“So you’re saying this device is a library, of sorts,” Ichabod said, reaching out to prod at one of the keys on Abbie’s laptop. “Or an encyclopedia?”
“Among other things,” Abbie said, trying not to use her humor the crazy guy voice. Ichabod had been surprisingly quick to pick up on that, at least. “You can use it to get information on the things you want to know more about.”
“Ingenious,” Ichabod said. “How does it know what I want?”
“Well, you tell it,” Abbie said. “You put your finger on the trackpad and move it-- see how that moves the little arrow on the screen? You move the arrow to the rectangle there in the corner, the little box, and press the button here to select it. Then you press the keys to spell out the thing you want, and hit Enter.”
“It seems straightforward enough,” Ichabod said. “May I try?”
“Go for it,” Abbie said, and then watched, amused, as he laboriously hunt-and-pecked out George Washington.
“Well, this seems broadly correct,” he said, scanning the first few paragraphs. “Though they’ve left a great deal out. Why are some of the words blue?”
“Those are links,” Abbie said. “You can click on them-- move the arrow, press the button-- and they take you to a page on that subject.”
“There are rather a lot of them,” Ichabod said. “How many pages does it have?”
“It says on the main page, I think,” Abbie said. “Want to look? Click the globe in the top corner.” He did, although it took him a minute and a couple of false starts. It was kind of like teaching her grandmother to use a cell phone, Abbie mused, except for all the ways that it was completely different.
“Four million?” Ichabod said, having found the right spot to click. “Surely that’s an exaggeration. There aren’t four million things in the world to write about.”
“Sure there are,” Abbie said. “Famous people, scientific discoveries, works of fiction, history… it adds up.”
“I hardly know where to begin,” Ichabod said, and he was starting to get that lost look, the one that had been creeping onto his face periodically every time he went more than an hour without a crisis or something to distract him.
“Start with what you know,” Abbie said, clicking back over to George Washington. “Work your way from there.”
Abbie settled onto the davenport with a book, mostly, Ichabod suspected, so she could keep a weather eye on him. He was engrossed, however, and paid little attention.
“Oh,” he murmured, after a few minutes, “there’s one on Franklin.” He supposed that ought not be surprising; Franklin had been a statesman of some renown, and it seemed he had retained that reputation despite the passing of the years.
“You met Benjamin Franklin, too?” Abbie asked. “Seriously?”
“Only briefly, when he was in England in seventy-four,” he said. Even then, he’d dreamed of visiting the colonies-- perhaps, in his secret heart, of emigrating-- and he’d eagerly sought an introduction when the chance arose. The man had not disappointed, though their interaction had been short.
“Right,” Abbie said, in that drawling, incredulous tone she so often adopted in conversation with him. He was beginning to tire of it, a bit-- of his every utterance being met with such skepticism. But he supposed he could hardly blame her.
“He was elderly, even then,” Ichabod said, summoning up the memory. It did not seem so very long ago, even now. “But still vigorous, and tremendously sharp-witted. I quite admired him.”
But that was long ago, Ichabod reminded himself, and there was much to learn, right in front of him.
Abbie had more or less stopped watching Ichabod out of the corner of her eye, on the off chance he broke her laptop, when he twisted in his chair to ask her a question.
“All these devices-- the lights without flame, the car, this machine here-- they run on electricity, do they not?”
“They do,” Abbie said, and it was silly to be pleased that he’d figured it out on his own, she knew. He was a grown-ass man and she was not, by any stretch, a kindergarten teacher. But assuming he wasn’t just a crazy person-- which she reserved the right to withold judgement on-- that was a pretty smart conclusion for Ichabod to arrive at.
He looked pleased, too, to have worked it out. “A great deal more makes sense, having read a little of the fundamental principles,” he said. “I must confess, your inital explanations were somewhat bewildering.”
“Hey,” Abbie said, “I was trying to simplify things for you.”
“I was a professor at Oxford,” he pointed out, not unreasonably. “I do not require simplification.”
“Fine, then,” Abbie murmured, turning back to her book, “see if I tell you how they get the little people in the TV.”
In the colorless image, the gentleman whose ‘link’ Ichabod had chosen more-or-less at random looked like a kindly grandfather, albeit one who roundly ignored the dictates of fashion. Ichabod wondered how such a man would cope, pulled forward into this bewildering present; if his hundred-year leap would feel as if it crossed so vast a chasm as his own.
Perhaps he should have fared better. Ichabod dared not hazard a guess.
When her cell rang, Abbie set her book down and hustled to the kitchen where she’d left it. After a hushed conversation with the Chief-- no, they hadn’t turned up any leads; yes, Crane was behaving himself-- she came back into the room, phone still in hand.
Ichabod looked at the light of the screen, glowing in her palm, and said “That is a-- a telephone, is it not?”
