They sat for some time on the bench in silence. William Robertson decided he’d better open the conversation.
“I was impressed – and intrigued – by this hat you sent me, Mr – Lars?”
“Just Lars,” responded the younger man, with a slight smile. His accent was difficult to place. “I am pleased that you like it. I see you have worn a matching waistcoat in its honour.”
“I have,” William replied abruptly. “And I’m grateful for the warmth it affords me. Hyde Park, in December! Could you not have chosen a more comfortable place to meet?”
It had not escaped William’s notice that Lars wore no coat and had his shirt sleeves rolled up.
“It is an excellent place to meet in winter,” Lars declared. “We have the place almost to ourselves. There is no danger of being overheard.”
“Yes, and what IS this paranoia of yours?” demanded William, quite angrily. “You say you want to speak to me about some invention, yet insist I come alone and bring something to protect myself.” He looked down at his dart launcher with an expression somewhere between fondness and embarrassment. “You choose this bitter, godforsaken park bench and you carry nothing – no plans, no device. What the deuce is going on? I’d advise you not to waste any more of my time, Sir!”
“I am wearing my invention upon my head,” Lars said, almost casually. “Far from wasting your time, Mr Robertson, I have the means here to free you from it altogether and to give you complete control over it.”
“Free me – from time?” William looked at him slowly. “Are you telling me that hat you wear is a – a time machine?”
Lars gave a short laugh. “Nothing so vulgar – or so dangerous, I assure you. While we stay safely in place, this creation of mine can gain information from any time you wish – past, present or future – and from any location.”
William rose to his feet. Unable to contain himself, he started to pace around, staring all the while at the curious contraption worn by his companion. He opened his mouth to speak once or twice, but no words emerged.
“It works through steam power,” Lars continued. “Steam, as of course you are aware, has great power. It is composed of water. And water, you may also be aware, has – memory.”
“Yes, yes, I read Erazmus’s paper to that effect quite recently, but I don’t see how – ”
“A small amount of water, gathered from the correct time and location, is heated, then condensed within my machine, Mr Robertson, and as this happens, the memory is separated from it and retained. The memory trace can then be read. We can know the past and know the future. There are those who would kill for this power. This is why I suggested the precautions, you understand.”
William’s eyes bulged. He tried to take in this information, to sort it in his mind, to work out the implications and possibilities of using such a machine. Quite suddenly he wheeled round and faced Lars, his eyes blazing.
“And how, may I ask, can you collect water from the FUTURE?” he demanded.
Lars casually removed the dark glasses he had been wearing throughout their meeting and looked William in the eye. “You surely don’t expect me to reveal that.”
“If I’m to pay for this device…” blustered William, “then I – ”
“You are NOT to pay for the device,” Lars cut in. “You are to pay for the information it provides. I can tell you all you wish to know of any event, at any place or time where the smallest amount of water is, was, or will be present. You will be able to foretell the future! You will be able to make a fortune based on knowing how future events will fall out. You will be able to solve riddles of the past. But you will not own the device. I alone know how to use it and no instructions are written down.” He paused and added, “If you tried, you would merely scald yourself a little.”
William sat back on the bench and considered. “And of course you will provide me with proof of your claims, which can be clearly validated?”
“And how do I convey to you the time and locations I choose?”
“That hat I sent you – the one you now wear – has a mechanism for setting the coordinates. These will be relayed to me via etheric currents which travel invisibly through the air. You will, of course, receive full instructions on how to use it. It is perfectly safe.”
There was a long pause.
“And the price?” William asked, finally.
You will find further details of William (and the price) here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/476771624/steampunk-gentleman-william-dollshouse?ref=shop_home_active_6
Lars’ page at the Steampunk Dolls House shop is here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/476771002/steampunk-gentleman-lars-dollshouse?ref=shop_home_active_7