Welcome To Paradise
by Q. Kelly
Chapter One -- The morning of May 19, 1536
She was a queen, so she would die with grace and dignity, with her bladder and bowels intact. She lay in bed and kept her eyes shut, lest she sense the creeping fingers of the sun. Lady Boleyn, her aunt by marriage, and Lady Kingston, wife of the constable of the tower, lay near her. Maybe they were pretending to sleep, too. In her head, Anne recited the sentences, polishing her last words: “Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, according to the law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it.”
The words were acceptable. Not what she wanted to say, because she was innocent. However, for the welfare of her daughter, Anne had to keep pledging her allegiance to the king and air no protestation about her sham of a trial. Elizabeth would not suffer for her mother's so-called sins. Anne continued in her head, lacing her words with double meaning and sarcasm: “But I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you. For a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never, and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle me of my cause I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.”
At this time she would draw a confident breath and kneel. Eyes clear, head held high. An innocent woman. Innocent woman found guilty of incest with her brother and of other adulterous acts.
No, she would not kneel just yet.
She would look into the crowd one last time, into the eyes of Englishmen and Englishwomen who brought food and their children. She would curse these people with her eyes, dare them to picnic over her spilled blood. Maybe they would behave with grace, as they had after her brother's death only two days before. The pinprick pain of George-- lovely George, dead George, innocent George --forced Anne's eyes open.
Still dark. No sun. By nine o' clock a.m., she would be dead. She should be dead now. The execution had been postponed twice. Yesterday, at eight in the morning, she was supposed to have been beheaded. Then at noon yesterday, but the executioner from Calais was still delayed. Pray deliver me to you this morn, dear Lord. The waiting was proving more agonizing in its own way than the beheading.
Anne pictured herself kneeling. What would her very, very last words be? Something ordinary? Something such as: “To Christ I commend my soul. Jesu, receive my soul...” And then the blow of the sword, would she hear its whoosh?--and her slender neck, formerly covered with love and kisses from His Majesty, would be no more.
A whisper rose up from Lady Kingston. “The sun.”
George, dear brother… not long now. "The sun," Anne echoed. She felt the eyes on her, their presence stronger than ever. Not the gazes of Lady Boleyn and Lady Kingston, but the demon eyes. Anne was not sure what else to call them. She had felt them all her life. Invisible, watchful, curious, keen eyes on her. Not God's implacable eyes, but hungry, ravenous eyes. Some people said she was a witch; she had the devil's paw mark, the size of a strawberry, on her neck, and that twig of a sixth finger on her right hand. Maybe these people were right. Maybe she was a witch. She floated a silent prayer. Help me, whoever thou art. Help me die. Not tomorrow, but today. This morning. I cannot endure any longer. Deliver me to my paradise.
Anne dressed in a crimson kirtle first. Then a black damask gown, set off by a wide white collar. She must keep calm and composed. No matter what Henry VIII declared, she was queen of England, mother of a legitimate heir. And she was innocent. God knew. Henry knew too. He had to.
To Christ I commend my soul. Jesu, receive my soul...
She turned to ask one of her ladies to bring a hood of black velvet. But the room was empty. Anne blinked. How? The guards had not--
Anne jumped at the voice, a man's. It was deep and gravelly, and behind her. The Lord God? Anne's neck throbbed. Not the Lord God. No. The eyes. The invisible eyes were going to save her.
Anne turned to meet the owner of the voice. She beheld a light, a glorious white light. A man stepped out. Anne could not perceive him well, for the light was most dazzling.
“Will you come, Your Majesty?” The man held out his right hand, and Anne's neck throbbed again. Was this proof she was a witch and indeed deserved to die?
“Your Majesty.” The man smiled, and his teeth--his teeth! White, straight, and without gaps. A desperate giggle escaped Anne, and she clamped her mouth shut. She was a queen. She would behave with grace and dignity, even if she was a witch after all.
Anne took the man's hand and stepped into the light.
Saturday, May 21, 2050
“I am dying,” Josiah Franklin said. “I suppose you can tell.”
Helen could. Her first thought upon seeing him was: Dad's dying. She had not seen her father in exactly one year, since her thirty-ninth birthday--also the day of her mother's funeral. Then, Josiah's white hair was lush and thick, his chest strong, his posture confident despite his mourning. Now, he was in a wheelchair. He was a shrunken, wrinkled leaf. His skin hung loosely. His eyes were alive, though. Bright, startlingly, secretive blue. As always.
Helen supposed she ought to bend down and hug him, but neither of them wanted a hug. "Cancer?” she guessed.
Helen was glad her mother, Eliza, died in her sleep, of a heart attack. Unsuspecting, the best way.
“I have perhaps a month left at most,” Josiah said.
Helen attempted a reassuring smile. She was vaguely curious what kind of cancer her father had. Not curious enough to ask. The man in the wheelchair was her father in name and blood only. As far back as Helen could remember, he had been gone, swept up in his work. She had put up with him because, for some reason, her mother loved him.
“I know I have not been a good father.”
Helen let her silence be her answer.
“Well,” Josiah said.
Helen surveyed her father's office. Today was her first time on any of the Icarus properties, and the office did not surprise her. Whatever his faults, Josiah was not a man of pretension and airs, and the simplicity of his office showed that. “What's this incredible birthday present you have for me?” Helen asked. “That you're dying can't be it.”
He chuckle-wheezed. “No, Helen Bear.”
She winced. “Why am I here?”
A knock sounded. The man who entered was not handsome, but he had an air of confidence, of intelligence about him. He looked about fifty. He wore the Icarus security uniform, complete with a gun in a holster.
“Benjamin, you're right on time,” her father said. He beamed. With reverence. With love.
Helen narrowed her eyes. What's this? Her father going googly over a male security guard?
“Josiah.” Benjamin had the same love and reverence in his gaze.
“Meet Helen, my daughter.”
Benjamin executed a little bow and held out his hand. “How do you do, Ms. Franklin?” He had a rolling, mellifluous accent. Somewhat British.
Helen shook his hand. Smooth, soft. Not what she expected in a security guard.
“Your father speaks highly of you. I read both of your books. Perhaps you would be so kind as to autograph my copies? They're downstairs.”
Something was off about Benjamin's accent. Helen could not place what, and the fact bothered her. Because of her research work, she had spent quite some time in England and in France, and knew all the regionalisms. What was off about Benjamin's accent? It was not quite modern, maybe, and such an odd mixture of American and British--Helen caught herself from wandering a pointless path. Benjamin was not someone worth wasting time on.
“Please follow me, Ms. Franklin,” Benjamin said.
They descended ten floors, into the bowels of the Icarus building. Josiah, thanks to his Razr 23-6 motorized wheelchair, had no problem keeping pace with Benjamin and Helen. At the end of the first corridor, they took a right. They traveled the entirety of another corridor. Benjamin hung a left, into a room blanketed on one wall by video monitors. Helen counted twelve monitors, arranged in rows of three. Two of the monitors showed people. One was a man in the Icarus security guard uniform. He sat watching TV in what appeared to be a living room. The center monitor showed a woman curled up in bed. She was reading a book. She had short, dark hair, but further details were hard to make out because of how she was positioned.
“Anne's been with us three years,” Josiah said. “Three years and two days, to be more exact.”
“She lives here?”
“Your first book.” Benjamin proffered Edward VI: The Reign of the Forgotten Tudor King.
Helen shifted her gaze from the center monitor. “Where do you want me to sign?”
Benjamin proffered a purple pen. “The title page is fine.”
Helen wrote: “To Benjamin, It was nice meeting you. Thank you for reading my books! - Helen Franklin.” Benjamin handed her the second book, Anne Boleyn: Doomed Queen. On the title page, Helen simply signed her name.
“Thank you, Ms. Franklin,” Benjamin said.
Helen turned back to the wall of monitors. The woman--Anne, right?--was turning a page.
