Kyim breathed deeply and stared at his bedroom wall. Then he stretched his stiff neck, rolled onto his side, and read the acknowledgements and the author bio. He almost always did. That way he could stay inside the book for as long as possible, even if he wasn’t reading about the characters anymore. At last he had to close the book. It was a physical one, paper and covers and ink. Kyim liked a book he could hold. This book was Haley Ferrier’s Ichthus: a Planet. He thought for a moment. Yes, he had read it five times now. Each time he wanted it not to end. A good book, he thought, should be like that: at the end you should feel both that it had to end there and that you wanted it to go on and on forever. Each time, too, he wondered about the second-last acknowledgement: To Kyim, who showed me all about the Leaf. Who was this mysterious person with his name? And how had this Kyim of hundreds of years before known how to describe a piece of modern technology so perfectly, even to the name? In her teen journals, Ferrier occasionally mentioned when she’d been alone for afternoons, even when she was sixteen, his own age. If only…
Kyim was getting the vacuum cleaner out when he realized: of course he could! He followed the silent little machine around, lifting chairs out of the way for it, in a daze. It would take some doing, of course. It wasn’t easy to secretly finagle a trip into the past, even when your dad did work in ACTeR, and that was short for Authorized Cross-Temporal Researches. But if Cora could do it, he could. And his sister had used it to go to some twentieth century Olympics or other!
Whoever wanted to go to the Olympics?
Haley creased her neck back and hunched her shoulders up until she heard a pop. Then she stretched her head to each side and yawned. It had been a good day; one thousand, three hundred and ninety-three words written, and maybe some progress made. Certainly, the book needed it. She’d gotten one novel done, but she felt like she was getting bogged completely down in this one. Of course the ‘is this possibly any good at all?’ stage of writing was a common and recurrent one which had to be pushed through, but it was still annoying. She really should write more before her family got back from their grocery-store and hardware-store outings. First, though, she’d make some tea.
Kyim wanted to whoop. He had done it! It wasn’t a very exciting looking day, perhaps, all grey and soggy, clouded-over and mudded-under: but he was in it. He looked at the address sign, a shiny little green board with a column of white numbers, 41714, and wanted to whoop and holler. He walked up to the front door and knocked.
Haley turned on the stove, brushed her hair back from her eyes, and went to open the door.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hello,” Kyim said, feeling tongue-tied. To be seeing Haley Ferrier! Haley Ferrier his age!
“Can I help you with anything?” Haley said.
She must be getting tired of waiting for me to explain myself, Kyim thought.
“I’m sorry, but my parents are out.”
“I know,” Kyim blurted.
Haley raised her eyebrows. “Oh.”
“The thing is,” Kyim said, “I’ve read your books, Miss Ferrier, and—”
“Books?” Haley asked. “I thought I’d only written one yet.”
“Uh—you have. Ismene.”
“That checks with my data,” Haley said.
To Kyim’s puzzled relief, she didn’t look defensive or suspicious, just rather quizzical—and as if she was not-quite-laughing.
“You will write more, though,” he said, “lots more. You’re going to be very famous. People will still be reading your books in hundreds of years. In your lifetime, you’ll win lots of awards.”
“That’s very interesting,” Haley said. “Can I ask how you know?”
“Which answer do you want?” Kyim asked, which he hadn’t planned to ask in all his hours of daydreaming about this conversation. “The complicated but believable one I had planned to tell you, or the simple, unbelievable one?”
“Let’s have the simple one.”
“I’m from the future.”
“Oh?” Haley said. “Teenagers are supposed to all be slightly crazy. I prefer not to take that out in fast driving, so I’ll try believing you, um,”
“I’ll go for that it’s so crazy it’s got to be true, Kyim.” She smiled, a creasy, nice smile. “It probably helps you that I’ve just been trying to write sci-fi. Won’t you come in and have a cup of tea? I like to have some in the afternoons—it’s peppermint today—and I just made some biscuits this morning.”
“I didn’t even know people had afternoon tea in 2018,” Kyim said. “I thought that went out with—oh, which were they—the Edgarians.”
“I think you mean the Edwardians. It did, mostly. I hope you weren’t looking for a representative example when you came here, though; I’m not very normal, by cultural standards.”
“Oh, no, of course not!”
Haley looked at him across the teapot she was pouring hot water into. “You seem to be a fan of mine.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember what the right reply to that is. I’ll butter the biscuits while the tea steeps.” She set a timer for three minutes on the old-fashioned—no, period-correct—stove.
Kyim looked around.
“Excuse me, but—is that the chair you write in?”
“Why, yes, much of the time,” Haley said. Dusting off her hands, she left biscuit-buttering to go over to the cushy chair pulled near a window and start tugging it back towards its match. “Thanks for reminding me. My family is always annoyed when I leave it there.”
