February 2nd, 18–
“Okay, Victor, they’re gone!”
Victor emerged from his hiding place behind the cabinet of the Deep-Thinking, Mind-Reading Helmet. “I’m sorry for b-being such a coward,” he said. “It’s just – when I saw them dragging that man along--”
“No worries, Victor,” Marty assured him. “I totally understand. Your mom just does not give up, does she?”
“No, she doesn’t,” Victor said, shaking his head. “When she’s put her mind to a project, she generally sees it through to the bitter end. It’s just unfortunate that her current project appears to be getting me home by any means possible.”
Marty patted him on the arm. “Don’t worry, buddy. You’ve got me and Doc on your side. Nobody’s forcing you to go anywhere.”
“Thank you. I do appreciate you handling them. I didn’t hear much of the conversation – what happened?”
“Oh, she came in demanding to know where you were, telling me she’d found someone to ‘deprogram’ you,” Marty said, rolling his eyes. “I told you you’d gone out for an early lunch. She said she’d wait, but I told her she had to buy something if she wanted to stay, which really annoyed her. And then the poor guy she’d found said he had an appointment with a patient, and that he really couldn’t afford to stay, even after your dad offered him some money. Does he try to bribe everyone?”
“I’m starting to wonder,” Victor muttered. “I’m not quite sure why they think any normal psychiatrist could help me if I’m under Touched mind control. Wouldn’t one have to go to another Touched to stop such a thing?”
“Yeah, but I doubt your mom’s gonna think of that. I get the feeling she thinks of people like Doc as less than human,” Marty said, looking disgusted.
“I’m terribly sorry for her attitude,” Victor said, looking ashamed. “It’s – it’s just how she is.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen.” Marty regarded Victor curiously for a second. “I gotta ask – how the hell did she and your dad produce you?”
Victor shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t think I’m that different from my father.”
“Eh. He’s quiet like you are, but I think that’s where the similarities end. He definitely ain’t as polite, I’ll tell you that much.” Marty peered at the back of the store. “Is Doc over there?”
“Yes,” Victor deadpanned, as Marty snorted. “What are you working on?” he called over to his friend.
“Oh, I’m just trying to get this spring back into this grandfather clock. Come on, you. . .there, finally!” He emerged from the rows after another minute, sighing. “Damn thing just wouldn’t go back in. All right, who wants what for lunch?”
The sound of hooves on the cobbles outside forestalled the boys’ answer. Everyone turned to see a large white horse riding up fast, making L-shapes around the usual traffic of the street. The man on top was dressed all in white armor, with a helmet shaped like a horse’s head. He stopped the horse in front of the shop and promptly fell off, landing with loud clatter on the sidewalk. Victor winced in sympathy. He wasn’t much of a horseman either.
Doc, however, was grinning brightly. “Christopher!” He dashed outside as the man got back to his feet. “Good to see you again, Chris! How are you? Need a hand with the helmet?”
“If you don’t mind,” the man replied, working to unhook it.
Victor looked at Marty questioningly. The teenager laughed. “That’s Sir Christopher Lloyd,” he explained. “Her Majesty’s White Knight?”
“Oh!” Victor looked at the newcomer with new respect. Most everyone had heard of The White Knight – the man was said to be the Queen’s greatest soldier, and a slayer of monsters second to none. Such were his feats of valor that most people were willing to do what was almost impossible in other circumstances – ignore that the man was a Touched. “You’re friends with him?”
“Yeah, he and Doc like to bounce ideas off each other,” Marty said, coming out from behind the counter. “Come with me, I’ll introduce you. You’ll probably like him. Though I warn you, you’re probably gonna be surprised at what he looks like.”
“You gotta see it to believe it. Come on.” Marty led Victor out to the sidewalk, where Doc was helping Sir Lloyd off with his helmet. “Hey, Sir Christopher! Long time no see!”
“Marty! Hello!” The helmet came off, and Sir Christopher turned to face the two young men. “It’s good to see you again. How are things?”
“The usual – completely crazy,” Marty smirked. “We’ve got a new assistant around here, actually.” He gestured to Victor. “May I introduce Victor Van Dort. Victor, this is Sir Christopher Lloyd.”
“H-how do you do,” Victor said, astonished. Sir Christopher looked almost exactly like Doc! His face was a bit younger-looking, his hair was curly and grey, and he had a large droopy mustache, but other than that, they might have been twins. Curiouser and curiouser. . . .
