Payton was speechless, a rarity for him. The woman (or was she a girl?) stepped timidly into the room. She looked exactly like Brynne, though younger. Was this Brynne? Had she found some some way to return, albeit, younger?
She carried a brown box in her lean arms. “I’m looking for Payton Duvall,” she announced. Everyone turned and looked at her. Their expressions instantly mirrored Payton’s.
Payton stepped forward, brimming with confusion and curiosity. He was now certain that the woman who’d just walked in wasn’t Brynne because she had no idea that he was Payton Duvall. It couldn’t be Brynne, unless she had amnesia, which was a real possibility. “I’m Payton. Can I help you?”
“My name is Jo Foster,” the young woman said. “My great-grandmother was – ”
“Brynne,” Jeremy said before the girl could finish.
Jo nodded. “That’s right.” She stepped forward, setting the box on the table. “I never met her, but I know a lot about her.” Her eyes landed on Jeremy. “A lot. I know all about you guys, about COSI. It’s kind of weird actually meeting you, though. I’ve been reading about you guys since I first found my great-grandmother’s journals. That was two years ago. She wrote about you in past tense, so I’d gotten used to thinking of you that way. Yet, here you are, just as real and modern as me.”
“Journals?” Bell asked.
“Yeah,” Jo said. She opened the box and began removing notebooks from the stacks inside. “She wrote in them religiously. There must be an entry in them for nearly every day after that whole Titanic incident. She recorded everything. It’s all here. These are all her journals. I started reading them for a history assignment, and they were fascinating. A woman working as an architect back during that time, and my great-grandfather encouraging her, even! That kind of stuff was unheard of. When I got to the journals she kept toward the end of her life, though, I found them fascinating for an altogether different reason. The things she wrote about – she started to write about time travel and the future. She even started to talk about it to my mother and my grandmother. They thought she had dementia, supposedly brought on by the death of my great-grandfather in 1960. She gave her diaries to my mother and told her where to take them and when, but it freaked Mom out, and they ended up in my grandmother’s basement. We came across them when my grandmother died a few years ago. Then, I started reading them for school, even though my mother warned me that Brynne got kind of loopy towards the end. I didn’t care. I think I’m the only person in my whole family who’s read all of them.”
“You said your grandmother didn’t believe Brynne when she started talking about us,” Payton said. “Why did you?”
Jo pulled her hands from the box and looked at Payton. “I didn’t at first, but that’s because all I had to go on were the things my grandmother and my mother told me,” Jo replied. “I didn’t have the privilege of knowing Brynne personally, but I felt like I finally did get to know her once I started reading her journals. She numbered each volume in chronological order, from 1 to 58. I read them all. After I finished, I came to the conclusion that my Brynne wasn’t suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. She was just as on top of her game as she’d ever been. Her last journal is written in exactly the same logical, detailed manner as her first. The only difference is the topic.”
Jo reached into her bag and brought out a small, leather-bound volume, which she handed over to Payton. “A person who was losing her mind or her senses wouldn’t be able to write like that. She was just as lucid as you or me when she died.”
Payton accepted the book from Jo and carefully thumbed through the pages. Each entry was dated and written in neat cursive script, and each page was numbered.
“Check out the last entry,” Jo suggested. “May 5, 1964.”
Payton flipped to the back of the book and leafed backwards through the pages until he found the first page of the final entry. He read it silently to himself:
This volume and the 57 that precede it present the details of my life from the night the Titanic sank up until now. That was the night my life changed forever, as I was, in an instant, cut off from the world I’d known. I lost my old life, but my new life has been far from dreadful or unpleasant, even. I lived a wonderful, rich life; it’s just that it had the most unexpected beginning.
I take great comfort in knowing that the life I lost that cold April night is not lost forever and lies not behind me, but ahead of me; so far ahead, however, that I know, but for some great miracle, I shall not bear witness to it again. I also take great comfort in knowing that my descendants will live to see it and will, thus, be able to complete my first (and unfortunately, last) assignment for COSI.
Whoever reads this final entry, I’m charging you with the task of seeing that my volumes are delivered into the hands of Mr. Payton Duvall in their entirety. It is absolutely imperative that this not be done before August 11, 2009, for your very existence depends upon adhering to this particular stipulation. You will find him at 1981 Mack Charles Avenue. Take all my journals to him. You’ll probably find that he’s quite grateful to receive them, as they’ll, no doubt, answer many of his questions. He’ll know what to do.
Payton looked at Jo, and saw Brynne’s eyes staring back at him for a moment. “She died two weeks later,” Jo said. “I’ve always wondered why she picked today. She made it sound so grave. It’s not like it would have made any difference … would it?”
Payton closed Brynne’s journal. He sighed heavily. “Today is the day your great grandmother traveled back in time. Two hours ago, she was standing on almost the exact spot where you’re standing now. Theoretically, if you’d shown up yesterday with this information, it might’ve disrupted the timeline – again – and I might not have sent Brynne on the mission. That’s speculation, though. We really don’t know what would have happened, because yesterday, you didn’t exist to any of us here.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to make sense of what he’d just said. “Paradoxes – that’s why my desk drawer is filled with headache meds and antacids.”
When Brynne came around, it was to the smell of something vile. Her eyes watered as they fluttered open. She was looking into Andrews’s concerned, brown-eyed gaze. She was on her back still, but she didn’t recognize the ceiling.
“She probably has a concussion.”
The words sounded far away to Brynne, like she was trying to listen to him through water.
“You must keep her awake until daybreak, at least. I’ll leave these smelling salts with you – they might come in handy.”
Brynne blinked, and it hurt. “Where are we?” she croaked. Talking hurt, too.
“The Californian,” Andrews replied quietly. “You gave us a real scare.”
“I found you unconscious on the stateroom floor. We barely made it to the lifeboat and off the ship in time. She went under about 1:20 a.m. I had Dr. O’Loughlin look at you. He says you probably have a concussion.”
It all came back to Brynne now. She’d tried to establish a link. When she thought she had, she’d made a dash for it and had run into a solid wall instead. She absently felt for the wrist unit on her arm … but it was gone. She checked her other wrist – it wasn’t there, either.
“Where’s my watch?” she asked.
“What watch?” Andrews asked.
“I-I-I was wearing a watch,” Brynne stammered. “What happened to it?”
“It must have fallen off somewhere on the Titanic.”
Brynne tried to sit up. “I have to find it. I need it.”
“It’s gone, darling. All of it. There’s nothing left of the Titanic except for a few boats.” Brynne was trying to sit up and stand, but Andrews gently urged her back down on the small cot. “We’ll get you a new one. We’ll get new everything, I promise.”
Brynne kept feeling her arm, as if the unit would magically appear. But she knew it wouldn’t. Her eyes welled with heavy tears. Without that wrist unit, she was stuck.
“Now, there, darling – you must stay calm. We both made it out alive; for that, we must be thankful.” Andrews thought Brynne was upset over losing the ship, but she was upset over losing something much larger than the Titanic. Her former life.
Andrews had taken Brynne’s hand and enclosed it in his, stroking it gently, trying to sooth her. “We’re going to be fine, Brynne. Just fine. It’s turned out to be a rough start, but we’ve nothing to worry about. We’re going to be fine together.”