“Sir,” the short, balding man came to the door, clutching the doorframe, and his chest. “Bit ou’ of breath. Sorry, sir,” he gasped.
“Have you run all the way from Bristol?” Sir joked, placing his ink pen on his desk and standing. “Please, do sit. I can ring the servants for tea.”
“No, no, sir. Not necessary,” the man said, straightening. He wore a three-piece suit, but it was plain. “I have news for you, from the Inquiry.”
“Oh,” he perked at that. “Please, come in, Walter. Let’s have a sit to discuss the matter.” Quickly he ushered the man into his study and closed the door with a cautious click behind. He seated himself in an armchair by the empty fireplace and Walter took the one across, still wiping at his sweaty brow.
“They’ve found it, sir,” Walter said, the information bubbling forth like a font whose blocked pipes had been thoroughly scrubbed.
Sir leaned forward, elbows on knees in astonishment. “Impossible. Just from my estimates? How.”
“I haven’t the whole explanation,” Walter said with regret. “They want you there, now. They’ve already chartered a ship. Anderson and Walsh will meet you in London, and travel with you from there.”
“And equipment?” Sir rubbed his knees anxiously, glancing around the study. “What tools shall I bring?”
“Everything’s in hand,” Walter assured him. “The Inquiry has it all sorted.”
“Bloody fucking relief,” Sir allowed himself a moment to breathe, and a chuckle escaped his lips. “The late Mrs. Morrison would hate to hear that language, but for Christ’s sake, Walter—they’ve found it. They’ve really, truly found it?”
“Aye.” The man looked at him with worried eyes.
“I haven’t gone mad,” Sir said, standing and pacing the room. “I always knew it was there. The myths—true! Ha! Not just a dream. Well, that will show those prats in Oxford…”
Walter stood awkwardly and tipped his hat obligingly. “Congratulations, sir. It is a wondrous accomplishment. Without your research and writings…”
“…and Anderson’s resources and Walsh’s resilience,” sir added. “Yes, it is indeed incredible.” He checked his watch. It was half past three in the afternoon. “When does the next train board to London?”
“Will you be ready to take the one at five?”
“Yes,” he said, and at once began stacking books and papers into an untidy pile. “Wait for me in the foyer, will you?”
Walter dipped his head and escaped the study. The moment the door closed again, Sir walked to the bookshelf and pulled down a small black box. The top was inlaid with gold and silver floral designs. He’d purchased it in Paris three summers ago from a rather pushy vendor. But his wife had insisted. She was never good at haggling prices. He brushed the smooth surface with a finger, then dug out a key from his pocket, placed it in the box, and opened it. Inside, pillowed by black velvet, lay a woman’s small wedding band in yellow gold. “For you, my dear,” Sir said, pressing his lips to the ring before placing it back in its little indent and locking the box. He slid it back onto the shelf then turned on the study with a sigh. Then he began his rushed packing.
The trip to London was gray and dreary, but soon, in his black coat and tan suit, Sir exited the train with Walter in tow. Walter carried his briefcase, which was full of books and writings. Sir had a small carrier of clothing gripped in one hand, and his hat in the other. As they exited Hackney Central station, Walter proffered an umbrella to ward off the English rains. “Right this way, sir.”
They walked out of the station and around a corner, where two women stood in conversation under a black umbrella.
“Hello there! Sir, this is Anderson and Walsh,” Walter offered each of their names as they approached.
“Mr. Morrison, I presume?” Anderson gripped his hand and shook it. She was surprisingly tall and freckle faced, and her auburn hair was mostly hidden beneath her hat. She wore light trousers and a blazer despite the cold. Dressed like a man. Well, at least he’d been warned. “I’ve enjoyed your writings. It’s good to finally see the man behind the pages.”
“Pleasure,” Mr. Morrison said.
“Well, this’ll be interesting, for sure,” Walsh said in her lilting Irish accent. “Two Scots and an Irish. God help us. And the English brought us together.” Walsh had brown hair, pale skin, and a gap in her front teeth. She, at least, wore a more feminine cut shirt, though she was still in trousers and a large overcoat. She gave Walter an appraising look. “Thanks for bringing him. You can leave, now.”
Walter’s puffy face reddened for a moment, but he bowed in that proper English way and passed Mr. Morrison his belongings. “Good luck, sir. Madams.”
Anderson laughed as the man waddled away with his umbrella. “’Madams’,” she said jokingly to her companion. “Haven’t heard that in a while.”
Mr. Morrison shuffled his feet awkwardly.
Walsh rolled her eyes. “We’d better not hear that once we’re on the ship. Ready?” She turned to Mr. Morrison, who quickly pushed his hat back onto his head and nodded. The rain was a light mist, now, and clung to his skin.
“Good,” Anderson said. “We have a long drive ahead of us.”
“I still can’t believe it,” Mr. Morrison said quietly as Walsh took his briefcase. The women led him down the uneven cobblestone street as a few autos rolled by, spewing smoke into the already smoky air.
“No one will believe us if we don’t get evidence,” Anderson said over her shoulder. They walked quickly, and after hours on the train, Mr. Morrison had a hard time keeping up. “The Inquiry dumped a lot of money into this. We’ve got to be prepared for the worst. Just wait until you meet the American! He’s already at the ship.”
