Julia K. Patt
Liz Frankenstein doesn’t die.
She’s not quite sure how it happens, or rather, doesn’t happen. One minute, she’s gasping on the floor, her windpipe crushed by the seven-foot, yellow-eyed monstrosity who had been waiting for her in the honeymoon suite. Then she’s not. She has a vague memory of Victor and gunfire and shouting, but after that there’s nothing. And then there’s air, blessed air, and not dying.
Liz Frankenstein doesn’t die, because it’s bullshit that she dies in the first place, and no one’s death should be a plot point, let alone for someone as obviously problematic as Victor Frankenstein.
But mostly Liz Frankenstein doesn’t die because of the time traveler.
It’s impossible to say whether the time traveler was a woman to begin with, because she has changed so much that no one, even the time traveler herself knows much about who she was originally. Maybe she was always a woman and no one wanted to say so. Or maybe in crossing her own timeline back and forth so often, she became a woman by accident. Or maybe she did it on purpose. It’s almost certainly no one’s business.
But the time traveler is a woman and she rescued Liz Frankenstein from certain death and literary obscurity. They live together in a quiet flat in Kensington and drink chai in their housecoats together on rainy Sunday mornings, of which there are many because it’s still London, however much the time traveler’s travels have changed it.
The time traveler is often surprised that Liz sticks around, because nobody else ever has. But Liz Frankenstein likes the flat in London and she likes the time traveler, whom she calls Annabelle, whether that was her original name or not, it doesn’t much matter.
When Annabelle is away, which is often, Liz goes to the library and takes out books on as many subjects as she can. She borrows atlases and plots journeys around the world. She studies the principles of physics, medicine, and biology. It takes her a while to get through Newton, but she does. She reads all of Euclid and then Lobachevsky after Euclid, even though Lobachevsky gives her headaches. And while she knows French and Italian and English, just by virtue of being Liz Frankenstein, she begins learning Arabic, Greek, Chinese, and Persian. Although its French translation is some years off, time travel or no, she reads One Thousand and One Nights in the original language and commits it to memory.
Liz is cognizant of all she did not learn while Victor was away at school in Ingolstadt. She thinks of the letters Henry Clerval wrote telling her everything they had studied together, the translations of Eastern poetry and Victor’s own facility with chemistry. She thinks of the dark places Victor’s quest for knowledge took him, the extent of which she’ll never truly know. Her own quest, she decides, will be different.
When Annabelle is home, Liz asks her for lessons in self-defense, which Annabelle, obligingly, teaches her.
Annabelle’s travels have changed London, of course, and the rest of the world, because there’s no such thing as harmless time travel, as we all know. Mostly now there are more airships and robots and dinosaurs than there were previously in the city. And sometimes the robots take over Buckingham Palace and sometimes the dinosaurs eat the MPs in Parliament and overall the air traffic has gotten pretty terrible.
But the more Annabelle tries to set things to rights by going back in time and forward in time and occasionally sideways in time, the more she makes a mess of it.
“Maybe,” Liz suggests gently one evening, “The problems caused by time travel by definition cannot also be solved—at least solely—by time travel.”
“Well, what do you suggest?” Annabelle, who has always solved all of her problems entirely by time travel, asks.
They find Otto and Axel Lidenbrock in a pub in Hamburg, washing away the day’s dust and work with beer and telling the story of their journey into the volcanic vents to anyone who will still listen. Annabelle tries to explain their predicament, but she keeps getting the whys and wherefores mixed up, as one does one when one was in Ancient Egypt last week and 3456 Brazil yesterday and 19th century Germany this afternoon.
“The pterodactyls keep flying into Big Ben,” Liz explains. “And there’s an ichthyosaur living in the Thames. All the fishermen are terrified. It’s slowed trade down something awful.”
Otto strokes his beard and listens carefully. “We will have to come to England and take notes on their behavior,” he says. “I have some ideas about how to corral them; nonetheless, I would like to see the individual specimens first. But I daresay we’re going to need a lot of rope.”
Afterward, they visit Frank Reade and Phileas Fogg to deal with the robots and the air traffic respectively.
Once London seems less in danger of imminent destruction by colliding dirigibles or rampaging T-Rexes, Annabelle agrees to take a break from time traveling and they go to the coast for a few weeks. People are somewhat fearful, still, of going swimming, because there are rumors that one last megalodon is yet roaming the English Channel, despite the very successful prehistoric animal reclamation initiative and subsequent opening of the Lidenbrock Zoo & Aquarium just outside of Hamburg. (Do not feed the animals, say all the signs.)