“Pleasure to meet you,” Sir Christopher said, extending a hand. Victor shook it. “Van Dort. . .the name sounds a bit familiar, but I can’t place why.”
“The fish people,” Marty prompted. “Victor’s father owns the cannery.”
“Ah, yes, that’s it! Did your father send you out here to get some experience in the world?”
Victor had to bite back a loud chuckle. “N-not exactly.”
“It was an accidental kidnapping in fact,” Doc explained. “I finally got the train to fly, Chris! The hover conversion works like a dream! Now it’s just a matter of getting enough energy to break the time barrier.”
“It actually flew? Oh, Emmett! I wish I could have seen it,” Sir Christopher said wistfully. “The maiden voyage is always something special.”
“Yeah, especially when one of the locals of the village you land next to gets his foot caught in the ladder and gets dragged back with you,” Marty said with a laugh. “That’s what happened to Victor.”
“Goodness.” Sir Christopher suddenly leaned forward, peering hard at the top of Victor’s head. “You must have had your hair fastened on quite tight.”
Victor blinked a few times, trying to process this. “Only in the u-usual manner,” he said slowly, running a hand through the raven-black strands.
“Really? Perhaps my theories on hair falling out need adjusting,” Sir. Christopher said reflectively. “But you must be an incredibly brave boy, to hold on without complaint all that distance. Your parents must be quite proud of you.”
Victor felt his developing smile vanish. “It’s – more complicated than that,” he said.
“They’ve frankly been a pain in our asses,” Marty said.
“It’s a long and complicated story, Chris,” Doc said as Sir Christopher regarded the group in confusion. “I’ll tell you all about it later. How have you been?”
“Oh, wonderful! Had to take care of some Jabberspawn back in the Queen’s gardens. Fortunately no full-grown Jabberwocks about. Those creatures always put up a tremendous fight. And I think I’ve finally convinced one of the royal cooks to try my pudding!”
“Seriously?” Marty said, arching an eyebrow. “The same pudding that has gunpowder and blotting paper and sealing wax?”
“The very same! I think it will turn out splendidly,” Sir Christopher said proudly. “As long as all the ingredients are in the right proportions, of course.”
“Of course,” Victor said, deciding not to argue about the edibility of any of said ingredients. He’d learned very quickly, over the course of working for Doc and making friends with Richard and Lewis, that a Touched’s mind worked very differently from that of a Regular person’s. A Regular wouldn’t even begin to think up half the things the Touched mind considered on a daily basis. Doc had described it as a whirlwind in your head, made up of millions and millions of ideas. A Touched simply couldn’t stop inventing – it would be like asking a Regular to stop breathing. Inspiration came from everywhere, and it was all a Touched could do to keep up. And while most of the ideas seemed nonsensical to others, something about the way a Touched viewed and manipulated the world made them viable. It was this talent for making the impossible possible that had enabled things like shrink rays and reanimation and electrical generators to be invented. Therefore, Victor knew that it was entirely possible that Sir Christopher’s peculiar pudding could be the best-tasting thing on earth. Not particularly likely, but possible.
“Yeah, otherwise you’re gonna blow the roof off the royal kitchen, and the Queen’s gonna yell at you again,” Marty agreed.
“I have only caused one explosion while working for Her Majesty,” Sir Christopher protested. “And that wasn’t even really my fault. Besides, the custard was still perfectly edible afterwards.”
Victor wondered if he wanted to know the context or if it was like the incident that had sent Doc and Marty fleeing from Hill Valley for Secundus. He still hadn’t gotten any more details out of them, apart from the fact it had involved ten spoons, a dog collar, a wheel of cheese, the mayor’s hat, and something called a “Presto Log,” which Doc had reluctantly explained was an invention of his for his forge back home – chemically treated wood that would ignite faster and burn hotter and longer. Victor had guessed that was the cause of the fires somehow, but he couldn’t see his way to fitting any of the other elements together. Though it was fun, trying to come up with various scenarios with all those implements that would lead to total chaos. (His favorite so far was the theory that the mayor’s hat had come to life and had been terrorizing the town, forcing Doc and Marty to distract it with cheese while they used the Presto Log to power a cannon that shot spoons. He couldn’t figure out how to involve the dog collar, though.)
“Even if it had to be scraped off the walls,” Marty said, pulling Victor back out of his thoughts.