“What is she reading?” Josiah asked.
Benjamin shrugged. “Let's see.” He sat and pressed a button. The camera zoomed in. “ Fingersmith. Sarah Waters. Excellent classic.”
Anne had long lashes, casting shadows on her cheeks. Dark, dark eyes. Like coals. Clinging to the words in the book.
Helen looked down at her father. “What is going on?”
Josiah trembled to his feet, until he was standing as tall as he could, five inches above Helen's five feet eight. He placed a hand on Helen's shoulder. “Anne needs your help.” Desperation and--yes, panic, panic! tinged his voice.
Helen kept her discomfort at bay. Her fault for coming. Her gut had told her not to meet with her father. She should have listened. He was a brilliant man, a genius, she recognized that much. But stunted when it came to emotional intelligence. Or maybe he just did not care. She was embarrassed to tell people who her father was and what he did. Josiah Paul Franklin, billionaire. Yep, that billionaire, founder of defense contractor and weapons maker Icarus Corp. He was also owner of who knew how many smaller corporations and research foundations. Helen and her father connected over one thing, and one thing only: their passion for history.
“What's the incredible present?” Helen asked. Certainly not a woman on a monitor, reading a book.
“Anne's depressed,” Benjamin put in.
“I'm not a psychologist,” Helen snapped. “I'm an historian. An author.”
Benjamin winked. “Maybe you can reach Anne. No one else can.”
“Why would I be any different?”
Josiah swallowed. “Because you're not one of us.”
“I don't understand.”
Josiah sank back into his wheelchair. He nodded at Benjamin. “Helen and I are going in.”
Helen followed her father down another sterile, gray corridor. Florescent lights buzzed above them, and they did not have far to go. Josiah stopped at the third door on the left, a door labeled only by a two letters and a number: TT2. Josiah pressed his hand to a biometric key scanner, and it beeped. The door opened, and Josiah entered. Helen stepped into a room that was just as inviting as the corridor. On the wall facing her was another biometric key scanner. Her father repeated the procedure, but this time, as he rolled into the next room, she noticed him pat his hip. She knew that move. Her ex-girlfriend Juanita, a cop, had done the same thing. Automatic reflex. Checking that the gun was there.
Why in the world did her weakling, almost-dead father have a gun on him?
Did the woman reading in bed live here?
Nothing made sense.
The next room was the living room from the wall of monitors. Same security guard on the couch.
“Jordan,” her father said. “This is my daughter, Helen.”
Jordan nodded an unsmiling greeting.
“How's Anne?” Josiah asked.
“Anne?” Josiah called, the strength and clarity of his voice surprising Helen. “Anne, it's Josiah. I've brought my daughter.”
“She lives here?” Helen asked.
Josiah said nothing. He continued sitting in his damn robot wheelchair, tension bunching his shoulders. He and Helen waited. And waited.
Helen's patience ran out. “What is going on?” she barked.
“I had a script prepared,” her father said. “A speech. An explanation. I was going to explain to you--me and Benjamin, we were going to explain to you. You know what people say, the best-laid plans go awry. Best if you see for yourself. Then I'll explain.” Josiah beckoned for Helen to follow him. They passed several rooms, the doors all open. Helen recognized the rooms from the wall of monitors. A bathroom. A library, stacked top to bottom, wall to wall, with books. Another bedroom. The last door was closed, and Josiah knocked on it.
“Anne?” he called.
“I'm coming in, Anne.” He waited a moment then twisted the knob as if he knew it would not be locked. Helen felt a sliver of fear. Was her father keeping a woman prisoner? Why would he?
The bed was neatly made, and Anne stood in front of the nightstand. She wore blue jeans and a green polo T-shirt. Helen was drawn to her eyes again. Dark, dark eyes. Angry, vicious eyes. Also, somehow, defeated eyes. Yes, this woman was a prisoner. Anne seemed about the same height as Helen. Where Helen had a few extra pounds on her and was curvy and generous of breast, Anne was almost like a rod, no curves, breasts the size of small apples. Her neck was slender and long, as if she had an extra cervical vertebra.
“Anne,” Josiah said, bowing his head. “It's been a while. You can see I am not well.”
Anne said nothing, and Helen noticed the other woman's hands were clenched into fists.
"This is my daughter, Helen. Helen, I have told Anne so much about you. She has read both your books. Did you enjoy them, Anne? You wouldn't tell me if you did.”
Anne's gaze burned into Helen. Hating Helen already.
“I'm not one of them,” Helen heard herself saying. “I'm not close to my father. Before today, I hadn't seen him in a year.”
“Anne, would it be all right if my daughter stayed and visited with you for a while?”
Helen's heart went out to this Anne. What had her father, these Icarus people, done to traumatize her so?
Anne continued to say nothing, did not move.
“All right,” Josiah said. “I'm going to be in my office. You two girls have fun. Take your time.” He closed the door softly behind him.
“Hello, Anne,” Helen said. “I don't know why I'm here, but I'm here.”
Anne looked about forty, too. Her skin was pale, what some people would call sallow or pasty, but Helen did not like these words. In any case, sallow and pasty did not quite fit Anne, because Anne was lovely. She also had tiny, fine lines around her eyes.
They really were arresting. Helen had never seen eyes that black. If ever there were a witch, she would have Anne's eyes.
Nothing from Anne, just continued clenched fists and a continued suspicious gaze.
“I'm a historian. I suppose love of history is the only thing I'm glad to have inherited from my father. I specialize in Tudor-era England. I've written a couple of books on the Tudors. Specifically, on Henry VIII's son, Edward VI. He's a neglected part of the family in contemporary study. Granted, nothing much happened while he reigned. He died when he was fifteen, but...” Helen caught herself wandering. Beautiful women tended to make her nervous. “The other book I wrote was on--oh. That's right. You read my books. What did you--”
She studied Anne's extra-long neck. The skin on Anne's neck was clear, but her shirt collar could be covering--
Josiah on the phone: Defining moment of your life, Helen. Incredible birthday surprise. Please meet with me.
Little snatches and rumors floated back to Helen. Rustles that Icarus Corp. had been dabbling in making a time travel machine since before Helen was born. Josiah always denied the rumors, had continually claimed time travel was impossible, as much as he would like to think otherwise.
Helen shook off the ridiculous notion that had popped into her head. “I apologize, Anne. I have no idea why I am here. I'm sorry to have bothered you. Goodbye.”
Anne said nothing.
Her silence, the apprehension in her eyes, impaled Helen. “Why are you here?" Helen asked. "Are you happy here? My father said you've been here three years and two days.”
Anne shook her head. No, I'm not happy, her expression said.
“Who are you, Anne?”
She opened her mouth. What Helen thought Anne said was: “Do you like Starbucks frappies?” Anne spoke slowly, stressing each syllable, as if she was concentrating on making her voice clearer, more legible. She spoke with a French accent, but like with Benjamin, something was off. Something not modern. Her tones were heavy and thick.
Helen concealed her surprise. “Did you ask if I like Starbucks frappies?”
“Yes. Mocha, no whipped cream, nonfat, please add chocolate drizzle.”
Anne's lips curved into a slow smile. She had straight, white teeth. Impossibly white. Dental work? “I went to Starbucks once," Anne said. "It was nice.”
“Do you want to go to Starbucks now?”
“I am not allowed.”
“They are afraid I will try to escape again, no matter how many times I promise I will not.”
"The fades. I can control mine."
"I don't understand."
Anne shrugged, as if to say not my problem.
Anger knotted Helen's stomach. Anger at her father, for dumping her here with this woman, this Anne, with no explanation whatsoever. No direction. No information. How the hell was this supposed to be a great birthday surprise? This Anne woman was delusional. Was this building also some sort of mental facility? Or perhaps Anne was intellectually challenged.
Anne's eyes glazed over. “Benjamin gets to walk around. I do not."