Not his kindergarten teacher, Abbie reminded herself. “Yep,” she said. “Wasn’t going to shell out for a really shiny smartphone just yet, but they were running a special and I got it on the cheap.” She grinned at the bewildered set of his features-- using that much slang in one sentence was a little unkind, but it was also pretty funny.
“I’m not at all sure what that means,” Ichabod said, a touch primly, “But the point stands. I must say, I rather envy this century its communications; we should have had a far easier time of it in the war, had we such capabilities.”
“You haven’t talked about it much,” Abbie said. “The war.” And really, that was something she ought to be factoring in: that the guy had died on a battlefield and woken up far from home. Plenty of modern soldiers had much less of a sense of displacement, and still struggled; that Ichabod wasn’t more of a mess of PTSD and culture shock was pretty impressive.
“It’s not a topic one discusses in the presence of a lady,” Ichabod said, and okay, culture shock was one thing, but that kind of shit needed to be squashed before it got any worse. She raised a skeptical eyebrow at him.
“Wasn’t your wife a battlefield nurse?” she asked.
He bristled a little, but tamped it back down without her prompting. “She was a strong-willed woman, my Katrina,” he admitted. “I should not have liked to try to send her home, once she resolved to follow me.”
“Yeah,” Abbie said. “That’s what I thought.”
It was a bewildering list. What to choose, when the purpose of half its items was beyond his understanding, and the other half seemed beyond possibility? What could be the purpose of a cyclotron? What did an automatic teller machine tell one to do? Could an artificial heart possibly be what its name suggested?
An item in the list caught his eye. It could not conceivably be what it seemed, from the name. But this was an age of wonders, after all.
“This cannot be right,” Ichabod said, more to the laptop than to her. But then he added, “Abbie, look at this. Am I reading correctly-- that this device is intended for the surface of the moon?”
She glanced over his shoulder, eyes flickering across the screen for a moment. “Oh, yeah,” she said. “First moon landing was in-- ‘69, I think? That’s nineteen sixty-nine, for the record.”
“You’re joking,” he said flatly. Abbie tried to wrench herself into his point of view for a moment-- an exercise she was getting better at all the time.
“No joke,” she said, a little gentler. “We really did send men to the moon.”
“How did they get back?” he asked.
“With great difficulty,” Abbie said. “But they did it.”
Ichabod had wanted to know what sort of man might preside over such a vainglorious endeavor, could risk lives and expend vast sums in propelling men beyond the bounds of Earth. Well, that was a question easily answered, and not at all to his satisfaction.
General Washington would not have approved of his successor, Ichabod thought. He should have expected better of a Quaker, at the very least.
“Katrina should have loved to be here,” Ichabod said, pretty much out of the blue. “Far more than I. The number of times she nursed some poor consumptive to his death, or braved a house stricken with smallpox-- she ought to be the one who came here, not I.”
“I take it you made it as far as modern medicine, huh?” Abbie asked.
“I’ve hardly scratched the surface. This all seems quite miraculous, to me.”
“Wait’ll you get to the Pill,” Abbie murmured, mostly to herself, but Ichabod had surprisingly sharp ears.
“What pill?” he asked.
“...I’ll explain once you do a little more background reading,” she said.
The last article had been too technical for Ichabod to follow much at all, but this one he could more or less understand. It made him wish he had been a naturalist and not an historian; it made him wish he could go home. If he could only go back, the wonders he could share, even from an hour’s brief reading! It made something ache in his chest, to think of it-- a dull ache, just where the Horseman’s axe had struck.
And he had hardly scratched the surface. Four million articles, and how much had he learned from a bare handful? How much more was there to learn, before he even began to approach an understanding of the world in which he found himself?
Ichabod sat back, overwhelmed a little more than he could bear. Abbie, sharp-eyed, glanced up from her reading-- he would have to ask her, he reminded himself, why it was that she owned so many books; perhaps they had grown less costly-- and asked, “You okay, Ichabod?”
She asked him that often. It meant, he had determined, “Are you well?” And he did not wish to lie, but nor did he wish to alarm her, for he did not know if he was well at all.
“I have been better,” he admitted. “Perhaps I have read enough, for now. I shall make another foray later, once I have worked my way through today’s new knowledge.”
“Sounds like your brain’s a little overstuffed,” she said. It was a vivid image, but he could not deny its accuracy.
“That may be,” he said. “But I should like to learn more, as I am able.”
“Sounds good,” she said. “I’m gonna turn in soon. You need anything?”
A method of turning back time, he thought but did not say. “I am perfectly capable of looking after myself,” he said. “You have, after all, instructed me in the use of the indoor privy.”
She laughed at that, and closed her book before she levered herself upright. “Well, good night, then,” she said, and departed.
Ichabod turned to look at the device, its screen still aglow, sitting on the desk. Perhaps a method of traveling backwards in time had been devised, he considered. And with four million articles, if it were mentioned anywhere…
It was a vain hope, he knew, but enough to sustain him. He would begin his search anew in the morning.
And if it proved fruitless-- well. He would learn a great deal, on the way.