“One day, young man, that teasing tongue of yours will get you into trouble,” Sir Christopher said, shaking a finger at Marty. His smile indicated he was only playing, however. “Now then, let me just see to Archimedes, and then you can show me what you’ve been working on in the shop. And perhaps a tour of the train?” he added hopefully.
“Of course!” Doc said. “I’d be only too happy to. We could even take her up for a bit if you like.”
“That would be capital,” Sir Christopher declared. He turned back to his horse. “Let’s get you something to eat, old friend,” he remarked, patting the horse on the nose.
Archimedes whickered and shook his head a bit. Victor looked over the animal with fresh amazement. Archimedes was a fine white stallion, with white armor to match his owner. But it was hard to see underneath all the bags and other things piled onto and around the saddle. There was a set of fire irons, a bag that clanked and tinkled like it was full of candlesticks, a deal box hanging upside-down with the lid open, a watchman’s rattle, various clumps of carrots (one of which Sir Christopher removed and began feeding to Archimedes), a mousetrap, and – “Is that a beehive?” Victor blurted, unable to help himself.
“Oh, you noticed it!” Sir Christopher gave the beehive a pat, which Victor thought was extraordinarily dangerous. Then again the White Knight was wearing what appeared to be heavily armored gloves, so perhaps he didn’t have to worry about being stung. “It’s one of the best beehives there is. Plenty of combs for honey, space for the bees to live, all sorts of comforts for the little fellows.” His face fell slightly. “But the bees simply won’t come near it. It’s the same with this mousetrap. Best in the world, but I’ve never been able to catch a mouse with it.” He looked thoughtfully at the two devices. “Maybe the mice keep the bees away. Or the bees keep the mice away. One or the other.”
“I don’t believe you often get mice on the backs of horses,” Victor admitted, a bit shyly.
“Yes, but if I did, Archimedes here would be protected,” Sir Christopher said, giving his horse another friendly pat. “It’s the whole reason he wears those anklets.”
Victor looked down at the rings of spikes that encircled each leg. “What are those for, then?”
“They guard against the bites of sharks.”
Victor couldn’t help a hand going to his tie. “If someone’s made sharks that go about on land. . . .”
“Not yet, but you can’t be too careful,” Sir Christopher said. “You must be prepared for anything, that’s my motto.”
Victor thought about the sort of people Sir Christopher interacted with, and the places he had to go. “Good motto.”
“I thought so.” Sir Christopher finished feeding Archimedes his carrots. “Now then, what do you have to show me this time, Emmett?”
“Well, we finally got the pancake maker working, thanks to Victor’s help,” Doc started, leading Sir Christopher inside. “And I think I’ve made a breakthrough with the Suck-O-Matic as of yesterday. . . .”
The group wandered around the shop for a bit, Doc showing off inventions as Sir Christopher tried them out, made comments, and expounded on his own ideas. Victor soon discovered that Sir Christopher’s similarities to Doc extended to personality as well as to looks. He was wonderfully enthusiastic about everything he did, although his scope tended to be rather wider than Doc’s when it came to Inventions. He also seemed continually ready with a compliment or a kind word. Victor quite liked him, and was pleased to hear he’d be staying in town for a while. He also learned that Sir Christopher was also good friends with Richard and Lewis, which hardly came as a surprise. The man seemed quite Wonderlandian, with a literal streak in his thinking that made it chancy to use metaphors around him.
Sir Christopher and Doc were discussing how to get the Deep-Thinking, Mind-Reading Helmet to actually allow people to read each other’s minds when they heard the door open at the front of the shop. “I’ll get it,” Victor offered, knowing the older men would want to continue their conversation. He brushed the dust off his jacket as he headed for the counter. “Good morning, how can I – Victoria??”
Victoria Everglot blushed and smiled at him. Beside her, Hildegarde eyed the rows of parts and inventions with more than a little nervousness. “Oh, so this is the right place. I wasn’t sure, but it was the only Dr. Brown anyone knew of. . . .”
“Victoria, what are you doing here?” Victor asked, completely confused. “N-not that I’m n-not happy to see you again, o-of course, but – I c-can’t imagine you have your p-parents’ permission to be here.”
Victoria blushed harder, looking suddenly nervous. “I don’t,” she confessed. “They just think I’m out for a walk with Hildegarde. I didn’t tell them that I was wondering about your Dr. Brown. . . .” She looked around the shop. “This is where he works, then?”
