The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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A Familiar Face

September 28, 1924
Arnis, Germany

“This is like, the tiniest city I’ve ever visited,” Brackston whispered to Layla, taking in the small houses that lined a brick pathway. He thought Circleville was small but he was surprised to see that their destination in Germany was even tinier. He had a feeling that both Lula and Elinor would have adored the place.

Layla was distracted, frowning at the outfit she was forced to wear in an attempt to blend in. She wasn’t a fan of wearing dresses, let alone the one that she was currently wearing. It was a brown flapper dress that had little sections where flowers were sewn into the design. She was even less thrilled about the funky hat that went along with it, some crazy design that birds seemed to be convinced that it was an ideal place to perch. “I’m going to murder the person who designed this ridiculous outfit,” Layla grumbled, earning a startled glance from Brackston.

“Damn,” he muttered in surprise, staring at Layla with his mouth slightly hanging. “Remind me to never piss you off.”

Carter groaned softly, rolling his eyes as he kept in step alongside Ivan. It was decided before they even left the time machine that both Carter and Ivan would take point on the mission, seeing as they were capable of speaking German. However, Carter had given the other two strict orders to talk as minimally as possible so that no one picked up on their accents.

“You two need to pipe down,” Carter hissed through his teeth, his eyes cautiously gazing around the narrow brick sidewalks along a section of houses. “If someone hears your American accents, it’s going to raise alarm.”

“Right,” Brackston huffed, shaking his head. “Because a Texan white boy and a tall Croatian tree won’t raise any alarm whatsoever.”

Layla chuckled softly, mildly surprised that Carter didn’t whip his head around to rip Brackston a new one. Even Ivan seemed unfazed by Brackston’s comment but she had gathered that it was due to the fact that his eyes were scanning the area for any signs of Whittaker.

Layla shook her head silently, lowering her voice to whisper as she leaned closer to Brackston. “This hardly seems like a place worth Whittaker’s troubles,” she acknowledged, glancing at the sleepy, peaceful German city. “What if Whittaker lured us here to distract us from something?”

Brackston frowned deeply, eyebrows knitting together as he mulled over Layla’s words. He could agree that she had a very valid point. There was a lot not adding up about this mission and seeing as they were short a historian to help them with answers...

Carter grumbled under his breath, shaking his head. For whatever reason, he couldn’t get Brackston and Layla to understand the importance of being silent on this mission.

Ivan had noticed that Carter had been a bit more tense and grumpier than usual, and he had a suspicion as to why. Lula’s revealing that she was pregnant definitely helped Ivan to understand Carter’s behavior over the last week or so. At this rate, he didn’t only have Lula to be worried about, but his child as well. He could imagine that the soldier was dealing with a lot of unwelcoming thoughts running through his mind right now.

“How long have you known about Lula and the little one?” Ivan asked softly, keeping his focus on the surroundings around them.

Carter licked his lips nervously, his shoulders tensing. “Since the day we got back from 1931,” Carter muttered, his gaze focused on the path ahead of them.

“I want to offer my congratulations but you don’t seem very happy,” Ivan remarked, turning his eyes to look at the soldier.

“I am happy,” Carter snapped, turning his head to see that Ivan was glancing at him questionably, his eyebrows raised. “Why are you so worried about this?”

Ivan clenched his jaw slightly, his gaze falling to the brick path below his feet. “Because I know what it’s like to be a father,” Ivan reminded Carter. “And I know what it’s like, how terrifying it is. A lot of uncertainty, a lot of new struggles. It’s frightening enough when you’re an ordinary person, let alone living the life that we are now.”

Carter’s heart pounded uncomfortably in his chest, his mind racing over Ivan’s thoughts as he stared down at his feet. He was so distracted, focused on being wrapped up in Ivan’s words that he didn’t hear Ivan trying to catch his attention.

Carter was caught off guard by his shoulder bumping into someone, nearly knocking the person off balance. He reacted quickly, his hands gently grabbing the shoulders of the woman he had walked into. Carter was surprised to see that the woman he practically plowed into was very, very pregnant.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” Carter apologized, his face flushing red as he steadied her. “I’m afraid I wasn’t paying much attention.”

Brackston rolled his eyes, acknowledging to Layla that Carter had forgotten his rule of speaking in German.

Ivan gave Brackston a dirty look, before he turned his gaze to the woman Carter had bumped into. He took in the uncomfortable way she was standing due to her pregnant belly, her hands resting on her stomach firmly. He imagined that it probably didn’t help that she had to wear a somewhat fancy dress with a pair of matching heels. The dress was a dark color, with a smooth top that went into some ruffled tiers that started at the belt beneath her belly. Her face was slightly hidden from their view by the hat that she wore but she lifted her head slowly to glance at Carter, an unsurprised expression on her face as she glanced around at each one of them.

