Can their love survive the trials and tribulations of time travel?
Born in Elizabethan England, Ambrose Radcliffe has spent centuries jumping from one time period to another by order of the Big Boss. His missions are often dangerous, and his wife, Josephine, is almost always in the middle of the disaster.
Josephine Radcliffe has decided history needs a change for the better. Her influence has completely eradicated Elizabethan England and reshaped the world as not only she knows it, but Ambrose too.
Their worlds are shattered. Life will never be the same because the Big Boss never allows for a 'do over'.
Could this cause Romeo to leave his Juliet forever?
Book One: Future Troubles
Inside the hall of the centuries
Ambrose, his wife Josephine, their daughter Vivianna, and their descendent Melissa stood on the cobbled time bridge under the vast arched ceiling. Ambrose smiled at his wife who wore her bonnet so well, seeing the mirth in her brown eyes.
Being one to make her laugh, he leaned back on his heels and hooked his thumbs in the waistband of his trousers. “Oo-wee, land sakes, woman. In all my born days, I never did see such a corned feller. I took an awful hankerin after that last mission.”
Josephine exploded with laughter, bringing her hands together in delight. Little Vivianna jumped up and down, giggling.
Melissa smiled and shook her head. “Remind me to send you Radcliffes back to the Old West again the next time another problem like this occurs. You’re good agents.” She grinned. “Agent Hilliard knew better than to hit the bottle so hard that he would pass out drunk.”
Ambrose shifted his weight, mildly uncomfortable. “I’ve overindulged before.” He glanced at Josephine. “For example, there was the time when searching the centuries for my true love.” Looking at Melissa now, he shrugged. “I was not used to twenty-first century liquor, and its strength took me by surprise. Mayhap that happened with Hilliard as well.”
Melissa placed a hand on her hip. “That alone is not the problem. He lost consciousness in the middle of town, wearing his native twenty-second century clothes, requiring me to send you there to retrieve him.”
“I see your point.” Ambrose tipped his head in acknowledgement.
“He did get back safely to the future, did he not, without giving you too much of a problem? I haven’t had time to check.”
Ambrose pressed a hand over his chest and bowed gallantly, as if Melissa were his queen and not his time travel manager. “In sooth, yes, my lady. We did explain to the good townspeople that he was part of a traveling troupe of actors, appareled in his costume. Surely, thou dost understand.”
Vivianna smiled up at him. “Aw, Daddy, you’re so funny. Your mouth doesn’t match your clothes! You talk like you’re wearing your doublet and neck ruff, not that cowboy hat.”
“And the way he mixes dialects!” Josephine said with cheer. “I love it.”
Melissa nodded, and Ambrose detected admiration for him in her eyes. “I hear that. Now, let’s get a move on.” She chuckled, looking over their Western attire.
“Wait, Daddy, Mommy, descendent of mine,” the little prodigy said. “Let me try.”
“Try what, little sweeting?” Ambrose patted her head.
“Let’s go to my and Mommy’s present for a second.”
“Yes, why?” Josephine raised her brow.
“I think I know.” Melissa glanced down at Vivianna. “You want to call up the time portal, am I right?”
“Oh, yes.” Her black pig-tales bounced when she hopped up and down again.
Ambrose grinned. What a bouncy child he had.
The time portal’s technology came into play, and as they passed through the swirling gray walls, tingling light flashed over every inch of their bodies. Gone were the Western clothes, replaced with preprogrammed attire, matching each person’s typical wardrobe for the present into which they stepped. Ambrose and the others crossed over into the year 2014.
“Time surfing is always a rush.” Ambrose glanced over his modern jeans and button up shirt.
Josephine laughed again. “You sounded so much more like Shakespeare when we met.”
He clucked his tongue and winked.
* * * * *
Summer, 2014, Denver City Park
“Here’s the skinny. Someone kills the president, a damn good one, and for the life of my experts and me, we can’t figure out who does it. We need you to go in and prevent it from happening.” Melissa who had been pulled out of the 1970s to accept the title of the new portal keeper and managed the entire hall of the centuries, considered Ambrose and his family with a furrowed brow.
The Disco Queen, dubbed so by Josephine, kept an eye on all the time travel representatives who slipped through their own little portals of time into the great hall where they accessed the past and the future.
Two thousand years ago, a Roman gladiator, a ghost with corporal form having died in disgrace, built the time portal using physical parts and a little help from above. As a penance for his crimes, he served his time then happily passed his duties to Melissa, who unlike him, adored her job as the portal keeper.
