. "Lexington? They're coming for Adams and Hancock! This is what we've been waiting for! Come on, Paul, we've--oh." He looked at Revere, a sodden, snoring lump. "I'll go myself. They must be warned!"
"I'll go with you!" someone cried, and it was with the utmost horror that I realized that someone had been me. Soames regarded me with a new light in his eyes, but whether it betokened a new respect, or a resolve to monitor my drinking more closely, I could not say. Dawes grabbed my arm to lead me outside. I sent Soames a silent plea for assistance.
"You proceed, sir, and I will attempt to rouse Mr. Revere. We may yet salvage the situation."
Well, yes, that was easy to say when you were not running from armed troops, but such was my implicit faith in Soames that I let it go. I had ridden a horse once, so I was at least peripherally aware of the mechanics. My lack of a grasp of the finer points was instantly apparent to my mount.
The night air being cool, I had wrapped a scarf around my neck, and such was my horse's unbridled ruthlessness that the scarf was blown into my face before I reached the next town. People scattered before me and I tried to shout my message, but so boisterous was my conveyance that I could not remove a hand from the reins for a moment.
"Th 'bbbbrrrcccgggg!" I sputtered, but I despaired of any man comprehending a word of it. And then the scarf flew up into my eyes and I could not even see.
"What did he say?"
"I couldn't hear. Who was that masked man?"
"I don't know, but I recognized the horse. It belongs to Paul Revere."
"Paul Revere? That must mean the British are coming!"
Others took up the cry, but I was borne away. The horse pounded through the countryside carrying me like a sack of grain it would rather not be hauling. Somehow I avoided being dashed into a low branch. Whenever I heard voices, I repeated my cry, but whether my words were heard or lost in my scarf, which resisted my repeated efforts to dislodge, I could not be certain.
Suddenly we were slowing down. I managed to pull the scarf away and there was William Dawes next to me, holding my horse's bridle.
"It's done!" he cried. "You have roused the entire countryside! Now you must ride to Mr. Adams and Mr. Hancock to warn them."
I opened my mouth to reply that I didn't know Mr. Adams and Mr. Hancock from the President of Earth, but my words froze in my throat and I could only stare. Dawes spun about to see for himself the cause of my consternation.
"You will oblige us, sirs, by dismounting," said the man in the red suit and jolly hat. His odd costume was rendered far less ridiculous by the dozen others in similar attire who wielded what appeared to be quite nasty armaments, whose air of martial antagonism was only accentuated by the long pointed metal spikes that each sported at its end. The end, I might add, that was pointed toward us. We did precisely as we were bid.
No sooner were we rudely ushered into place, however, when there came another disturbance.
"What is the meaning of this? Who is in charge here?"
And striding out of the darkness into the knot of soldiers, decked out in the most outlandish red uniform with epaulets, white belt, buckled sword and topped with a white wig, was my own man Soames. Dawes started to speak, but I shushed him.
"I'm in charge, sir. Sergeant Lebrand, sir."
"Well, sergeant," thundered Soames, "I am Major Soames, and in the event you did not receive the order, the colonials are resorting to their old tricks and are headed south. All available units are to report to Colonel Webster immediately for new orders."
"Colonel Webster, sir? I don't know him, sir."
Soames somehow loomed even taller. "Don't know him? Well, he certainly will know you, sergeant, if you don't turn around and do a double-quick march back to Boston!"
"But my prisoners, sir…"
"Will be taken into my custody! Now move, you impudent lout, unless you want to join them!"
In the blink of an eye, the troops retreated, leaving me grinning like a loon and Mr. Dawes asking himself where he'd seen "Major Soames" before. When Paul Revere, miraculously steady on his feet, appeared at Soames's side, my poor friend William was completely out of his orbit.
Revere and his horse were soon reunited, and with Dawes, off to warn the colonials' leaders. Soames lead me to our chronosphere.
"How did you get Revere into the chronosphere? And what did you tell him it was?"
Soames permitted himself a ghost of a smile, although in the dark I might have been mistaken.
"Given Mr. Revere's state, sir, it was a simple matter to persuade him that anything he thought he saw was a product of his own imagination."
"And how did you find us? Without you the British might have--" I thought about his earlier use of the term "hanged," and fingered my collar.
"That was entirely due to your own efforts, sir. You had so thoroughly alarmed the countryside that charting your course was simplicity itself. I was impressed, if I might be so bold, sir, at your ingenuity in preserving your own identity and promoting the concept that it was, in fact, Mr. Revere who was riding through the entire time."
I lifted my chin and shot my cuffs nonchalantly. "In times of urgency, one rises to the occasion, Soames. Websters are known for their composure under pressure."
"Of course, sir. May I prepare you a nightcap? Your bed has been turned down."
"Thank you, Soames. I must say, for all the congeniality of the local population, their taste in beer leaves much to be desired."
"It is a barbaric age, sir."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Author Comments

This story began as sort of the writer’s equivalent of a doodle, just scratchings to clear the head for real work. But some stories demand to be written, and when P.G.Wodehouse, time travel, and drunken Revolutionary War heroes team up, they will have their own way, and a doodle becomes a glimpse behind the curtain of history.

- Brian K. Lowe
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