Everyone else’s jaws went slightly slack at the sight of the woman locking her eyes with them, her amused expression and familiar features catching them off guard.

Ivan could have sworn that the woman he was staring at at this very moment was the same woman he left in the present, this woman having a surprising resemblance to his Elinor. She had the same soft, teasing expression and bright blue eyes with the unusual hint of green. There were some subtle differences that made it painfully clear that this wasn’t Elinor standing before them but Ivan had a sinking suspicion that he knew why Whittaker was here as there was no doubt that the woman standing before them was Wells’s mistress, and Elinor’s mother.

Giving the startled, bewildered time travelers a playful smile, she opened her mouth to respond to them in a thick, German accent, “Well, I see that Agent Simone has finally sent her agents to come retrieve me.”

Present Day

“You seem awfully tense today,” a voice startled Elinor out of her thoughts. She was sitting on the counter of the small kitchen area, lost in her own mind when the voice cut through the heavy silence. Elinor glanced over quickly to see Lula padding into the room, a small smile playing at the corner of the other woman’s lips.

“How did your meeting with Agent Simone go?” Elinor asked, hoping to change the subject before it even started.

“If you’re worried about me having my ass chewed out, don’t worry. Agent Simone might be stern but she’s not unreasonable,” Lula explained, grabbing a mug and a box of peppermint tea down from one of the cabinets. “She just gave me the details on what I should expect from here on out. Time travel is out of the question, of course.”

Elinor pressed her lips together, nodding in response as she watched Lula make her tea. “This might be a stupid thing to ask but can I ask why time travel is out of the question?”

Lula glanced up from her mug, her eyes locking with the curious gaze of the younger woman. “The time machine is designed to only handle four lifeforms. Traveling with an additional lifeform… Let’s just say I know from what Brackston and Layla have told me, that even though they have not tried it, it’s probably not good,” Lula frowned slightly. “Besides, Carter wouldn’t want me so much as milling around the ‘dangerous’ projects in this lab. Let alone, joining them on a mission.”

“You mean to tell me that he’s treating his baby mama like she’s some soldier?” Elinor stated, chuckling at Lula’s surprised gaze. “Layla might have spilled that he treats everyone that way.”

Lula pursed her lips, averting her gaze back to watch her tea as it steeped. She always felt that there was something off about Elinor, aside from the obvious that she was a woman out of time. It bothered Lula that she was so accepting of their crazy lifestyle, seemingly unbothered by the details of their daily lives. Lula guessed it had everything to do with the fact that Elinor had her own crazy life to sort through.

Pushing herself off of the counter, Elinor landed on her feet as she made her way to sit at the kitchen table, where Lula was already heading. “Are you dealing with morning sickness?” Elinor questioned, sitting across from Lula as the historian glanced up at her. “I’m only asking because peppermint tea is soothing to an upset stomach.”

Taking a sip from her mug, Lula nodded casually as she sat her mug down. “I have been feeling a little of that lately, though not as bad as some of the horror stories I’ve heard,” Lula chuckled lightly, glancing at Elinor firmly. “Do yourself a favor... If you ever end up pregnant, don’t read any online stories. They might scare you.”

Elinor snorted softly, shaking her head. “Listen, I had a pregnant woman working for me at the bookstore… I gave her as much easy work as I possibly could because that poor woman, I swear she was about to burst. I heard enough horror stories from her to scar me for a lifetime,” Elinor laughed at the memory.

Lula noticed that Elinor’s body had tensed visibly again, the woman’s eyes falling to her lap as her expression grew slightly blank. Lula’s eyebrows furrowed together, concerned. “Are you okay?” Lula asked softly.

Elinor forced herself to look up at Lula, a weak smile crossing her face. “Just thinking about some things… Like how that woman who used to work for me? She might not even exist now. I’m still just trying to wrap my mind around how Whittaker could…” Elinor’s voice trailed off, her eyes growing distant.

“Ruin so many lives?” Lula offered, glancing sympathetically at the woman. Lula understood what that felt like, having your entire world shift in such a short period of time. She knew what it was like to lose family members, to fear for the future.

Elinor nodded, propping her elbow on the table so that she could rest her chin in the palm of her hand. “All of this just seems so unreal… Like I’m just living one very long, very bad dream that can’t possibly get worse,” Elinor admitted, her expression downcast.

“Clearly it’s not all bad,” Lula pointed out, taking a sip from her mug as Elinor glared at her questionably.

“Excuse me?” Elinor wrinkled her nose at the sight of a playful smile forming on Lula’s face.

