From The Gilded Age, A Time Travel

July 4, 1895

Independence Day

1

Fortune Cookies at the Japanese Tea Garden

Out of a tense and arid darkness she steps, her skirts sweeping across the macadam. Her button boot wobbles on the bridge over the brook in the Japanese Tea Garden. “Steady,” the technician whispers. The shuttle embraces the ancient bridge in a half-moon of silver lattices. The air is susurrous, tinged with menthol, cold. The shuttle hums. High overhead, the dome ripples in a fitful gust. Zhu Wong listens for final instructions. None come. Dread quickens her pulse. She closes her eyes and waits for the moment it takes to cross over.

And then it’s happening–the Event sweeps her across six centuries.

Odd staccato sounds pop in her ears. The Event transforms her into pure energy, suspends her in nothingness, then flings her back into her own flesh and blood. And she stands, unsteadily, her button boot poised on the bridge over the brook in the Japanese Tea Garden. A brand-new bridge. The scent of fresh-cut wood fills her senses.

“Muse?” she whispers to the monitor. Fear stains her tongue. Tension gathers behind her eyes. Her skin feels fragile. Her heart batters her ribcage, her lungs clench. Now she feels the Event just like they said she would. Again, “Muse?”

“I’m here, Z. Wong,” the monitor whispers. Muse nestles behind Zhu’s left ear between scalp and skull. “We’re here.” Muse automatically checks for points of reference. Alphanumerics dance behind her eyelids. Coordinates are confirmed. “We’re fine.”

But she’s not fine. The tension moves to Zhu’s sinuses, and a soft ache starts to throb.

She opens her eyes. Dappled sunlight shocks her, an azure sky dazzles. Birds cheer, foliage rustles. Sights seem magnified, sounds amplified as if she’s returned from the dead. The herbal scent of eucalyptus infused with a floral perfume nearly overwhelms her. The tension, the ache turn into full-blown congestion. She sneezes once, sneezes again violently. Her eyes spurt tears.

Bang, bang, bang! Odd staccato sounds? Now earsplitting blasts and the stink of gunpowder.

Zhu drops to her knees, evasive action instinctive at the sound, the stink of gunfire. Her breath rasps in her throat. Her fingers twitch, reaching for the handgun she kept strapped beneath her right arm for so many years it was like another limb. Its absence now, an amputation.

She fights panic. Damn! No gun, no decent cover. What a sitting duck she is, perched on the bridge. She blots her eyes on her sleeve and tries to rise, but her feet tangle with the skirts. She stumbles, moving as if hobbled. The ankle-length layers of silk and cotton cushion her knees against abrasion, but not impact. Pain shoots through her kneecaps. There will be bruises.

“Stay calm, Z. Wong,” Muse whispers. “The loud abrupt sounds suggest combustible explosives, not projectiles aimed at you.”

“What?”

“It’s the Fourth of July. Independence Day, United States of America.”

Zhu crouches, uncomprehending.

“Those are fireworks. San Franciscans always celebrated the Fourth of July in Golden Gate Park. The park was public then. Correction. The park is public now.”

“Independence Day, of course.” Zhu has never celebrated America’s Independence Day. She’d never been to America at all till she was conscripted for the Gilded Age Project.

From The Gilded Age, A Time Travel

Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Mason.

“Rollicking. . . .Dazzling.” Locus

“A winning mixture of intelligence and passion.” The New York Times Book Review

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