“American?” Mr. Morrison asked in surprise. “What use is an American?”
Anderson flashed a smile. “Big guns.”
“It’ll be dangerous,” Walsh agreed. “Luckily, we’ve got you, Mr. Morrison, and your writings.”
The sarcasm was light, but Mr. Morrison said defensively, “these writings, Walsh, are going to make history.”
Walsh laughed. “Of course, sir. But I think the recovered artefacts may be worth a touch more.”
“But of course, we appreciate the accuracy of your—ah, strange predictions, Mr. Morrison,” Anderson added.
“Walter knew almost nothing about what they’ve actually found,” Mr. Morrison said. “How did you finally locate it?”
“Not here,” Anderson said, steering him around a street corner. “Ah, here he is! Hello, Young!”
A tall black-skinned boy leaned against an auto but straightened when he saw them. He offered up a large, crooked grin. “I see you found your man!” The boy said in a Londoner’s accent, eyeing Mr. Morrison with interest.
“A boy, our driver?” Mr. Morrison asked doubtfully.
“A man,” Walsh shot back immediately. “Not a boy. And he’s not our driver. He’s our colleague. Although, he can drive too. Weird that people can have more than one talent.”
“He’s black,” said Mr. Morrison blankly. “A colleague? Why didn’t I hear anything about this?”
Young’s face fell, but he didn’t offer a defense. The reaction wasn’t uncommon. Instead, Anderson grimaced at Mr. Morrison, “and you’d best remember it, or we’ll send you on the next train back to Edinburgh. He’s a person, so you’d damned well better give him respect.”
“And a genius, to boot,” Walsh said, beaming at Young.
Young gave her a shy smile, and Mr. Morrison noted her hand touch his shoulder in a familiar sort of way. Well, Mrs. Morrison, he thought dryly, you’ll never guess where I’ve ended up. In league with a black man and two women dressed as men. Oh, God, and an American. This should be a rather unusual adventure.
“Sorry about that, Young,” Mr. Morrison cleared his throat awkwardly. Swallowing his pride, he shook the young man’s hand. He wondered at how the boy had managed an education, considering. “What is it you studied?”
“Just about anything I could get my hands on, sir.”
So. Not a formal education. Alright, then. “Right,” Mr. Morrison said.
Young reached for his carrier and he relinquished it. “Let’s see if we can pack your things in the boot with the rest.”
The odd grouping drew the stares of every person passing on the narrow London road, but soon the boot was packed to capacity and they were all stuffed inside the small auto, rumbling down cobblestone. “Best get comfortable,” Walsh said, slouching into her seat and tipping her hat over her eyes as Young steered them out of the fog of the city, drawing even more surprised stares at a black man behind the wheel. “I suspect there won’t be much sleep ahead.”
“It is exciting, isn’t it?” Young grinned. “Atlantis, the lost city! And after all this time. Who knew?”
Mr. Morrison tried to imagine a photograph of the four of them in the papers and wondered what the Inquiry might be thinking. “A part of me always hoped, Young,” he finally said.
“Oh, you can call me Patrick,” Young told him.
He thought he saw the twitch of a smile on Anderson’s face as she peered out the window at the passing scenery.
“There’s no way they could have found us,” the captain said, rubbing his forearm nervously. It was a habit he’d picked up as a child, and now the hair was nearly rubbed raw. “Not with their technology.”
“Sir,” said the communication’s officer, “when our ancestors traveled back, they knew that human technology would advance. We suspected this would be a possibility before the building could be finished.”
“But it’s too soon,” the first officer agreed. “Much too soon. How could they have known?”
The historian cleared her throat. She rarely spoke in their meetings, but for once she had ceased flipping through her tablet. “The records have changed, sir. I’ve found it.” She held up the screen and showed a black and white photograph of five individuals and pointed her thumb at one of the men. “This man, Albert Morrison. It says here that in one year, he will have discovered the lost city of Atlantis.”
“Atlantis?” the first officer snorted.
“Us,” the communication’s officer realized in surprise. “They’ll find us and think we’re the myth come-to-life.”
The captain stared for a moment. “That doesn’t tell us how they found us.”
“Morrison. Albert Morrison,” the historian said pointedly. “Does that name ring any bells?”
They were all quiet for a moment. They knew the name. Of course they knew it.
“But—Morrison? Are you sure?” the captain rubbed at his forearm.
“Sir,” said the historian, “it’s him. I mean, this is a century where only white men get credit for anything, so of course the rest were portrayed as assistants and grunts, but…”
“How do we stop them?” The first officer interrupted.
“Maybe we don’t,” said the historian.
“Hear me out,” she said quickly. “What if we let them find us?”
“And what?” the first officer rubber her chin. “Tell them the future? Who we really are?”
“Exactly the opposite,” the historian beamed. “Let’s tell them they’re right, let’s say—”
“Say this is Atlantis,” the captain finished, eyes widening with the idea. “But if we do that, what’s to stop them from leading the rest of the world to us?”
“We’ll have the damned British and American armies on us in an instant,” said the first officer.
“Well,” the historian turned her tablet back toward her and started typing, her attention’s shifting, “we’ll just have to think of something clever to keep them quiet, won’t we?”