“Gentlemen, and Boston.” Alice spoke in hushed tones. She did not have to speak very loud to be heard through the utter silence of that tremendous room. “This is the Heart of Time.” She pointed at the crystal that throbbed with light like it was a beating heart, but she did not touch it. “This has recorded all of human history since before the days the human race became scattered across the face of the earth. In here, you will find Shakespeare’s London, Caesar’s Rome, Alexander’s Babylon and everything all the way back to the Tower of Shinar.
Boston stepped up for a closer look, but Alice had not finished explaining. “There are time zones represented here. They are centered around my person, but allow access between one of my lifetimes and the next. They have always been off limits until a few years ago when Avalon got overrun by a demon, a goddess. She discovered the time zones. She got stopped and prevented from carrying out her wicked designs. She can’t have done more than a few experiments, but still…”
“My wife?” Lincoln could not contain himself, but closed his mouth immediately after he spoke. He looked around to be sure he had not disturbed anything or anyone, though they were alone in that room.
Alice nodded grimly. “Alexis was taken by her father Mingus. We could follow their progress through the heart. She got carried back to the end of the eighteenth century, to the days of her birth with the hope that the memory of her happy childhood might convince her to give up her life as a human and become an elf again. Mingus fears to see her age. He fears he will lose her too soon and he cannot bear that thought.”
“Uh?” Lincoln did not want to interrupt again.
“Do not worry. She steadfastly refused, and tried to escape on several occasions. But once it became known that the Storyteller—that Glen was awake from his memory loss and long slumber, Mingus panicked. Through the heart, he has taken Alexis into the deep past. But do not be afraid. There is only so far he can go.”
“Why don’t you just zap them back here?” Lockhart sounded respectful, but not afraid to speak.
“I could fetch Mingus easily enough through the heart, but Alexis is human. I have no such power over her and I would not dare leave her alone in history.” Alice paused to collect her thoughts before she spoke again. “As I said, each time zone centers around a life I once lived. But I stand at the center of each time zone and the center moves with me. If they came to the center I could do something, but as long as Mingus skirts around the edge, I can do nothing.”
“What do you mean the Heart of Time has recorded history?” Boston asked. She thought hard and tried to picture it. “Do you mean it is like a computer program, but one you can walk into so it seems real?”
Alice smiled. “It is utterly real. The Heart of Time gives access to reality, not just a recording. The thing is, the reason the time zones are strictly off limits to my little ones—to everyone, is because I have not been able to determine for certain how a change in the events in the zones of time affect actual history on Earth. I believe they are the same—that history itself is in play.”
“But you can’t reach them as long as they stay out of the center of the time zone.” Lockhart went back to the original proposition.
“I cannot.” Alice shook her head. “But you can reach them. I can both send you from here and retrieve you as well when you come to where I am in the center of whatever zone you are in. And don’t worry, Lincoln. There is only so far Doctor Mingus can go.”
“It is a risk, but it is not that simple. Most changes and minor changes do not seem to matter. Yet even with interlopers there seems to be some correlation with actual events. That is why the time zones have remained off limits for all these millennia. But to ask about the correlation between the events in the zones and actual history as it occurred is really a chicken or egg question.”
“Like do the interlopers have a bearing on history that we don’t quite see or are even their actions somehow directed by the program?” Boston said, thoughtfully, and Alice nodded.
“Your pardon.” Lockhart spoke up again. “But why are you afraid to leave her alone in history?” His old police instincts acted up again.
Alice looked at the man, but she could say nothing less than the truth. “Because most of my lives are surrounded by danger. And if you die in the past, you will remain dead forever. And then there is this.” Alice swallowed. “Several years ago, though Ashtoreth was defeated as I said, she sent ghouls and bogeys, terrible giants, dragons, and things too terrible to name into the zones. There are still some unsavories there that have evaded my reach. Presently, the time zones are not a safe place to be.”
“But you can send us to Alexis and bring us right back, right?” Lincoln needed confirmation.
“I will,” Alice affirmed. “And I have gotten this help for you since there is no telling how Mingus will respond when he is caught.” Alice snapped her fingers and two more people appeared in that tremendous room. She pointed to the first who looked human enough. “Doctor Procter is half human and has been Doctor Mingus’ partner in the history department for three hundred years. If anyone can speak sense to the elder elf, I have every hope that Doctor Procter can.” Doctor Procter looked older than either of the men present, and he had the great white beard to prove it, but he tipped his hat and his smile looked genuine enough.
“Gentlemen, and young Boston, it will be a pleasure and honor traveling with you. I must say—”
“A-hem,” Alice interrupted and pointed at the other person. This other man stood nearly as tall as Lockhart, but skinny, and utterly elf in the way Boston always imagined an elf should look. He did not look at all like Mirowen—a virtual human with pointed ears. This one still belonged on the reservation, but he was cute, Boston thought, and young.
“Lady, I am fully grown. I turned one hundred and twenty-six last Yuletide.”
Alice made no comment on the elf’s age but simply added, “He has no trouble with his sister’s choice to live a human life, and disagrees strongly with what his father has done.”
“The important thing is she be happy, don’t you think?” The young elf looked at Lincoln.
“Oh, I think it,” Lincoln said. “I just did not know anyone in her family thought it.”
“And I think it, too,” Alice said, with a great and warm smile. “And I think there is time for a good feast and a good night’s rest before your journey. Come.” She led them away from the Heart of Time and to a proper medieval banquet complete with acrobats, minstrels, storytellers, and all sorts of real magical entertainments. Everyone enjoyed themselves, until the middle of the night.