Now, in City Park, here in Josephine’s hometown, Ambrose and his family walked across lush green grass while talking with Melissa about their next assignment.
Ambrose nodded and glanced at his daughter. “’Tis our specialty insuring future presidencies.”
Vivianna’s face glowed. “I will make you and Mommy proud someday, Daddy, in about twenty-six years, when I win that election as a thirty-five year old woman.”
He placed his fingertips under her chin. “I burned with pride for you even when you grew in your mother’s belly.”
She giggled. “Nobody will know that I’ll really be seventy because they don’t know I'm a time-traveler who doesn’t grow older outside of my present. You’ll never tell them about the stuff they put in us in the time portal’s lab to do that to us?”
“Nay, little sweeting,” he said, briefly slipping back into the dialect of his Elizabethan heritage.
“It’s really, really cool. Thanks for making me a time-traveler, Daddy. How old are you now, a hundred?”
He laughed. “You’re cute.”
Vivianna shrugged and lifted little hands in the air, palms up, the way her dad did on a regular basis. “What can I say? I’m precious.”
“You sure are.” Melissa hugged her ancestor then straightened.
“I'm forty-something, Vivi-love, in a twenty-one year old’s body.” He turned and considered his twenty-first century American wife, Josephine, who was eighteen to his nineteen years when they met, and now she was twenty-eight.
They continued strolling past a small lake and a couple of playgrounds that boasted running, laughing children. Rose gardens and flowerbeds, picnic areas, and several historic buildings abounded.
Josephine smiled and glanced at Melissa. “I'm glad we can travel to the past or the future whenever we’d like.”
Josephine continued, “Do we still have one hundred time agents who have access to the portal? I heard a sad rumor that we lost one in the fourteenth century plague, and that she died before she could be brought in and given antibiotics.”
Ambrose regarded her and spoke up. “’Tis true. If only death-reversals were allowed.”
“I'm sorry to hear the agent’s death confirmed.” Her gaze went from him to Melissa. “Why don’t they allow death reversals?”
Melissa hesitated before answering. “In part due to the chaos you and Ambrose created in the past, and other reasons. The only death reversals we can do are cases to the extreme, and they have to be approved by the Big Boss. He has sanctioned the new mission I have for you.”
Josephine shook her head. “I’ll bet Ambrose knew that already. They tell him so much more than they do me.”
Ambrose stopped in front of a flowerbed of marigolds, and the others did as well. “Because I have seniority, having done the time travel thing for far longer than you have. We are due to visit the lab soon.”
“Right. I almost forgot!” Melissa nodded. “For your brain wave tests and to adjust the technology which allows only sanctioned agents to connect with the portal using focused concentration.”
Josephine turned to Ambrose. “Isn’t it cool how we can spend as much time as we want time traveling, and then you can return rested for work on Monday mornings?”
“Yes. I find that our adventures are helpful in real life situations,” he answered.
“How so?” Melissa steepled her fingers.
“When I step into my classroom, my students are amazed at my mastery of history.” He puffed out his chest. “My classes fill up faster than any others in the department. Science majors to art majors have been known to take several of my classes due to the sheer interest my reputation has garnered.”
Josephine rolled her eyes at his pompous display. “Do you like it more than working as Queen Elizabeth’s secretary? You’ve never told me one way or the other. I know you enjoy each one.”
He shrugged. “Both jobs have their charm. Do you like staying home, my wife, with Vivianna?”
“I love it.”
“We have so much fun going to the park and things, Daddy.”
“Good. I was afraid you would grow bored.” He smiled at his family in an apologetic way. “Sorry I have to limit leisurely time travel to a monthly activity, but I'm glad that we can enjoy traveling for amusement. Though I know how excited you get when we’re assigned a mission.”
Josephine pressed a hand to her heart. “I adore our missions, even though they carry risk.”
“I suppose I do as well, since they are meaningful to people. My favorite thing is giving food to orphans on the streets in times before state help became improved.”
“Sorry to interrupt the good times, but,” Melissa touched Vivianna’s shoulder. “My dear Radcliffes, you have a doozy of an adventure ahead of you.”
“We’d be glad to help. When do we leave?” Josephine held out open palms.
“Now would be a good time, if you’re rested up.”
Ambrose and his family nodded.
“Okay,” Josephine offered.
“Right on,” Melissa answered in her 1970s slang.
They walked behind a large tree with flowing, falling branches, an acceptable private spot.
“Let me open the portal!” Vivianna hopped from foot to foot, excited.
Melissa considered her with a smile. “Why not? You are a junior agent. Our youngest.”