“I saw the way Ivan was with you earlier,” she acknowledged, shrugging her shoulders slightly. “It’s obvious that you two are close. Dare I say, you might be just a bit more open about showing your feelings for each other in public than Carter and I are.”

Lula chuckled at the way Elinor’s face flushed red, happy to see that she brought a slight smile back to the younger woman’s face.

The two sat in silence for a couple of moments, Lula content in sipping her tea from her mug as Elinor stared off into the distance silently, thinking over some things.

Elinor was chewing on her tongue, that uncomfortable sickening feeling returning to her stomach. She remembered having that inkling creep up on her slightly just moments after the time machine took off. She had summed it up to being nervous about the team’s mission but she wondered if she was wrong. This felt more like she was seconds away from having a panic attack. She opened her mouth when the sharp, unpleasant sensation of a piercing pain shot through her head. Gasping suddenly, she placed her head into her hands.

Lula frowned at Elinor’s sharp hiss of pain, her eyes narrowing as she glanced at the young woman intensely. “Hey, are you okay?” Lula asked, a hint of worry in her tone.

Elinor swallowed hard, nodding her head slowly as the pain subsided. “I think so… Honestly, I think I’m just dealing with a stress headache. It’s no big deal,” she mumbled, looking at Lula assuringly.

Lula stood from her chair, pointing a finger at Elinor. “You stay there, I’m going to get some Tylenol from my room,” Lula commanded, turning to head off to her room before Elinor could object.

It only took Lula a couple moments to find the Tylenol in Carter’s mess in their room. Shaking the bottle in her hand triumphantly, she made her way down the hallway and towards the kitchen. “Sorry that took me a bit longer,” she groaned, shaking her head. “Sometimes I swear sharing a room with Carter is like-”

Her voice trailed off suddenly, her eyes narrowing as she noticed the empty chair where Elinor once sat. She thought maybe the younger woman had broken her command to stay put but upon lowering her gaze to the floor, Lula realized why Elinor was no longer in her chair.

Lula’s heart leaped slightly at the sight of Elinor on her back, her body trembling as she laid on the floor next to the kitchen table. “Elinor!” Lula gasped, dropping the bottle in her hand as she quickly raced to the woman’s side.

It appeared that the younger woman was having some sort of mild seizure, her trembling frame proving that this was not as severe as any of the grand mal seizures Lula had seen from the very few guests she witnessed at her museum that suffered from epilepsy. Lula gazed at Elinor’s face, alarmed by the way Elinor’s eyes were fluttering rapidly.

Lula cried out for help, her voice echoing through the quiet lab quickly catching the attention of both Agent Simone and Professor Altman, who ran in from two different directions.

“What the hell is going on?” Agent Simone asked, her eyes widening at the sight of Elinor mildly trembling, the woman’s head resting in a startled Lula’s lap.

“I think she’s seizing,” Lula’s voice quivered but her expression remained firm as Professor Altman knelt down to get a closer look.

His eyes lit up with a hint of recognition as he took in the way Elinor’s eyes fluttered, the way her trembling body slowly drifted into small shivers. Professor Altman had seen this before, during a short study he conducted for an assignment. His students were required to watch a fellow student as they slept, to talk about the different responses they had during their rest. It reminded him of the times he witnessed the different subjects responding to nightmares. “I don’t think she’s seizing,” Professor Altman began, lifting his eyes to look between a startled Lula and a confused Agent Simone. “I think she’s having a nightmare.”

“A nightmare?” Lula asked incredulously, glancing down to get a better look at Elinor. “She was wide awake when I left her two minutes ago, complaining about a headache coming on. You’re telling me she really drifted into a deep enough sleep to have a nightmare that fast?”

Agent Simone pressed her lips together, staring as the professor watched Elinor’s face intently with a firm glare.

“Brackston explained to me that this has happened before,” Professor Altman explained, tilting his head as he glanced up at a confused Lula. “You, of course, won’t remember it happening because you were in the present when Circleville was erased from history. He said it happened shortly after Whittaker blew up her bookstore.”

“So, what the hell do you think is happening to her?” Agent Simone interjected, pulling the professor’s attention to her.

Frowning, Professor Altman lowered his gaze back down to Elinor as her eyes stopped fluttering, her trembling body relaxing as she began breathing steadily. He had his suspicions, both from what Brackston explained the first time it happened to the details she had shared with his student back in 1931. He assumed that when her father sent her forward in his time machine, it left some side effects on her young mind - the biggest effect being a block on her memories. Now that they were coming back in waves, he assumed that they were causing tremendous stress on her mind. However, none of them would truly know until Elinor woke up.

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