The foursome piled into Brynne’s car in the convention center parking lot.
“What really happened?” Jeremy asked, settling into the passenger seat beside Brynne.
“Is everyone buckled in?” Brynne asked, self-consciously avoiding Jeremy’s query and immediately starting the car’s engine. “You don’t want to go flying through the windshield.”
Rose, sitting beside Cal on the backseat, was the only one who bothered fiddling with the seatbelt. Jeremy and Cal ignored the suggestion. For one, they didn’t know what she was talking about; and secondly, they were concerned with other things.
“Brynne – tell me what happened,” Jeremy pressed.
Brynne sighed unable to think of any other stalling tactics. She put the car into gear and guided it out of the lot. “The ship sank,” she finally said after pulling out into traffic. “She was supposed to, at least.”
“That’s impossible,” Cal said from the back seat. “Everyone knows that the Titanic is unsinkable.”
“I don’t have to remind you that I worked on that ship for a year,” Brynne said. “The Titanic was far from perfect. She certainly wasn’t unsinkable, I assure you. I can also assure you that she was never supposed to dock in New York.”
“How did she sink?” Rose asked.
“The exact same way the Gigantic did,” Brynne said. “She hit an iceberg and sank. There weren’t enough boats and 1500 hundred people died. 700 survived. Please don’t ask me to tell you made it and who didn’t.”
“It hardly matters now, anyway,” Cal said. “The Titanic didn’t sink.”
“No, but the Gigantic did, and most of the people who were supposed to die on the Titanic ended up dying on the Gigantic instead, along with 1500 extra people who weren’t supposed to die at all. Gigantic wouldn’t have happened if Titanic had sunk like she was supposed to.”
“And how would you know that?” Cal asked.
Brynne sighed, dreading the fact that she was about to share more information with these people. “The Titanic’s foundering resulted in a number of maritime changes that were meant to ensure that a disaster like that would never happen again. So, logically speaking, if Gigantic’s foundering had happened after Titanic, it would have had to be under radically different circumstances than Titanic. As it turns out, that scenario isn’t very far from what was supposed to happen.”
“What do you mean?” Rose asked.
“After the Titanic sank, they changed the name of Gigantic to Britannic. Of course, they increased the number of lifeboats on the new ship. They also installed larger davits.” She looked at Jeremy. “And they raised the watertight bulkheads to D-deck.”
“D-deck?” Jeremy repeated.
“They weren’t high enough on the Titanic,” Brynne explained. “It’s one of the reasons she sunk in the first place.”
Jeremy gazed out the front windshield, his eyes moving rapidly over an invisible overlay of Titanic’s deckplans. “I knew that keeping them lower would pose a slight risk,” he said. He looked at Brynne again. “But I never thought that they might lead to the ship’s sinking. Not in a million years.”
“I don’t think anyone did,” Brynne said. “But the way the ship was damaged highlighted the major flaws in the system.”
“So they corrected those flaws when they built Gigantic, I mean Britannic,” Jeremy said. “What else did they change? Did they move forward with the plans to make it larger than Titanic?”
“They scaled back, but they did make it slightly larger than Titanic. It wasn’t any longer, but it was wider, at 94 feet.”
The four of them rode in silence for a few more minutes. It was a lot for all of them to take in, even Brynne. Especially Brynne, because she knew exactly how history was supposed to have played out but didn’t. For some reason.
“I guess it’s slightly comforting to know that the firm will still be around in 100 years,” Jeremy said. “Slightly.”
“I know exactly how you feel,” Brynne said. She unlocked her apartment door and gently pushed it open. “I know how much everyone there put into those ships. And I know how crushing it is to know that the reality of their fates fell short of the hopes everyone had for them.” She turned and suddenly noticed: Payton and Bell stood inside the apartment, in the living room.
“Payton,” she said. Her surprise at seeing them was evident on her face. “What are you doing here? Is it the links?” She followed Jeremy, Cal, and Rose into the apartment and shut the door behind her.
“Actually, yes,” Payton said, stepping past the sofa toward Brynne. “They’re working.”
“Already? What was the problem?” Brynne asked.
“A virus,” Payton said.
“You mean someone intentionally–”
“Sabotage,” Payton said, interrupting and completing Brynne’s sentence for her.
“Who?” Brynne asked immediately. “What do they want?”
“We don’t know who exactly,” Payton replied, “but we have a few solid ideas. As to your second question – what they want – that one’s the easy one: they want everything. But we can’t dwell on everything. We’ve got a timeline to fix.”
“We certainly do. Did you know about this?” she asked, handing her boss a pamphlet from the Gigantic exhibit. Payton hadn’t heard about the exhibit from anyone directly, but he hadn’t needed to. He’d expected that these types of changes could result from the modifications in the timeline. That didn’t mean it sat with him any easier, though.
“Bell, get that link open,” he snapped quietly, his eyes still moving over the brochure.
Bell immediately moved toward Brynne’s bedroom. Brynne ushered Cal, Rose, and Jeremy in, following Bell into the bedroom and toward the little closet. Payton was on their heels. By the time the whole group was in the bedroom, Bell had activated the link.