But, then, it’s sort of nice to have the beach to themselves. Liz has brought her books, but will leave them behind for a long walk on the sand or a dip in the water. Annabelle is relieved to see her so happy, and the ring of bruises around her neck has long since faded. For her part, Liz is grateful Annabelle has found it in her to sit still, in one place and time, for more than five minutes. At night, they lie back and admire the stars, both of them pointing out such and such constellation or a meteor shower just off the horizon.
It’s a lovely vacation.
At least until a massive, whale-like submarine rises out of the deep and its deranged captain delivers a long monologue about how he will destroy the complacency of modern civilization, death to all mankind, yadda yadda, etc.
Liz invites Captain Nemo to their beach cottage for tea and scones; she has picked up this particular British-ism and likes it. Wild-eyed, Nemo looks around his new surroundings with something like shock. “It has been many years since I set foot inside a house,” he admits.
“I don’t doubt it,” Liz says and pats his hand. “You’ve been too busy exploring the mysteries of the deep.” She draws Nemo out by asking about his adventures, the life he’s witnessed in the most yawning oceanic trenches, and his visit to Atlantis.
“Why, you should go on the lecture circuit,” she tells him. “Who wouldn’t be fascinated by such wonders?”
He shakes his head and explains again his deep hatred for mankind, his horror of civilization, and his firm intention to destroy all of it.
Liz clucks her tongue. “It’s no surprise you feel that way, given what’s happened to you. But more than anything, you seem like a man ahead of his time. Annabelle, darling, weren’t you just telling me about a time you visited when the world’s oceans were in some danger and radical change and knowledge was needed to save them?”
Annabelle arches an eyebrow at Liz, but nods.
“I am quite certain the captain here could make a wonderful difference sometime in the future. Sadly, he would, of course, have to leave the Nautilus behind for the moment. But we won’t let any harm come to it, will we?”
After some discussion and several pointed questions at Annabelle, Nemo concedes.
When she returns from transporting the captain to the future, Annabelle joins Liz in their sitting room, a smug look on her face. “I suppose some problems are best solved by time travel,” she says.
“Yes, of course, my dear. Did I ever suggest otherwise?” Liz replies without looking up from her book.
When she time travels, Annabelle has a habit of picking up strays. This doesn’t bother Liz—especially considering she was one of those strays once, too. She understands Annabelle can’t help trying to fix things, even though they both know the price of her meddling. These efforts take her near and far, in space as well as time. Outfitted with wings and propellers and balloons since its first construction, the time machine can travel the entire world now in addition to any era. One afternoon, Annabelle returns from medieval Italy with a young woman, unconscious.
“Careful,” Annabelle cautions Liz when she goes to help. She has covered her own mouth and nose with a scarf. “She’s toxic.”
They put the girl Beatrice in the spare room and open all the windows. Thank goodness it’s a warm spring, Liz thinks more than once. Eventually, when Beatrice is well enough to talk, she tells them her story: what her father did and then what her lover did and how it would have killed her. Liz translates for Annabelle, although her voice cracks in places, as she thinks about her own story, incomplete though it may be.
She, after all, doesn’t know the role Victor had in her almost-death, but she does suspect.
Annabelle takes Liz’s hand and squeezes.
Eventually, Beatrice’s deadly perfume dissipates. Liz facilitates this process by filling her room with ordinary plants and flowers. For a while, Beatrice wears a mask around her herbaceous companions, but eventually the oxygen they release replaces whatever compound her father had introduced to her system. She forgoes the mask after that in favor of veils. Just in case, she tells Liz.
Now that they’ve more or less cured her, Liz and Annabelle fully expect Beatrice to leave. The others always do. But she doesn’t. She stays, tending the houseplants, and making pasta sauce on the stove and soon she, too, returns from the libraries with great stacks of books so that she can learn everything there is to know about botany. Liz teaches her English—and French for good measure—and Annabelle starts calling her Bea, and the three of them go on like that for a while, although the flat is a bit cramped, what with three adult women and a time machine.
“I suppose we ought to think about a house,” Annabelle says.
It’s stately and brick and has a garden-level basement perfect for Beatrice and Liz’s experiments and an attic room just the right size to hold a time machine. The courtyard, of course, Beatrice fills with plants. Liz doesn’t ask where Annabelle got the money or the means to buy a house. She imagines this is yet another problem most easily solved by time travel, whatever its repercussions. Anyway, she trusts Annabelle.