"The security guard? He's like you?"
Anne nodded. “But he cannot control his fades.”
Helen nodded back, but at what she was nodding, she did not know. “I'm sorry.” She had no idea what else to say, what to do, but she stayed, rooted in place. Something strange drew her to Anne, tied her to Anne. Maybe it was the witch eyes, the fear, the voice or the...
The whisper, the tickle of the impossible nudging the back of Helen's mind.
Defining moment of your life.
Helen returned to an earlier topic, a safer topic. “I bet I could persuade my father to let you go out with me. I'll ask. We'll go to Starbucks.”
“You can ask. He will say no.” Anne's voice was flat. “I am as much prisoner here as I was at home.”
“You want to walk out, walk right out.”
Anne laughed, high and shrill, startling Helen. “You are really not one of them. Maybe he will not let you out after today, either.”
“Of course he'll let me out. I'm his daughter.”
“I used to have a father,” Anne murmured. “Parenting back then was different, but some things about human nature remain constant. My father let me and my brother die to save himself. Helen Franklin, do not be so sure your father will release you.” Anne uncurled her fists, and Helen found what she was looking for before she was conscious she was searching. The snip of extra finger, like a nail, protruding from the tip of the little finger on Anne's right hand. Or from her thumb. History had muddled which digit.
The correct answer was the right little finger.
There the nail was, barely noticeable, but there.
Helen stared at it, and Anne stared at it, too. “I wanted it off,” Anne said, her voice vacant. “Your father said no.”
Helen was not sure how long she stared. Maybe only a second, maybe a minute, maybe ten minutes. However long it was, when she came out of her stupor, her knees were wobbly. Fury, astonishment and thrill shook her. She willed her body to steady, but her trembling grew more fierce.
TT2. Time Traveler 2?
Who was TT1? Benjamin?
Could this really be happening?
“Excuse me, Anne,” Helen said in as prim a tone she could manage. “I must get back to my father. It was nice to meet you.”
The death in Anne's eyes chilled Helen's bones. “I used to be queen of England. Your father should have let me die with dignity. Now I am a toy, only a toy.”
“Excuse me.” Helen turned and fled.
Helen found Josiah in his office. “What the hell? You invented a time machine and snatched Anne Boleyn?”
Josiah ran a hand through the remnants of his hair. “Essentially, yes. Aren't you happy?”
Helen let out a shriek. “Why would I be?”
“Anne Boleyn. Your life's work.”
“That shows how much you know me. My primary focus is Edward VI, my secondary--”
“Anne Boleyn!” Josiah was gleeful.
“You don't screw around with the space-time continuum!” Benjamin. Benjamin was Benjamin Franklin, but he had lost weight. Gotten contacts. Made sense. He was an indirect ancestor of hers, a many times great-uncle or something. No wonder Benjamin had freedom. Josiah Franklin worshipped the man. Hell, good old Ben was probably in charge of the whole shebang. And I thought he was a simple security guard.
“We saved Anne's life,” Josiah was saying. “We got her the morning of her execution.”
“We? You and I? There's no we.”
Her father grunted. “The organization.”
“What's it called?”
“The name is rather boring, I'm afraid. The History Project.”
“You didn't save her life. She still died.”
“In one timeline, yes. Maybe in the only timeline.”
Helen's head hurt. She knew more about time travel than most people did. She understood the grandfather paradox, understood mutable time lines, understood about the possibility of wormholes helping facilitate time travel. Still, this.
Helen clenched her jaw shut but could do nothing about her ragged breathing. She refused to think about Anne any longer. If she stopped to dwell on her father's prisoner, she just might cry. With joy. Weep with the joy that she had actually conversed with Anne Boleyn, had seen in person the beautiful little sixth finger of the doomed queen of England. Helen yearned to return to the woman, to look deep into Anne's raven black eyes, take her hands into hers, and ask so many questions.
Did you love your husband?
Was it your intention all along to overthrow Cardinal Wolsey?
Did you enjoy holding your daughter? What did she feel like? What was your last time with her like?
Why did your marriage to the king spiral downward so fast? Some scholars said Anne was undersexed, and that was how she was able to resist Henry's advances for years. That after she finally let him into bed and they were married, and he saw how tame she was, it was too late for him. Anne was pregnant with the future Elizabeth I, Anne was Henry's wife, and the damage was done. Other scholars said the opposite, that Anne was oversexed, that her years at the French court of Francis I had rendered her a much better lover than Henry could ever be. The king was jealous, they said, when he bedded Anne and realized she was no virgin, that she was his better in the gymnastics of sex.
Helen's theory, or as she called it, her wishful thought, was that Anne was a lesbian trying to make her way in a ruthless, heterosexual world. Helen shared this theory with no one. But one question Helen would never need to ask: Was Anne guilty of the charges the king brought against her?
“You're committing a gross human rights violation,” Helen said. “Anne Boleyn is a person. You're keeping her prisoner.”
“What else am I supposed to do? She tried to escape once. I can't trust her.”
"Tell me what happened."
"We went into Starbucks, and she faded into nothing. Luckily, the place was not crowded, and she reappeared four minutes later in the exact same spot. She had on the same clothes, same everything, as before she faded. She said she'd lived those four minutes in her own time, in the same clothes she had then, with the same people. She was four minutes closer to her execution. She faded under her own will many times after that. It's some sort of superpower. She won't tell me how she does it." Josiah scrunched his face. "If she fades in a public, crowded place, she could run away when she reappears. We'd never see her again. Or another person would be standing in her spot, and Anne's reappearing would kill them both."
“She's not chattel.”
Josiah heaved a weary sigh. “Save your breath, Helen Bear. In a few weeks, maybe days, you may do what you wish with Anne.”
“You're leaving me Anne Boleyn when you die?”
“You'll take good care of her. Better care than I could. I made terrible mistakes with her. I advise you, however, to keep her here in this building. This is her home. Keep her secure. She might try to get you to trust her. Don't take the risk. Ever.”
Helen saved impossible thoughts for later-- I am going to inherit Anne Boleyn, what, how?
"Is Anne going to die?"
Josiah gave an anxious cough. “Maybe there is but one timeline, and this always happened. Every time she fades, she gets closer to her execution. Every time Benjamin fades, he progresses in age, too. But Anne can control her fades. Benjamin can't. When he fades, he's gone longer. Last month, he was gone for a week our time. Five years his time. It's worrisome, but so far, history has not changed. Benjamin is working on a proportionality life force equation that may explain--” Josiah stopped and half-smiled. He studied Helen a long moment. "I have reason to believe that once Anne and Benjamin meet their deaths in their original times, they will stabilize here. Their power to fade will be gone."
"Why wouldn't they simply die in their original times and never return here?"
Josiah looked away. "There was another," he murmured. "Time Traveler Zero."
"Time Traveler Zero died in her original time. But she lives to this day, in this period."
"Who is she?"
"No one you know."
Helen let the matter drop. She had enough to worry about with her inheritance of TT2. “Anne Boleyn. You're leaving me Anne Boleyn as if she were a house.”
“Anne has not responded as we'd hoped. She has refused to discuss her life, her history. She refuses to substantially answer questions.” Josiah's expression turned wistful. “We had high hopes for Anne. Such high hopes. Before we retrieved her, we outfitted elegant apartments for her in Tudor style, Tudor decorations. We devoted one of our workers to becoming a transition specialist to work with Anne, ease her transition, help her learn to write and speak modern English and so forth. When she arrived, we all wore Tudor clothes, and...” Josiah shrugged. “She was innocent. We saved her life. Would you rather we stood by and let her die?”
“She had windows in the tower. She doesn't here. She's in the basement!”
“We let her outside every day. Getting her was Benjamin's idea, by the way, after he read your book on her.”
“And you do what Benjamin wants you to, is that it?”
Josiah did not reply.