“Yes,” Victor nodded, following her gaze. “S-sorry it’s a bit of a mess, but. . . .” He shrugged.
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Victoria said hastily. “I understand Touched don’t – think like that.” She frowned. “I’m sorry, that sounded like an insult.”
Victor laughed. “Actually, Doc would be the first to admit he doesn’t do well with cleaning,” he admitted. “W-would you like to meet him? He’s in the back.”
“I don’t know about this, dearie,” Hildegarde said, wringing her frail hands. “Your parents will be so upset with you if they learned you were here.”
“I know, but – well, what you said to me at the coffee shop really – stuck with me,” Victoria said, looking back at Victor. “And you certainly don’t act like you’re under some sort of mind control. Shouldn’t you be walking around talking in a monotone if that was the case?”
“I believe that’s how it usually works, yes,” Victor nodded, relieved to find at least one person from Burtonsville believed him on that count. “You needn’t worry, Miss Hildegarde. Doc is a very pleasant man. And I’m certainly not in any position to tell the Everglots anything about this.”
“Oh, I know a nice young man like you wouldn’t betray Miss Victoria’s confidence,” Hildegarde told him. “I’m worried they’ll somehow just know. I shouldn’t like to see my mistress get in trouble.”
“We won’t stay long,” Victoria promised. “I would like to meet Dr. Brown, but only if it’s no trouble.”
“I can’t see how it would be.” Victor turned to call for his friend, only to see him, Marty, and Sir Christopher approaching. “Oh, here they all come now.”
“Who is it, Victor?” Doc asked as he reached the front. “Do you need something repaired, miss?”
“No, she simply w-wanted to be introduced to y-you,” Victor said, trying his best to look calm. Secretly, though, he was horribly nervous. How would Victoria take actually meeting a Touched face to face? He was reasonably certain she wasn’t going to be rude about it, but he was scared something would happen to scare her and make her think badly of his friend. “Dr. B-Brown, Marty, Sir Christopher, this is Miss V-Victoria Everglot. Victoria, my employer Dr. Emmett B-Brown, my coworker M-Martin McFly, and our guest Sir C-Christopher Lloyd, the W-White Knight.”
“Oh, so you’re Miss Everglot,” Marty said, stepping up and holding out a hand. “Nice to meet you. Victor told us about the coffee shop stuff. Uh – sorry about how it went.”
“Thank you,” Victoria said, giving him a tiny, shy smile as she shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you too.”
“Very good to meet you,” Doc said, also shaking hands. “Though I’m surprised to see you here. Victor mentioned that your parents were – very vehemently against your family having anything to do with Touched.”
“They, um, don’t know I’m here,” Victoria told him, turning pink again. “Victor just said such nice things about you at the meeting, I felt I had to meet you.”
“Did he?” Doc gave Victor a smile. “Is it your new life’s mission to try and change opinions about the Touched, kid?”
“Only for the residents of Burtonsville,” Victor said, smiling back awkwardly. “I’m glad someone at that meeting listened.”
Sir Christopher stepped up, standing straight and tall before bowing low. “My lady,” he said, taking Victoria’s hand and kissing it. “Truly a pleasure to meet you.”
Victoria looked at him in shock for a moment, then turned an even deeper pink as she smiled and looked away. “Thank you. It’s truly a honor to meet you, Sir Lloyd. I’ve heard quite a bit about your deeds.”
“Have you now? They’re nothing, really,” Sir Christopher said modestly. “Just me playing around with a sword.”
“I’d say they’re more than that,” Marty said with a chuckle.
“Oh, yes!” Victoria agreed. “The poem they wrote of your slaying the Jabberwock – it still sends chills down my spine.”
“Well, I’ll allow the Jabberwock was a good fight,” Sir Christopher nodded. “A glorious victory, even. But I do prefer somewhat tamer pursuits, if given my choice.”
“Like what?” Victoria asked, then lowered her eyes. “I don’t mean to pry, of course. . . .”
“Oh, you’re not prying at all! That sort of statement invites that sort of question,” Sir Christopher said. “I like Inventing most of all. My mind is always churning and bubbling with new Inventions.” He leaned forward slightly, eyes bright. “Why, just the other day I thought up a new way to keep the Menai bridge from rusting.”
“How?” Victor asked, feeling quite curious.
“Boil it in wine! The tannic acids should interact with the steel to prevent the erosion and decayed caused by regular interaction with water!”