“Yay!” She clapped.
Vivianna’s concentration brought forth a ten-foot tall frame, which appeared before them, its edges gray and swirling. The air pressure dropped this time, and they grabbed their stomachs as tickles swirled their insides.
Innocent laughter spilled from Vivianna’s lips. “Like a roller-coaster, Mommy and Daddy.”
When the door opened and cool breezes blew their hair back, Melissa held out her arm and stopped Ambrose from stepping into it.
Worry gnawed at him. “What is it?”
“Problem city, but it just started. You didn’t notice...”
“Did not technicians fix the side-effects of the portal?” Ambrose asked.
“They did, but you should know, something is funkydory.” Melissa cleared her throat and rubbed the back of her neck.
“Yes. Remember, the hall of the centuries is only partially supernatural. Much of it is made of knobs and buttons, plastic and metal, and wiring that can go berserk, even with the highly advanced technology. I’m having gobs of technical difficulties. You may not be able to come back right away if it gets worse while you’re away on this assignment. But don’t worry. You’re doing a good deed that will save millions of lives if you save but one, the President of the United States, and I know you don’t mind the risk.”
“You don’t have any leads on what’s wrong?” Josephine asked.
“No, personally, I’m out to lunch on this one,” Melissa said.
“Should we…wait until the portal’s technical problems are fixed before we leave?”
Ambrose brought his hand to his wife’s shoulder and nodded, wondering that as well.
“No.” Melissa shook her head. “My technicians are confident they can figure this out. Their supervisor explained to me that by the time you finished the job, he expected they’d have it fixed. Just go. I'm sure it will be fine. You got here, didn’t you?”
Ambrose and Josephine, code named Romeo and Juliet, nodded in grave seriousness.
“We understand,” they said together.
Their little Vivi-love nodded, like a mature little lady. “My parents dig it.”
Melissa ruffled her hair. “You’re going to make a dy-no-mite! president someday, young lady.”
She lifted her chin. “I shall endeavor to do so.”
Josephine bent and kissed the rounded cheek. “My precious baby.”
“I can’t help it, Vivianna, I love you so damn much.” She turned red. “Sorry. I love you so much.”
Everyone laughed, but worry tinged the gaiety. Ambrose knew they couldn’t help remembering the risks involved in the mission.
They stepped into the time-portal, under the arched roof, swirling gray walls and windy halls of the centuries. Tingles of electricity gave everyone the shivers. Ambrose looked around at the smoky gray walls of time.
Josephine pointed to a spot on the wall the size of a big-screen television. The swirls withdrew, and crystal-clear images emerged.
When the 1960s appeared, and Kennedy came into focus, sitting in the car with his wife in Dallas, Josephine darted to interfere.
Melissa grabbed her arm. “No way, José. The Big Boss didn’t grant you permission to do that job. He wants it left as is. Try it without sanction, and who knows what will happen, copy?”
“But I have to do something.”
“You possess a nasty habit of trying to change history whenever and wherever you feel like it. The last portal keeper, that big Roman, Lucius, told me you tried to save Lincoln.” Censure hung heavy in Melissa’s voice.
Josephine frowned. “I tried, but our wonderful manager Lucius wouldn’t let me. I was right there. I saw Lincoln.”
“Lucius was following orders.”
Ambrose pursed his lips. “Freaking amazing.”
She turned sharply to gaze into his face. “No, what’s freaking amazing is that you don’t talk like Shakespeare anymore.”
He chuckled. “Do not worry. When I stand before my queen, I shall once again speak like Shakespeare.”
Soft laughter peeled from her lips.
“Mommy, remember when Daddy went to go ask Shakespeare what Romeo and Juliet would have named their daughter, and he said, ‘Something Italian?’ He-he. That was soooo funny!”
She bent to kiss Vivianna’s head. “Yes, it was.”
Melissa touched her wrist. “Hey, look at it this way, Josephine, if you couldn’t save Lincoln, at least the Big Boss let you insure one president’s future…your daughter’s.”
Josephine sighed. “Yes, I am grateful for that.”
“There you go.”
“You’re right, Melissa. I know, I know—” she lifted her hands into the air. “I can’t change everything.”
“Only what the Big Boss wants you to.”
“Of course, but I can’t help being tempted.”
Melissa placed a hand on her shoulder. “That’s what I dig about you. Your heart.”
Ambrose hugged his wife close. “As do I.”
“Mama.” Vivianna leaned her head against her mother’s side. She turned and looked at Melissa. “Where to, my descendent?” She fingered the hem of the disco queen’s glittery pink shirt.