“How long has Benjamin been here?”
“Ten years, but his fades did not start until after Anne's. The matter is quite perplexing, and--”
“What do you want from Anne?”
Josiah's expression went blank. Cooperation, that was what he wanted. Gushing thanks from Anne. Complete and total obedience. He wanted to break her, turn a wild, passionate, completely human queen into a servant. Josiah wanted to do what Henry VIII could not.
“Never mind,” Helen muttered.
“Are you with us?”
“No. What happens to Benjamin?”
“Benjamin is taken care of.”
“What does that mean?”
“He is going to continue our work here. Solve the problem of his fades and, Lord willing, get the time machines running again. They stopped working after Anne. If we are lucky, Benjamin and I will meet again after I die.”
"Meet in the past?"
Josiah proffered a skeletal grin. "Precisely."
"Get the time machines working again? You haven't learned anything, have you? Your project is a mess, you have no idea what you are doing, and you're--you're--what the hell is wrong with you?"
Josiah betrayed no reaction, other than a muscle twitching at his jaw.
Helen's thoughts were dull, disquieting, and all over the place. One fact about Anne jumped out and grabbed her. Anne Boleyn had lacked the capability to form true friendships with women, although with one apparent exception: Lady Lee. Anne clicked with men. Probably she had the ambition and mindset of a man and did not like to bother with society women's idle chatter. Could she, Helen, break through the barrier of--
What are you doing, Helen Eliza Franklin? You're not thinking about keeping your father's secret. You can't.
“How do you know I won't walk out and report you?” Helen asked.
Her father's eyes were sad. “Because you don't want to hurt Anne any more than I've hurt her. Being in the middle of a media storm would be even less of a life for her. How about it, Helen Bear? Want to see her file?”
One thing about Josiah Franklin: he loved technology, but he loved paper, too. The file he directed Helen to was paper, and about five inches thick. “TT2” read the label at the top of the file. The first page was a table of contents with page numbers and headers reading:
Adjustment (first week)
Adjustment (second, third, fourth weeks)
Adjustment (first year)
Adjustment (second year)
Adjustment (third year)
Historical Information from Time Fades
Medical Records (Dental, fertility, etc.)
*** For video of interviews, please see yellow chip.
*** For complete video surveillance, please see red chips for year one, blue chips for year two, green chips for year three.
Helen started with the overview.
The History Project (in the person of Josiah Paul Franklin, from 2047) retrieved Anne Boleyn, consort queen of England, on the morning of May 19, 1536, approximately two and a half hours (six-thirty a.m.) before her recorded death of about nine o' clock a.m. Ms. Boleyn came willingly, with a smile. After a fairly good first week, she has not adjusted according to expectations. As of this writing, she has been in modern times about three years. She alternates between embracing and hating modern technology. She has, however, learned to cook with a high degree of skill using modern equipment. She claims to enjoy the cooking and has picked up modern English well. She enjoys reading novels.
She refuses to give substantial interviews. Her gratitude to The History Project for saving her life quickly transformed into a suspicion that continues to this day. She believes, perhaps not surprisingly, given her background, that The History Project is a devil or a witch.
In 2048 at a Starbucks, one year to the very date of her retrieval, Ms. Boleyn experienced a controlled time fade that lasted four minutes. She said it was her first fade, and we have no reason to believe it was not. She came back pale and shaken. However, to test her newfound power, she quickly performed several more fades in the Starbucks. She will not discuss how she is able to harness this power. As of May 1, 2050, she has experienced a recorded total of seventy-five fades, all controlled and none lasting more than five minutes and four seconds. Her fades seem to happen in real time, both in the modern world and in 1536. Ms. Boleyn says that each fade moves her closer to her execution. She further says that her life, such as it is, seems to be progressing normally in 1536, according to history. In a rare moment of cooperation with us, she admitted that she attempted to change recorded history by trying to escape her jailers, but her body would not cooperate. Her experiences, and these of the other time travelers, seem to indicate the presence of a single, unbroken time line. What happened, happened. Eventually, Anne Boleyn will most likely die in 1536. The question is: Where is Anne in her life here when she dies in 1536? It is quite possible that if she were to allow herself to be executed, she would stabilize here in modern times. It is a big risk for her to take, though, and one she is apparently unwilling to take, as evidenced by her many returns to modern times. We can only hope her death in 1536 is her choice, perhaps a choice she makes when she has lived a full life in this time and is ready to pass on. Perhaps when, or if, she dies her natural death in modern times, she has no choice but to live the rest of her life in 1536.
She is aging normally in modern times.
Chills broke out across Helen's arms. Josiah's God-play could only end in disaster. Helen scanned the biographical summary--really a timeline photocopied from Helen's own book, Anne Boleyn: Doomed Queen.
"Watch this video," Josiah suggested.
"Fine." A clear, crisp image popped up on the television. Josiah, lush of hair and vibrant. He was outfitted in Tudor garb, complete with a purple doublet. He looked ridiculous, like the pretender he was. "I am here," he said, "on Sunday, the nineteenth of May 2047. With me is Anne Boleyn, consort queen of England from 1533 to 1536. Twelve hours have passed since her retrieval. This is our first videotaped interview." He spoke giddily, excitement running his words together.
The camera swiveled to reveal Anne. Her hair was silky and flowed to mid-back. She had changed out of her execution outfit; she wore tan corduroy pants and a white T-shirt. Helen paused the video and flipped to the "Modern-Time Photos" section in the file. Her father had not disappointed. The first photo was aptly named: "First Photo, Taken Two Seconds After TT2's arrival in 2047."
Most of the eyewitness descriptions had been correct after all, but Anne was not wearing the--Helen stopped herself. Anne was retrieved two and a half hours before her execution. Plenty of time to modify her final outfit. Helen flipped through the rest of the photos, noting the not-great state of Anne's teeth when she first arrived and resisting the urge to linger on Anne's dark, mysterious, compelling eyes. She was violating Anne's privacy enough already.
Helen continued the video interview.
"Your Majesty," Josiah said, curtsying with his head and affecting a British accent.
Anne smiled back uncertainly. She did not show her teeth.
"Tell me who you are," Josiah continued.
Anne swallowed. "Anne Boleyn Tudor. Is that how you wanted me to state it?" Helen had to replay the words several times. Even with Helen's discriminating ear, Anne was hard to understand. Her modern English speaking skills had progressed immensely.
"Anne Boleyn Tudor is your name, so yes, as we discussed. If you do not understand me, stop me. Okay?" Josiah said.
"I will stop you also, if I do not understand."
"What happened this morning, Your Majesty? In 1536?"
"I heard your voice. I perceived a light of the most glory and entered it with you."
Josiah grinned encouragingly. "Let's go back a bit. You are married, correct? To the king of England."
"Do you love His Majesty?"
"His Majesty is a most goodly prince."
"Is that your true belief? You can speak your mind. We will not punish you."
"Am I a witch?" Anne whispered, her eyes large and round.
Josiah laughed. "No, my dear queen. You are no witch. Answer the question. Did you love your husband? Do you?"
Anne did not answer. Her expression was frozen, fear in her eyes. Helen's ex-girlfriend Juanita, the cop, had used to volunteer at shelters for battered women. Helen had gone with her once. That was enough. Too depressing. Helen preferred the comfort, the sameness, of old documents, of hard-to-read English. She hated the look in the battered women's eyes, the same look in Anne's eyes on the television. Anne Boleyn had not been battered in the traditional sense, but she had been abused, sure enough. Her father and uncle had practically put her out to hang, her husband had killed her brother and four of her friends, was going to kill her, and now this strange man with this strange voice who was probably a devil was claiming she would not be punished if--but she would be punished. Why would she not be?
