October 18th, 1888, Royal Polytechnic Institute, West End, London
Through the double doors, the half-full lecture hall hummed with oscillating waves of human syntax and grammar. A tall, lanky man in a tailored suit entered from a side door and the hum faded into silence as he approached the podium.
“Good afternoon,” he said with a Slavic accent. He absently brushed a hand across his neatly trimmed mustache. The dark brown of his hair was offset by the intense blue of his eyes, which looked eagerly around the room. “Thank you all for coming. As you all know—I assume, since you are, after all, here—I am here in an effort to introduce wireless energy transfer to the Greater London area.”
He was interrupted by a young woman entering the hall. She wore a loose black skirt, from under which heavy black boots made their presence known. Her auburn hair was twisted back in a bun, save for a few escaped strands which hung in front of her ears, just brushing the collar of her grey blouse. She pulled a silver pocket watch from a pocket in the burgundy corset around her midsection. Glancing at the time, she sheepishly looked up at the podium.
“Sorry,” she said quietly, as she brushed the loose hair behind her ears and took an empty seat on the aisle in the fourth row.
The man at the podium smiled and continued, “As I was saying, with wireless energy transfer, every street lamp, every business, and every home in London could be powered by clean, efficient electricity, all without the need for wires. The electricity can be safely conducted through the earth itself, or even through the air.”
The crowd looked uncertainly at the empty space above their heads, as though a bolt of electricity might strike out at them at any moment. The auburn-haired woman remained focused on the man speaking before her. He met her gaze and raised one eyebrow.
Turning back to the rest of the audience, he continued. “Some of you, who have frequented this lecture hall, may notice that the light fixtures have been updated. What you may not notice is that these lights are neither gas, nor are they wired to the city’s power.” He leaned over the podium and gestured at the footlights at its base. “These bulbs are simply resting on conductive materials already in the substructure of the floor, which in turn are connected to metal pylons in the foundation. The transmitter providing this electricity is set up six miles north of London.”
The crowd exchanged shocked stares and nervous glances as a general gasp rolled through the group. A man with a large grey mustache in the second row stood, pointing angrily at the lights.
“We can’t have this running through our homes! It can’t be safe!”
A blonde woman with a permanent frown stood up three rows behind him. “Some of us have children! You want us to have electricity coursing through our floors? You’ll be the death of us all!”
The lanky man stepped around the podium and held out a placating hand to his audience. “Please, I can assure you that neither you nor your families are in danger from this technology.” He knelt down and lifted one of the footlights out of its resting place. Still kneeling, he held the darkened bulb in one hand, and after a moment looked up to address the crowd.
“If I might…” he began, reaching his free hand vaguely towards the assembly, before gestured more specifically to the auburn-haired woman in the fourth row. She slowly rose and approached him. He held the bulb towards her. “If you could…?” he said, handing her the cold bulb. She looked at it, and then him, questioningly.
“Just hold it up where everyone can see,” he said softly. She did as she was told, while he rested one hand in the space where the bulb had been set in the floor. He looked back up at the woman and held her gaze for a moment before taking her hand.
The bulb in her hand glowed into life as she held it up like a torch. A smile crept across her lips as she looked up at the incandescent orb. After a few moments, her hand was released and the bulb faded to clear glass once more. She turned, holding the bulb out to the kneeling man before her. He took it and replaced it in its socket, where it lit up like its fellows again. Without rising, he turned back to the crowd.
“As you can see, this electricity is perfectly safe. I can only hope that this has been an… enlightening experience for all of you.” He looked back down at the lights on the floor, somehow indicating that the lecture had come to an end. As the audience filed out the door, he finally stood, turning back to the podium.
The woman’s eyes followed him from his crouched position to his upright stance, for the first time needing to look up, as he stood nearly a foot taller than she. As he gathered up papers strewn across the podium, she stepped forward, resting her hand on the top edge of the podium.
“Excuse me, Mr. Tesla,” she began. His eyes followed her fingers up to the top of the podium, to where her face rose behind them. “Could I speak with you a moment?” she continued.
“Yes, of course,” he replied. “What can I do for you, Miss…?”
“Hartdegan. Alice Hartdegan. I’ve been working on a project—more of a theory, really—and I believe that your experience in the field of electricity could prove invaluable.”
Tesla raised his eyebrows. “Go on.”
“I believe that I can build a device that would create a rift in time and space,” Alice replied.
“To what end?” Tesla asked.
“To allow a person to travel through time,” Alice said simply, crinkling her brow uncertainly.
“Time travel?” he asked flatly.
Tesla stared at her a moment, then past her at an empty point in space, and then back at her. “But you have not yet found a way to power such a device?” he asked, before returning his gaze to the empty spot. “But the power requirements would be massive,” he said largely to himself. “In order to…” He broke off, looking back at Alice. “Yes.”
“Yes?” she asked, taken aback.
“Yes,” he repeated. “I will assist you in this venture.”
“Yes,” Tesla replied. “As they say, ‘I’m in.’”