From time to time, they go out and fix the damage done by their ever-changing reality, the holes Annabelle inevitably punches in the current timeline filling up with creatures and gadgets from everywhere and every time. They call in the experts when they need them, but more and more they’ve gotten quite adept at solving these problems on their own. The carnivorous plants that attack the Underground are obviously right up Bea’s street, for example.
But then, a few months after they’ve settled in, something else happens. People start bringing them other problems.
There’s the case of the unseen burglars, injected with a serum that makes them invisible. Another time, the elderly members of a gentlemen’s club drink a potion that returns their youth but brings out their worst impulses. On a third occasion, an anarchist creates an army of man-wolf hybrids that attack the newly constructed Victoria & Albert.
Annabelle installs a discreet bronze plaque next to their front door that reads: The Frankenstein Agency: For Oddities, Curiosities, and Abnormalities.
It’s a slow afternoon at the agency when Captain Walton shows up. Annabelle is away again and Bea is working downstairs on an aloe vera varietal for mechanical burns. Liz herself is catching up on the filing, which always seems to be out of order between her time-traveling partner and their English-learning ward. When Walton comes in, suntanned and wind-burned as sailors always are, she assumes he’s a client and lets him know she’ll be with him shortly.
She almost drops the tea tray when he tells her why he’s there: “I knew your husband.”
He shows her the letters he wrote his sister Margaret about Victor’s story and the creature and their final encounter out there on the ice. He says he doesn’t know what happened to Frankenstein’s creation, whether he fulfilled his pledge that to destroy himself and Victor’s body or if he still roams free. Nonetheless, Walton’s certain humanity has nothing left to fear from him; it was clear the fight had gone out of him after his creator’s death.
Liz sits and listens. She asks the occasional question and refills Walton’s tea. When it’s apparent how much the good captain loved Victor and tried to care for him, she takes his hand. Neither of them acknowledges the other’s weeping and it’s some time before they can continue.
She understands, maybe better than anyone, Walton’s admiration for Victor, his mind, and his passion for knowledge. After all, she’s been under that spell herself. Liz thanks Walton for coming to see her.
“But how did you find me?” she asks.
“The oddest thing—an article about the Hyde outbreak in the paper. Your agency’s name was mentioned as assisting with the containment and quarantine. I thought perhaps—well, Victor mentioned a brother, Ernest, so I thought. But it’s you and years later. How is that possible?”
Liz tells him about the night in the inn and Annabelle and everything that’s happened since then and how time has gotten a bit wonky in London lately. It’s Walton’s turn to sit there silently.
When she’s finished, he expresses his amazement and, taking his hat in his hand, tells her that he’s at her service—any time.
She tells him to come back whenever he would like and hopes he’ll write her about his explorations.
Liz doesn’t immediately tell Annabelle what’s happened, but instead waits and thinks about what she wants to do with the new information, if anything. Annabelle would rush off to try to fix things, either save Victor or prevent him from doing his experiments or the creature from killing William. (This last thought always moves her to tears.) It is the nature of time travelers, Liz knows, to want to change things. And it’s what she loves about Annabelle, most days: her desire to make everything better.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of work for them to do: automata gone awry due to bad wiring; an elixir that gives the drinker superhuman strength and a ferocious temper; a madman who stole a mastodon from the royal zoo and rode it around the countryside, trampling the spring crops.
And then Walton brings back someone from his travels—he now captains an airship— a fellow tormented by the work of a vivisectionist in the South Pacific. “He just needs a quiet place to rest, is all,” the captain tells her apologetically. “Keeps seeing the faces of animals in people and having fits. I thought perhaps you could help, given your, ah, expertise.”
They look after Ned Prendick for a few months. For much of it, he barely leaves his room and spends much of his time muttering about the Beasts in the People and the People in the Beasts. Eventually, they coax him into assisting Beatrice with her plants. Because she still goes veiled, her face doesn’t torment him. And plants are, of course, much safer than animals or people. On this principle alone, the two become friends.
Walton comes to look in on him from time to time and sits with him and brings him books. Liz imagines Prendick, with his twitches and ravings, reminds Walton somewhat of Victor. And, rather like the time traveler, the good captain clearly has a particular affection for strays.
He just pulls his out of the sea instead of all of time and space.
Liz leaves them to it. Perhaps Ned Prendick will have to choose between Walton and Beatrice eventually, but also maybe he won’t. Maybe whether they stay friends or become lovers doesn’t have to matter. In any case, Liz tries not to meddle, and the peace seems to continue.
“This little family of yours keeps growing,” Annabelle remarks one evening. She and Liz are sitting by the fire, enjoying a quiet moment.
“Our little family,” Liz corrects her and rests her head on Annabelle’s shoulder.