"I love His Majesty," Anne said, her voice quavering. She was lying, and Helen stopped the video. Her father had approached Anne all wrong. Benjamin Franklin's retrieval had obviously gone smoothly and surpassed Josiah's wildest expectations. No doubt Benjamin had been thrilled to find himself in the year 20-whenever and had waxed eloquent about his life.
However, Anne Boleyn was not Benjamin Franklin. Enough of this crap.
Anne made a point to note the time of Helen's return: four fifty-five p.m. Helen had been gone two hours. Time, so scarce to Anne in 1536, was her friend now. Not the vague concept of time, but concrete, red time, the numbers on her digital clock. Reassuring red time, ones and twos and threes and fours and fives and sixes and sevens and eights and nines. These numbers helped keep her sane and grounded. These numbers helped her measure.
Anyway, when the knock sounded on the door, Anne made a point to note the time but did nothing else. She knew the knock had to be Helen's. The other knocks were different. Anne had read both of Helen Franklin's books, her first year here. She had read most of the Tudor books, actually. Josiah, Benjamin and Eliza, Helen's mother, wanted her to, and Anne agreed. Picking her battles. Mostly she skimmed the Tudor books. If nothing else, the books helped her pick up modern English. They hoped she would comment on the books. Make some remark. Anne did not. Again, picking her battles. The books, the poor pitiful ignorant books. The books got so much wrong, and they were so bare bones, scratching the surface as if only the surface existed. And what the books got right… Anne particularly hated reading about her stepdaughter, Mary, known to the world now as the namesake of the alcoholic drink Bloody Mary. Anne had been horrid to Mary. Anne had been petty, jealous, vindictive, and Mary had died a wretch, unhappy, no doubt realizing at the last minute that the swollen tumor in her stomach was not her long-awaited child and that her non-Catholic half-sister, the witch's daughter, would be queen.
Precocious Elizabeth, Anne's sole survivor, molded in the image of Henry VIII. The books said that when Elizabeth was an adult, she made people weep because she looked so much like her father. Elizabeth had been smart not to marry, not to cede her power and control to a husband. Or maybe she had been dumb not to allow herself the happiness and the pleasure of love, duty to her country be damned. After all, this was the country that killed her own mother, hapless, alive Anne.
Had been smart. Had been dumb.
Anne felt another weeping spell coming on. Had been. Had been!
Dear God. How could she be alive and well, and her daughter four hundred forty-seven years dead?
The man who sat on the British throne today was William V, grandson of another Elizabeth--Elizabeth II. No direct relation of Elizabeth I. Or of Henry VIII, for that matter. For all of her husband's obsessing about male heirs, his genes lasted a pitiful generation. The royal family today was directly descended from Henry's elder sister, Margaret.
Another knock, soft and hesitant, and then Helen's voice. “May I come in?”
“The doors do not have locks.”
“I don't want to presume to--I don't know.”
“They monitor me,” Anne called. “On camera, everywhere. In the bathroom. They record what I say. They are recording our words right now. So whether you enter or not matters little.”
The door opened. Helen was ashen, but Anne had no intention of making matters easier for her. She sent Helen a steady, impaling gaze. Anne had to admit, though, that she liked chatting with Helen earlier--the only woman other than Eliza Franklin that Anne had interacted with since the retrieval.
Helen wobbled to a stop in the middle of the room. She placed her right foot slightly behind her left, dipped her head, bent her knees and curtsied. “Your Majesty.”
Anne kept her face still. How long had it been since someone curtsied to her? Called her “Your Majesty?” Her first week here, nay, her first month here, they had been rats scurrying about, curtsying, “Your Majesty”-ing rats. The worst was Benjamin Franklin. He curtsied with snide amusement in his eyes, in his voice. He undressed her with his eyes, too. No doubt the shine eventually would rub off for Helen Franklin, but for now, Anne liked having a subject again.
Anne rose from the bed. “Lady Franklin.”
Red smeared Helen's cheeks. “Lady? I'm not--”
“Please,” Anne said. “Humor the old dead queen.”
“Right. Yes, of course.”
Helen Franklin was quite beautiful. She was the kind of woman, whom back in Tudor England, Anne would either have despised, or been secretly in love with, and covered it up by despising her. Helen had tousled, shoulder-length blond hair and light eyes, the kind that were green some days and blue other days. Her nose was slightly crooked, maybe from an errant fist or a misthrown ball.
Anne saw adoration fill Helen's eyes, an adoration that had not been there earlier. The same adoration they had displayed, at first. They, who had their prize, their queen, their TT2, their witch.
Shall I tell you what you are thinking, Lady Franklin? You are thinking: I cannot believe it. I am in the same room as living, breathing Anne Boleyn. How shall I get her to answer my questions? What is the best way to get into her good graces? Will she sign my books? Oh, this is unbearable, this secret! I have to tell someone. But whom?
“How are you?” Helen asked.
“How am I?”
“Yes, how are you, Your Majesty?” The question, the concern, seemed sincere.
“I am alive, and my daughter is four hundred forty-seven years dead,” Anne replied.
“The time machines are broken. They cannot get Elizabeth."
“It matters not. I do not want this curse upon Elizabeth. It is right to let her stay where she is.” The way Josiah had explained the situation to Anne was thus: Every time they tried to set the time machine to various dates and latitudes and longitudes to get Elizabeth, the machine simply would not work. They did not know why. It did not work at all, period, not anymore. No return trips. If they wanted to take Anne home, they could not. They built other time machines. These, too, failed. The only visitors from the past, it seemed, would be Benjamin Franklin, Anne Boleyn and Time Traveler Zero. Anne wondered if Helen knew who she was.
“My father said you have been home a few times--many times--since you got here,” Helen said.
For a moment, Anne saw the browns and grays of the crowd. She squeezed her eyes shut, forcing herself to disassociate from the emotion of the moment. She would not give Helen Franklin anything.
“Is the smell different?” Helen asked gently.
The question was unexpected. Very. “Yes,” Anne replied, giving Helen points for originality. “The smell. The smell. Being in this time has spoiled my nose.” Modern people in this place called Arlington, Virginia, smelled good. Sterile.
“Do you like the smells here?”
“Shall I eventually perish under the blade of the sword, do you think, Lady Franklin?” According to the books, Sir William Kingston, constable of the tower, had escorted Anne to the scaffold. So far, history was as it was. Some two thousand people had turned out to witness the spectacle of her death. Anne's last words had been exactly as she practiced in her mind that last morning in 1536 before the sun rose.
Helen's jaw tensed. “Is that what you want?”
“It depends when you ask me.”
“I am asking you now.”
Anne gave a humorless laugh. “My execution was postponed two times. I was supposed to die May 18. The executioner from Calais was delayed. And then he still did not arrive, and my death was scheduled for the morning of May 19. Only, Lady Franklin, my heart beats five hundred years later. Today you ask me what I want. Today I say I am glad for it, glad to be alive. Tomorrow I might not be so happy.”
"You're alive. You keep bringing yourself back here."
“Yes," Anne whispered. She saw on Helen's face that Helen understood. Anne, like Helen, loved and hated Josiah Franklin at the same time.
“May I sit?” Helen asked.
Anne nodded her assent, and they sat on the bed, across from each other. Helen asked Anne how she passed the time. “I read,” Anne said. “I cook. I take long baths. I watch television. I walk outside. I play video games. I dance to a Zumba fitness program. I ride on the exercise bike and the elliptical trainer. I parktake in the conveniences of modern life. In other words, I drift. And you, Lady Franklin, how do you pass your days?”
Helen gave a little laugh. “Many days I have passed with Your Majesty. Traveling to places you have been and searching for documents you wrote. Your alleged birthplaces--do you realize that history knows not the year of your birth, or even the place of your birth? Were you born at Bickling Hall in 1505?”
“You surmised that in your book.”
“Am I right?”
Anne responded with a slight smile. “Perhaps someday I shall tell you. Lady Franklin, do you imagine I do not perceive your plan? I am no fool.”