“To the year twenty-four fifty. This concerns the president, so you’re sticking to the assigned plan. It looks like he dies of natural causes, but one of our experts, a psychic, thinks someone murdered him. We scanned the years and can’t find the evidence we need. It’s a real drag, freaky-deaky.”
She drummed her fingers over her thigh. “We tried harder than a deuce to discover how this occurs and can’t. You gotta go in, cool? Twenty million lives hang in the balance. If he dies…” She sighed. “There will be war. Please, figure this out.”
Ambrose nodded. “Resolve yourself to it.”
“Yes. It will be done,” Josephine added.
Vivianna grinned, as serious as an adult. “It sure will.”
Ambrose picked up his daughter and embraced her. “Ah, beloved daughter. You do a dad proud. You are most intelligent.”
She kissed his cheek.
Melissa held out her arm. “Twenty-four fifty. You gotta book. I’ll catch you later.” She went ahead of them and disappeared into a door in the hall of the centuries’ wall leading to an office.
“Mommy, aren’t you glad for the new improvement?” Vivianna brought innocent brown eyes to meet her mother’s gaze.
“What improvement do you refer to, honey? There were a few.”
“You know…sheesh! Not having to change into period clothes in the old wardrobe room. An appropriate outfit is programmed to magically appear on us as we cross the threshold of time.”
Josephine grinned. “I find that funny because you of all people should know it’s not magic. It’s only science, my girl.”
“I know. I was teasing you.” Vivianna giggled. “Too bad it’s not a whole fancy wardrobe.”
“No. Only the clothes on our backs.” Josephine gave a mock sigh.
“How come, Mommy, didn’t they have that option before? Couldn’t they have just taken the technology from the future and brought it into the time portal earlier?”
“No, because it wasn’t developed in the outside world. Time travel scientists came up with it inside the lab in the hall of the centuries.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
Ambrose smiled, put his girl down, and grasped her little hand. Together with Josephine, they crossed the cold, tingly gray wall into the future. After landing on a grassy field, all three ran hands over their hair, which was sticking up with static electricity. The family shivered, shaking off the tickly, electric feeling of passing through the time-wall.
“I love how time travel makes my tummy feel.” A huge smile brightened Vivianna’s face.
An electrical whirl drew their attention up. Flying cars. Dozens of small, rounded vehicles buzzed above tall, glittering buildings. Very few of the structures were the traditional rectangular type. The tiles of a large, round building caught the sun, casting shimmers of yellow around it. Red letters, spelling out the word Jupiter Hotel flashed above the crimson-edged hole on its bottom right.
Elevators climbed and descended a transparent cylindrical building to its right. Lines of greenery twisted and crossed up the backside. A sign at the bottom stated: Recycled Energy.
Ambrose turned and looked on all sides at the various colorful and spectacularly clean buildings surrounding them and smiled.
Josephine turned her head side to side. “Wow.”
“But sweeting, thou art…er…you are used to airplanes. You have always had them. Ambrose dropped his gaze. “This cannot be as big of a deal to you as to me. I mean, my people guided horses and carriages. Your people drive vehicles with the names of snakes and horses.”
She chuckled. “Oh, believe you me, Amby, it’s a big deal.”
Vivianna nodded. “Mommy, Daddy, it’s to be expected. If you follow the progressive line of technological development, it remained only a matter of time before these types of vehicles would be created.”
Both stared at their daughter, Ambrose filled with the same love and pride that he noted in his wife’s eyes often.
“Of course, little Miss Future President,” Josephine said with a grin.
“Certainly, Mommy if you think about—”
“Please, Vivianna, don’t fill my head with scientific ideas.” Her lips stretched into a smile. “I wouldn’t understand them. My talent lies elsewhere.”
Ambrose chuckled. He stood in the middle and took both their hands, breathing deep. “Adventure awaits us. Shall we meet it?”
More cars whizzed above them at incredible speeds. Darkness fell as they walked along the crowded streets. Tubular buildings lacking corners dazzled the eyes. Countless little metallic or glass-like panels on their surfaces flipped, and the colors changed, deep violet one minute, and emerald green or vibrant gold the next. Weird and wonderful music poured out from a few of them.
Josephine turned to Ambrose. “Love, what do you think of that music?”
“I like it. ’Tis a bit jazzy, but…” He shook his head. “...inventive. How else might I describe it?”
“Perhaps as instrumental music that’s cool at the same time as being strange.”