“Yeah, but where are you going to get that much wine?” Marty asked.
“Exactly why I’m trying to get Her Majesty to add a vineyard to the royal gardens.”
“What an odd idea,” Victoria said, although she looked rather intrigued by it nonetheless. “Are all your ideas like that?”
“Most of them,” Sir Christopher said proudly. “I thought I had a wonderful idea for a new kind of umbrella – instead of opening down, it opens up and collects the rain in a bowl above you. Then when you get home, you simply pour the water out – or, if you’re clever, you save it for some other purpose.” He frowns. “But I can’t get anyone to manufacture it. I can’t imagine why.”
“Well – if it opens up, it – it doesn’t sound like it shields you from the rain at all,” Victoria pointed out hesitantly.
“What? Oh, no, no, I was thinking of a flat surface where just the sides – I’ve never explained that to anyone else,” Sir Christopher abruptly realized, beginning to look embarrassed. “By the Jabberwock’s tail, they must have all thought the same thing and never said anything! Why don’t they?”
“Maybe they’re afraid you’ll yell at them,” Victor said. “Everyone I’ve met thinks Touched all have bad tempers.”
“What? Do they all think we’re cloned from the same source? That’s only true of Helen Narbon.”
“Well, per – what?”
“The speciality of the Narbon line of Touched women is biology – specifically, biological replication,” Doc said. “A Narbon may never marry, but she always has a daughter. Mistress Narbon is actually the second Helen Narbon – her mother, Doctor Narbon, is the first. Fortunately for all of us, the idea that clones will develop different personalities no matter how hard you try to replicate everything held true. Mistress Narbon may cause her fair share of destruction, and declare herself to be ‘evil,’ but she’s not nearly as bad as Doctor Narbon. And I don’t think the elder Helen had that much of an interest in gerbils.”
“Goodness,” Victor whispered. “I never knew that.” A sudden flash of insight hit him. “Is that why she’s so interested in studying the Touched mind?”
“Pretty much,” Doc nodded. “Her mother used her as proof that being Touched was indeed genetic. Helen’s decided to take over that work and expand upon it.”
“Genetic?” Victoria repeated, sounding slightly confused. “I’ve heard about that, but – I’m sorry, Mother didn’t feel it proper that girls know much about math and science. Apparently too much of it rots the brain.”
“Rots the brain? Mistress Narbon and Lady Heterodyne would be quite surprised to hear that,” Sir Christopher commented. “And they’re only the top two.”
“Not to mention all the women these days who go into fields of scientific study,” Doc added, scowling at nothing. “Why are some people so close-minded?” Then, realizing he’d just insulted Victoria’s parents, he quickly added, “Not that – er--”
“It’s just how things are done in Burtonsville,” Victoria said, allowing his comment to pass by. “Young ladies are only expected to know how to keep a proper house. My mother tutored me, but what I learned mostly was sewing, needlepoint, penmanship, decorating – things like that. And a bit of cooking from Hildegarde,” she added, glancing affectionately back at the maid.
“Practical skills, yes, but what about academic advancement?” Sir Christopher said. “Our society needs all the brains it can find!”
“I know some history, and a bit about art – Mother doesn’t approve of ladies learning music, but she thought painting would be all right. I’m terrible with a brush, however.”
“She doesn’t think girls should learn music? Back where I come from, it’s guys who get teased if they learn an instrument,” Marty said. “I got a lot of grief from my friends when I first took up guitar. They shut up fast when I turned out to be good, yeah, but still. . . .”
“Mother says it’s too passionate,” Victoria said, twisting her hands again. “I think Father would agree with your friends, however. He thinks young men should learn shooting. He said as much to Victor at our meeting.”
“Well, I know my way around a gun, I grew up out in the untamed American West,” Marty shrugged. “I prefer the guitar, though.” His gaze shifted to Victor, growing curious. “How about you, Victor? What kind of education did you get? I mean, I’m guessing they would teach the guys more.”
“I went to the parish day school,” Victor said. “Taught by Pastor Galswells. We learned reading, writing, arithmetic, and some history and geography. And quite a lot about religion, of course. Pastor Galswells was a – very passionate teacher.” He unconsciously rubbed his knuckles, remembering how many times they’d been rapped with a ruler for getting a question wrong. “And Mother hired some tutors for me for languages.”