“You are on their side, pretending to be my advocate.”
“I'm not, Anne. I promise you, I'm not. My father--my father is dying. He won't live the month. After he's gone, you are my responsibility, and I don't know what to do. What do you want me to do? Tell me. I want to help you.”
“For now, I should like to rest. Good evening, Lady Franklin.”
Anne could tell her words stung, for something flared far back in Helen's eyes, some glimmer of hurt and pain. Helen's mouth opened, then closed. "Very well, Your Majesty. As you wish." Helen got to her feet.
Wait. Do not go. For a brief second, so quick Anne was not sure at first it happened, she dropped her gaze to Helen's breasts. Then back up to Helen's face. The moment was a mere heartbeat, but long enough for something to happen, long enough for something primal to pass between them. Long enough for the area between Anne's legs to roar to life. “You are dismissed,” Anne said icily.
Anne lay in bed and watched the clock as the red numbers slid from 11:59 to midnight. She replayed how Helen looked at her. Helen likely had no idea how communicative her green-blue eyes were. In that primitive instant, she had looked at Anne like Henry had. Before he found out she could not bear a son. Anne had given Helen something, exposed her soul for a stupid, impulsive moment.
I'm not one of them. I'm not close to my father. Before today, I hadn't seen him in a year.
Helen Franklin. Anne wanted to know more about her. She perceived that Helen saw through her, through the surface of Anne Boleyn, and saw her as a person. For she was not Anne Boleyn anymore, she was a woman being held prisoner in a so-called enlightened time. She was the victim of an abduction, the victim of a greedy man whose thirst for knowledge knew no bounds.
Power corrupted. It corrupted Henry VIII--and Josiah Franklin. It had corrupted Anne too. Would it eventually corrupt Helen Franklin? Anne wondered, as she had countless times, why she simply did not tell Josiah and Benjamin what they wanted to hear. Why she did not cooperate and divulge the secrets of her history and the secrets of Henry VIII. If she did, she might gain some measure of freedom. Lure them in with so-called trust.
She was stubborn, that was what she was. Stubborn and prideful, and her own life, her own secrets, were all she had to hold onto. Except she had just communicated a most important secret to Helen Franklin, a secret that would have gotten Anne killed in 1536.
Anne slipped her right hand between her legs. The eyes, the watchful, hungry, ravenous, technological camera eyes continued to watch her, but she knew how to touch herself and remain still.
After Helen left her father's building, she drove home. Home was a one-bedroom apartment in DuPont Circle, a few blocks from the metro. Helen found a parking spot directly in front of her building. Lucky day. Spots there rarely opened up. Lucky day, indeed. Helen's insides were a mess. Her wild theory about Anne Boleyn was right. Oh my God. For an instant, Anne's eyes had been open, hopeful, and scared, very scared. Begging Helen to help her. To make her a woman again. Better go in and clean. Get the place ready. Was Helen crazy? Thinking about moving Anne Boleyn in with her? Risking more secretive looks? Risking more? Well, where else would Anne go? Her life held more in store than being a prisoner of Icarus. But what would Helen do with her?
The situation was impossible. Ask Anne again what she wants.
"She's my father's problem," Helen whispered. "I won't let her become mine." Helen walked into her apartment. Dust clung to the TV, to the furniture. To the magazine on the coffee table. Helen had been in London the past month and had driven to the Icarus building from the airport.
Helen dropped her keys onto the coffee table. She would do what she usually did when she had a problem: avoid it until it went away. Live people were too complicated. Helen preferred the comfort of dusty old tomes. She downed three quick shots of vodka and lay on the couch, retreating into the comfort of increasing drunkenness.
A fourth shot, and then somehow Helen was talking with Juanita. They had not spoken in two years.
"What is it?" Juanita was angry.
"Was I really such a bad girlfriend?"
"What's this about?"
"I am in the middle of a shift."
"You said I was like my father. Wrapped up in work, going off on travels, using my research as an easy excuse to avoid getting close to people. You really think that?"
"Goodbye, Helen. Don't call again." Click.
Helen downed two more shots and laughed. All Tudor historians would kill to be in her place. Helen did not want Anne Boleyn in the here and now, though. She wanted Anne a long dead mystery, comfortably at a distance. Easy study, conjecture. History was supposed to be history for a reason.
Anne Boleyn is dead. She is not my problem. Period.
Two nights later, Benjamin called Helen with the news Josiah had died in his sleep. The service was at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States. Josiah was born a Catholic but did not practice. Neither did Helen. Anne Boleyn had been a practicing Catholic, though. Sure, she had gone along with the Reformation cause and Henry's efforts to disband from the Catholic Church, but at heart, Anne Boleyn died a Catholic.
Or had she even died?
What am I going to do about Anne?
Helen could leave Anne in Benjamin's care, but Anne's open, hopeful eyes haunted her. Helen could not abandon the woman.
Benjamin's eyes were red when Helen went to the Icarus building after the funeral. "I miss your father already," Benjamin said.
Helen surveyed the wall of monitors. "I'm sure you do. How is Anne?" Helen found her, pedaling an exercise bike. She wore a white wifebeater shirt and dark blue shorts. She mopped sweat from her forehead.
"How many people are involved?" Helen asked. "How many people know what is going on here?"
"Six," Benjamin said. "Me. Jordan and Ted, the security guards. Anne. You. Another guy, Nathan, who lives off site. Your cousin Darlton Vanher knows just enough to leave us alone."
"So you're the only scientist involved?"
"No. The guards have science backgrounds. They're very helpful. Anyway." Benjamin injected a purposeful edge into his voice. "Speaking of fades."
"While you're here, how about a quick examination?"
"If you're up for a thorough one, great, but quick is fine. I'd like a head scan, a body chromatography analysis, and--"
"Didn't your father--" Benjamin straightened. "Damn it. He promised me he had. Forgive me for saying so, but he was a coward sometimes."
Benjamin crossed his arms. "Anne is TT2, Time Traveler Two. I am TT1. But there is one other--Time Traveler Zero. You."
Benjamin shook his head. “It's true. You were retrieved when you were a newborn. Maybe that is why you don't seem to have experienced any fades, because you were taken so young. Or maybe it's because you were almost dead and are dead in your original time. Or maybe because you were taken in a more recent time than me and Anne. I've gone over your examinations from when you were a child. Nothing there, but maybe now there will be."
Helen ignored the fact that her heart had frozen over. She barked a bitter laugh. “Nice try.”
Benjamin lifted an eyebrow. “Do you want to see your file?”
“It's not true. My mother wouldn't have--she wouldn't have--” She wouldn't have what? What exactly happened?
“She did,” Benjamin murmured. “She was a brilliant woman.”
“You met her?”
Benjamin grinned. “Many, many times. She helped retrieve me. Why do you look so surprised? She had two doctorates. She was a genius."
Helen's tongue and her mind were like molasses.
"To be blunt, your father and I are--were--nothing next to your mother.”
Eliza Franklin had been a stay-at-home, late-in-life mom, seemingly all too happy to fling herself into the domestic cares of her child. Helen had nearly forgotten about her mother's Ph.Ds.
"Your parents and a group of their friends worked night and day for years on solving the riddle of time travel. One by one, the friends dropped out. They were tired of giving their lives over to an impossible dream. Finally, though, on May 1, 2010, your mother found the missing piece. They made a few trials with a doll, and each time, the doll came back unscathed. On May 19, your parents were ready to try with themselves. They had worked for years, never had a honeymoon. They figured, what better place than the past to have their honeymoon? They traveled to 1901, to Victorian England. London."
Helen blinked furiously. “Excuse me. I must get to Anne.”