He nodded. “Occasionally, the jazzy parts are interrupted with polyphonic lines of equal importance.” He paused and listened further. “And was that a Mozartean influence I heard in those last bars? I saw that genius perform. His sensitivity to tone colors…” He looked at his family, watching him. “Well, sometime I shall have to take you to the eighteenth century to see for yourself.”
“I hear the influence of past ages as well in the music, and futuristic-sounding components that make me think the Western system of music as I know it has evolved. This whole place buzzes with colorful lights too. Will we see…aliens?” Her last word came out on a sigh.
He bent over laughing, grasping his knees.
“Amby? I’m serious.” She chuckled.
He straightened, wiping the corners of his eyes and then shrugged. “We may.”
Vivianna jumped up and down, clapping her hands. “A-li-ens, a-li-ens!”
Ambrose threw his head back and hooted with more laughter.
Josephine stood, brow raised, and hands on hips. “I’m serious, you two.”
He yanked her into a hard kiss then pulled away, mirth lighting him up inside. “Aliens, my love? We are in the future. Not another planet.” He burst out laughing again.
Vivianna joined him, dancing with glee.
Josephine pursed her lips, not succeeding at concealing a grin. “But my beloved family, in the future, technological advancements could invite beings from distant planets to visit.”
Ambrose looked into her eyes with serious intent. “So true, my love.” He didn’t make a sound for several seconds and then exploded with laughter. Vivianna joined him.
“You’ll see, you two. Then I’ll make you both eat that hilarity of yours. You’ll owe me an apology,” she teased.
“Hey, hey, Josephine, maybe you can save some alien president.”
Vivianna squealed with her laughter.
Josephine grinned. “Hmm, very funny.”
The air shimmered, and a woman in a dazzling ensemble appeared before them. Her sleeveless gold bodice topped a green skirt, or rather a cloud of effervescent material that floated around her two feet out on all sides. Tiny spots sparkled on the skirt, giving it the appearance of crystal snowflakes melting on a forest of pine trees. Nearly blinded by her flashing clothes, Ambrose and his family shaded their eyes with their hands.
“Greetings.” Her computer-generated, smooth as silk-covered circuit’s voice sounded as if it came from a microphone. She nodded and continued along her way down a glittering road.
All three of the Radcliffe family members put their hands down and stared after her, gaping. Ambrose closed his mouth and gazed at his wife, who smiled smugly now.
“See, aliens.” Josephine tipped her head.
Ambrose twitched his lips, amused. “No, she was human but wearing odd, imaginative clothes.”
“She was an alien, I tell you! How else do you explain her weird voice?” Josephine asked.
“’Twas future technology. A microphone built into her raiment, mayhap.”
“I concur,” Vivianna added.
Josephine scoffed in a pleased way. “You two are so much alike. Thank…God…” she trailed off. “I love you both so much.”
Ambrose reached for and squeezed her hand, and Vivianna pressed her into a quick hug.
“Let the escapade begin,” Josephine said.
“We must place ourselves in a position where we can meet people in politics,” Ambrose commented.
“How can we do that?”
Vivianna tugged on her mother’s shirt. “I have an idea, Mommy.”
Josephine smiled with warm affection. “And little Miss, what would you suggest?”
“Well, we talked about something in social studies.”
“What was it?”
“My teacher said the president lives in the capital city. We’re in the capital city, right, since the time portal delivers us anywhere on the planet we need to be?”
“Yes,” Josephine responded.
“City hall,” Ambrose muttered. “We could look for job openings.”
“Yes, Daddy, that’s what I was thinking. Get jobs in politics. This boy in my class has a daddy who worked in the mayor’s office. He talked all about his daddy’s job. Maybe you can find a job in the president’s office. You have great experience. You work for a queen!”
He chuckled. “I cannot talk about that here.”
“Or we can volunteer. You know, to campaign for the president.” Vivianna pointed to a glowing sign with an attractive, gray-haired man’s picture and words urging voters to reelect him president.
“Great idea, squirt.” Ambrose ruffled his daughter’s hair.
Josephine laughed. “I’m still not used to you sounding so modern! When I first married you, you said ‘thou’ this and ‘thou’ that. Now you’re like, ‘freakin’ great, man. Whatever.’”
He clucked his tongue. “I could revert to my old speech patterns.”
“My darling, whatever you want.”
Vivianna grasped his sweaty hand in hers. “Come on, Daddy. But first, let’s find the local library and read up on things, then we should go on to city hall.”
“Yes, future Madam President.” He grinned. “Come.” He took each of their hands in his.