“Parce qu'elle pense qu'il serait chic d'avoir un fils qui parlait français,” Victor said, then chuckled at Marty’s lost expression. “She said that all the proper society people speak French, and if someone in society is doing it. . . . I also know a passable amount of Spanish.” Curious, he turned to look at Victoria. “Do you speak French?”
“Oui, mais pas beaucoup,” Victoria said with a smile. “Mother didn’t think it terribly important, but she took the time to teach me enough to speak reasonably well.”
“Better than me – I just know some Spanish from hearing the Mexicans passing by in Hill Valley,” Marty said. “And I don’t think a lot of what I learned can be repeated in polite company.”
“I’m fluent in German, but that’s because of my heritage,” Doc said. “Never thought about learning any other languages.”
“I know French and Spanish myself,” Sir Christopher said. “A proper gentlemanly knight knows all the courtly languages. Even if he doesn’t use them often.”
Victoria shuffled her feet under her skirt. “I feel so undereducated around all of you,” she admitted shyly. Here you are creating such amazing things, and I--” She looked at the floor with a soft sigh. “I’m so perfectly Regular.”
“Don’t be like that, milady,” Sir Christopher said, patting her arm gently. “It’s not your fault if your education was lacking in some areas. You seem like an intelligent young woman to me.” Glancing at Doc, he added, “My colleague here always says, ‘If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.’”
“Precisely,” Doc agreed. “Nothing’s out of reach if you’re willing to put in the effort.”
“And you’re not alone,” Victor said. “How many Regulars could possibly keep up with a Touched? Even I feel lost at times.”
“You do? I’m sorry, I just tend to lapse into technical talk,” Doc apologized.
“No, it’s nothing. I just know I’ll never be as smart as you,” Victor said.
Doc frowned. “Don’t talk like that. From what I’ve seen, your intelligence is quite high. He’s helped me fix a number of things around here,” he said to Sir Christopher, Victoria, and Hildegarde. “He’s got a real knack for working with nanomechanics.”
“Nano-what?” Victoria asked, tilting her head.
“Extremely small parts,” Marty translated. “I’m guessing it has something to do with how long his fingers are. He can squeeze ‘em into the cracks better.”
“Perhaps,” Victor said, examining his hands critically. “I don’t know why I seem to have a talent for such things. I just do.” He grinned. “It’s such fun, though, watching a machine come to life, and knowing it was your doing. . . .”
Victoria was watching him curiously. “You – you act as if you’ve lived here all your life,” she noted.
Victor felt his cheeks heat up again. “I – I’m – well, actually, I’m not s-sorry, but – it doesn’t bother you, does it?”
“No, actually – it just helps explain better why you want to stay here so much,” Victoria said. “You act as if you belong.”
“Yes, that’s more or less the theory another of our friends has offered up in response to Victor’s quick adaptation to the city,” Doc nodded. “I suppose that technically makes you an Igor, kid.”
“I don’t mind,” Victor said. “I just wish other people didn’t mind as well.” He shot Victoria an apologetic look. “Begging your pardon.”
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Victoria said. “I know they were quite rude to you and your family at our last meeting. They were just – upset.”
Marty looked suspicious. “You sound like him defending his parents,” he said, jerking his head toward Victor. “It’s too bad you two didn’t hit it off like that – sounds like you have a lot in common.”
“Mother and Father aren’t so bad,” Victoria said, frowning at Marty. “They’re just – strict.”
“I don’t think the comment on your appearance was called for,” Victor said.
That set her to blushing again. “I – I’m used to it,” she said, not meeting anyone’s eyes. “Father often says I look like an otter.”
“An otter?” Sir Christopher peered closely at Victoria. “You think he would notice that his daughter is not covered with soft brown fur, nor does she have a tail and paws. Do you eat molluscs by cracking them open with rocks, perhaps?”
Victoria giggled, though she tried to hold it back, resulting in an odd sort of half-snort, half-squeak. “No,” she said. “I don’t think he means it quite like that.”
“He should learn to say what he means,” was Sir Christopher’s opinion. “I think you look quite lovely, my dear. And even if you did look like an otter, there are far worse things to look like. Otters are quite adorable creatures.”
Victoria turned an even darker shade of pink. “I – thank you,” she said, looking somewhat stunned. “You – you’re rather handsome yourself.”
“Am I? Thank you,” Sir Christopher said, kissing her hand again. Victoria smiled brightly.