“Don’t touch it!” Kyim said. “That’s not just a chair—it’s—it’s—a monument!”
Annoyed when Haley Ferrier leaves her legendary chair in its legendary spot! Kyim thought.
Haley looked at him amusedly. “Good heavens, this is a house, not a museum.”
“Well—can I at least take a picture of it first?”
“I don’t see why not.”
Kyim took a something out of his pocket which reminded Haley in size and shape of the flattened, embossed pennies which you can get at zoos and museums. (For a long time Haley had admired how well the machines could smush together the penny and two quarters they required.) Kyim’s something was thicker, though, and black, with some design etched on it in green. He pressed it—how, Haley didn’t quite see—and it opened out into something very sleek and thin looking. The screen turned on as it unfolded, and one smooth movment of Kyim’s finger instantly opened a camera. The color of the screen was perfect.
“Wow,” Haley said quietly. “What is it?”
“A Leaf,” Kyim said, busy playing with angles to take the picture from.
“A Leaf, just like you wrote about in Ichthus: a Planet. By the way, how did you get it so accurately? It’s perfectly true to life.”
“Will write about. I’ve only written Ismene, remember?”
“You’ll write lots more books,” Kyim said, collapsing the device together again. “You’ll write dozens of them, all good. You’ll go on The New York Times bestseller list tons of times. You’ll win the Nobel Prize for—”
Haley shook her head. “Don’t tell me about it, please! I’m sorry, but I’d rather find out about it as it happens. Would you like strawberry or blackberry jam?”
“I didn’t know you could even make things this good in an oven from twenty-eighteen!” Kyim said after his first bite of biscuit.
Haley laughed. “My mother thanks you for that! She held out against getting a new oven for ten years. When she finally got this one last year we made sure it was totally up-to-date, but she still complains with comparisons to her old one. ‘Think that thy babes were sweeter than they were, And he that slew them fouler than he is;’ and all that.”
“Is that from Richard III?”
“Excellent! You at least know your Shakespeare, if not your Edwardians. Do you write?”
“Yes,” Kyim said. “Yes, I do. I long to write well, to put ‘beautie and beauteous words’ together. I finished my own first novel recently too. That’s why I admire you so much. You’ve done everything that I want to do. It’s not just the Nobel and the bestselling and the fame and the awards, it’s the writing itself, your beautiful books. I want to do like what you’ve done.”
“Will do,” Haley said gently. “For me, Kyim, it’s still all to come. That’s part of why I don’t want you to tell me much about it. But I am glad to know this much—it’s like a sort of assurance. I think it’ll be something I can look at and hold onto when what you’re talking about seems least likely. Thank you. But for now, having you come and talk to me about this is just like it would be for you if someone came to you and said the same things you’re telling me. This conversation makes my head feel a bit queer.”
“I’m sorry,” Kyim said.
“Don’t be! I’m delighted to be talking to you. I have lots of question, too: for example, when are you from?”
“Whew! Do they still wear jeans and t-shirts?”
“No. I had to go to a costume shop for these. They’re nice to wear, though. I didn’t expect it.”
“Neither did I, when my grandma got me some for my eleventh birthday. Up till then I’d refused to wear them because I found them too stiff or scratchy or something when I was a toddler. But, please, can you tell me about your Leaf? It looks like a wonderful piece of technology.”
“I’ll show you. Here, see?”
Haley held it gingerly.
“The most futuristic pieces of technology I’ve used are my Dad’s iPhone X, second gen iPad Pro, and Apple Pencil.”
“I’ve heard of those, I think. No, not just that, I’m sure I’ve seen an Apple Pencil in a museum. Don’t worry about being so gentle with the Leaf; it’s virtually indestructible. See, it opens like this—it’s called a Leaf because of how it opens out, like a new leaf unfolding—and it closes like this. Now, you open it.”
“It responds to even the slightest touch, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, mostly, though it’s been feeling slower lately. I’m saving to get a new one. The keyboard comes out like this…”
Technology of 2439; technology of 2018; writing; biscuits; George Herbert; Shakespeare; beauty: at last Kyim said, very regretfully,
“I’m afraid I’ll need to go soon.”
“Yes, I suppose you’d better. Thank you so much for coming, though.”
“Thanks for me coming! The privilege is all mine!”
“Well, it’s been a unique afternoon. I suppose I didn’t write about it?”
“Not that I ever read.”
“That’s too bad. I’d’ve liked to write about it. Mmm—I wonder—is it all right if I use the Leaf? In a book, I mean. It’s so hard to think of convincing sci-fi technologies, and of course you’ll inevitably be proved ludicrously wrong. It would be fun, you know, to sort of steal a march on time.”
“Of course you can!”
“I’ll put you in the acknowledgements, of course. Something like, hmm, this: To Kyim, who showed me all about the Leaf.”
“That sounds just right.”