“Is everything ready? Has it been calibrated to the right date?” Payton asked rapidly.
“It’s all ready to go,” Bell replied. His eyes shifted from Payton to Brynne.
She knew exactly what the look meant and turned to Cal, Rose, and Jeremy. “It’s time, now,” she told them. “It’s time for you to go back.”
“To the ship?” Rose asked.
“To 1912,” Brynne said. “You have to go back through the link. It’s the only way you can get back to the world you know.” With a measure of uncertainty, Rose looked at the light spilling from the closet.
Brynne noted Rose’s hesitation. “It’s safe, I promise. It’s just like the one we came through last night. You’ll be fine, you have my word. But you have to go. Now.”
Rose looked at Brynne again, seeking further reassurance. Finding it in Brynne’s confident brown eyes, she finally nodded. “Thank you for your kindness and hospitality. I’ll not soon forget it.”
‘Yes, you will,’ Brynne thought, watching Rose turn and walk toward the light. ‘Sooner than you know.’ When the girl returned to her native time, she would become completely unaware of her time-traveling experience because of the time signature phenomenon.
“Mr. Hockley, you’re next,” Brynne said. The announcement wasn’t necessary, as Cal had already stepped forward before she said it.
He straightened his tie and smoothed the front of his suit with his hands. “With pleasure. I’m all too happy to get back to a world where everything makes sense and is as it should be.” Without hesitation or another word, he stepped into the waiting link.
Brynne turned to Jeremy. They both knew it was his time. There was so much between them that was unresolved and was destined to remain that way, it seemed.
“I’m sorry,” she told him suddenly.
“For what?” he asked.
“For everything,” Brynne said. She wanted to explain what she meant, explain that she was sorry for ever crossing the line and getting involved. Carmen had warned her, but Brynne’s stubbornness had won out over her head, and now there was pain where there should be none. Brynne wanted to pour all of this out to Jeremy, but instead she only repeated, “For everything.”
Jeremy only nodded. After a moment’s hesitation, he leaned in and kissed Brynne on the cheek before quickly turning and disappearing into the light.
Then the light went out.
A look at Bell and Payton and the confused expressions they wore was enough to tell Brynne that something wasn’t right. She got even further proof when Jeremy emerged from the closet.
“I don’t believe that was supposed to happen,” Jeremy said.
Bell whipped out a handheld diagnostic device and pointed it toward the darkened link, while Payton, Brynne, and Jeremy looked on expectedly.
Bell deactivated the little scanner and looked at the rest of the group. “It’s dead,” he said, crestfallen. “I’m not reading any activity at all.”
Before Bell had even gotten the final words of his statement out of his mouth, Payton was on his cell, barking orders to the IT people at COSI headquarters. Red in the face and huffing, he snapped his phone shut after only a few moments, fighting the urge to hurl it at the carpeted floor.
“They’re dead, all of them,” he continued rapidly. “It’s that damned virus. We thought we had it, but it’s more sophisticated than we thought. It’s going to take us a while longer to get to the bottom of this.”
Payton had yelled and screamed and barked until he was blue in the face, but all of that would never be enough to get the links operational again as fast as they all wanted. So, Jeremy was stuck, for now at least, with Brynne in the 21st century.
Payton and Bell had left over an hour ago, and Jeremy and Brynne had done little more than stare at each other in the time since. They never had fully resolved the personal issues that had arisen as one of the unintended consequences of this whole mess.
They sat on the small sofas across from each other in Brynne’s living room.
“I never figured out if you were still mad at me or not,” Brynne said. “Are you?”
Jeremy sighed heavily. “I’m too confused and scared to be angry about anything at this point,” he said. “Too preoccupied with wondering whether I’m stuck here forever or not.”
“Not forever,” Brynne chimed. “Only until death.”
It was a futile attempt at humor, one that Jeremy didn’t appreciate at all. “What am I going to do if I’m never able to go back?” Jeremy pondered aloud. “I wouldn’t know what I’m doing here. I’d have no idea what I’m walking into.”
“That’s not true. You have an inkling, at the very least, from what you’ve seen during your time here,” Brynne said.
“That’s all good and well, but that’s only a glimpse,” Jeremy said. “I know nothing about what it takes to survive in your world. I’ll give you a prime example. This morning, Cal wanted to buy a newspaper from a street vendor. Cal, understandably, was prepared to pay a few cents. A few, not fifty. You know that in 1912, fifty cents is an absurd amount to pay for a newspaper, even on Sundays and for special editions. But here, it’s apparently the norm for a mere daily. It’s those kinds of things, the things you have to pick up from experience, that I can’t help but worry about.”
Brynne stood and crossed over to the other sofa where Jeremy sat. She sunk down beside him. “Well, we’re not going to worry about it right now because as far as we know, it isn’t going to happen like that. Yes, the whole situation with the links looks bad now, but Payton insists that the problem is fixable, and I’m inclined to agree with him. We just have to wait it out.”
On cue, Brynne’s cell phone rang. She leaned over, picked it up off the coffee table, and looked at the caller ID. It was Payton.
“Brynne,” he said through the phone after she answered, “we think we know what changed the timeline.”