Hildegarde was regarding the clocks on the far wall nervously. “Miss Victoria, we shouldn’t linger,” she warned. “Your parents are expecting you back for lunch at 12:30 promptly.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Victoria said, her face falling. “We should leave, then. But it was very nice meeting all of you,” she added, looking at each man in turn – though, Victor noticed, her eyes lingered briefly on Sir Christopher. “I’m very glad to see that Victor was right when it comes to Touched, rather than Pastor Galswells.”
“We’re glad of that fact too,” Marty said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t want to work for Satan’s spawn.”
“Will we see you again?” Victor asked.
“If I can find a way to slip away,” Victoria said. “Mother and Father do try to keep a close eye on me, but I’m generally allowed a bit of freedom for a daily walk, as long as I have Hildegarde with me. I would like to visit again if I’m able.”
“We would find that very pleasant, Miss Everglot,” Doc said.
“Yes, quite pleasant indeed,” Sir Christopher said, with a slight bow. “It’s a shame you must go so soon. Emmett here was just on the verge of demonstrating his hover-converted locomotive to me.”
“The flying train I flew here underneath,” Victor translated.
“Hey, yeah, you never got a proper trip in the thing, did you?” Marty suddenly realized. “We’ve been walking everywhere since we got here. You gotta come up and get the experience that doesn’t include hanging onto a rope ladder for dear life.”
“I’d quite like that, yes,” Victor snickered.
Sir Christopher paused a moment, then extended a hand to Victoria. “You’re sure you can’t stay a few minutes more?” he beseeched. “It’ll just be once around the block. Your parents need never know if you hurry home straightaway.”
Victoria looked torn, her eyes flicking to the doorway and back. “I – well – it’s safe?” she said, stalling.
“Perfectly safe,” Doc assured her. “I run a diagnostic check on it daily. Primarily because it’s normally parked on our roof, and you don’t want a systems failure above your home and business.”
“. . .I’ll refrain from asking what would happen if there was a system failure.” Victoria wrung her hands. “I – it does sound exciting. . . .”
“Life is for excitement!” Sir Christopher proclaimed, throwing one arm out in a grandiose gesture. “Either people are living a life full of excitement and danger, or--”
There was a pause that went on just a bit too long. “Or. . . ?” Marty prompted.
“Or they’re not, of course.”
Victoria looked at him, then once more at the door. Then she turned back, having come to a decision. “All right, but I really can’t be long.”
Hildegarde looked astonished. “Miss Victoria! Are you sure about this?” she asked, grabbing her charge’s arm.
“Yes, I am. It’s probably absolutely mad of me, but--” She looked at Victor, then at Sir Christopher again. “Perhaps madness isn’t so bad.”
“A quite intelligent friend of mine once proclaimed that all the best people are mad,” Sir Christopher grinned. “I’m quite inclined to agree with him. Then again, I’m mad myself, so I can hardly be considered an unbiased opinion.”
“I like it anyway,” Victoria said.
“Me too,” Victor said, cheered to see another person from his hometown swayed. Perhaps there was hope of convincing his parents yet. “Shall we be off, then?”
“We shall! Come along, everyone!” Doc led the way out the door and up the steps. Victor, trailing behind Marty, noticed Sir Christopher’s insistence on walking next to Victoria and Hildegarde. The White Knight had a bit of a funny look on his face – a sort of nervous half-smile. Victoria had much of the same. Victor observed them for a moment. I wonder. . . .
The train was sitting where it had been for the past few weeks, silent and still. Doc activated the hidden switch that opened the door and hopped inside to make things ready. “You’ll want to sit down and buckle up for the initial liftoff,” he told the others as they filed inside. “It can be a bit bumpy otherwise.”
Victoria looked around in wonderment as she and Hildegarde boarded. “It’s so – pretty,” she commented, taking in the red velvet seats and polished levers.
“My opinion is, if you’re going to build a flying machine into a steam train, why not do it with some style?” Doc said cheerfully. “Now, get settled, everyone. Time’s awasting.”
The group quickly seated themselves – Victor and Marty on one side, Sir Christopher, Victoria, and Hildegarde on the other. Once Doc saw they were all secured and ready to go, he grinned wildly. “All right, folks, hang on,” he said, yanking a lever.
Victor heard the sound of the hover conversion system powering up, all hissing steam and grinding gears. There was a slight groan as the train went from resting on its wheels to floating on a cloud of powerful magnetic energy. Doc adjusted some of the instruments, and a chugging noise started up from below them. Slowly, the train moved forward, gaining altitude as it did. “How fast can she go?” Christopher asked as they flew over the nearby rooftops.