This is the make-up of the agency when Nikola Tesla goes missing. Walton and Annabelle are both home from their travels. Ned and Beatrice have all but taken over the downstairs lab. Liz, only somewhat to her chagrin, has become more of an administrator than a scientist. Luckily, she’s good at it. And she still keeps up on all the journals, if only for professional reasons.
Scotland Yard brings them the case, a veritable locked-door mystery. No one can figure out how Tesla, in town for a demonstration, could have been snatched from a closed warehouse. And yet he was.
Annabelle recognizes the scorch marks on the floor immediately. “Someone else has built a time machine,” she says. “It looks like it’s been damaged, though. See the skid marks? That’s a rough landing.”
It turns out Tesla himself has been working on the means to manipulate reality in this way, but his own projects are incomplete. “Whoever took him, though,” Liz hypothesizes, “either wants something he’s developed or wants to keep him from creating a better version. As you say, it doesn’t look like this was a very good time machine.”
It doesn’t take them long to identify Tesla’s rival, the inventor Thomas Edison, as the likeliest culprit.
They take Walton’s airship to Edison’s not-so-secret lab, a small island just off the coast of Maine. Tesla, unfortunately, isn’t there. “You’ll never find him,” Edison informs them, sneering. (They’ve subdued his lackeys with a soporific perfume of Beatrice’s design.) “I’ve hidden him in a time and place you’ll never guess.”
Annabelle goes over to Edison’s time machine, which is indeed smoking and dented and looks barely functional. She tinkers with the controls, rubs a bit of dust between her fingers, and checks her own watch. “Prehistoric France,” she declares. “The caves at Lascaux, perhaps?”
Edison’s jaw works for a moment. His eyes bug. Eventually, he recovers. “No matter. You’re too late. My machine is malfunctioning too badly for a second trip and Tesla and I are the only ones who know how to fix it. He’s trapped. Trapped forever. History will forget him, and I will triumph.”
Annabelle smiles. “But my dear, Mr. Edison,” she purrs. “There’s no such thing as too late when you’re a time traveler.”
Once they’ve restored Tesla to his work and headed home, Annabelle pulls Liz aside. “Something has been bothering you, I think. I wish you would tell me what.”
Liz tells her the whole story about Walton: how he found Victor on the ice and heard his story, how Liz now knows why she almost died and what happened to her family.
“The problem is,” she finishes miserably. “I don’t want to go back and fix it. It would change everything and I’m . . . I’m happy. Here with you. Is that selfish?”
Annabelle considers this. There’s a lot she would like to say and do now, including grab Liz and never let her go. But she refrains for the moment. “I would have, if you’d asked, I think. But I’m glad you didn’t. So if you’re selfish, so am I.”
Instead, they sit down to dinner with Beatrice and Ned Prendick and Walton and listen to them talk about the day and also the possibility of life on other planets. And Liz is happy, almost entirely happy, in this moment before the next thing, whether it’s flying machines invading from the 20th century or aliens or Eastern European vampires with oddly specific real estate concerns.
It’s some time, a few months, before she understands what she wants to change about the past.
As asked, Annabelle takes Liz to the remote coast of Scotland to a strip of land with just ten people living on it. Neither the creature nor Victor is in sight, although Liz imagines they’re both nearby. There is still the temptation to stop everything, to undo it all, but it’s occurred her that there may be no fixing Victor Frankenstein or his creation, as inextricably linked as they are.
And regardless, the Liz she was before, so wrapped up in the Frankensteins, could not have stopped it—that she knows and has come to accept.
So instead, she rescues the little bundle of bones and flesh from the seaside lab. Unfinished, unloved, soon to be destroyed by her creator, he so fearful that she could destroy mankind. Whatever she was meant to be and for whom, she doesn’t deserve to end this way, torn apart and burned on the unforgiving coast.
Liz has two choices now, she knows. She could, as she has planned, bury the half-finished woman Victor discarded in Scotland. Put up a marker for her. Give her a name. She deserves a name at least.
Or she could bring the creation back with her, finish her, bring her to life, raise her with love and compassion, and add her to the little group of misfits she and the time traveler have assembled, quite without intending to. It’s true she does not know the principles Victor used to give his creations life, but there’s much more science to support her research now than there was his then. Plus, she’s Liz Frankenstein. If anyone can figure it out, she can.
However she chooses, whatever she does now, she can fix this at least.
JULIA K. PATT is a writer and teacher living in Maryland. Her work has recently appeared in Clarkesworld, Escape Pod, and Luna Station Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter for more: @chidorme.