Benjamin ignored her. "They stayed only twelve hours. Because in the Whitechapel area, they came upon a pool of blood, and a woman and a newborn in an alley. The mother was dead, and at first they thought the baby was too. Your mother detected a faint pulse, though. 'We have to take her back now,' she said. Your father said no, that was tempting history, tempting fate. Taking a person back was not part of their plan. But your mother insisted that she couldn't leave a baby to die. Your parents returned home, with you. Your mother nursed you back to health, and quite frankly, your father never forgave her for taking you."
"It's not true!"
"You're Time Traveler Zero, Helen," Benjamin said gently. "It's true. You were born in 1901. Your parents monitored you carefully for years. Gradually they began to feel that they had not violated any laws of the universe. They talked again about traveling. Your mother understood that your father was still angry at her for taking you. So she proposed an idea he would never be able to refuse. An idea that would make them even."
"You do not look well. Shall I retrieve your file and--"
Helen stalked out of the room. Benjamin was lying. Had to be. She was Helen Franklin, Helen Eliza Franklin, born in 2010, forty years old. No one else. Helen Franklin! Not TT0, not Time Traveler Zero.
That's right. Focus on Anne.
"Ms. Franklin!" Benjamin was following her. "Where are you going?"
"To get Anne," Helen retorted. "And she is none of your business anymore."
"Ms. Franklin, I must tell you that your father and I disagreed on his plans for Anne. I advised him that you would take Anne from here, but he said perhaps it was for the best. He was wrong. It is not for the best. Even I don't dare go out in public. You will be playing Russian roulette, Ms. Franklin. Sooner or later, the bullet will get Anne. She will lose control of her fades. She will be riding in your car, fade, and reappear in someone else's car, maybe in someone! Or reappear in the middle of the road just as a bus smashes her. Or perhaps history is wrong and she dies earlier in her time than she thinks she will."
Helen stared into Benjamin's brown-gray eyes, impossibly calm eyes. "I will ask Anne what she wants. It is her life, not mine."
"Your parents and I worked hard to bring her here. It's not just about her, and I--"
Benjamin was gone. Vanished.
Less than a minute later, Jordan the security guard ran up. "You okay?"
"Yes." Of course I'm not okay, you idiot! I was arguing with someone who vanished right before my eyes!
Jordan used yellow caution signs to cordon off the area where Benjamin had been standing. "We don't want anyone to be here when he reappears," Jordan explained.
"When will he be back?"
"Who knows? He was gone minutes at a time at first. Then days. Then a week. Come on. I'll take you to Anne."
"You'll--you'll let me know when he reappears, won't you? Ask him to call me."
"Of course," Jordan said in soothing tones. "Of course, Ms. Franklin."
Anne stepped out of the shower and dressed in her bedroom. Somewhere in this building at least one man, maybe several, and perhaps even Helen, were monitoring her. Observing her nakedness, her breasts, her buttocks, the trimmed patch of dark hair between her legs. She was a zoo animal. This time was no different from Tudor times. She had been a zoo animal then too, whose sole purpose was to breed a son. When she could not--well, off with her head.
She brushed her hair and blew it dry. She liked her hair better short. More manageable. Not as pretty as her long hair, though.
Helen arrived and curtsied again. “Your Majesty.” No smile. Her eyes were dark and haunted.
They stared at each other a long moment. Anne wanted to kiss the pulsing hollow at Helen's throat. No denying the current between them, and Helen wanted to ask her something--desperately. "Ask," Anne said at last.
Helen shook her head.
"He told you," Anne said. "That you're Time Traveler Zero."
Helen jerked back. "But it isn't true."
Anne shrugged. "Perhaps."
"Have you always known?"
"Yes, my first day here your father explained his first time in the past. He said he never meant to take a person from there to here, but your mother insisted."
"What else did my father say?"
"That he would appreciate if I read your books and made some comment as to their accuracy."
Helen bit her lip. "Jesus Christ.” A second later, she flinched. “Forgive me. I do not wish to offend you by taking the Lord's name in vain.”
“You do not offend me. I am a witch, some people said.”
Anne laughed. “If I pass this test God has put upon me, will he spare my life at the scaffold?”
“Would you like to get out of here and stay with me at my apartment tonight? Or go to Starbucks or a movie? Or all three?”
Anne floundered before the intensity in Helen's expression. “Stay with--what do you mean?”
“Just you and me. A different place, new to you. No spy cameras. No spy microphones.”
“I imagine as we speak, Benjamin has gremlins entering your vehicle and your home and solving that issue. If he has not already.”
Helen's expression darkened. “Perhaps. But Benjamin's gone. He faded while we were talking earlier."
"You make a good point, though. We'll get a hotel room.”
“A hotel room.”
“Do you know what a hotel is?”
Anne snickered. “Yes, Lady Franklin, I know what a hotel is. I read books. I watch television."
"I will go with you. You should not be alone tonight, Time Traveler Zero."
Helen's nostrils flared, just a little bit. Her eyes were angry daggers into Anne's soul. Helen was beautiful, fiercely beautiful. "Fine," Helen snapped. "Let's go. Do you need to pack anything?"
"Have you been to the movies before?" Helen asked as she and Anne settled into their seats. The movie theater was dark and empty, save for the two of them. They each had Cokes, and Helen had a small tub of popcorn for them to share.
"No," Anne said. She placed her Coke into its holder and glanced up at the screen. A preview for a shoot-em-up flick was playing. Boom, boom, boom. "Josiah eased me into outings. We started little by little. By the time I realized I had the power to return to my time, I had gone to the White House. I was your father's good little tourist. We and Benjamin went to art museums. Bookstores. The National Arboretum. I kayaked on the Potomac River with Jordan. That kind of thing. Later, your father wanted us to fly to England and show me where I was buried. Benjamin had gone to Philadelphia a few times and visited his own grave. Then Starbucks happened."
"Hmm. How did you--I mean--was it an accident or--"
Anne scooped a handful of popcorn. The morsels were soft and buttery and melted in her mouth. "This is good."
"Movie popcorn is the best."
"I am sorry about your father. His death."
"Are you really?"
"He was not my father. And my mother was a woman who died in 1901."
"Jordan is outside," Helen said.
Anne grinned. "I know." The guard had not been discreet about following them in an Icarus security car. "Why are you taking me out, Lady Franklin? It is not because I am Anne Boleyn. If anything, you do this in spite of the fact I am Anne Boleyn. You are much more comfortable studying me when I am dead, are you not? You do not like me alive."
Helen gave a choked, desperate laugh. "Watch the movie, all right?"
“May I touch you, Lady Franklin?” Anne asked about three-fourths through the movie.
Helen blinked, and Anne's black eyes glittered in the dimness. Glittered with purpose. With malice? “Touch me?” Helen asked.
“Yes, Lady Franklin. May I touch you? For instance, hold your hand?”
“You are not enjoying the film. You find it dull.”
“So touching me is going to make the movie better?”
“Something in your voice tells me I should not let you touch me.”
“Would you like to go back with me, Lady Franklin? To observe a real movie? History come to life? Something good for your third book?”
“Do you mean--is that possible?”
“Let us observe if it is."
Helen felt Anne take her hand, and then Helen was standing. Walking. The stink of unwashed masses swept over her, and she fought an upswing of nausea. Helen almost tripped over her feet, no, not her feet, Anne's feet, but Sir Kingston steadied her. She knew he was Sir Kingston because--because-- she just did. Helen wanted to scream, but she was in Anne's mind.
And then they were back in the theater, on the floor. "You came with me," Anne said. Half in admiration, half in horror.
"Don't do that again! Don't fucking do that again!" Helen's heart was a quivering lump, her brain a whirlpool, her breaths gasps and heaves. I was in 1536. Dear God, I was in 1536. I was Anne Boleyn. I smelled Tudor stink. The constable of the Tower of London touched me.
"Did you see them?"
Helen had, for a flash of a second. Men on the scaffold. The scaffold was wooden and covered with black cloth and straw. Anne was getting close to the end of her Tudor days. She had perhaps five to ten minutes' worth of life left in 1536.