“I’ve had her up to sixty-five so far,” Doc said with an almost manic grin, the Creativity clear in his voice. “If I can just find a way to push the power up a little farther, we could hit eighty-eight. And then, it’s just a matter of finding 1.21 gigawatts for the flux capacitor.”
“I beg your pardon – flux what?” Victoria asked.
“Doc’s ultimate plan is to convert the train into a time machine,” Victor explained to her. “The flux capacitor is the heart of the entire project.”
“Indeed,” Doc nodded. “Once I work out all the gremlins, all of history shall be open to me! It’ll be fantastic. Speaking of which. . . .” He slowed the train down a little bit. “You’re all free to get up and move about the cabin now, if you want to have a look around.”
Victor was the first to unbuckle himself. He hopped out of his seat and promptly went toward the nearest window. Below them, the street unfolded in a panorama of browns, greens, golds, and brass. He marveled at the sight. “Oh, this is incredible. . . .”
“Awesome, right?” Marty said, standing next to him.
“That does sound like the right word,” Victor agreed. “I’ve always wanted to fly, and this. . . . Much better from inside,” he added, to general chuckling.
Victoria timidly got up and moved to the window as well, Sir Christopher following in her wake. She gasped as she saw the view below them. “Oh. . .I never – I’ve seen airships before, but I never imagined what it must look like,” she whispered, awed.
“You guys in Burtonsville are missing out on a lot,” Marty commented.
“We are indeed,” Victor agreed with a sigh.
“Oh yes,” Victoria nodded, pressing her face closer against the glass. “This is wonderful. All my life I’ve been told all Touched are horrible abominations, and now. . .I don’t mean any offense,” she quickly clarified, glancing over at Doc briefly. “I’m just repeating what my parents and Pastor Galswells always said.”
“None taken – Victor informed us early on how your village feels about Touched,” Doc said with a little wave. “I’ve dealt with much worse, I assure you.”
Hildegarde finally got the courage to take a look outside herself. She smiled as she saw the city stretched out below their feet. “Why, it looks just like a picture,” she remarked. “Look at that lovely park!”
“Wonderland Park – you have to go, it truly lives up to its name,” Victor said immediately.
“I doubt Mother and Father will let me,” Victoria said sadly. “I’m starting to think we’re missing out on so many wonderful things, staying locked up in our hotel suite. . . .”
“You are,” Marty said. “I’d take every chance to sneak out you get.”
Victoria giggled again, this time freely. “Well, as I said, I do get a daily – OH!”
She jerked back as something green with two long snakelike heads flew by the window, spinning as it did. The muffled sounds of squabbling reached their ears. “Oh, jeez, it’s the Thorston twins again,” Marty said. “Hey, guys, watch where you’re flying!”
Sir Christopher put a supportive arm around Victoria’s back. “Are you all right, milady?” he asked, scanning her pale face.
“Fine,” Victoria said, getting her breath back. “That – that just came out of nowhere. . .what was it?”
“Dragon,” Doc said, returning to the controls and turning the train so they were heading back to the shop. “The people of Berk ride them. The one you saw was a two-headed Hideous Zippleback, ridden by a pair of siblings – twins. Said twins happen to get no greater pleasure from anything besides fighting with each other, so there’s a lot of near-crashes when they’re on their dragon.”
“Oh.” Victoria eyed the window. “I – think I’m ready to go back to earth now.”
“I anticipated your request – we’ll be back on terra firma shortly.”
Sir Christopher glared in the general direction that the Thorston twins had flown, then looked back at Victoria. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes,” Victoria said, looking up at him. Their eyes met, and she blushed. “It’s – rather hard to be afraid with you around.”
Now Sir Christopher blushed. “Er – I’m glad to hear that.”
They stared at each other for a moment, then seemed to realize they were staring and quickly looked away, Sir Christopher withdrawing his arm. Marty nudged Victor as the two tried to regain their equilibrium. “Staring contest,” he whispered.
Victor decided to let the joke about himself and Alice pass – after all, it was only the truth, as he’d recently realized. He nodded and smiled at the pair, who were sneaking little glances at each other and half-smiling again. This had worked out quicker and better than he could have hoped.
After all, the Everglots could surely have no objections to a knight.