"One of these men is the executioner. Your book said Henry performed a last-minute act of kindness and asked them to dress similarly so I would not see my death coming. The next time I return, I shall search each man's eyes and try to find which one has the sword."
"Why do you go back?"
Anne hauled herself up and sat. She stared straight ahead, and the movie projected shadows on her face. "I do not know. Perhaps because it is the only thing I can control. There, the king controls me. Here, Josiah--" Anne stopped. Remembrance played across her features. "Here, you control me."
"I don't. I have no wish to."
"I know what you want," Anne said.
"You don't know what I want. And I'm not my father," Helen said. "Your life here is yours to live."
“Please return with me.”
“Now. For a moment.”
Helen hesitated. Hesitated some more. Anne did not want to face her death alone. That was understandable. Quite. But… "We're coming back here, right?" Coming back alive?
Anne grinned. "Of course we are.
Anne closed her eyes, concentrated, and willed herself back to 1536. Simple as that. Her first year in 2047, how many times had she tried and failed to will herself back? Too many to count. She must somehow have had to build the power up.
Kingston helped Anne up the steps, and she fought to maintain her composure. She looked around her, before her, astonished at the sheer number of people who turned out. So this was what a crowd of two thousand looked like. Books had recorded what she would say next. Should she follow the books or try again to--to…
Anne sensed Helen inside her, Helen's terror, Helen's panic. Helen trying her best to be studious and scholarly and to remember the scenes for later books.
Helen failing miserably.
If Anne Boleyn lost control of her bladder and bowels, it would be Helen Franklin's fault. Nevertheless, Anne liked having Helen with her. Anne liked not having to face death alone.
Anne--and Helen--tried to run, but their shared feet would not move. What happened, happened. Nothing would change it.
Shh, Helen. A few more seconds, and we will return. Anne searched each man's eyes but found no telltale signals as to which one would end her life. She turned to Kingston. "I beg leave to speak to the people. I shall not speak a word that is not good."
She pleaded again: "I beg leave of you, sir, please do not hasten the signal for my death until I have spoken that which I have a mind to say."
She concentrated to will herself and Helen to 2050.
"Anne! Your Majesty!" Helen ran her hands over the empty space where Anne had sat. Just as quickly, Helen jerked her hands back, lest Anne reappear and leave Helen without arms.
Shit. Shit. What do I do? What if she's dead and not coming back?
Anne reappeared a few seconds later, slumped on the floor next to Helen.
"Anne? You okay?"
Anne pressed her hand over her face. "That never happened before. The delay."
Ice spread in Helen's stomach, and she felt an acute sense of loss. "Anne. Anne."
Anne's breaths came in great heaves, deep, dry sobs racking her insides. Lights came on in the auditorium. The End. Helen stayed on the floor but made no move to touch Anne, hoping that her presence was comfort enough. She did not notice the attendant until he was right behind Anne.
"Everything all right?" He was a lanky young man, a beanpole.
Anne dropped her hand from her face, and her gaze met Helen's for an agonizing eternity. Tears trembled in Anne's eyes. "Do you promise?" Anne asked. "You promise my life is my life?"
"Thank you, Lady Franklin. I shall never return to that place."
At the nearby Days Inn, Anne said: "In case I become like Benjamin and cannot control my fades, I will tell you my life story. Tonight. Right now. Ask me your questions. You publish your book with my answers after I am gone. Will people believe you? Will people believe this ludicrous story?"
Helen took Anne's hands into hers and looked into her despairing black eyes. "You're not going to die, Anne."
"Do you miss Juanita?"
"Do--do I what? How do you know about her?"
Anne's gaze was somber. "Your mother told me a lot about you. She worried about you. Do you miss your mother?"
"My mother?" The realization rained down on Helen. Of course her mother knew about Anne. How could she have not? "Was my mother like my father and Benjamin?"
"Very much," Anne said. "A little better, yes."
"I ask you this not to be forward but in case my days are almost complete. What is kissing a woman like?"
Helen blinked. "Uh, well."
"Is it different from kissing a man?"
"For me, it is."
"Is it better?"
"Yes, much better. It is right."
"Show you?" Helen echoed. Be careful. This is how Anne did it. This is how she seduced Henry, how she played with him for seven-so years.
"Show me," Anne said again, and her eyes glimmered.
Helen swallowed. Best to keep Anne Boleyn as a woman of mystery. Anne was no witch. She would likely turn out to be a perfectly ordinary, perhaps dull kisser. Helen let her gaze fall to the expanse of Anne's neck. A neck severed hundreds of years ago. Anne Boleyn is dead.
"All I want is a kiss," Anne whispered. "A little kiss. I do not ask for the Holy Grail."
Henry. How quickly, how completely, how crazily he fell head over heels in love with you. What if it happens with me?
"I want a new name. A new identity,” Anne said.
I am not my father. "We will do that. Anne, I want to get to know you. Not who you were, but who you are. Who you will be."
Anne's lips tugged up in a grateful, genuine smile. “I would like that as well.”
"Don't go back," Helen said. "Please. No matter what. Not worth the risk.”
"Anne Boleyn dies, though. She has to."
"Maybe she dies when you're past a hundred years old and it's your natural time. You die here, so you are forced to return there to die too. That's a long way off. Long way off."
“Kiss me now, Lady Franklin.”
Helen did not let herself think any more. She touched her lips to Anne's, like a whisper, a quick whisper. Like a dream. Anne's mouth was soft and tasted like movie popcorn butter.
"Thank you," Anne said. "You are right. Much better than a man's kiss."
"You're welcome," Helen said, and kissed Anne again, but not so chastely this time, and she understood how Henry felt. He had the taste of Anne, and he could not let her go. In her own way, Anne certainly was a witch.
Anne murmured: "Welcome to paradise."
Helen giggled. "Paradise? My lips?"
"Georgie Paradise," Anne said. "Can that be my new name?"
Epilogue -- The morning of May 19, 1536
Benjamin Franklin glanced around him and shivered despite the relatively warm morning. Maybe he should not have come. The queen was lovely, more so than he remembered. She carried herself with regality, but there was no mistaking the terror in her gaze. Never mind that in the past two and a half hours, she had been living an entirely separate life and was probably already dead or dying in that other life.
“Good Christian people," Anne, consort queen of England from 1533 to 1536, said, "I am come hither to die, according to the law, for by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. But I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you. For a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never, and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle me of my cause I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.”
One of the ladies took off Anne's hood and blindfolded her. Anne kneeled. “To Jesus Christ I commend my soul. Lord Jesu, receive my soul.” Her voice was strong.
Benjamin squirmed. Lop her head off already. He glanced around him again. Guilt made him paranoid. No need to tell Helen and Anne--or anyone, for that matter--that he had invented a better time machine and figured the pattern to his fades. He was safe for now. His next fade was in two weeks.
Anne again: “To Jesus Christ I commend my soul. Lord Jesu, receive my soul.” Hysteria tinged her voice.
What are you thinking, Anne? Is Helen dead? Did you have a long, happy life with her? Is Helen with you right now?
Benjamin had been to the executions of Marie Antoinette, Katherine Howard and Mary, Queen of Scots. Something addictive about women being executed.
The executioner lifted his sword. Finally. Put the woman out of her misery.
Anne's head came off clean, blood spurted, and Anne's ladies rushed to scoop the head up. A thrill ran up Benjamin's spine. Anne's body twitched and twitched and then was still. That poor woman, Benjamin thought. He would not mention this little excursion when he stopped at Helen's and Anne's, well, Georgie's, whatever, apartment tonight to drop off their engagement gift. Tonight being January 3, 2052.
He felt bad about taking pleasure, even a tiny bit, at witnessing Anne's execution. Maybe he ought to snatch little Elizabeth and reunite the child with her mother. Something to think about, at any rate.