Zebra & Cheese Sandwich (How To Steal A Time Machine And Not Get Caught) A.M.Russell ***** Published by Anne Russell at Smashwords Copyright 2013 A.M.Russell This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. ***** Contents Chapter One: Out to Lunch. Chapter Two: Sandwiches & Cold Science. Chapter Three: Vanishing Point. Chapter Four: Symmetry. Chapter Five: Doors of Perception. Chapter Six: Something Sexy, Sinister & Bold. Chapter Seven: The Unpredictable Truth. Chapter Eight: Counting Sheep. Chapter Nine: Revelations of Absurdity. Chapter Ten: Once More with Feeling. Chapter Eleven: We Can, Because We Think We Can. Chapter Twelve: When We Knew What Love Was. Chapter Thirteen: The Effect of Gravity. ***** Dedication To Those Who May Have Doubted But Took Hold of a Dream And Made It Real. ***** Chapter One Out to Lunch The really big problem with most of the items on a menu is that they all could be interpreted in another way. I mean really! Why is it necessary to point out that omelettes do in fact contain eggs? Kyle looked up expectantly as the cute girl in the too short skirt shimmied towards him with the giant mug of coffee. ‘Alright there Honey?’ she looked at Kyle in an overly interested way. Must be the aftershave. He sniffed wondering how he could make a coffee last for half an hour. It must be something special… Samantha…. Two days earlier, and Kyle was chewing on a pencil. And wondering how many years in prison a person of his peculiar talents could reasonably expect if he hacked into the benefits systems and adjusted his Mum’s pension up a little…. Money had been ‘lost’ in the system; something to do with wills, and estates and Government tax. He sighed, shrugged and lost himself in another more professional pursuit. That is if you call what Kyle did…. Well it was not in anyone else's job description: Encryption of special files from the Time Predictor. What, you might say was that? A very complicated program written to calculate the probability of things happening in time when other things in time were not behaving as they should. Basically it was Top Secret. But not really locked in a secret place because just trying to explain how to find your way round the nice colourful interface that Kyle had helpfully programmed for his colour-code mad friend George Carter, was enough to tax any other person who did not have a brain that could accelerate past its own breakfast in to the realms of hyper manic grace and fury. George was out. George had been out a lot just recently. It annoyed Kyle. But in a bitter kind of way that really was jealously of the worst kind. He chewed on the pencil some more, got up and went to the kitchen. It might be time to check the latest offering from obscure places in the printed matter that George habitually had delivered. It was annoying; all of it. He was annoyed. And then the phone was ringing in the hallway; with a rush of energy and enthusiasm he went to answer it. Hoping… well it was just about time to consider some upgrades. Upgrades; and a snazzy new bit of programming that took into account the local weather and the ratio of dampness to bad temper and consequent argument over what to have for tea. Kyle was tracking thing like that just to test the finer tuning on the machine; the sillier the better. ‘Hello? Hello…..’ a sweet voice, deep toned with a hint of a growl; a bit like a cat that is in need of a nap. She was waking, and had rung. Suddenly the elastic start of reality reasserted itself, he heard himself saying, ‘Yeah, right… I’ll give him the message…’ he rang off and sighed. Juliet. The sylph who had upset the equilibrium of his other friend the Detective Man. Juliet sounded kind of pissed off come to think of it. But that was nothing to do with him. Better just make sure he passed on the message. Kyle found the kitchen note pad and scrawled it in bright yellow marker: Ring Juliet! He put it under the box of cooks’ matches in the middle of the table where Sam was sure to find them. That was his friend Sam Wright, Detective Man; and as much as he tried he found it really irritating to keep ejecting the thought of a name from round the idea of a friend to fit a woman who refused to use the full elongated version of her name. ‘Parker’ was a preferable moniker, but Kyle felt that if he wanted to get a little closer to her he better not fall into some sort of existential bucket with the mental version of who sticks the tail on the donkey blindfold. She did not invoke a sense that kissing might be immanent but then again; it might not be possible to think of it at all if he couldn’t get Sam (irritating piss taker mate of his) out of his head if attempting a feat of such proportion with the lovely and brilliant Sam (super smart, intriguing female with a sassy manner and lots of dark secrets). While this mood was still at its height a parcel arrived to be signed for. Kyle, who had a very ambivalent relationship with the postal service, took this latest interruption with a modicum of calmness, as it interrupted him from the chain of thought that might other worse lead to the biscuit tin and even the cat crunchies if the like were not available. It was a big parcel. Rather heavy and rather well wrapped, taped, tied with string and having a large amount of postage in a collection of out of date stamps. The postman looked harassed. They had given up not delivering things that were out by only a few pence as George had given them a rollicking after something important arrived late. Kyle gave him the twenty pence and bid him a good day. The postman left hastily; possibly not wanting to meet the inestimable George; who, even though he wasn’t in, gave the impression that he was due to the number of cars that always seemed to be parked nearby. It was a very crowded street and parking spaces here were in short supply. So he could be excused for being uncertain. Anyway, it made sense. That parcel was bloody heavy; it would have slowed him right up. They only had just enough time to get round. Kyle went to the computer. He emailed George, and then set about making pies. A well tamed pastry making session later Kyle’s New Man skills were just beginning to sooth his furrowed soul, when the phone rang again. He ambled to answer it; a calmness of post pie production letting him take this in his stride. It was Parker, as she called herself. ‘Good God Kyle! Aren’t you at the old computer? It’s manic!’ ‘What are you talking about?’ ‘The buzz on the net. I thought you’d be ringing me.’ ‘Uh… not really. It’s pie night.’ Sam ignored this obtuse explanation and got to the point immediately. ‘Someone turned up. They say it’s going to be evidence of the Bermuda triangle or something. They say that he came from the Nineteen Forties.’ ‘Right.’ ‘You did hear what I just said? I thought this was your thing.’ ‘It’s George’s thing actually. I just program the machines. Actually it’s really not that interesting. The same thing happened back in Two Thousand and Fifteen. He was lost at sea. They didn’t think it mattered that the guy had lost his memory; they were convinced he had travelled into time. But of course he was just suffering from the effects of being out there for a long time. It does things to the mind you know.’ ‘Yes. I know.’ she said. Her voice was strangely neutral. ‘I think I’ll call round sometime soon. It might be time…’ Sam’s comment had a strange origin. In all the time he had known her: all of six months, she had displayed an aptitude for avoidance of other people on a grand scale. It was never seemingly deliberate, and in that he could not take offence. But he wondered why she was still so paranoid she felt that George’s pie night might be cause for a resurgence of the cold war. As George put it: ‘I’ll heat things up a little more than a little bit!’ and with that he waved the Tabasco sauce in Kyle’s direction. ‘Kyle?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can I visit soon?’ ‘Yes, of course you can.’ ‘Are you worried?’ ‘About what?’ ‘You sound worried.’ ‘No.’ ‘Kyle?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘I’ll meet you in the café on Kibbling way on Saturday morning. At Eleven. We’ll talk then. That is if you are free.’ ‘Yes. Of course I’m free.’ he felt a sudden rush of relief. Pie night was not a good place to start anything with a girl. There really was too much to take in. He thought that Gina might pop by later. But somehow, now he had got used to her she didn’t grate in the same way as the other women who occasionally frequented George’s house. She had eyes only for George and was incredibly well informed about a lot of current goings on in the world out there. Plus she did actually understand the maths of it all. She was a mental arithmetic nut. It was scary to see her add up. It was like she got some sort of sexual thrill from a set of numbers. God knows what she was like at a restaurant dividing up the bill among a set of friends. But George seemed quite able to handle the wild unrestrained verbosity of the creature. She did have good taste and often brought chocolate that Kyle could eat. She was clearly out of the training place for girls who would take a man’s friends seriously. She didn’t ever insult or put down anything Kyle said. But she kept her distance. Good job really. So Kyle was waiting for Parker, aka Samantha…. But he would really put her off if he called her that. He sipped the coffee. It was good stuff. Worthy of a mark on the Richter scale of notable events, if coffee can be called ‘an event’. It was like calling an omelette ‘a happening’. It has happened in the sense that it had been made but that was where it stopped. Kyle did not approve of artists who used words like that. He did know one or two. And it was to his regret that he had not got to know that sad friend of Sam’s before he disappeared. That was still hanging in the air. He didn’t want to ask about it. It seemed kind of freaky actually. Something about a girl, a murder, and creepy plant people…. much safer with computers. ‘Hello Sweetie!’ Startled, Kyle half rose out of the seat. It was Parker…. err Sam. His brain got it right this time. ‘Hi Sam. Do you want to eat?’ ‘Definitely! I’m starving.’ ‘Uh, alright.’ he picked up the menu, and then passed it to her. ‘Chat to me Kyle.’ she said quietly, ‘Make it look like I’m an airhead and so are you.’ ‘Sure.’ Kyle shrugged, easy peasey. Paranoia on toast; with a side serving of weirdness. ‘I’ll have the omelette.’ she said, ‘With mushrooms. Do you think the chips will make me fat?’ ‘No. I think that talking about them might though.’ ‘Chips?’ ‘Don’t say it.’ ‘Chips!’ she giggled. Kyle smiled, ‘That’s better.’ he said, ‘Do you feel better?’ ‘Yes.’ she scanned the menu again, ‘Actually I think I’ll have a plated salad with prawns. I like seafood.’ ‘Good call. I’ll have a plate thingy too. With ham.’ The short skirted girl took the order, and then shimmied across to another man sitting on his own. ‘He’ll get the order in first.’ said Kyle, ‘Just watch.’ ‘It’s alright,’ she said, ‘in relative terms that means I have more time to spend with you.’ ‘With me?’ Kyle was still uncertain where this was going. ‘Yes of course with you. You do know how I feel?’ ‘I believe I know how you feel…’ he made an attempt to be bold, and fiddled with a spoon, ‘you like the ghost. He can get anywhere.’ ‘I think that would describe it. In part at least,’ she made a face as the coffee was set down in front of her, and reached for the brown sugar, ‘I believe you might be able to help me… in a way. Solve a problem I have had for a long time.’ ‘Oh?’ Kyle paused as the salads arrived with a suitable flourish of well-oiled waitress speak. ‘Just go!’ said Sam to the taller of the two woman who seemed intent on hovering and ear wigging on their conversation; ‘It’s a problem,’ she added spooning in yet more sugar, ‘they think there is something interesting to be trawled for. I get fed up of their little minds ping-ponging snippets round like bouncy toys in a ball pool.’ Kyle stirred his tea. She had at least decided to meet in a public place. That was a move in the direction he wanted to go in. She prodded a prawn with a fork. ‘Everything alright? With the lunch I mean?’ ‘Oh… yeah. The food is great. It’s just the staff that are morons. I don’t know how some of them remember to breathe. It’s a good job it is in the automatic systems of the brain. They wouldn’t survive another shift otherwise. Kyle shrugged and turned to his salad. It was something to do with the past and being teased at school, he concluded. That must be it. She seemed to have more than the reasonable attributes of the hardened geek, and a few other things as well. ‘I need you to do something for me Kyle. And I wouldn’t ask unless it was really important.’ ‘What?’ ‘Not here. I just need your agreement first.’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘Seriously. You’re the man. There’s no one else. I need a way in.’ ‘A way into what?’ Kyle was feeling the salivary response to the immanence of a challenge. ‘It is very difficult. One might even say impossible. Or I thought it was once impossible. But now….’ ‘You think I can do it?’ ‘Yes.’ her eyes gleamed. ‘How long?’ ‘That depends on how good you are; and how much info you already have.’ ‘Ah!’ Kyle knew she was fishing. He didn’t tell her much, but she knew there was so much. So many secrets. Where did they overlap? Were they on the same side in this? Could she be trusted? He stabbed a slice of cucumber and considered the nuances of the situation. She hadn’t any friends that he knew about; not female anyway, and she was wholly devoted to whatever it was she did in fact do…. which of course they couldn’t discuss. Official Secrets Act and all that. She was in a bubble of secrecy and so was he. They weren’t so different. Not really. ‘Let’s meet later, and talk about it some more.’ he said. ‘Yes.’ She smiled, and then turned to the pile of prawns. She was smiling to herself and her eyes unfocused. Kyle watched her out of the corner of his eye as her reached for the pepper. She might be bad? But how bad does a lonely woman have to be? Was she a sleeper? Or a spy? Or just someone who needed some help? He knew he would help her when she looked up at him. It was the way she held the fork; so well balanced, so carefully positioned with the right amount of pressure to the keep it there: right on the point of balance. She has me, he thought, and smiled back. Kyle sat watching the kitchen timer. Somewhere in some other part of the house Gina was trying on a dress. It was a very pretty thing with straps and little dangly bits and small shiny pinkish beads. Kyle honestly wasn’t sure which way up the thing could be when Gina was spreading it over the back of one of the big settees and going Oh! and Ah! in a variety of almost pre-coital gasps. Gina exuded sex appeal the same way that dogs leave behind muddy foot prints - not all the time, but with enough regularity to make you aware that there is something going on. Kyle sighed. Gina was fun, and rather chatty in an upbeat and extraordinarily intellectual way. She seemed to think that the latest updates on the colour coding were her idea; and kept going on about the ‘Salmon coloured boxes’ as if they were the most important. They might match her dress but they were one of those colours that meant everything is okay. At that moment Sam (annoying friend of the male persuasion) walked in. He picked up the note and the box of matches; he took two out and stood there holding them while staring at the note. ‘Not in here.’ Kyle said as he was about to strike them on the outside of the box.’ ‘Yeah. Right. Sorry.’ he wandered into the hall and Kyle heard the click of the receiver being lifted. He turned back to the vegetables. Potatoes and broad beans, Sam had a thing about carrots. So he had deliberately not included them. It was one of those annoying habits that your friends have of telling you the same story a bazillion times, even though you know and they know that you have heard it before. Carrots used to be purple; they were bred to be orange. Ergo: modern carrots are not as good as purple carrots and George ought to grow some in the conservatory. To which Kyle would retort Give up smoking! in an annoyed tone. Well as much as he could muster. His thoughts turned to Samantha, again. Tomorrow all would be revealed. She was a manipulator who had the added edge of being able to talk straight and not resort to social chit-chat except as an aside to ones cover in a public place. Her distain was obvious. And her lifestyle so clouded with mystery that he had let it remain one of those things. Not for much longer, he decided. Tomorrow. A trade. You tell. I tell. I do. You do. Fair’s fair. Yeah. That was it. Kyle leaned back and George put on his serious glasses. The ones that told you to hang on to the edge of the ride, because there’s a big drop on the switch back coming. ‘I think we have a problem.’ George took his glasses off. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. Kyle waited, knowing what was coming. ‘Get the small lap top.’ said George, ‘I think we need some background.’ Kyle fetched the super speedy one…. That machine for fast and loose, low level stuff. They trawled the internet. Always straight in with the obvious. Hidden in plain view. ‘Bloody hell!’ Sam pointed, ‘He used to work for the University.’ ‘Lots of people used to work for the University, don’t get that excited just yet.’ Kyle fished around some more. There was a reasonable amount, nothing really personal. All quite dated information. Nothing recent. ‘He really was retired then,’ said Sam, ‘or he perhaps went into another line of business.’ Kyle marvelled that Sam had a surge of intelligence right after eating something. Perhaps he wasn’t as careful about his healthy diet as he claimed. ‘A Man cannot live by bread alone,’ George was saying, ‘he needs bacon too. This guy is too clean. A light one should do it Kyle?’ ‘Yeah,’ Kyle grinned, a little after dinner hack. Nice and simple nothing too fancy. Just in and out, but carefully. Don’t want to alert anyone. A few minutes later they were staring at printouts. ‘He is who he says he is.’ said Sam, ‘I wonder….’ George was in thinking mode too. ‘This book has travelled a long way. And this….’ here he picked up the metal plate that was included in the package, ‘….is a label from something inside a vault somewhere. It was deliberately…. Anonymised. If that is the right word.’ ‘Just adding it to the dictionary.’ said Kyle lightly. George and Sam bent over the diary and Kyle joined them. ‘This is old…. Very old. It is not just written by one person.’ ‘So how far back does it go?’ Kyle asked, 'I can check some records if you want right now.’ ‘No. This is different. This is something that won’t be on a hard drive. And I’m guessing it’s the only copy.’ ‘Why would someone give it up?’ said Sam,’ I mean…. Why not just make a copy?’ ‘Because,’ said George, ‘They weren’t able to. They could not because this was sent to me in the process of a person’s will. I know who they are…. Were… but this is the final resting place of secrets that were so dangerous that no copies were ever made…’ ‘No… surely not?’ Sam said, then ‘Really? May I see?’ ‘Look as much as you want, I’m going out.’ ‘No! George! It’s pie night. Can’t this wait?’ ‘Afraid not. The building is due to be demolished tomorrow.’ ‘What building?’ Sam said, ‘The one where our fella here used to live. There were protests but to no avail. No one lives there. But there may be secrets that no one can tell. The place might give up its dead even yet.’ ‘What about Gina?’ Kyle asked reasonably. ‘What about her? She is coming with us. She can remember anything we find. Recall the details.’ ‘And what are you going to do George?’ ‘I will take pictures.’ he slid his compact into a pocket. ‘There might be something in the building itself. Something will tell us where to start. There is a place that is hidden somewhere in the city. And it’s deep down. Right under everything. That is what the diary says. But that is all in the past. All of it. We are all subject to some sort of demolition order.’ They trod carefully. ‘It seems such a shame.’ Sam moved round to the right, past a large chunk of plaster. ‘Shh!’ we might not be the only ones here.’ George slid past hollows of shadowed night. They found the rooms on the second floor. There was mess everywhere. ‘Might it be safe to say, that there is nothing to find here?’ Kyle this time, he shivered against the chill, and pulled his zipper further up. Sam traced an arc of light over the main room. It was hard to imagine what it might have been like, all that time ago. ‘Wait…. What was that?’ George went forward to the edge of the fireplace. He took out his penknife and prodded with deliberate force. There was a sudden rush of mortar and a gleam in the stone work. ‘What the…?’ Sam held aloft the torch. In George’s hand was the tiny banding of an as yet unidentified piece of metal. A sudden sound and George slipped the item in the deep pocket of his padded coat. ‘I say….’ A stage whisper from Gina, who was stood near the doorway motionless; ‘I think we better go now…’ They moved softly to the left of the fireplace and Gina joined them. Someone was moving through the dark, entering this same room, moving around systematically as if they were looking for something too. ‘Hey!! You!!’ George moved as suddenly as he spoke. He had the Man in an arm lock and Sam was holding the other by the scruff of the neck and grinning in amusement. ‘I swear, I promise, I didn’t do it!’ ‘He’s right. Yo! Right there. Just chilling, nothing doing…’ he felt silent as Sam jerked him higher by the collar. ‘Now then lads,’ said George reasonably, ‘we’re where we are not supposed to be; but considering that we are under orders if you will, I think that the plod would perhaps conclude that you might be interfering in a legitimate investigation.’ ‘Investigation?’ said the one George was holding, ‘We saw the others, they were here…. They were investigating too.’ ‘Who was that?’ ‘Dunno.’ ‘I think you better tell us.’ said George. Sam nodded and grinned at the one he was holding. The lad laughed nervously and nodded back, ‘Yes. We’ll tell you. Promise.’ his voice was slightly squeaky, perhaps from being grabbed from behind by Sam. Sam dropped him down a little, but kept a tight grip on his coat. ‘Yeah. We saw them. Two of them,’ said the first one to George, ‘He was a big man, in a dark jacket and he had a kind of hood on.’ ‘More....’ said George. ‘Like a monk’s hood!’ squeaked the second, ‘it was sort of floppy. We ran away.’ ‘Now why would you do that?’ ‘Well, it was like a….. you know.’ ‘Oh! You mean a ghost?’ said Sam conversationally. ‘Yeah! I mean Shh…. It might hear you.’ ‘So tell me what are you doing back here,’ said George 'if a ghost in a cowl frightened you off?’ ‘We…. Err….’ he looked at squeaky. ‘Well Gentlemen,’ said George, ‘this is the end of the party. I guess we’ll just have to ask you to leave now.’ ‘But….’ ‘You heard the man.’ said Sam, ‘Now scoot…’ They looked hesitant and kept looking back. When they had gone down the stairwell, George moved to the left of the fire place and wiggled a loose brick. He reached in and pulled out a packet wrapped in some heavy polythene. ‘Is that what I think it is?’ ‘You bet.’ George turned it over, ‘I suppose I will have to hand this in.’ ‘Do they know anything?’ asked Kyle who was staring at the packet. George handed it to him and then rolled his shoulders back. ‘It is a den of thieves. They have probably gone to get another stash somewhere else in the building.’ ‘Sad that it will all go up in smoke tomorrow.’ Sam remarked. ‘That is probably why they were back here. It’s a perfect pick up and drop off point for the dealers.’ ‘They were dealers?’ said Kyle appalled, ‘Shouldn’t we turn them in?’ ‘Not now we’ve got their stash.’ ‘One of their stashes.’ said Sam. ‘I think they’ve gone.’ Gina moved slightly so that she was silhouetted against the light from the doorway. They made their way quickly down and slid through the bent sheeting. George was just pushing it back into place when he saw a flashlight and heard more shouting. ‘I think they have a flaw in their otherwise perfect plan.’ George moved away and shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘I say, George?’ asked Gina, ‘Do you think there is any chance of calling at the all night bakery? I’m famished.’ ‘Of course Gina.’ George said smoothly, ‘That’s a very good idea.’ In the brightly lit Mini Market Gina rotated round the small colourful shelves while George stood by a revolving rack with his phone, ‘I think that our demolition might be scheduled to start a little earlier than originally planned.’ he said. ‘Because?’ Sam looked irritated. Kyle saw it and wondered at his inability to catch up with what was happening if it was electronically controlled. He caught Kyle’s eye, ‘It doesn’t make sense.’ he said. ‘We reset it.’ said Kyle, ‘It’s easy.’ ‘But that’s just wrong!’ ‘Really,’ said George mildly, while still staring at the phone, ‘You really need to get past the need to control everything with the power of will alone. Not everything can be persuaded. Some things have to be, well, frankly brought to point of destruction.’ ‘But it’s wrong.’ ‘Were you protesting about architecture?’ asked Kyle. ‘Well; in a manner of speaking… not as such. Yes… I suppose. In spirit anyway. You know what I mean.’ ‘Not really.’ said Kyle. ‘Ready Boys?’ Gina came bouncing up with a mini carrier full of goodies. They followed George to the SUV and climbed in. ‘Drink?’ said George. ‘You can drop me off at home. Tell me all about it tomorrow. I have some studying to do.’ ‘It’s that University thingy?’ ‘Open University.’ said Sam. ‘Nothing wrong with bettering oneself.’ George grinned at Gina who was burrowing into a pile of marshmallows. ‘What about you?’ said Gina to Kyle. ‘Pardon?’ ‘Do you want a giant rope mallow?’ ‘I’ll pass.’ ‘Where do you want to be?’ ‘I don’t know.’ said Kyle glumly. He did have his own place. A tiny bedsit with a wardrobe and a bed buried under piles of books. He had tidied it up, just last week. His permanent room at George’s and semi-houseguest status gave him total freedom of choice. George did live in a really big house. But even that could not dampen the sound of Gina in full on excitable mode. He understood Sam. Gina was annoying him by simply being there. They had made peace a while ago. But the fact of George and her having what can only be described as animalistic and enthusiastic sex that lasted for hours was enough to put him off late night scrabble with Kyle. ‘I need to sort out… you know…. I’ll see you in the…. err…’ ‘Morning?’ George asked. Kyle glanced at Gina fuelling up for the late evening’s exercise and shuddered inwardly. ‘Yeah. I need to ring Sam Parker. We need to chat about….’ ‘The science girl?’ said Gina brightly, ‘I like her.’ ‘Thanks.’ said Kyle, ‘she’s interesting.’ ‘Darling;’ Gina drawled, ‘one should never describe a woman you like as interesting; it’s a total passion killer. She is intelligent, or smart, or fabulous!’ ‘Fabulous?’ Kyle wasn’t sure about saying something so flamboyant. But with Gina looking like she and George were about to get down and be fabulous as she put it; he thought that a little late night sci-fi and some sandwiches might be just the ticket. There were some cool beers in the fridge and thinking hard about going into a dark place of the inner world of electronic architecture made him want to snack. ‘I’ll be round at Elevenish… or later.’ He waved as they sped off in the car. He turned and let himself in. As it turned out, Kyle overslept. He woke with a lightness of heart, and a full set of teeth… He was a traumatised child who had been threatened with the tooth fairy if he wasn’t good (not Mum’s doing). He went to brush his teeth, and put the coffee machine on. The tiny flat looked cheery in the morning light. Kyle yawned a few times and padded round the room looking for stray mugs. He found three, and using another (clean) one, spooned in coffee. Someone was knocking on the door. Actually they were knocking on it quite insistently. He ignored it. And then after a minute concluded that it might actually be someone he wanted to see. Then, as he sauntered towards his front door, he saw a shape wobbling behind the glass. ‘What do you want?’ Kyle blinked into the light from the hallway opposite big windows and right next to the communal stairwell. ‘Kyle! It’s me.’ ‘Me who?’ ‘It’s Juliet! Can I come in for a minute?’ ‘Hi…. Juliet. Yeah… I mean alright. What is this about? I don’t usually take early morning visitors…’ ‘It’s eleven o’clock.’ said Juliet and pushed past him into the cosy sitting room. Kyle followed and turned into the tiny kitchen, ‘Do you want Coffee, Tea…. Err, anything?’ ‘Tea… no sugar.’ ‘So what is the purpose of your visit?’ Kyle saw her face, ‘sorry, it’s habit. What's up Juliet?’ ‘The thing is' she said as the kettle started to boil, 'the thing is I don’t know how to tell Sam what is happening. And you and George seem a little more….. well…..um…’ ‘Involved?’ ‘I wasn’t going to say that. But since you pointed it out. Yes, I think I can get access.' 'Access?' Kyle stirred milk in and handed her the cup, 'Are we talking about Sandglass ?' Juliet sipped and shook her head, 'I have dreams.....I'm sorry, really, to bother you.....' 'I want to listen. So go ahead, there's nothing else on today. Except..... what time is it?' Kyle had that nagging feeling that someone was about to get kicked. Probably him. He yawned and refocused on Juliet. 'Nearly Twelve.' Juliet didn't look how he remembered her. She was stressed and edgy. Even with his limited experience he saw that things might not be going as well as expected or desired between her and Sam. Sam Wright.... He would have to think of a way round his mental block on that front. 'Tell me.' he cleared a space on the small settee. Juliet perched like a nervous budgie. For the next five minutes she talked without pausing. She stared at him with hollow eyes. 'I can't tell George. I sound mad. ' 'Err what about Sam?' 'It's....complicated.' 'We're not that close. The group I mean.' Kyle ruffled his hair and put the now empty mug down, 'Sam and me. George is more the one to deal with stuff like that. He is a Doctor. ' 'I know. That is why I came to you. Your suspension of disbelief.' 'And my rather specialist skills?' 'Yes.' she just stared. 'Alright.' he saw her visibly relax. That a one tiny tear was leaking out of her left eye. She blinked. 'When shall I come back?' she asked. 'What? No. We do it right now.' he rummaged in a cupboard; then plugged in the old faithful. 'Full name?' 'Juliet Jean Penn.' 'Cool....' said Kyle. 'My name?' 'There's three of you. At least.' 'Gosh! Can I see?' 'Just let me do my thing. It will print it out over there.’ The printer sprang into life as he spoke. Juliet hurried to watch the sheets come out. 'But they are all Me.' she sounded disappointed. 'Slightly different birthdays. Registration in different towns. See?' 'But what does this mean?' 'It means you have to talk to George.' 'Why? I mean this is not about anyone else.' 'It is.' Kyle said mildly, 'There leakage of parallel worlds into each other. Most people don't notice. That's why there are so many conflicting versions of the same event; even allowing for any individual's personal interpretation of it. We need to learn how to really look at things; beneath the normal; beyond the edges; outside the frame.' 'So what do I do now?' 'You really want my advice?' 'Sure.' 'Go home. Drink something. Watch a movie with a fifteen rating or below. Eat anything you want.' 'Thanks Kyle. Keep me updated?' 'Sure thing Jules.' She smiled, 'Thanks Kyle.' A moment later she was gone and Kyle was left wondering how the hell he would deal with George's annoyance. This was off the road. But like he always said, if you want to stop the Lion eating you, you better offer more than just a good light snack. Yeah. George better behave. ***** Chapter Two Sandwiches & Cold Science ‘Alright; what is the state of play?’ Kyle was ringing out a wet flannel. He put it on his head. ‘When did you last sleep?’ George seemed concerned. ‘Err….’ Kyle tipped his head back, ‘I just got into it. You know how it is.’ ‘I know exactly how it is.’ George slid his serious metal framed glasses on a prodded Kyle with one finger. ‘Ow!’ ‘Shut up, I’m a Doctor.’ ‘Your bedside manner needs a little improvement.’ ‘I suppose,’ George shrugged, ‘it’s been a while. Just lay down, and I’ll tell you what we’ve already got on this thing.’ ‘I’m listening.’ ‘Lay down.’ ‘I’m sitting back. So talk.’ ‘Alright,’ George flipped open an A4 pad, ‘the diary we received was sent on the instructions of the will of Henry Green. He died a little while ago. Nothing suspicious. But what he did before he died was somewhat odd. He worked as a researcher for a branch of the science project called ‘Arc’. It was part of something we are all familiar with…. Vaccinations, in fact he was at one time trying to find a cure for the common cold.’ ‘Very noble.’ ‘Yes, well; he was handpicked for this ‘Arc’ project, as it was called. But it was dealing in something akin to gene therapy.’ ‘Disease resistance?’ ‘Finding treatments for things that are more serious. But it had another side to it…’ George flipped the pad to the next page, ‘They were also… get this; connected to the proposed bill to give limited legalisation for research purposes to live human tissue.’ ‘You are talking embryos aren’t you?’ Kyle winced, ‘Just say yes or no.’ ‘No….well not technically. Not your regular embryo. The unfertilised bits of….’ ‘Stop!! Please… I don’t need that kind of detail. Nothing organic, George, please. Just keep it to… well the not icky bits.’ ‘Okay. Is it alright if I tell you what they did with it eventually?’ ‘I guess.’ Kyle flung the flannel to one side, ‘No small scale yucky stuff, got it?’ ‘The diary tells; or rather it implies that they made something that no one else had managed to do. They made a clone that started at age Zero.’ ‘But I thought that had been done before? Dolly the sheep and all that?’ ‘No. The clone was born at the age of the original supplier of the genetic material. But this was different. They were like us…’ ‘Wait a minute? You said ‘they’.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Tell me George, when you said they were like us; you mean in age?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And what else?’ ‘That is what I am trying to work out.’ ‘But that is incredible!’ ‘Yes, well I haven’t finished. It’s not half as incredible as what came afterwards.’ ‘Alright, do tell.’ ‘Humph; yes, then we get to the really interesting bit. Given that we don’t know what ‘they’ actually are, we will have to leave that aside for now. Henry had a brother, and the entries made for the last two years before Henry’s departure from this world refer to his, shall we say peculiar relationship with his brother. It seemed they talked about achieving this for years. But the other brother was interested in shall we say more esoteric interests. He travelled a lot, and picked up some souvenirs from his travels. Including, the entry made a month before the last one says, some strange talisman from a cave in France.’ ‘Really?’ Kyle sat up again, he was feeling a bit better, ‘You want me to do some background on the brother?’ ‘Yes, in a minute. But get this. The brother came home and tried to make peace with Henry. They did spend some time together. It says that they were at least talking. Henry admits that it was his brother’s ideas that helped him make the cloning a success.’ ‘So what was this talisman? And what was cloned?’ ‘Ah; well….we don’t actually know what it was that they succeeded in cloning. Perhaps it was a new bit of something. Spare parts….’ ‘Okay,’ said Kyle quickly ‘I get it. And the object the other brother found?’ ‘It appears to have been an object made of pure gold. Something that he, the brother claims came from somewhere else in time.’ ‘Well, yes. Of course.’ Kyle yawned, ‘Sorry. Do go on.’ ‘The item was left in Henry’s keeping for a while he says. His brother had to go on another trp. Clearly they had some trust there. But the thing is he didn’t come back. And right up until his death Henry never knew what happened to his brother. There was no contact. No phone calls, no letters, nothing. Henry took it in his stride. He was philosophical; as they say. And he looked to his trusted solicitor to follow the instructions in the will.’ ‘Which were?’ ‘Henry had put the item in question somewhere for safe keeping. And he needed to make sure as he put it: ‘It didn’t fall into the wrong hands.’ He was certain that someone was watching his every move. He writes that he took the object and gave it to someone who would keep it safe. Someone who no-one could ever fool. A man who knew secrets and would protect this valuable object. He seemed certain that some terrible thing had befallen his Brother. And although he was very accepting of this possibility, he was most anxious that his Brother’s artefact was preserved.’ ‘So he was a believer then after all?’ ‘Perhaps.’ George tapped his biro on the page, ‘But I am more inclined to think that it was his Brother that he was trying to protect. This thing…. This golden key; it would attract the wrong kind of attention. So he made it go away. And if the Brother does return, then there is a set of instructions on how to recover the item.’ ‘And they are where?’ George smiled. ‘No.’ Kyle jumped up, ‘No George, we are not doing that!’ ‘I haven’t said a word.’ ‘You don’t have to.’ Kyle dunked the flannel in the bowl of now tepid water and wrung it out. He rubbed his head, ‘I need a drink.’ ‘Tea?’ George changed to his lighter glasses. ‘Damn it. No! I need a stiff glass of the best.’ ‘I told you it’s for Christmas.’ ‘Your cheap gut rotter then. And don’t forget the ice.’ George smiling went to fetch Kyle a glass of good whisky, rather than the super special stuff. Kyle sighed. He really needed to sleep, but George had got him working the problem mentally already. So he set the timer to one hour and got to work. George came back. ‘There isn’t a name for his brother?’ ‘Henry referred to him as ‘Treacle’. A bit odd. It must have been a nick name.’ ‘Treacle Green?’ Kyle grinned, ‘That sounds like something from a kid’s fantasy movie. That, or a really bad experience with the hard stuff. Shall we ask Sam?’ ‘Do you mind?’ George pushed his glass away just as Kyle was reaching for it, ‘That’s yours.’ Back to prawns. Saturday. And that salad. Remember? ‘Are you sure you want to talk about this?’ ‘What? Yes. You can handle a little light weight conspiracy I take it?’ Sam stared at him. She tugged a strand of her fringe in an annoyed way. That waitress was edging closer again. Kyle turned, ‘Do you mind? This is a private conversation.’ ‘Now Honey! I just was seeing if you wanted more coffee for you and your girlfriend?’ ‘My….? Look, I can see that your name is Miranda… and you are let me guess…. Um… Twenty Three. Well I’m an evil genius. I can make your money disappear.’ ‘My money?’ the waitress looked snooty and shoved her hip to one side and sniffed. ‘Check it if you like.’ ‘You’re not really…. A whatsit… are you?’ ‘No…’ said Kyle slowly, ‘I’m not a Wotsit. They are crunchy and cheese flavoured. I am definitely neither of those two things.’ She began to back off. ‘Just wait.’ said Kyle to Sam. Sam benignly stabbed a radish; ‘She thinks we’re dating.’ ‘Apparently so. Do you care?’ ‘Of course.’ said Sam, and Kyle stopped midway to spearing a slice of smoked cheese. He looked straight at Sam, who was in turn staring at the commotion behind the bar. And over-controlled hiss of argument was heard. A moment later the other waitress, the one who had first served Kyle, came over. ‘Erm…. Excuse me,’ she said, her attitude all terribly polite and apologetic, ‘Could you please put my friend’s account back how it was please?’ ‘What account?’ Kyle waved a piece of lettuce in front of his face to emphasize his point. He saw that Sam was grinning. ‘Please,’ the girl said, ‘I just want get home on time today.’ ‘Dumps on you a lot does she?’ ‘I suppose.’ ‘Don’t be concerned. When the clock strikes One, all will be restored.’ The girl quickly looked at her wrist. There was a clock behind the bar. ‘The speaking clock.’ said Kyle. ‘Yes.’ The girl was round eyed with surprise, ‘How did you….’ ‘Know?’ Kyle put his fork down, leaned forward and whispered, ‘because that one is six minutes fast.’ ‘The boss....’ the girl smiled. ‘Can’t actually change time.’ Kyle became serious faced and enigmatic, ‘But I can.’ ‘She’s a very lucky girl.’ she said quietly and turned and left them alone. ‘I sense you are trying to impress Me.’ said Sam. ‘I wasn’t. But if it did, then I will be very happy.’ ‘It was sleight of hand wasn’t it? It’s a trick.’ ‘Not really.’ ‘They’re in on it?’ ‘Not at all.’ ‘What then?’ ‘Well then I would have to take you out on a date,’ ‘What makes you think I’d agree?’ ‘You haven’t run away already.’ he sat back in the chair and smiled. ‘Did you really do something to her bank account?’ ‘No. It was an illusion.’ ‘So the checking online….?’ ‘When you come into my garden; it is only as real as I want it to be,’ ‘So you controlled what she saw?’ ‘I manipulated what she thought she saw. The trick is to get them to hit the right keys.’ ‘Which are?’ ‘Come on Parker, you said it yourself, they are not very bright.’ ‘Passwords?’ ‘Are the hacker’s friend. Do you know how many people use…. their name, birthday, or child’s DOB or similar?’ ‘Most of them?’ ‘All of them. People are stupid.’ ‘Ah!’ Sam smiled pleased, ‘So doing something even slightly sensible like using a long alphanumeric password is good?’ ‘Until I know that is what you have done. The way it grows is different. But the same principles apply.’ ‘You have me.’ she said. ‘I know.’ he said. They paid and left. ‘Alright, let’s say that I am impressed. I will grant you three wishes.’ Sam sat on a stool in her perfectly tidy kitchen. Kyle looked around. ‘Is it making you nervous? The help is not here today.’ ‘No, it’s not that. I’ve just never seen so many flat empty surfaces.’ He pointed at the pristine acres of counter top. ‘So this is it. I tell you what I want you to do. You do it for me.’ ‘Question? Is it important?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Is it a matter of national security?’ ‘Not in the usual sense. No.’ ‘I see. Is it in a place that would normally require a login?’ ‘Yes. But then again, that might have changed.’ ‘Do you have the old login details?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Good, good…. That might be all I need.’ ‘But it has been changed. I don’t have access.’ ‘Nothing is ever lost. Even when something is erased, it is still there. You have to delete it really, really well, to make it disappear completely. So what is it that you actually want?’ ‘My own research notes.’ ‘For what?’ ‘I can’t really….’ ‘Then I can’t help you.’ Sam stared, ‘Just like that. You won’t help me?’ ‘Won’t, can’t. Same thing. I need all the information you have. The more you can tell me the easier it gets.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘You were hoping to get this….. Research back without alerting me to the actual contents of the file?’ ‘Maybe.’ ‘I need to know what I’m looking for in order to find it.’ ‘Fine. I’ll need to think about this.’ Sam stayed on the stool in the sterile kitchen. She sat very still, thinking. Kyle waited. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’ she said at last, ‘But I need that back. Otherwise I cannot help myself, never mind anything else. How open minded are you?’ ‘Are we talking in the real world?’ ‘Yes. In the valley of the real, all things you find both dark and light; the silent snake and….’ ‘The bird in flight.’ Kyle said the last words together with her. ‘You know it.’ said Sam. ‘Yes. It is one of those things that I like to recite before a difficult job. I mean a potentially empty bag job.’ ‘One when you come out without the goods?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I love that verse…. I don’t remember where it is from.’ ‘A writer before 2020. Songs of Summer… I think.’ ‘What was their name?’ ‘I never did know….it was left anonymously. That is why I think of it. Like leaving roses with no note.’ ‘That might be considered Poetic, as in sentimental.’ Sam looked him in the eye. ‘It just might be they were secretive and shy. And it meant something to someone else. A bit of a message in a bottle.’ ‘So are you ready for this?’ ‘Your secret?’ ‘Some of it.’ ‘All of it.’ Kyle stared at her. They said opposite each other like two combatants about to do battle; in chess or in a computer game. ‘I am going to break my own rules.’ ‘They are your rules to break.’ Kyle said. ‘Not these.’ ‘You must what this info really badly.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘So I can get back to where it began.’ ‘Your Boss?’ ‘I didn’t say that.’ ‘Yes you did. It is about Drucker?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Tell me about the Sandwich.’ ‘Why. It is important?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘It gives me reason to attempt to hack a Government database.’ ‘What makes you think it is that?’ ‘You said you were smart.’ ‘I didn’t say that.’ ‘You implied it.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Tell me then.’ ‘There is a hidden file. It is encrypted. But it is encrypted manually. Not a user program. But the file itself it hidden inside a super computer. It is like trying to storm a fortress.’ ‘I see.’ ‘Doesn’t that bother you?’ ‘You are talking to the best in the business. You want the best hack in. I can do it. Do you want the file deleting from its place of origin?’ ‘You can do that?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘That depends on certain factors.’ ‘Which are?’ ‘Whether I can find a piece of hardware or not.’ ‘What kind of hardware?’ ‘A very big piece of hardware.’ ‘How big?’ ‘Huge.’ ‘How huge are we talking?’ ‘About the same size as this kitchen.’ ‘I see.’ Kyle digested this. They were silent for a few moments. Kyle straightened himself. ‘Do you want to stay?’ Sam looked at him with a curious questioning look. ‘Stay where? On the team?’ ‘No, yes. It was a different question.’ ‘Stay for tea?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What are you having for tea…? Sorry, I mean yes.’ he slid off the stool. ‘Now I have broken your train of thought.’ ‘No. You made me think about some things simultaneously.’ ‘Multitasking?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you really going to help me?’ ‘I think…..yes. I will. It is too tempting.’ ‘I have you then?’ she smiled and slid off the stool into his personal space, stepped back, then stepped forward again. And then when he made no move, reached up and lightly kissed him on the cheek. ‘That was nice.’ said Kyle. ‘Yes. It was…. I think I would like to do that again.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Kyle?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I really like what you do.’ ‘Okay.’ ‘It is very smooth. I saw this; when you first came round here with your friends.’ ‘The question is how did you know?’ ‘A mystery.’ she said. ‘A challenge. Are you going to tell me?’ he asked. ‘No. I’ll let you work it out.’ She tipped her head back slightly so they were nose to nose. ‘When you get inside some systems, you can get lost in there.’ said Kyle. ‘Is it difficult to find your way out?’ asked Sam. ‘Yes.’ ‘What do you do if you can’t find the way out?’ ‘You disconnect manually.’ ‘How?’ ‘Reach under the desk and pull the plug out. And shut down.’ ‘Does it work?’ ‘It’s ugly. It’s better to extract yourself gently and carefully.’ She moved closer, ‘And what if you don’t want to leave?’ ‘Then you are in real danger of being discovered.’ ‘Is that so?’ she said reaching up and gently kissing him. Samantha and Sandwiches. Yeah. All good stuff. Kyle was given a glass of ginger beer and told to not get in the way. She created mess. It was wonderful. Like the exploding fragments of a student party. 'Here it is.' she presented him with a multi-layered sandwich skewered with a giant cocktail stick to hold it all together. 'Wow!' was all he could say. 'There are extra gherkins if you like.' 'I do like,' he felt himself smiling, smiling in a way that was expanding into a stupid grin. This magnificent woman! She made him his dream sandwich..... 'So we do have a deal?' 'Yes.' Kyle stared at the sandwich in admiration before taking a bite. If Sam (detective man) had been here he would have been reading the labels on the jars. Idiot. Very, very idiotic, in fact, Kyle mused; a man, who fails to keep that winsome creature Juliet in a state of general cheeriness, was definitely an idiot. Kyle was not thinking straight, due to an excess of something without a specific name; let’s call it ‘Brain Neutralisation Rays’. It only works on boys, and it only works if the woman is really determined. Durgh!! When aren't they? And then there was Juliet..... Sweet, innocent Juliet. Who was determined, smart, and very much in need of a reassuring hug; but not from Kyle. He had forgotten all about the Juliet thing; and George, who was at this moment grinding his teeth in frustration had not heard from Kyle all day. Kyle ate the sandwich and felt happy. A freak event when not brought about by science fiction, peanut butter or hacking into an online shop and setting all the women's underwear prices to one penny per item. Kyle arrived back just as the sun was setting. He went in the front door, and letting it swing shut behind him, started to unzip his coat. He heard an odd noise a moment later. At first he thought it was the sound of George’s washing machine. It was the television in the conservatory. It had been pulled forward to give one a better view of the garden. George himself was nowhere in sight. Kyle flicked it off. He was puzzled. This wasn’t like George at all. He went through to the garden. He turned round and round, puzzled. Just then he heard a sound. Something like a sigh. There in the half-light a shape. ‘George!’ Kyle hissed hoarsely, ‘Where are you?’ There is was again: a moan. ‘Oh my God!’ Kyle found George face down in the flower bed. He pulled him over. George moaned and started to move. ‘I’m alright.’ He lifted an arm in front of his face, ‘Mostly.’ ‘Okay. Where’s Gina.?’ ‘Gina?’ George tried to sit up, ‘Who?’ he sagged back down again. ‘This is bad. Very, very bad.’ Kyle fumbled for his phone. ‘Find Sam.’ said George in a vague way, ‘He needs to get to the archive….’ he sagged backwards again. About three quarters of an hour later, they were sat in the kitchen with the radio on and a strong tea steaming in front of them both. Sam was on his way over. George had refused to go to the hospital. The paramedic admitted that the only thing to be done was to keep an eye on him; and then insisted that he make a police report if he wouldn’t let them take him to hospital. ‘You’re concussed.’ ‘I’m fine.’ said George, who was sat without his glasses on and flipped open a notebook on the table in front of him. ‘Gina is on her way.’ Kyle said, ‘I hope you’re sure you don’t want to go to hospital.’ ‘Gina will look after me.’ He grinned then, which faded a moment later into a grimace, ‘My head really hurts. Who hit me?’ ‘We asked you that.’ said Kyle. ‘Yes. Yes of course you did.’ George sipped the tea. Just at that moment there was the distant rattle of the doorbell. ‘Thank the Lord for that!’ Kyle felt that his nursing skills were not his best feature, and anyway he needed to check if the person or persons had been in the computers. There was no point in explaining this to the police. They didn’t know what it did; and if they found out, then he, Kyle might be charged with something that was akin to not having a license when driving a heavy goods vehicle. A minute later he had let in Gina, and a rather moody Sam. Gina had given him a lift over here. And he had that look of one who has been interrupted in the middle of a really good movie; as in, absolutely pissed off. Sam flung himself in to the nearest comfortable chair. Kyle went to make tea and biscuits; it seemed the least offensive and most sensible thing right now. ‘There were three.’ said George, just as Kyle returned with a tray. Sam had his cigarettes out and was fiddling with the contents of the packet in a way that suggested that he was not really in need of just a smoke to alleviate more than a little aggravation of a complex and distressing kind. Kyle felt a small wavelet of guilt, as he watched Sam nervously fiddle with the packet. Juliet. What was wrong there? Kyle had tried to keep his distance from the females of the species that the other two seemed keen to drape around themselves and their lives at will. Until Parker had appeared on the edge of his world, Kyle had been happy to be a neutral observer, who interacted on that level that made him sexless and semi invisible in their eyes. In fact, until Parker had brought him to everyone’s attention, he could not imagine Juliet calling round at his flat in a state of vulnerability however ‘safe’ around girls he might be. He went to the kitchen. ‘Coffee?’ ‘What?’ Kyle looked up, to see a solicitous Gina holding a mug and spoon in a suggestive way. ‘Yeah. I mean thanks.’ ‘Jolly good,’ said Gina, ‘But don’t you think George should be checked out? He’s acting weird.’ ‘He won’t go. You make him.’ ‘He said that you made him sit down.’ ‘I did,’ Kyle gritted his teeth, ‘so that the paramedic could take a good look at him. You ring them if you’re worried.’ ‘I did. They will be back in Ten minutes.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘And the police said they want a statement. I made them tea. I mean they need to stay calm. Too much coffee might be a bad thing. Don’t you think?’ ‘Where?’ ‘The front room. Sam is talking to them.’ ‘But he wasn’t here when it happened.’ ‘Yes…’ Gina looked puzzled, ‘he called 999. Did someone hit you over the head too?’ ‘No, I….’ Kyle stood, ‘I’ll just go and have a word anyway.’ He meandered through to the lounge and stared. There was no one there. He looked behind the long ceiling to floor heavy curtains. It was quiet and there was a mug on the table near to the lamp as if someone had just a few minutes got up out of the chair. He felt the mug. It was still warm. ‘Kyle!’ ‘What?’ he spun round expecting Sam or one of the policemen, George stood in the doorway with his glasses on carrying a newspaper. He dropped them down his nose and looked over the tops at Kyle. ‘I was looking for you. Where have you been?’ ‘Where have I been?’ He started to move and stopped, ‘Where have I been? I thought you were in here.’ ‘No.’ George straightened, ‘I was upstairs, I shouted. Why didn’t you answer?’ ‘I just got back.’ George frowned, in that way he did when Kyle was taking the piss. ‘Ha ha. Now where were you? We have some results on the possible location of the archived talisman. It’s….’ a noise in the background stopped them. ‘I wasn’t here.’ Kyle said, ‘You were in the…. garden. In the flowerbed.’ ‘I was upstairs.’ ‘Where’s Gina?’ ‘Gina?’ George turned and started to walk through to the kitchen, ‘Gina is doing Yoga I would imagine. That, or she getting an early night. Why are you asking?’ ‘But….she was here; a moment ago. She said she’d make me coffee. You bumped your head….’ They went into the kitchen. George spun round, ‘Look, I appreciate the effort, but you can lay off now. That is enough. I don’t want to play this game. What’s got into you?’ ‘No Game.’ said Kyle, ‘There is something weird with reality. I swear to you it’s the truth.’ ‘Alright,’ said George, ‘let’s say for a moment that you were telling me this straight, and then tell me how, in the name of little blue Smurfs do you explain this?’ Kyle looked and he saw the laptop on the kitchen and a newspaper, and an image on the screen. It was Kyle’s login icon. George touched the mouse and the screen displayed several open images of the ‘Time Map’. Kyle just stared in disbelief. He had come back in late. And he hadn’t had time to get the computer out. And Gina was here and Sam. And he felt funny. He sat down rather suddenly. ‘I say,’ said George, ‘what’s the matter with you?’ ‘I…. err....’ ‘Goodness. You have a massive bruise appearing.’ ‘Where?’ ‘On your head! You must tell me. When did it happen?’ ‘I… don’t know.’ Kyle answered truthfully. The more he tried to remember the fuzzier it got. Until he thought about the moment that Gina offered him a coffee. He went to the drawer and looked inside. All the spoons were in the holder. Everything was tidy. ‘I’ll make a coffee,’ said George, still watching him, ‘We really need to talk.’ ‘No. I mean I’ll have tea instead. This is not happening.’ he looked at the graphic on the top of the stack of open boxes on the screen. It was trying to tell him something. It was as if some alternate part of himself was leaving him a message. He couldn’t see why. It was boxes and numbers. And then he had it… a phone number. He got a pen and scribbled it down. ‘Mobile?’ ‘George handed him the handset. He dialled and looked at the resulting deadline tone as probably meaning something. Look it up. He did while George stirred the tea. That was better. A number nearby. One that had existed a few years ago. But not now. It was a number for a ‘Prim Jensen’, a female. That was, he found it was short for ‘Primula’. A bit like the name of cheese spread. It was turning into a very cheese themed day. Perhaps a bit too much for this liking. The connection. She was now…. working for an agency. So what? He prodded some more. Mrs Jenson, she was on the books of ‘Speedy Services’…. Housekeeping services. Come on brain! ‘I think you need to be looked at.’ George was doing his worried face. ‘Look at me then.’ ‘Someone else.’ ‘Nada. Not doing it Big guy. This is not just a slippage in time. This is…. Well something else entirely. Interaction with other people was included. A separate short parallel.’ ‘Here?’ George looked irritated. ‘Not here.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘I won’t allow it.’ ‘Come on George. Don’t be silly. You can’t prevent it.’ ‘I should though.’ he picked up his mug and swigged it purposefully; ‘This is getting personal. I will get very annoyed in a minute.’ ‘Good.’ ‘And that bump on your head does look bad.’ ‘I can’t feel a thing.’ ‘That is bad. Really not good….’ George left the room. Kyle turned and then he smelt smoke. And then he saw the table was empty, except for the usual jars and stuff in the middle and the salt and pepper grinders. And a pad of sticky notes. Realising that he had a pen in his pocket Kyle grabbed the sticky notes and wrote a big ‘4’ on it. He stuck it into the middle of the table. He went through to the lounge. Gina and George were canoodling. ‘5’ was stuck on the coffee table. He went to the conservatory, George sat watching the TV: a documentary on buried treasure in the Mediterranean. He stuck a ‘6’ on the glass top of the little table there. ‘I will keep doing this until you stop It.’ he said to no-one in particular. He went back in the kitchen. No one there. He sat down. And then a moment later a sharp pain put an end to his consciousness. Kyle woke up in a hospital bed, and knew that he was alright. Everything that he remembered was clear. But the throb in his head was annoying. But because of that it was evidence. There was something to be said for being naturally secretive. Later he had a brief conversation with a medic. They made notes. Kyle was as obtuse as he knew how to be without deliberately giving them the idea that he had been hit on the head just a little too hard, and needed to be kept in longer. ‘Unknown assailant.’ muttered Kyle to himself, as Juliet sat staring at him across George’s kitchen table. She gave no indication of the conversation that they had had a couple of days ago. Sam came back in and started talking to Kyle about the latest developments. He couldn’t find these archives. It was impossible. Apparently. Kyle smiled to himself. Of course. Why make it easy? This disturbance in the Time Flow was a series of ripples of events; several close together and then everything went back to the normal flow. Or did it? Kyle wasn’t so sure. Sam got out a tobacco tin. Uh oh! Kyle paid attention; this could be that little detail that gave it away. ‘Will you stop looking narky?’ Sam said, ‘I thought I’d give it a try. It takes ages to roll the bloody things. And they keep going out. Ergo: I smoke less. It was silly just to stick to the others. This is so annoying that I’m bound to give up in the end.’ ‘Good Call.’ said Kyle, he turned to Juliet, but she stood up and stalked out of the room, ‘Was it something I said?’ Sam stood, ‘Nah, don’t sweat it mate, she’s well…. You know.’ ‘Actually… I don’t know.’ said Kyle, ‘So sort the bloody situation out! A drippy girl puts me off my Kung Fu.’ ‘Really?’ Sam looked cross, ‘Shall I tell Juliet what you just said?’ ‘If you like. Maybe she will think it’s a declaration of love; slagging the other guy off!’ ‘Point taken,’ said Sam, ‘I’ll go and talk to Juliet.’ ‘Piss off then,’ said Kyle, ‘and don’t come back in looking like that. It’s bad for my Karma.’ ‘Your Karma?’ ‘My Aura.’ ‘Shut up.’ said Sam grinning. He left to find Juliet. Kyle turned back to the computer screen, and sighed with satisfaction. This was more like it. So what had they got so far? Treacle Green; his brother Henry; a golden artefact; an archive no one could find however hard they tried…. Samantha’s need to get to the file that was hidden inside an obscure archive of a different kind; and then the ‘hardware’ something big, very big…. What? He reasoned that the one place where this thing could be hidden was in the same place that the artefact resided. But what was this thing? Drucker was the key…. Or was he? But he had disappeared. So think; what was the connection between a scientist who wanted to find the Theory of everything - a unified field theory; and one who had worked on cloning and genetic research? Kyle prodded a key or two. Was there even a connection? And why was it that Samantha seemed to know what he had been doing even though no one ever knew what he was doing? Different approach…. There was something solid, an actual object that connected the concepts in both cases. Henry’s hidden object was connected through the brother, the fact of their relationship. That was the only connection. And this big thing that Samantha talked about; that was part of her research. It was…. scientific, a science project. She was like Henry then… an obsessive, a secret researcher with her odd object. And the words that went with it? The file that he, Kyle had been asked to retrieve. But was he just joining dots where there were none? So… was there a connection between this Henry and Joseph Drucker? Let’s start with that. Then a bit more background on the brother, the oddly tagged Treacle. And lastly, where was Treacle? Why had he made himself absent, not even reappearing for his brother’s funeral? George had got the diary because there was a connection to Henry. George and Henry…. Kyle and Samantha…. Of course! George was a Doctor, and he had been called to many things of an unusual nature. He had dealt in the last moments of some of the people that Henry might have known. He trusted George. And so who was the Man who could hide something so well that it could not be found? Think… think. Kyle threw down his pencil. This was not anything that would cave in on the first press. Kyle was inside; and losing objectivity. The maze of the real and the thing that Sam (Detective Man) had experienced. So where was the detection kit? In that cupboard. He fetched it. Switched it on; set the level to low. He waved the wand over himself. Shit! What the hell had happened? Sam came back in followed then by George and Gina. ‘Good God!’ George took the wand off him, ‘You’re getting the wires crossed!’ ‘What is that reading George?’ Gina was craning her neck to take in the results of the scan. ‘It means,’ said George with real relish, ‘That I can do to Kyle what Sam has always begged me to do to him.’ ‘Jolly good.’ said Sam in a flat tone. ‘Where’s Juliet?’ Gina’s neck was swivelling again. ‘She left.’ said George, without a hint of compassion. He turned to Kyle with an attentive look, ‘You will come to the comfy chair. And then we will find out what has been happening.’ Sam sat in the chair nearby and sullenly twirled an unlit roll up between his finger and thumb. He had the clipboard and a list of questions. ‘Get on with it.’ said Kyle lying back on the sofa cushions. ‘I’ll start when I’m good and ready.’ ‘Fine. Then tell me about Juliet.’ ‘What about her?’ ‘I thought you two were getting along?’ ‘Yes. We were.’ Sam turned away and Kyle couldn’t make out if he was upset or angry with him. There were some indicators of a strong undertow of rage and confusion. The over controlled personality that Sam usually expressed was slipping off like a mask at a party, when midnight approaches. Kyle began to see a side to him he didn’t like and it was unpleasant and not at all what he was used to. George, for all his eccentricity was much more pleasant to be around. In fact they could be said to be good friends. If not actually ‘Besties’. George returned with Gina, who was carrying a large tray with tea, biscuits and Sandwiches. ‘I’m not hungry.’ said Sam. ‘Tut tut Sammy;’ Gina grinned, ‘This is for Kyle. Our lovely computer nerd. I think he looks a little peaky, so I fixed him up with some special double decker treats. That is after George has got the info out of him. It will take the tea a few minutes to brew properly.’ ‘Nice teapot.’ said Kyle, feeling a little embarrassed at all the attention. ‘It’s new.’ said Gina, ‘Do you like it?’ ‘Oh please!’ Sam shifted the chair, ‘Can we get on with this.’ George sat watching all this with a half-smile. He was relaxed, which told Kyle that he had already worked out something. He would just need Kyle to confirm it. ‘First things first,’ said George, ‘we need to find out where you got this rather lovely rainbow of speckles.’ ‘Please don’t make me have that injection!’ Kyle pleaded. ‘I think that we might not need to have it. If you answer all my questions totally truthfully.’ George’s expression became enigmatic. He nodded at Gina. She got up, ‘Pour it out in four more minutes George.’ she warned and left the room. ‘So tell us where you have been since yesterday.’ said Sam. ‘I think I’d rather talk to George about all this if you don’t mind. It’s well, you know.’ ‘Fine.’ Sam got up and left. Kyle watched him leave and turned to look at George. George just shrugged. ‘Right. Let’s find out what you have had contact with. It must be something that you have crossed paths with recently. That’s a rather magnificent spectrum of particles you’ve picked up.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Is it like last time?’ ‘A little.’ George picked up the clipboard, ‘I think you need to tell me the truth.’ ‘Juliet came to see me yesterday.’ ‘I see.’ ‘She can’t tell Sam. She was upset. I had a quick look. There’s a parallel leaking through George. I told her I’d keep an eye out for anything else that turns up. She seemed a little reassured. But that just means that we have a bit of a divergence.’ ‘They seem to be getting increasingly common at the moment,’ said George, ‘but you saw a few things that were more than just slightly different, yes?’ ‘Well, I don’t know. They might have been at that point in the argument where things could go any which way. And several roads lead to the same point.’ ‘Mmm….. I think you may be right. So tell me about your, umm thing with Ms Parker.’ ‘I…. err….. Well……’ ‘I see. So it is a thing?’ ‘Sort of. I hadn’t got past a chaste and respectful kiss.’ ‘I think you are way past the security screening of that tighter than tight minded woman. You are a genius Kyle.’ ‘I am?’ ‘Sam Parker is in love with you.’ ‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say…’ ‘In love and melting with astonishment at your accomplishments that you so readily display to no one at all.’ ‘That is a puzzle.’ ‘And you didn’t tell her?’ ‘Not at all.’ ‘Mmm…. We’ll come back to that. Tell me what you did round at her house?’ ‘We talked. And then I had a Sandwich.’ ‘What kind of sandwich?’ ‘A…what is this? You want a blow by blow account?’ ‘Yes. At some time between yesterday and now you have come into contact with something that infected you with those particles. It is something we know about. But these were, well a little more exotic. They seemed to be saying that you have been everywhere, and everywhen…’ ‘Time travel items? But I didn’t touch anything.’ ‘So tell me about the sandwich?’ ‘Well it was good. Wholemeal and rye. Very tasty.’ ‘And what did it contain?’ ‘Err…. Cheese, mature cheddar, tomatoes, pastrami, red onion, mayonnaise, slivers of cucumber, and a little tomato pickle…’ Kyle was on a roll now. ‘Okay… just let me catch up.’ George was scribbling it all down. ‘…and there were sliced gherkins, and just a touch of banana pickle.’ ‘Was that from the market? The banana pickle?’ ‘Yes… but I don’t see…’ ‘Indulge me… and did you see where the gherkins came from?’ ‘Well no. It was a large jar. She said they were her favourites.’ ‘I bet they were.’ George shifted in his seat. ‘There is always something they can never quite let go of.’ ‘Pardon? I thought you were asking about sandwiches?’ ‘I was. But this is as you said: a bit more unusual.’ ‘Did I say that?’ ‘Yes.’ George regarded him solidly, ‘The gherkins.’ ‘The gherkins.’ Kyle almost laughed. ‘You remember the thing with the cat?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘It’s a bit like that. You touched something that had been somewhere else in time. That is what inflected you. But you ate something and that can do other things. I don't quite know what just yet.' ‘A jar of pickles?’ Kyle sat up, ‘That’s preposterous!’ ‘She took something with her: when she left. She had a few things that were personal and they would fade with the background radiation of travel eventually. But an object that was untouched, it would hold a charge for a long time. There must be a kitchen on this thing.’ ‘What thing?’ ‘Oh please! Do keep up Kyle. A time machine!!! A sodding time machine…. right under our noses the whole time. Or it would be if we could find it.’ ‘The archive.’ ‘Yes.’ George said mildly, ‘the archive.’ ‘So how do we find it?’ ‘We don’t. There is something I need you to do. And you need to try to keep this professional. Don’t let her get inside your head.’ ‘You mean like Gina?’ said Kyle with an edge in his voice. ‘Yes. That’s right. It’s just a good job we’re on the same side.’ ‘Sam is. I’m sure of it.’ ‘You don’t know that. She works for a secret project.’ ‘Worked for,’ Kyle corrected. ‘Really?’ George sat back. ‘No…. I mean surely not?’ ‘You love stuck fool! She’s played you. And by that I mean she wants you to do something and you agreed.’ ‘Are you saying I should go back on my word?’ ‘No, that would not be right. Do what she asks. But report it back to me. And if at the end of all this you find yourself being genuinely stuck on this girl. I’ll give you the money for an engagement ring.’ ‘I say… that’s not it… I mean it’s… I only just met her. Well six months ago.’ ‘And does anything strike you as odd about her?’ ‘Well… err,’ Kyle wasn’t sure how to answer this. There were a lot of things odd about Parker. But he was sure George didn’t mean any of those. ‘Okay, I give up.’ ‘At the time Drucker disappeared Sam Parker was his assistant right?' ‘Well, of course…’ ‘And she gave her statement to the police. And then the case meandered along for ages with no leads.’ ‘We know all this already.’ ‘Yes,’ George was patient, ‘But look. See something that seems so obvious you have probably missed it.’ ‘What?’ ‘When she was working for Joseph Drucker, how old would you say she was?’ ‘She was a young girl. Very young. She had won a scholarship to study and this was her work experience year. She was the best in her class….’ ‘Yes but think Kyle!’ ‘The case made the papers… I mean there wasn’t much to go on. In those days it wasn’t like it is now; with all the technology….. Oh my…’ Kyle sat back unstrung. ‘You see it then?’ George leaned forward. ‘But… she can’t be more than… well, I didn’t think about it.’ ‘Indeed,’ George put the clipboard down. ‘She was twenty three. Then suddenly here she is, and she is...?' ‘Well about… I should say mid-thirties. Roughly. Never ask a lady her age.’ ‘Of course not. But she would have to be a very well preserved sixty year old or there about. And since she plainly isn’t, what do we conclude?’ ‘She has got here in a Time machine?’ George didn’t say anything, but just smiled. ‘Oh no! George I can’t!’ ‘Yes, you can. And you will. She is going to tell us where it is.’ Kyle ate bacon and egg; rather as a means of recovering his sense of reality than any need for energy right now. George was in the lab making headway with the little metal thing. He wouldn’t let Kyle near it, and had refused to tell him anything either, because as he pointed out, Kyle in that case wouldn’t have to hide anything from the insightful and increasingly fascinating Samantha. Kyle took another bite. He was not familiar with this weird feeling, and if he wanted advice there were two people he would make it his job to avoid asking at all costs. George and Sam were dating women who Kyle thought were too exotically attired (Gina) or too damned peculiar (Juliet)… come to think about it Juliet did seem a little less peculiar, especially after that leaky eyes session right before Kyle introduced her to the profiles of her alternate selves… well some of them. George seemed quite unimpressed, his view was typical; they had too much on already to take an interest in something that didn’t hold the promise of immediate and real threat to one’s life, security, bank account, or moral outlook. Kyle began to suspect that George didn’t take Juliet terribly seriously, even though he seemed on the face of it to like her; Kyle on the other hand thought her a worthy and valuable person, and it was the lack of knowledge rather than any real sense of wanting to be a jerk that had him clam up and be dumb as an egg custard. He was pleased that Juliet had seen through this; to the virtue of the righteous hack. She seemed okay, if a little thin, and this whole, askingSamantha-where-a-time-machine-is scenario was starting to stress him in ways that were largely down to the lack of brown sauce and chilli dip than anything else. But she was a poet of the world, and mistress of the old school, one who knew the love of slide rules, and pencils and things that go crunch and need sharpening in the night. She saw something he didn’t and he liked her for it. Because she saw in him the missing part. Her knowledge was not as rich in that area, and in realising that the complimentary parts of her and him were about to be subject to some kind of experiment by George made him feel a little angry. Why? She was great, and he liked her. Couldn’t it just be simple? But Kyle slurped tea to wash down the last bit of the sandwich and sobered. He knew that what made her fascinating was this wonderful dangerous side to her knowledge. Without it she would not be what she was. She wouldn’t even be here, that is if George’s hypothesis was correct. This might require delicacy. Kyle resorted to the one thing he knew; records of personnel. He dug in deep and couldn’t find her. It then occurred to him that she might have been a replacement for someone else. But who? Female, researcher, and round that time ago back in the distant days of the Nineteen-Eighties. Computers were practically in the Stone Age then, and records didn’t always go back as far as was liked for him to get anything useful. College books… books… yes!! They were electronically converted, and now he was on a different tack. One that took him into the annals of Sam’s old college, there…. Just there, and there; friends, the physics team, a challenge; they were all brilliant. So what happened to them? Six names and six destinies. Only Sam had got the opportunity, maybe. Kyle decided that he would get a pen and paper out, and the ereader, and put his feet up and scan some of the documents. A bit of background would help, and he might actually not need to fake an interest in this Time box thing if he could find some reference to it all in the history of all that around the time that Sam Parker was still at college. After ten minutes of this he began to get sleepy. It was due to some intense stuff last night. And now he was sat down he didn’t want to move. So this is what it feels like…. being relaxed. Kyle thought about getting up to go to the lab just to annoy George and get him to say something rude, but he just didn’t feel motivated. He yawned hugely and his head nodded forward. Just then, the door swung open and bumped rather sharply against the nearest chair. ‘Having a kip? Don’t mind me.’ Sam was carrying a load of print outs. George came in looking thunderous. ‘Bloody mountains of it, I should think.’ he said and glared at no one in particular. Kyle rubbed his eyes, ‘What’s up?’ he said and tried to see what it was. Sam put another stack down and left the room. ‘There’s more.’ said George, ‘I am distressed.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘Bloody fax machine threw a total wobbly. It is still pulling the stuff through. Most of it is the contents of the yellow pages for the north of London. Or should I say Londonium. It seems determined to translate this into old English. Someone is having a joke.’ ‘Let me see.’ Kyle pulled the nearest sheet towards him. ‘Err… George, this looks like it might be the schematic for something.’ ‘What!’ George looked thunderous, ‘You would have thought that with all the advances in technology; someone would have some up with a way of preventing this sort of thing from happening!’ ‘It seems to make sense if you have a physics degree.’ ‘Crap! This is no sense. Pseudo whatsits. Honestly!’ ‘Most of it is… as you say garbage. But look at this. The numbering on the page is different. It’s from a different document. We just need to rearrange this to make sense of the pattern.’ ‘Are you saying that this is a message?’ ‘It could be.’ Kyle lifted one sheet out, ‘The facts may or may not be rubbish but someone has constructed the finest place to hide something. It might need a key.’ ‘Then why don’t they just give me the bloody key?’ ‘Because,’ Kyle swallowed and then continued, ‘it proves your worth. This is code, but not all: and that is poetic nonsense. Or sense that does not fit, like mint among strawberries.’ ‘Okay then, make sense of it.’ George stopped sounding cross, and took on an air of perplexity, which was nearly as intimidating. He sat down as if waiting for the answer to pop right up out of the coffee table. ‘Right. I think I need coffee first. But look at this…’ ‘What?’ ‘There is something here. Look.’ ‘I see it.’ George peered closer. ‘The date is saying something.’ ‘Is it backwards? I can’t see.’ ‘Just a minute,’ Kyle found a magnifying sheet in among his note books. ‘That looks like…’ George sat back, ‘you do know what this means?’ ‘Illuminate me.’ said Kyle. ‘This…. This annoying fax was sent from three years in the future.’ ‘The time code on the doc could be faked George; someone is messing with your head. Go make me some coffee, and I’ll get round the code somehow.’ ‘What are you going to do?’ George was suddenly suspicious. ‘It may have come from somewhere else, but it still had to be directed to your machine via the local exchange. There is a point of entry into our system.’ ‘Find it Kyle.’ George stood up suddenly, ‘This is getting out of hand.’ ‘Okay.’ ‘It means that someone knows what we are doing. Someone is ahead of us. I don’t want you to go back to your place for a while. You will be safer here.’ ‘Fine.’ said Kyle and picked up two of the sheets: one in each hand. George stomped off. Personally, Kyle thought he was being just a little too melodramatic. And he still wasn’t going to tell him about that metal thing, or the plaque that came with the diary, or more to the point what he intended to do with all that cannabis. Perhaps George could do with a little smoke. He was starting to get the stage where he might decide to make a curry, and then insist that Kyle test tasted it. Kyle shook himself and returned to the sheets in front of him. Sam seemed to have made himself scarce. Perhaps he had gone home. Kyle shrugged. They always treated him like that. But it was better not to be interrupted when you were delving into the midst of something inexplicably complex. They just didn’t get it. He decided to give it two hours and then go and ring the redoubtable Samantha. She would be awake. In fact he hadn’t worked out when she did sleep. And trying not to imagine her in a cotton nightie, he set the timer and focused his mind. ***** Chapter Three Vanishing Point. Parker mused on the intricacies of cross dimensional travel and stirred her tea. The ‘Help’ shuffled into the kitchen and rather noisily put her mop and bucket into the kitchen cupboard. The counters were disinfected, empty and terribly sterile of life. It was an empty lab of a kitchen. Sam just stirred her tea, waiting for her housekeeper to leave the room. She eventually shuffled out and Sam turned her attention to her small notebook. There were a few things that might be taken, but not many. Not this time. The next stop was ahead, again. Sam was beginning to doubt if she would ever find Joseph. Had he made the meet? Would they coincide this time? It was baffling and no joke. The knowledge she had of this was locked inside her mind. It opened with a keyword that only existed on a certain day; in a commonly found document. And today was that day. Everything month, Sam checked it. And every month she was left with that empty feeling inside. Perhaps this was the last stop and she would stay here. Hopefully not for too long. There are things that cannot stay buried. They will be found by someone eventually. Sam knew too much to be abandoned by her employers. She was hiding in this backwater. And inside an empty object in another not empty room was something so startling even she did not get it out to look at it. Not while she knew she would be here for quite a while. Anyway, she did not have the skill or the instructions. There are thing that are so dangerous, it would take a genius or a fool to enter that place where their use is permitted. Sam sighed…. She was both and neither, depending on her mood. But now, after all this time she suspected something that she had begun to think after the last house move, that they were just keeping her on ice in case they needed her again; and that Joseph had been compromised and someone else was pulling her strings. She made the best of it. She stayed loyal to her scientific principles if not her moral ones. There was nothing else for it really. Love of country or of the future of mankind was not really a motivating factor. Too much time alone had made her weak. It gnawed away at her resolve until she had been tempted. Kyle. He was the dark alchemy she had been waiting for, an exceptional individual who hung out in the semi-secret world of the half and half funded secret project. It was a find… she had been studying him of course. But to accidentally meet; it was fortuitous. Or perhaps it was meant to be. She sat back and half closed her eyes, recalling a day in the lab. It was the week before…. Well, then everything changed. Joseph Drucker… he bounded in looking so excited. He told Sam to check that no one was listening. Then he unfolded an object from a giant white hanky, the fellow of one he perpetually carried. ‘What is that?’ Sam had asked. ‘It is a piece of kit that someone does not need any more. No one wants it.’ ‘Are you sure?’ Sam edged closer. ‘Don’t say you’re going to get a taste for this as well?’ ‘Of course I am. There would be nothing for me here, if you were not here.’ ‘If that is what you want?’ ‘I don’t know. I don’t know Joseph.’ And she looked at the thing he held out to her, rather to permit her to inspect it than to touch it. But she reached out and touched it anyway. She had looked up, and met his eyes, ‘Gotcha.’ he had said, and then quickly wrapped and pocketed the item. She shifted in her seat and opened her eyes. She needed that code. But most of all she needed the things that no one ought to discover. And the knowledge that Kyle could chop it up into electronic packages, gave her a hungry sense of hollow anticipation. Sam strolled into her untidy study. She put the fresh cuppa down on a small space left clear for that purpose, then settled herself down to read the monthly journal. A knitting magazine…. Oh well. Sam had read about cables and circular knitting; she had absorbed the finer points of merino wool and alpaca. But still in all this time no key words. Apart from starting her down the road to the local craft shop to actually get some knitting needles and try the techniques, she didn’t see that anything had changed. Hidden within. So, every month; usually on a Saturday, she collected the magazine and went home for tea and crumpets and some mindless TV. This was the only time she allowed herself to be distracted. Sam worked on ‘Time Distortion Science’ theories and she posted copies of her findings to a PO Box. This was her connection with her sponsor and project coordinator; a shadowy person whose real name was never known. Sam simply knew him or her as ‘Pride Lion’. They did not meet and Sam’s job was to observe and extract the data from the current time period. She wasn’t really a native, in the conventional sense. It was a job that required a certain disposition to secrecy, way beyond that level that any ordinary person was capable of exhibiting. But Parker had left after Joseph had been kidnapped; she was offered choice, take the job or go to jail for something that she could be found guilty of. Sam was philosophical about it. The company needed her, and she felt it was better to work for the lions than be thrown to them. But now….. Sam turned the page and started to read the next bit. And then all at once…. There it was! She saw pictures in her mind. The words read in the right order triggered a cascade of images suffused with information. Sam grabbed the notebook and started to write down the information. This little key of supressed memory was like a hidden box inside her own mind. The thing was to make it inaccessible to an agent of the enemy. So the facts copied themselves into the part of the mind that retained shape and good stability as long as she was awake. If she slept, it would vanish. Samantha didn’t sleep for more than two or three hours at a time. She was waiting for something; either her long lost colleague Joseph Drucker; or the people who had taken him. One the source of joy, the other misery and fear. Even the ‘Help’ was not a pain with all her complaining and grumbling. Sam liked her presence; it helped her remember where she was in time. The woman and her dusters was a fixture in that moment of Sam’s world where the old and the new meet. Mrs Jenson had worked in a local laboratory as a cleaner. And Control had insisted that Sam hire her to do the housekeeping. It wasn’t clear if they had known each other in the past. So Sam tolerated her presence. While she still arrived and shuffled around, there was no immediately danger. The day she didn’t turn up; that would be when Sam would know that her protection had been removed. Sam felt that the interaction with someone who was probably spying on her, gave her some leeway in the scenario when she was faced with a new set of instructions. She scribbled furiously not, it might be considered because she didn’t have enough time to write things down. But because she wanted to do some investigating before the end of the day; and using the information with the context of memory was much more reliable than notes read after the fact. Sam left the house. She walked quickly, her head down. The unsettled weather mirrored her mood and her thoughts turned again to Kyle. It was not to be. She saw something so clearly, and was already unravelling the explanation she would read to herself to reinforce the idea that leaving people and things behind was actually a good idea. She came at last to a door, and she stood there for a little while summoning the courage to knock. At last she did, and the door opened and she was ushered inside. It swung shut behind her and she was to fall out of our story for a while… for this is the way of things. We cannot know what it is we do in fact do. If only to assuage her guilt, Samantha left something where she knew Kyle would find it. One thing. One trace of herself. And just like that she had disappeared. Kyle tried to ring Samantha. There was no need to be concerned. She had often not answered. But she always rang him back. Neither he nor she carried a mobile phone. It was a mark of their professions. An indicator of the paranoia that they had both at one time or another let into their lives. After the third attempt he was getting a little miffed. And at last when he'd got to the seventh call with no response; he let it slip into his mind that she might have gone somewhere. Eventually he summoned George, who immediately put a trace on her: any phone call, any credit card used, any phone either dialled or receiving the signal from another user; then there would be something he could use. It was late. Kyle sat with his back to the big radiator. He felt cold. He did not feel worried. But if temperature could correspond to happiness then Kyle was unhappy. It was a vague feeling, a little like the feeling that you’ve forgotten something when you have gone shopping, but with a lot more gravity. George had his feet up on the settee, and sighed. They had come to the conclusion that Samantha Parker was nowhere to be found. ‘This is surreal.’ said Kyle. ‘At least there is an address.’ George waved a piece of paper. ‘Not exactly the best news. I want to find the girl.’ ‘Perhaps she is there.’ George stared at him without breathing. ‘Shit!’ Kyle pressed himself against the radiator trying to suck in some warmth from the metal, ‘I think I’ll go to bed.’ ‘No more snooping.’ said George, ‘we’ll think of something.’ ‘Then tell me what you know about the metal plate?’ ‘It’s a label.’ ‘No shit!’ Kyle rubbed his hands over his face, ‘So where is it from?’ ‘It looks like it slots into a shelf. An ID, like in a library.’ ‘Or an archive?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘So what about that other thing you found?’ ‘Oh?’ George seemed a little upset, ‘It was a bracelet. A bit of a time object.’ ‘So what does it do?’ ‘Nothing. It’s like a power pack. It’s the innards of the thing. The power source.’ ‘And the outside?’ Kyle was really getting annoyed with George for holding out to on him, ‘Where is that?’ ‘In the archive.’ ‘Ah! I see where this is going. You want us to go and break into this archive?’ ‘Not exactly.’ ‘Well what exactly?’ At that moment Sam his detective mate wandered in. he was wearing a casual jacket and jeans unlike his usual tidy professional look. His blonde hair was slightly ruffled and untidy looking. ‘Yes. I know.’ Sam said, ‘I am scruffy. So don’t bother saying it!’ ‘I wasn’t going to say anything.’ Said Kyle, ‘honest.’ ‘Well that would be a first.’ Sam grumbled. ‘Now then boys,’ George interrupted with a louder tone that made them sit up, ‘We need the team to work here. I know it’s a bit bad. And there really isn’t much to go on. But we now have another problem.’ ‘What is it this time?’ said Sam. ‘Just a mo.’ George was consulting his smartphone, ‘Yes…. Mmm. We have a positive ID on Mr Green. He lives quite near here. A stone’s throw away one might say.’ ‘But why not get in touch with his Brother?’ Kyle moved to the other comfy chair. ‘And why not attend his funeral.’ ‘I think,’ George mused and leaned back in thinking mode, ‘It was because he didn’t want anyone to recognise him.’ ‘Why not?’ said Sam. Kyle didn’t say anything. He was already working it out. Already seeing a pattern forming. He noticed George watching him. George grinned, as the expression on Kyle’s face changed. ‘You got it.’ said George. ‘Got what?’ Sam looked from one to the other and back again, ‘Got what? What the hell is going on here?’ ‘Only the cleverest thing ever.’ George was fiddling with a pencil now, ‘Do you want a diagram?’ ‘Yes please.’ said Sam. ‘I got it.’ said Kyle. ‘I know you have.’ said George. ‘So tell me what the heck is going on here?’ Sam leaned over the sketch that George had helpfully supplied. ‘Kyle, to you.’ George stood up, ‘I need to ring Gina. Won’t be long.’ ‘Right.’ Sam turned back to Kyle, ‘Give Kyle.’ ‘No need to be so abrupt. I am human. I do have feelings.’ ‘You feel me not making you the next cup of tea? Just get on with it!’ ‘Fine,’ Kyle said shortly, ‘here goes….. We are standing in a train station, and then suddenly the place is swarming with people, all proceed against that intuition: the sort that tells you not to add little to bits of luck to their already growing pile of lucky charms.’ ‘And then what?’ ‘The next bit of the tale?’ Kyle smiled, ‘They all get on the train.’ ‘Is this a metaphor?’ asked Sam shifting in the seat and looking uncomfortable. ‘It’s a story. Pay attention.’ ‘Fine.’ ‘They all get on the train. And then the train starts to move. The thing about getting on a train is that once you are on the train you can’t get off. That is until you get to the next station. So we consider the problem. How do you get off the train while it is still moving?’ ‘I don’t follow.’ ‘Time, Sam. The train is time. We are on the train. And we can’t get off. We stop at stations. But that is only when time is kind of thin…’ ‘I get that bit…. You mean the parallels?’ ‘Yes, well. Technically there is more than one kind of other version of things. A parallel exists as a separate stream to ours; an alternate is a brief divergence…. one that touches us directly. That is the point where we can change trains.’ ‘Or get off the train completely.’ Sam ventured. ‘Quite so.’ said Kyle, ‘But here’s the thing. We didn’t get on the train in the first place…’ ‘Ah…’ said Sam, ‘I think I get it. You mean Henry’s brother?’ ‘Yes. He waits at the station. He waits until the others are far enough ahead of him. Then he gets on another faster train. He arrives ahead of them. The other people don’t recognise him. But then he’s worried in case they do. He doesn’t want them to ask him difficult questions. There might be someone who is watching the family. Someone waiting for him to appear. After all, it is the one occasion when you might expect someone to return to the family. The great leveller of all…’ ‘And what would you know about that?’ Sam hunched in the chair. ‘Sam….’ Kyle leaned forwards, ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘I’m….sorry Kyle. I can’t….’ ‘Shall I get George?’ ‘No. No need. There’s nothing anyone can do.’ ‘I think you need to know that Juliet came to see me few days ago. Sam?’ Sam stared at him, ‘I know. Juliet told me. She was….upset. She said that I ought to be more sympathetic. I guess I haven’t been. I mean this is all important stuff. But she is too. I think I messed up.’ ‘Oh, um…. I’m the wrong person to have an opinion about things like that.’ Sam gave him a very sharp look, ‘No, you’re not. The girl… she’s important to you. She needs your help. She’s in trouble, and she needs you. I think you should go and find out what she needs.’ ‘Right now?’ ‘Yes.’ Sam stood, ‘Right now.’ ‘What about George?’ Kyle eased himself to his feet. ‘What about him?’ Sam smiled for the first time that evening. ‘I’ll err….. you know.’ said Kyle. ‘He doesn’t own you.’ Sam began to slide his arms into his jacket. ‘Yeah. I know,’ Kyle quickly went to get his own jacket and a few select gismos he often liked to carry when he felt threatened in any way. Sam was waiting for him in the hall. ‘What are you doing?’ Kyle stared at him. ‘I’ll take you.’ ‘Okay.’ Kyle shrugged. They got to the gate. ‘That’s odd.’ Kyle approached slowly. ‘Everything’s quiet.’ said Sam. ‘That’s what’s weird.’ ‘It is One in the morning.’ ‘There are no lights on.’ ‘At One in the morning?’ Sam went forward cautiously. ‘She’s a night owl.’ said Kyle. ‘Okay. I get it. The nocturnal kind. Clearly is your type.’ ‘What do you mean?’ Kyle glanced at Sam, ‘I do go to bed at night.’ ‘Yes, to do a little light computer nerd stuff. You should definitely tell her how you feel when you get the chance.’ ‘How I feel?’ Kyle was startled and hissed for Sam to be quiet again as they advanced to Samantha’s front door. ‘Desire. Of an irreparable kind,’ at this Sam got the lock picks out, ‘I need not say that you ought not to let George know what I said.’ ‘Said about what? And what are you doing?’ ‘Some skills are only improved with a little practice….’ he twisted something and sighed, ‘And I should think that this is a time to congratulate me on my more, shall we say…. practical skills.’ with that he did a funny sideways twisting motion with his hands and the front door clicked open a fraction. With a quick look round to make sure that no one was about they then slide into the warm dark hall. The door clicked shut behind them. ‘It’s not alarmed.’ whispered Sam. ‘She wanted us here.’ ‘You mean you.’ ‘No. Us. You have the skills to break in…. and I, well let’s take a look.’ Kyle slid silently round the hall. A room at a time they inspected the ground floor. Nothing. They went up the stairs again being as silent as possible. ‘Where now?’ asked Sam, ‘I don’t know the layout.’ ‘Left. And then right into the reception room. Her study is beyond that.’ ‘It’s not the room downstairs then?’ ‘You were the first one to meet her. You surely remember.’ ‘That was in daylight. I don’t usually go sneaking round someone’s house in the middle of the night.’ Sam moved smoothly forward, ‘It all looks different in the dark.’ he added. ‘It’s here.’ Kyle pushed open another door. They stood looking at the chaos of books and files and pens in pots. Kyle tried to remember what it had been like. But here was too much. There had to be something. Samantha wouldn’t have left him without anything to go on. The alarm was off. So she wanted him to find what? He moved to the desk. No. Too obvious. No one would put something important there. So where? Sam meanwhile clinked on his small torch after making sure the curtains were firmly drawn. ‘What’s this?’ Sam shuffled some of the papers on the desk. Kyle followed where Sam was pointing. ‘What the….?’ ‘It’s all in code.’ ‘No. I mean yes. But I bet if you translate this it will just be a shopping list or something. ‘What is the point of that?’ ‘Practise. Like you said yourself.’ ‘Indeed.’ Sam moved round the shelves at the back of the room, ‘Now surely. There must be something here.’ ‘I don’t think so.’ Kyle stood very still, he was thinking; moving things round in his head. Trying out different patterns, different ways of being. Sam searched the shelves anyway, ‘There’s books from the eighties here.’ he said. ‘So? She likes certain books.’ ‘There are a lot of science books.’ ‘That is precisely what you would expect… which is why it isn’t in there.’ ‘What?’ ‘The thing we’re looking for.’ ‘What is that? You mean a hidden file?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘Come on! I want to know.’ ‘I don’t think that would be a good idea.’ ‘I suppose I better wait in the car then.’ ‘No. Look.’ Kyle clicked on his mini torch and pointed the beam across the room; ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ ‘Come on. It’s brilliant. She is a clever girl.’ ‘How can you be so certain?’ ‘That’s easy. It was the one place that no one would look. Therefore the one place to find something.’ Sam turned to see the empty bird cage. It was a little dusty; a little damaged and had not had a budgie or something suitable in it. Kyle was opening the doorway and feeling around inside before Sam had finished scanning the room. ‘Are you sure about this?’ Sam asked. ‘This isn’t Tweety Pie’s hideout; and we’re not in Loony Tunes.’ Kyle rolled his eyes. He could feel a little indentation, a tiny ridge on the edge on the inside. The base must be loose for cleaning purposes. He felt around for the catch. There…. Suddenly it gave way. ‘What is it?’ Sam came closer. ‘Look…. There are some scratches in the base.’ ‘Why don’t you lift it down?’ Sam strained to look. ‘It’s bolted to the ceiling. I think it’s a mini prison for something. Just give me a second.’ Kyle pressed with his fingers, while peering at the base, ‘You got a torch?’ he asked. ‘Here,’ Sam handed it to him, ‘Is it open?’ ‘There’s another panel under the base. I think it’s coded.’ Sam clambered up onto a chair and bent over the bird cage. He spun it round; ‘It’s just a lock. Like a luggage lock.’ ‘Five tumblers.’ said Kyle. ‘Okay,’ said Sam, ‘leave it to me.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Oh! Please!’ Sam was already twiddling the small tumblers, ‘You think I can’t handle a little puzzle like that?’ ‘Right.’ Kyle slid down onto a chair, while Sam did a little Alchemy of his own. ‘The problem with codes,’ Sam said, ‘is that they are made by people, and puzzles are predictable. There…. Done it.’ ‘You have?’ Kyle jumped back up to look in the bird cage. Inside were a small notebook and a key on a chain. ‘I think this is for you.’ said Sam, easing it out of the little space and handing it to Kyle. ‘What makes you think that?’ ‘It’s got your name on it. Look.’ Kyle turned it over in his hands. A small book, covered in manila. There in Sam Parker’s hand writing was ‘Kyle Owen’ and a tiny little symbol. ‘It’s a stripy oblong.’ said Kyle touching it with his finger. ‘But what is it?’ ‘It looks like a mini zebra crossing.’ ‘Okay.’ said Sam, ‘Perhaps we better get out of here?’ ‘Yeah,’ Kyle was about to open the book, ‘Is there anything else?’ ‘Just the key on the chain.’ ‘Let’s go.’ Kyle said. They retraced their steps and let themselves out. ‘What are you doing?’ Kyle turned. ‘You seriously think I’m going to leave the door unlocked? That’s not very polite.’ Sam grinned at him, ‘There. All done. Back to base.’ They quickly walked away. A little way away a girl stood. She had a camera and a leather satchel and was standing very still indeed. She watched them as they quickly disappeared into the still night. She strolled forward and taking out a Dictaphone spoke softly, making a brief voice note. Then she walked away. George was reading the newspaper and drinking whisky when Sam and Kyle got back. ‘I’m sorry George, we were…’ Sam trailed off lamely. ‘I’m sure it was very important.’ said George quickly, ‘But you can tell me all about it later. I think that we have a problem.’ ‘When don’t we have a problem?’ Sam said sarcastically. ‘Kyle. Get the schematic up. Now.’ ‘What?’ ‘Get the bloody computer!’ George spluttered, ‘There is a fluctuation. I’m sure of it. Your lovely girlfriend has caused trouble for us both.’ ‘My girlfriend?’ Kyle said just as Sam went ‘You what?’ ‘I think he means Me.’ said Kyle. ‘Yes,’ said George going to the kettle and switching on, ‘the fragrant Ms Parker has been up to something far more devious than all of us gave her credit for.’ ‘And that is?’ asked Sam. ‘She is selling her secrets to the highest bidder.’ said George, ‘She has us all in her observation net. She knows things about us that we don’t even know ourselves. And she had access to Henry’s project. Arc is part of the same firm. Arc wasn’t just about tiny bits of anything. It was bigger than that… much, much bigger.’ ‘The diary?’ Kyle didn’t move. ‘Yes.’ George faced him with a glint in his eyes. ‘The diary told you all this. Now why would you believe what it says?’ George didn’t reply but pulled it out of his jacket and laid it open on the kitchen table. He pointed. Sam and Kyle both looked at the page he indicated. ‘But that’s impossible!’ said Sam. ‘No,’ Kyle looked at George, ‘You can calm down now,’ he added, ‘I believe you.’ There, scrawled across the page, somewhere in the middle of the book were two words: Cheese Sandwich. ***** Chapter Four Symmetry. Most things can be improved by the addition of tea or even alcohol to the mix. Well, George believed that to be true. How much of his life as a Student Doctor was spent testing this theory out was not something that Sam, or even Kyle at that moment was really willing to speculate on. George was fortunately a person who didn’t stay annoyed for too long. Better to let him get annoyed and wait until it cooled to vague displeasure. But once it had cooled this time, it was more to chilling determination. Sam gave Kyle that look, the one rarely used to convey anything. It was Sam who was usually on the peripheral edge. Now Sam and Kyle were looking at the possibility that George might actually give up on this one. He didn’t like feeling that he was not in control of the situation, and this … well, what appeared to be a weird and rather interesting paradox in the making made George more than just a little twitchy. ‘The problem gentlemen,’ George gathered himself, and despite the late hour appeared to look as if he could rip someone’s head off at a moment’s notice, ‘The problem is this; we are not alone, someone is following right behind us. We think; although without any proof this person might be one of the fellow students of Samantha Parker. That is to say; one of the former students at the same college. She went into nuclear research, new ways to get cheap energy, that sort of thing. It’s one of three. And we have no way of knowing if this is actually true.’ ‘Following a hunch?’ Kyle seemed calm, which caused Sam to frown, ‘Why aren’t you worried? Is anyone else even vaguely worried?’ They both turned and looked at him, ‘Do pay attention!’ George turned back to his notepad. ‘I have a conspiracy to stir up. Two can play, and I think someone has already been playing. Taking advantage of the situation to create some sort of panic and alarm among the pieces on the board.' ‘You make it sound like chess pieces moving.’ ‘Yes. Well, a little light intellectual tussle before dawn is the stuff that movies are made of. I would suppose that the other side; for so we must think of it until other evidence turns up, is anxious to get their hands on Sam Parker’s research and her rather unusual set of memories.’ ‘Is she in danger?’ asked Sam. ‘Not sure.’ George answered truthfully, ‘She is a resourceful woman. You don’t get to drive a time machine without being in some ways reliable.’ ‘So….’ Kyle felt his way into this thing he feared, ‘I could try to hack the database. Would that be the best way into this?’ ‘Yes.’ George stared at him, ‘Coffee and pancakes at Three Thirty?’ ‘Okay.’ said Kyle, ‘But I expect all the other info to be in a neat package ready to go.’ ‘You bet.’ said George and turned to Sam. ‘And you, my lovely Detective are going to visit the Man of the Moment.’ ‘Treacle? Or do we have another name for the git in question?’ ‘A name. Yes… possibly. It seems that he never liked to be called it.’ ‘What?’ ‘Elm.’ ‘That’s a type of tree.’ ‘Of course it is. Saddle up and get to it. I need to know what he is doing. And why. And don’t forget to take your Dictaphone.’ ‘I never leave home without it;’ Sam smiled thinly, ‘you already know that.’ ‘Back here at 4 am.’ ‘The worst time to be out and about.’ ‘That’s why I want you back,’ said George, ‘then later tomorrow we can storm the Keep as it were.’ ‘Alright.’ Sam brightened, ‘I’m on it. What shall I say if he asks why I’m calling round so late?’ ‘Tell him you’re a Detective. I’m sure that your mates on the force will back you up if they see the need.’ ‘He might not buy it.’ ‘Just be creative. I’m sure you’ll think of something.’ Sam sat in a little warm room, eating cake and being entertained by a lunatic in the form of Treacle. ‘So nice of you to call round… of course it is. I was watching the late night movie. Of course…. Very interesting.’ ‘What was it about?’ asked Sam. ‘The movie?’ he shifted in the seat, ‘Oh, it was about an invasion of the planet, and the Americans stopped it. They usually do you know.’ ‘Good film?’ ‘Yes. Absolutely. There was a dog in it somewhere. Big dog. And a President. There is always a President. And a kid. And an old man who’d lost his faith. Strange that…’ he looked away. Sam didn’t move. He balanced the teacup carefully, and watched him. It might be an act. But if it was it was a hell of a convincing one. He was…. In the estimation of all the Sam knew, completely bonkers; in a harmless, rather eccentrically styled way. The fact that it was interesting made him suspicious. ‘I came to talk about your brother.’ ‘My brother? Of course. Do fire away. Ask me, I’ll tell. We couldn’t tell anything before this. But now we can. It’s all alright now. All gone.’ ‘What happened to your brother?’ ‘Happened? He died of food poisoning I believe. He told me how bad it was. I mean really dying of food poisoning. And he was so careful.’ ‘I thought it was a stroke?’ ‘Garlic. I told him about it. They don’t like it.’ Sam found himself lowering his voice despite the desire to be formal, calm and not involved in this man’s delusions; ‘Who doesn’t like it?’ ‘Shh!! You must…’ he put his hand to his lips with a funny hissing noise. He was shushing like a kettle that’s gone off the boil. ‘I’m sorry. Do you mean to say your brother visited you?’ ‘Yes. He came to see me. It was the last time I saw him. Such a thing; such a little thing. The restaurant…. Oh… I could never go there again…. So sad.’ ‘And when your brother passed on….’ Sam softened his voice even further, ‘did you visit his….’ ‘Yes, yes. He said to do that. Just a little time. Just a little and then we will be alright. For both of us.’ ‘Please can you tell me where it is? The grave I mean.’ ‘Yes. I think it a better time to go, in daylight you know. I would go with you but I have these reports to finish. Yes. Most upsetting. Too many reports are about the ones who didn’t make it.’ ‘Where do your reports go?’ ‘Oh…. they go to the control man. Yes. But then I don’t know.’ Here he talked in a close conspiratorial way. ‘They’re coming for me soon. Yes. Very soon.’ ‘Who are?’ ‘The visitors. They always come and see people at night. They’ve taken them. And some come back. Some see it. Some don’t. Oh… so sad.’ Sam gave him a little card, ‘It will help if we can get as much info as possible.’ ‘Oh yes Mr Policeman. I will tell you if they come back.’ He then drew a little map for Sam to find the grave. And said rather strangely, ‘It’s not what you think.’ Supposing that this was part of his mind wandering condition, he didn’t think anything of it. He made his excuses and left. Back at George’s house, Kyle was well on his way to cracking inside the shell of a fiendishly difficult system. Suddenly it gave way. ‘Is that it?’ ‘You are kidding me? There is way too much information of a sensitive nature, to allow one stray hacker into the posse.’ ‘What?’ ‘That was just their first layer. It’s a delicate process. This is the way to slither inside without them knowing.’ ‘Kyle?’ ‘Yes Boss?’ ‘Just tell me when you’ve done it.’ ‘Sure thing Boss!’ ‘Will you please not call me that?’ ‘Uh. Okay George. But I expect donuts.’ ‘Anything you want.’ ‘Great! I ought to do this more often.’ ‘Don’t let it go to your head.’ George started out of the room and turned, ‘And Kyle.’ ‘Yes Mr Carter?’ ‘I need it fast.’ ‘This is high grade encryption. You can’t just go up to the front door and expect to be let in.’ ‘I thought you used ‘Back Doors’.’ ‘That’s a myth. The architecture varies. This is more organic. It would be like trying to find the back of a tree.’ ‘It’s round?’ ‘Damn right George.’ Kyle tipped his chair back for a moment, ‘the truth is they are all Back Doors. That’s why it’s really hard to get in. Needs more oil in the lock.’ ‘I’ll take your word for it. Will it be done in time?’ ‘Confab at Five with the elegant scruff. Yeah. My Kung Fu is that good.’ Sam scowled in a weary way. He sat in the lounge with a steaming pot of tea in front of him, ‘Apart from it being some God awful time in the morning. Could I have got anywhere less effectively?’ Kyle who was just putting down a tray of donuts, managed to smile. He bit into one and gave Sam an enquiring look. ‘Treacle?’ ‘He’s there alright. And completely off his head. I took quick look at Henry’s resting place; it was all quite normal and unsuspicious. But the brother is a rare mixture of insanity; and someone who actually seems to make rather a lot of sense. ‘What did he say?’ Kyle was still chewing the donut, and round eyed waited for Sam to gather his thoughts. ‘It is better than the alternative. He could be one of those things. But then again; I don’t know how old he was supposed to be. Younger brother?’ Kyle nodded. ‘How much younger?’ ‘About ten years.’ ‘Well there it is. He wasn’t quite in the right category. You know what I mean.’ ‘No.’ Kyle waited. ‘Oh… right you want a reason for it.’ ‘Yes please. George will only ask you that if you don’t tell. And he might get irate because you didn’t declare your interest.’ ‘My what?’ ‘Juliet. She’s red hot. That’s a certainty.’ ‘Are you saying you noticed a girl?’ ‘I already did do. Just courage to connect with her. And get the thing off your mind that is clearly on it. I think that you think you saw another one of those copies tonight?’ ‘Something like.’ said Sam. ‘Now just a minute,’ George interjected. ‘I wish you wouldn’t do that!’ Kyle put his hand to his chest. ‘You didn’t see me?’ George did a mock innocent face. ‘I’m Pixelated.’ said Kyle, ‘You wanted me to work the hack. I’ve done it. Just one more layer to Ms Parker’s file.’ ‘I asked you to get the info on the other stuff first! I thought you could follow instructions?’ ‘Already done it! Oh Ye of little faith.’ ‘Show me.’ ‘It’s all there George. The fax may have appeared to be from another place in time but it wasn’t. It was traced to a place in Sheffield….’ ‘….Ms Parker’s old college,’ said George, ‘get me the aerial view.’ ‘So what you’re saying,’ said Sam, ‘is that this is nothing to do with time… err stuff?’ George looked over his glasses, ‘There are the contents of the fax. Don’t you want to hear what it had to say?’ ‘I guess.’ Sam looked uncomfortable. ‘Tell me about the graveyard.’ George changed tack. ‘Regular place. Nothing unusual. Except, there seemed to be a lot of plants that had recently been planted. It seemed a little….odd.’ ‘Right,’ said George slowly, ‘well, we’ll get back to that later. May be time to look at the Brother. Kyle!’ ‘Yes boss.’ Kyle pressed a few keys on the laptop, ‘There is no truth in the rumour that he has been anywhere recently. He didn’t attend the funeral for one very good reason. He wasn’t the person we were looking for.’ ‘What?’ Sam and George spoke simultaneously. ‘Yes. Amazing what a little deep massage of the system can do. There have been some changes to the records. It is really smooth, very discrete, and very nearly impossible to see the join. But I believe that your guy has been conditioned to believe he is Treacle Green. He believes it enough to fool someone who hasn’t met him. That is what he was used for; to fend off interested parties. But the real Treacle is out there. And very much part of the game plan. There…. So now you know.’ ‘And he didn’t go to Henry’s funeral…’ said George. ‘…. Because someone would know that he wasn’t the brother.’ said Sam, ‘And I guess that whoever is behind this rather elaborate deception would keep the family in the dark. But this guy doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut. He’s lost some marbles and is quite possibly a liability.’ ‘Right,’ George turned to Kyle again, ‘the fax?’ ‘The fax is a shopping list. A tool kit for the kinds of things that you might need to make something. And here is something that you don’t usually find in regular hardware stores; a large amount of gold, in wafer thin sheets.’ ‘Gold? Carry on Kyle.’ ‘Yes. There is something odd too. It appears to ask for something that is interchangeable depending on where you are from. A kind of little local flavour.’ ‘A lock of hair?’ asked Sam. ‘Actually, yes. Or rather it could be. It is time specific. And then there is a list of things that you should not include on the DIY kit. And that is very interesting indeed.’ ‘And the list is?’ Sam was expectant. ‘Oh… you want me to tell. I’ve got the details here.’ ‘Just verbally first.’ ‘Relevant then. When you get down the list you can search by popularity. It’s quite amusing.’ ‘Kyle!’ ‘Duvets; and a double bed and so on. And then there were a number of food items. I have it all here. Teabags, dried milk; lots of things; more like the sort of thing you would use to equip yourself for a long time hidden in a cave. Kind of survival list gear.’ ‘Is it a Time Machine kit?’ asked Sam. ‘Well…. I don’t know what it is. Unless something else in the reams of what appear to be nonsense uncover an instruction book.’ ‘So,’ George said forcibly, ‘we have the possible contents of the store cupboard of a mad scientist. A man who think he’s someone else. And then…. we have the key to something. Can we attempt to get inside while we know where the archive is?’ ‘You said ‘While we know’, is this something you expect to disappear?’ Sam looking irritated and puzzled. ‘Yes, after what happened to me and Kyle. I think we need to keep this focused and find the answers with speed.’ ‘So why are we doing this?’ Sam asked.’ ‘It’s a mystery.’ said George, ‘Pun wholeheartedly intended.’ ‘So what next?’ ‘The next stop is the archives. Just one thing first. Everyone go to bed. Then we’ll pay Mr Green a visit.’ It was Ten-Thirty. The door swung on its hinges. There was no sign of Treacle, or Elm of whoever he actually was. ‘What the hell?’ Sam picked up a flower head from the path. ‘He is probably out.’ said Kyle. ‘After that all-nighter?’ said Sam, ‘I don’t think so.’ ‘We’re here.’ Kyle said. ‘That’s George’s alarm clock.’ Sam prodded the edge of the path with his pen knife. ‘Anything?’ asked George who was peering at the door jamb with unexpected interest. ‘Do you think you’ll find something?’ Kyle moved forward too. ‘Not exactly. I think I see something.’ ‘We didn’t bring the scanner with us.’ Kyle pointed out, ‘Or else we could do a proper recce.’ ‘We’re not here to follow this fella; we just need to know what he knows. He sounds like he might be hiding something.’ George turned to Sam who was staring at the flower head. ‘It’s all wrong.’ he said. ‘What is?’ ‘The time of year…. That was what it was. The plants…’ At that moment there was the sound of a car pulling up just out of sight on the main road. The three friends moved to the side of the door hidden in the vegetation. A perky and rather insolent faced young woman strode purposefully up the path. She got her key out and was letting herself in. Sam started to move but George stopped him. The door closed behind her, and Sam let out a long breath, ‘Why didn’t you let me?’ ‘Quiet.’ said George. He had his ear pressed against the glass of the nearby small window, ‘I think she’s on the phone.’ ‘But who is she?’ ‘Does anyone listen to a word I say?’ Kyle said rather too loudly. ‘Shh….’ George moved swiftly and put his hand over Kyle’s mouth. Kyle shook him off but remained silent. The thick bushes hiding them from view, they heard the slow step of someone else on the path. The person stopped, and was standing just on the other side of their position. They stayed still. It seemed interminable; until the other person moved. They were standing at the door. They seemed undecided. He, (For it was a he) stood for a rather a long time. George was just at the point of moving when the person went back down the path. ‘What now?’ hissed Kyle, who was itching to move. ‘We leave.’ said George abruptly. ‘Okay.’ Sam said who was looking as if something had just occurred to him. They quickly hurried away, and reconvened at a small café that served industrial strength tea. George bought Kyle a stodgy slab of cake to go with it, and oatcakes for himself and Sam. ‘Are you trying to make me feel guilty?’ Kyle dug his teeth into the cake. ‘Pardon?’ Sam’s eyes refocused. ‘Never mind.’ Kyle gulped some of the red hot tea. ‘Sam,’ said George, ‘Give.’ ‘That girl. I think I’ve seen her before.’ ‘Ah!’ ‘She was hanging about at the Gallery.’ ‘Is it possible,’ said George slowly, ‘that she was supposed to be there?’ ‘Er, yes.’ ‘I saw her too.’ George looked philosophical, ‘she’s a reporter.’ ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ ‘It didn’t come up. We were a bit preoccupied in case you hadn’t noticed.’ ‘Look,’ said Kyle who had finished the cake slab, ‘this is all very interesting; but when are we going to go to the place with the archives?’ ‘Have you broken the encryption?’ asked George. ‘Of course,’ said Kyle, ‘you were so intent in taking off after all that stuff that you didn’t ask me about the file. It’s really interesting. The way it is shielded, it took a little reverse engineered program I…’ ‘Show us the file, Kyle.’ ‘It’s not that interesting. I can’t see inside it.’ ‘I thought you’d got through the encryption?’ Sam began to have that irritated look that Kyle knew so well. ‘The file itself is encrypted….or something.’ Kyle dug his lap top out of the rucksack at his feet. The three of them gathered round as Kyle showed them the file. ‘But there’s nothing there!’ ‘Thanks Sam, but the blindingly obvious has already come to my attention.’ ‘So what is it?’ ‘Sam’s file is the hardest thing to break. It is not encoded in the usual way.’ ‘Sam?’ said George. ‘Yes, what?’ said Sam. ‘Not Him! Her…. Don’t you get it?’ Kyle was trying to explain the confusion in a way that didn’t sound too pathetic. ‘Parker.’ said Sam. ‘Precisely.’ said George. ‘For the meanwhile.’ said Kyle, ‘just to avoid confusion. But if I get it wrong; don’t give me a hard time.’ ‘Fine.’ said Sam. ‘So Parker’s file,’ said George, ‘What is the problem?’ ‘Well,’ Kyle shifted his position, ‘I see a simple thing. And that is what confounds me. It’s so simple, it’s annoying.’ he turned the keyboard towards the others. The three crowded round and looked at the box on the screen. ‘A simple code?’ George was surprized. ‘That is just to open the file.’ Kyle said, ‘Then… there might be other puzzles.’ ‘A puzzle?’ Sam seemed to be thinking, ‘Is it numbers or letters?’ ‘It could be either.’ ‘Case sensitive?’ ‘No. At least I don’t think so.’ ‘And it’s five characters.’ ‘Yep.’ Kyle rubbed his hands over his face, ‘This might take a while.’ ‘No. Wait.’ said Sam, ‘You said that Parker asked you to find the file, retrieve it. And then….’ ‘She didn’t want me to actually read it.’ Kyle interrupted Sam and then grimaced when Sam punched him in the shoulder, ‘Ouch! All right, I know I should have done what you said…. And avoid at all costs. But after all she did leave me a little something.’ ‘What?’ George turned to Kyle, ‘You never told me this.’ ‘It’s personal.’ ‘Not if it is vital evidence.’ George put his glasses on, which had been in his pocket until now, ‘so show me.’ Kyle reluctantly drew the small folded notebook and the chain and little metal key, out of his inside pocket. ‘This is interesting.’ said George. ‘Well, it’s just a gift.’ Kyle seemed embarrassed. ‘No, no.’ George shook his head to emphasize the point; ‘You have to figure out what it means.’ ‘I do?’ ‘Yes rather!’ said Sam who seemed suddenly animated. ‘I haven’t got a clue.’ said Kyle, ‘That surely is the point.’ ‘Let me see!’ said George as Kyle opened the little notebook. ‘Uh.... okay, but it's really silly.’ ‘So she writes: ‘I always found it difficult to start a conversation, so I had a way to get your attention. It is a terrible joke. What is it? A Black Horse with White Stripes, or White Horse with Black Stripes?’ That is certainly an interesting conversation starter. She is definitely your type Kyle.’ ‘If you mean antisocial, I do agree. But she is secretive to the point of paranoia. So why give this to me?’ ‘Clearly the young Lady trusts you. She wasn't very impressed with me, but then perhaps she's had a change of heart.’ ‘Government secrets.’ muttered Sam. ‘Parker could be working for the same people as me,’ George suddenly declared, ‘I don't see any point in denying this, especially if we are all going to be in the same kind of trouble pretty soon.’ ‘That's pretty stiff George.’ said Sam, ‘After all this time. You are open with us.’ ‘Yes. Sorry. Really.' ‘So who is it?' Sam twisted his head round to stare at George in a very critical way. ‘I can’t tell you that.’ said George, ‘That is not allowed.’ ‘Allowed by whom exactly?’ Sam said intensely. ‘Sorry, no can do.’ George frowned. ‘Okay, okay!’ Kyle waved both hands, ‘I know you two are in the habit of exercising the male ego but let’s get some perspective here! Come on guys…. Time Out.’ They both turned to Kyle. Sam shrugged and sighed. George took his glasses off and started to polish them rather thoroughly. ‘Are we paying attention?’ Kyle said, ‘Fine…. The five letter word must be an answer to the rhyme… as in what it is. So if we….’ ‘It’s easy.’ said Sam, ‘It staring you right in the face. Literally.’ ‘What is?’ George was smirking as if he had the same thought. ‘Chain.’ said Sam. ‘But it could be…’ ‘Key. Chain.’ said Sam. ‘Surely it can’t be that simple?’ ‘Why not?’ George was smoothly smiling in that enigmatic way that usually infuriated Sam, but today Kyle was the victim of his superiority. ‘Fine.’ Kyle typed in the word, and pressed the return key. ‘And there it is.’ said George. ‘And it’s another key word.’ said Kyle and sighed rather heavily, ‘This is becoming most aggravating.’ ‘She sounds like your sort of girl.’ Sam stared at the screen with a faraway look. Kyle sniffed, ‘I don’t know how much more of you being enigmatic I can stand. I liked the old Sam.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘Before the Juliet thing. Or whatever you call it. Ridiculous if you ask me.’ ‘No one is asking you.’ George reminded him, ‘I think gentlemen; it is time to go and lay a ghost.’ ‘I’m the ghost.’ said Kyle, ‘I thought that was clear.’ ‘This is a real one.’ said George, but didn’t explain further. They tooled up with warm coats and a ruck sack each. George insisted on a survival kit, just on account of some weird thing he had going with the machine back at the house. ‘Probability of 37% inhospitable environments.’ But the events boxes had also predicted probabilities of: ‘54% chocolate cake’; ‘72% failure in gravity’ and Kyle’s personal favourite, ‘14% binary shift’ ‘That is a fourteen per cent chance of us meeting a binary shift.’ said Kyle, ‘Not 14% of it in binary.’ ‘Yeah.’ said Sam, ‘I can see what kind of weirdness we’re going to have to deal with later. I wish I brought a spare pair of trousers. Someone is likely to get hurt if events are unfolding as they feel moved to do.’ Creeping in the undergrowth and sneaking with a sense of purpose was the reporter. And following her was the strange Man. Ah! I get it you might say. He is…. Now wait a minute; let’s not get ourselves confused. He is not related to anyone here, and he has been spotted already. Where? You really need to pay attention. George was paying a lot of attention to the thought of all those drugs that he had, for reasons most obscure and circuitous brought them along for the ride, so to speak. Sam, being oddly gifted with a sense of smell, despite his repeated attempts to give up smoking, which wholeheartedly failed; was at once alert to George’s look of shiftiness. Sam was still sulking for reasons of a romantic nature. Juliet had called and been so distant that he thought it must be time to call it a day. When he made the mistake of saying so, she had cried down the phone. And only the smell of George’s illegal drugs haul could reassure him that some of his instincts were reasonably intact and ready to do battle with the forces of darkness. (For so he thought, being of a melodramatic turn on occasion.) So when his mobile began ringing and it was Juliet, he gritted his teeth, hoping that he wouldn’t say something indecently stupid again this time. So Sam listened, and said ‘Yes’ a couple of times, and made sure that ‘No’ was to do with something that he didn’t want to happen adversely, rather than a thing that ended something vital. He felt idiotic a moment later when Juliet said that she wanted to take him to the pictures this next weekend to see a movie they both liked as a treat. He managed to use the word ‘Thanks’ and ‘Great’ in what he hoped was the right place and rang off with a slighter lighter tone to his day, if a rather perplexed angle on it. ‘You okay there?’ George flashed a look in the rear view mirror. Kyle, who was in the front ignored the one sided phone call, and chewed a pencil end in still amazed annoyance that he had been defeated for the time being by a simple four digit code. ‘I think I might be.’ Said Sam, and put the mobile away slowly. ‘Better switch it off now.’ said George, ‘we are near the right place. Kyle. Power down.’ ‘Yes Boss.’ George sighed, he didn’t like it, but Kyle was funny about things like that so there was no use in arguing. ***** Chapter Five Doors of Perception. ‘No Man is an island; unless he has a bottle of Thirty Year old Single Malt Whisky in his possession.’ George parked the Range Rover with neat precision. He looked very pleased with himself. ‘Better than Sat. Nav.’ said Sam. ‘This is the Bermuda Triangle of places on dry land. That is why we could not find it before. It simply isn’t listed anywhere.’ George started to gather equipment and check his pockets. ‘So this is it.’ Kyle seemed unimpressed. ‘It is one of the cleverest pieces of perception engineering in the business. You literally cannot find it if you come at it from the wrong direction or take the wrong route.’ ‘Yet here it is,’ Sam peered out of the window and looked up and up to see if he could see the top of the building, ‘it’s kind of fuzzy.’ He added. ‘Edges are always fuzzy that’s what makes you miss it.’ George opened the door and tumbled out, ‘Crumbs, it’s cold. I thought so.’ ‘Is that relevant?’ Kyle started to wriggle into his own warm jacket. ‘Keeps the tourists away. No one stumbles upon anything like this accidentally. It is just too uncomfortable.’ ‘That’s silly,’ said Sam, ‘someone knows it’s here.’ ‘Of course,’ said George, ‘the postal service, and the obscure wing of just two government departments.’ They all got out. George locked the car, ‘Welcome to the archive.’ ‘Let’s just get inside,’ Kyle was shivering, ‘This is too much.’ They approached the unimposing dull door. Panelled. A kind of darkish colour that looked like it had been decorated the last time early in the century and it had worn in a pleasingly artful way that suggested a quiet restful giving way to the ravages of time. ‘There’s nothing here.’ said Kyle. ‘It looks deserted.’ said Sam. ‘It’s a thing that happens. Your brain thinks there is nothing there, so you turn and walk away.’ George was being enigmatic again. ‘So why doesn’t that affect you?’ ‘I have training in this area. I notice things. People things. Stuff people do. Curiosity my friends, that is what defeats it.’ ‘Yes. Of course.’ Sam straightened. ‘Right.’ said Kyle, ‘So how do we get in?’ ‘Just put your hand on the door.’ ‘Why me?’ ‘Ah!’ Sam was pleased again, ‘Of course, the particles?’ ‘Yes.’ said George. ‘You know,’ said Sam as the door swung open, ‘I so hate it when you are right all the time.’ ‘Tough.’ George looked round, ‘let’s get in quickly.’ There was a plain hall that was deserted. There was a desk and a chair and a stack of pencils in a pot. But there was no telephone, no clock on the wall; and nowhere to sit down and wait. ‘Do you fancy a little light adventuring?’ George pointed at the door opposite. ‘Again?’ asked Kyle. ‘Probably not necessary. You are the best one to use this time. So stay clear and don’t touch anything. That’s our job.’ ‘Yes Boss!’ ‘And Kyle?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Really don’t touch; and don’t pick anything up.’ ‘Not even a little tiny amusing hole in the fabric of reality?’ ‘Nuts!’ said Sam, ‘It was actually quite informative. She is immune up to a point, but after that it gets complicated.’ ‘What the peachy pink pom-poms are you talking about?’ Sam stopped in the middle of a…. corridor. ‘Nothing much; what do you want us to say?’ ‘Greeks and something about bearing gifts.’ ‘Beware of them?’ ‘That’s right. That and things in baskets. You can only tell if it’s alright by licking it.’ ‘I don’t think so.’ said Kyle, ‘This is weird. Please can we just stop?’ ‘You won’t be able to get out of here.’ ‘Okay…..now you’ve got my attention.’ Kyle sobered. George reached out a hand and touched the middle of something that seemed so innocuous it wasn’t worth bothering with. He pressed a little button. All at once the three of them were staring straight ahead down a long quiet wood panelled corridor. ‘It’s very long.’ said Sam. ‘Anonymity has a reward that doesn’t get mentioned.’ ‘You too huh?’ ‘Like I said, I was amused. Curiosity.’ George stepped back to see the room open out into a little carpeted foyer. And there was the doorway out, and the glimpse they caught of the street as the door swung shut was of brilliant sunlight. ‘Weird.’ said Sam. ‘Very weird.’ agreed George. ‘So which way?’ Kyle looked around with irritation, ‘That was a waste of time.’ ‘Don’t worry.’ said George to Sam, ‘he always talks that way.’ ‘Welcome!’ said a voice. They all swung round to face the new person. ‘Come this way please.’ said the petite woman in a neat suit. They followed her through an archway; and then down a long corridor into the bowels of the place. They came to what looked like a safe deposit area with lots of little locked boxes lining the walls. ‘Your location code?’ she said, ‘Now, if you please.’ They all looked at each other. ‘Err…. Which number is the location code? We do so get them mixed up.’ George winced as he said this. ‘One moment.’ The petite lady disappeared through another door. They waited. She came back with another person; a large calm looking man in a knitted cardigan with glasses perched on top of his nose. ‘Ah! Mr Carter! And friends. So nice of you to drop by. So pleasant. But I cannot offer you refreshments just yet. There is a job to complete. The time is now I think. The window is still open. You need to use it.’ The last remark seemed to be addressed to Kyle who shook his head in confusion. ‘I don’t know any… code. That is the point surely. We don’t have it. I mean we don’t know what it is.’ ‘I think you asking yourselves the wrong question.’ The calm man said, and took out a large cotton hanky; he pushed glasses up and out of the way to wipe his watering eyes. ‘Misdirection is the name of the game. You must know. Otherwise, why would you be here?’ ‘Ah….’ Kyle seemed to brighten; he swung his ruck sack down onto the ground in front of himself. He burrowed in the inside of it, and drew out a notebook. He scribbled in it for a few minutes. ‘Can I ask you if that is correct?’ ‘Yes. You may.’ The man pulled his glasses off the top of his head and peered at the scribble carefully. ‘Yes. That might be just what the doctor ordered.’ ‘Doctor?’ asked George. ‘If there something else?’ ‘Not until you come to it.’ said the man. ‘Come and visit when you have the problem solved. Gentleman; Madam.’ He made a little mock bow and then went through another door in the main reception. ‘Here it is!’ ‘As you wish.’ said the woman and immediately went to the little ladder. She slid round the tall rows on the roller castors. These were most interesting stairs and a library full of these little boxes. Such a large place; not at all like the reception room. ‘Pay attention!’ said George sharply, ‘This whole place has filtered perception technology to a fine art.’ ‘So what is it?’ said Sam to Kyle. ‘Words and numbers. They are the other way round. Words are numbers. Numbers are words.’ ‘I don’t get it.’ ‘Tough.’ said Kyle, ‘So step aside and let me open this box.’ The woman laid a long metal box down on a little table in the middle of the room. Kyle who was getting used to the fact that the things around him kept changing to fit what was been perceived, actually was starting to see things as they really were. The code was the rhyme and the rhyme was the code. Black and white; White and black. They were right that the thing could be said without losing the essential meaning of the whole. ‘Keep it simple.’ Kyle said. The box clicked and a panel popped up. ‘Just a let you know I thought it would be fairly easy.’ George was looking smug again. They all crowded round and looked inside. There was a small piece of paper it looked like it had been torn from a note book. There was also a photo of Samantha Parker. It appeared to have been taken when she was a little younger. She certainly looked carefree. ‘College photo.’ said Kyle, he handed it to George then took the piece of paper between finger and thumb. ‘Looks like coordinates. Write it down Sam.’ ‘Got it,’ Sam peered at the photo. ‘What is it?’ said George, seeing Sam’s face. ‘Dunno. Something, nothing. Maybe.’ ‘Right. Are we done here?’ said Kyle. ‘Let’s go.’ said George. They indicated the young woman who stood at a respectful distance to come and get the box. She did so, and then led them to the entrance lobby. ‘Will there be anything else?’ she regarded them with a blank professionalism that gave absolutely nothing away. ‘Yes.’ said George, ‘We would like to see the Man with the glasses. She smiled thinly, ‘That is not permitted except by special request.’ ‘We’re making a special request.’ He eyes fluttered for a moment, ‘He must make the request. It is not permitted.’ She did not move. ‘What is your name?’ asked Sam. ‘My name? That is not relevant.’ ‘Tell me why your name is not relevant?’ ‘I….cannot tell you.’ ‘Why not?’ Sam stepped closer. Her eyes flickered to him, ‘It is not permitted.’ ‘Are you getting paid to be so annoying?’ Sam said. ‘I am not permitted.’ She looked confused. ‘Perception filter.’ said George. ‘The staff are covered by it too.’ ‘Yes. Yes of course.’ Sam stepped back. The young woman did not react, but still stood as if waiting for further instructions. ‘What is permitted?’ asked George. ‘Any reasonable request.’ ‘I reasonably request entrance to the archives.’ George said evenly. ‘Right this way Mr Carter.’ George rolled his eyes at the other two. They followed the woman down another interminable corridor. ‘It must be your animal magnetism.’ said Sam. ‘Shh…just shut up now.’ said George. They stepped into a dark cold space. It was rather like a warehouse, but with none of the comforts of heating or lighting. The woman seemed unaffected by the chill. She showed them how to work the section lights. They were on a press button that went off after a few minutes, and were located at the corner of each row of the lattice of high forbidding shelves. ‘What if we want to look at something on the top?’ ‘You will use the stairs I would suppose.’ She said. She abruptly turned and left them to it. ‘Must feel the cold after all,’ Kyle inched his zip upwards, ‘Brr… it’s really chilly in here.’ ‘Seven degrees.’ said George who had already got his coat fully zippered and the detection device in his hand, ‘Come on. Let’s look for the end codes on the row. It must be alphabetical.’ They traversed into the darkness of this huge cold place and the little pools off light illuminated strange things that they were not here to investigate. Sam’s head was swivelling. He kept looking as if he was about to say something, and his eyes were round with wonder. ‘Sorry we haven’t more time.’ said George. ‘That’s okay… just being here… it is amazing.’ ‘I think we’re there.’ said Kyle who was not experiencing the same kind of feeling at all. He shifted his pack on his shoulders and focused on the next corner. ‘Nearly there.’ George said, ‘The panel is coded with a ‘U’ and is numbered ‘6’ ‘U6,’ said Kyle, ‘Okay.’ ‘We find the row and then look for the space.’ ‘Space without the panel. Got that.’ Kyle moved ahead checking as he went anxious to get this over and done with as soon as possible. ‘What does the ‘U’ stand for?’ Sam strolled next to George and dug his hands deep into his pockets. ‘Unidentified. Unexpected. Uncatalogued. Uncontrolled.’ ‘Ugly?’ Sam stopped. ‘Well that is.’ George raised his scanner, ‘yep. Definitely red hot.’ ‘No it’s not.’ called Kyle from the other side. They walked round to find him stood next to a large red upright oblong. ‘Well! That’s more like it!’ Sam seemed genuinely pleased for the first time since they had arrived. ‘It’s quite big.’ Kyle was round the side of it. ‘It just doesn’t seem like it.’ ‘And there is the empty slot.’ George got it out of his pocket and slid it into place. ‘Best not leave it there George.’ Sam pointed out, ‘You don’t know who else may be looking for this.’ ‘You know; it’s funny, but I really was wondering what would happen if someone realised what we are doing here!’ he slid the small panel out and hid it again. ‘Yes. Fine.’ Sam went forward and laid his hand on the door shape in its front panel. A door swung open on silent hinges. ‘Whoa! That was unexpected.’ He didn’t move. ‘Okay.’ said George, ‘Kyle, some light please.’ They stepped inside. The thing that had been infecting everyone imagination was like a well-appointed large caravan, except that there was a little rather cosy control room, with a small heavily glassed window. ‘There’s no power to any of it, or is there?’ said Kyle. ‘Dead as last year’s fashions.’ said Sam. ‘What do you know?’ Kyle prodded a button on the neat and attractive console. A small light came on. Then a small panel illuminated too. ‘It’s a message. ‘Reactivate by pressing A & Z simultaneously while attaching control node.’ Well that’s no good.’ ‘We don’t have a thingummy do we?’ ‘No.’ George ran his fingers over the console, ‘Come on Baby; ready to give up your secrets yet?’ ‘What was that?’ Kyle went quickly to the door. Sam clicked off the torch he had been holding steady. ‘Lights are on near the entrance there’s someone else in here.’ ‘Gentlemen,’ George huddled close we need to find the old guy. I think this is where we get the thing we are looking for.’ They avoided the string of lights and slid back into the corridor and the relative warmth of the narrow wooden corridor again. In a few minutes they were back at the reception area. A different person on duty waved to them. ‘Mr Wright, Mr Carter and Mr Owen. Your presence is requested.’ They sat in a row in a warm and comfortable room with huge picture windows that revealed the startling skyline of London from a high vantage point. The man in the glasses sat opposite and poured out tea from a large steaming tea pot. It was bright yellow and the mugs were in a selection of bright colours. The whole effect was somewhat alarming, yet amusing at the same time. ‘It is always the coincidences that puzzle people the most. Yet they are the stuff of our business. For it is not an accident. But then you know this.’ ‘Fate.’ said George. ‘Fate. Or a happy appointment?’ he smiled engagingly, ‘I am, as they say a recluse. That is more due to other people’s perception of things than any actual preference on my side.’ ‘Not a great social life you must have.’ ‘I have a wonderful time at the theatre and parties and a social functions of various kinds. In fact I may attend many more than you would reckon. It is all a little thing that happens. I go. They forget me. I talk to someone, and they go to get a drink and I am gone from their mind. It is not a trick,’ he said on seeing Kyle’s expression, ‘not really. Some people can see through it. They are the ones that I like to associate with personally. They will become my associates in a business like sense. They are many and varied these….associates.’ ‘Are they good people?’ George asked. ‘Ah,’ he gave them an amused smile, ‘you could say that.’ ‘So what does that make us?’ Kyle was sipping his tea carefully in case George suddenly moved and the comfy settee undulated in response. ‘I see,’ the man said and slid his glasses into place. You are not sure on the quality of my screening process. If you trust me, can you also be sure that I have not in turn trusted some other Bad People who will do Bad Things?’ ‘Yes.’ said Kyle. ‘I like you Mr Owen. So I will tell you a little secret. I have been here since this place came into being. Not here; as in I never leave. But you are unlikely ever to see me in public for the reasons that I stated earlier.’ ‘How long has this place been here?’ Kyle asked. ‘Straight to the point! I like a Man who asks the right questions! And so I will tell you…. I don’t know. It is that simple. If I did know it would probably affect my ability to associate with people in the world as we all know it. It is a small price to pay. I do not forget the information. That is secure you understand. It cannot be lost. That is my role. To remember. Someone must have asked me at some point when I first started the job. But of course that would involve remembering the thing I choice to forget, so I cannot see it. But I see everything else… so you may ask and I will answer.’ Kyle could see George fizzing with an almost childlike sense of uncontrolled excitement; the ultimate access to the place with all the information offered to him for free with any question ready to be answered.’ ‘So what is the catch?’ asked Sam, as ever bringing the rest of them back to earth. ‘You take with you what you take with you.’ ‘Do you mean, what we see, or remember only?’ ‘Of course.’ He smiled, ‘I cannot let any old thing out of here. Your position defines what you see. You all will see different things, you all will be right. And you all will have dreams. I have decided to grant you one thing. One thing you want. So what is it?’ George was about to speak. He held up a hand. ‘Anything. Anything at all.’ ‘Anything?’ George repeated, his doubt obvious, ‘we are here for the object that was hidden, but….’ ‘Steady on George.’ said Sam. ‘We came here to find something.’ said Kyle, ‘That is all we need.’ ‘The young Man is quite right. Yes, yes. All you need.’ He stared at George and something was communicated. George went very quiet and was usually thoughtful for several minutes. The calm Man got up and in a minute returned with a little objet wrapped in a large white hanky. He unfolded it and gave it to Kyle. It was round and rather like a large golden donut. It had a hinge on three edges, three section fiddled back to receive the coiled metal that the others had taken for a bangle of some sort but was actually a power supply for the object. George had it inside his jacket. He brought it out. It fitted perfectly. ‘What now?’ Sam asked. ‘Home Gentlemen.’ said their host, ‘My assistant will show you out.’ ‘But….’ George said and then fell silent. They had what they came for. Best leave it for now. ‘You never said what your name was.’ said Sam, as they stood up. ‘Ah! But what is a name? You will not forget me. And this I can be sure of with so much experience of these things. You will go home and wonder all evening; and you will find it most beneficial to add a pinch of brown sugar.’ ‘Thank you for your time….err Mr Director.’ said Kyle. ‘You are welcome.’ he replied and then they were ushered out. ***** Chapter Six Something Sexy, Sinister, & Bold. ‘That is absolutely the most amazing thing I have ever heard!’ Gina was talking loudly in the kitchen at George’s house. She was in full on energised mode. It was usually brought about by an excess of good deeds and a lot of new clients praising her for her forthright energetic appraisal of their needs. Gina had most of the rest of the world put into boxes of her own invention. People had labels, and labels meant control. She seemed to go completely off it in front of George, except when she had just come straight from work rather than going to her place first. Sam didn’t like it at all and was trying to ring Juliet and grimacing while Gina carried on regaling them with the exploits for the day and reflections on the magnificence of their own success. She was generous in her praise especially when in a good mood and this only served to annoy Sam even more. Kyle shrugged and started on the spouts. George had been going through all the vegetables in the universe in something like alphabetical order. When asked by Kyle if it was some sort of special diet, he just said that it was so that he didn’t forget any. Well, not unless they were hated. You had to admit he was as least trying to keep his strength up. Kyle reckoned that was the only way that Gina didn’t get the better of him. A little while later, things had quietened down to a slow simmer. Sam still seemed subdued and sighed rather heavily. ‘For goodness sake! Take your ugly face somewhere else!’ George shooed Sam out to get his coat and then took the Range Rover keys of the hook and flung them in his direction. Sam took them without making any acid comments and steamed away to follow up on whatever conversation he had been having with the lovely Juliet. With Sam off fixing whatever it was the atmosphere lightened considerably, even Gina calmed down and was characteristically draping herself round George and being terribly attentive and loving. She winked at Kyle and produced some chocolate out of her voluminous bag, ‘Free Samples.’ she said. ‘Thanks.’ Kyle felt better than he had all day now the misery cloud that was Sam had gone from the room. They sat down to Chicken and veggies and glasses of wine. George was flushed with success. Kyle was happy, but a little more sober in his expectations that this was just the beginning of a lot of trouble and weirdness, since the promise of it had been hanging over them all day and it had not materialised in a concrete enough form yet. That is if you don’t count what happened earlier, and weren’t freaked out by that chilly place underground. About half an hour later there was a knock on the door. It seemed odd and George went with his best truncheon and pepper spray to answer it. ‘Who the hell is that?’ George was clearly on down time and not in the frame of mind to accept any more excitement for one day. On the door step was the tall Man from the path at Treacle’s house. He stood back a little. He was very tall and even allowing for the fact that he was stooping under a heavy bag seemed at least six foot four inches tall. Or perhaps it was the rather floppy hat that added to effect. ‘May I come in?’ ‘Kyle. Get the scanner.’ said George without taking his eyes off him. ‘Got it.’ Kyle passed it forward. ‘What is that?’ asked the stranger. ‘Just stay still.’ said George, ‘Okay. Now what is the password?’ ‘I am friend of Treacle Green.’ ‘Really?’ said George with heavy sarcasm, ‘And I am the Queen of Sheba. Credentials are required.’ ‘Very well. Since you asked me so nicely.’ he put his bag down and felt through all his pockets. ‘Ah… here it is.’ He drew out an object that was familiar to George. So much so that he knew every detail of its inner workings. ‘Impossible!’ breathed Kyle. There, offered in the strangers hand was a tag chain identical to ones that George had issued to the people in the Sandglass group. ‘Whose is it?’ asked George evenly. ‘Mine.’ said the Man, ‘May I come in?’ They faced each other while the Stanger told them what he could. Even George, who was at that moment in a demanding mood didn’t ask for further justification. He was a Traveller. And he was from here; but forward by four years. ‘I came back to warn you that there is something that we have not taken into account. The paradox of this event cannot be underestimated. It is twisting the whole of local time out of shape.’ ‘Yeah, there has been a lot of that sort of thing going on recently. Do you know about Sam Parker?’ ‘A little,’ he said, ‘but it is Treacle that I am concerned with. They are the one who managed to fool your boy. A skill indeed.’ ‘A hack?’ asked Kyle. ‘An alteration. It was a slippage of only a few per cent but the cascade of events brings out some very difficult outcomes for all of you.’ ‘Are any of them life threatening?’ ‘Not for you and your two friends; no. but I cannot speak for the rest. There is limited information I can tell you. You will have to trust me.’ ‘Yeah. Looks like.’ said George, and sipped more from the glass he had brought through from the kitchen. ‘The key is in the encrypted file. The one your friend is guarding so lovingly.’ Kyle looked up. He was cuddling his laptop while the Man spoke. He didn’t want to leave it open on the low table while they had visitors. ‘Yes. Well, I’m not inviting you to that party. We will have to crack this one.’ ‘Yes you will. Tonight.’ ‘Why?’ the one syllable was hard and demanding. ‘You really think I’m not on the level,’ the man said to George. ‘Test me if you are in doubt.’ ‘I just don’t like the idea of someone already knowing what I am going to do.’ ‘I don’t know. There is still a different choice to be made. How many people get to change their own destiny? Would it be better than refusing to do so, if you actually had the chance?’ ‘What on earth do you mean?’ George narrowed his eyes, in dangerous way. He might not doubt this man’s place in the scheme of things but it didn’t mean he was destined to like him either. ‘I mean, that you must find out what it says. Because you may make some elementary mistakes if you don’t already know what is going to happen when you eventually find out the truth about what is happening.’ ‘So tell me;’ George attempted a smile, ‘what should I call You, prophet of doom?’ ‘Call me Zach.’ he smiled and his eyes seemed to be laughing, ‘I prefer my full name but that is too much of a mouth full for most people.’ ‘I’m not most people.’ George sounded cross, ‘We need more than confusing mumbo jumbo. If you can’t do better than that, I will have to, as a courtesy you understand, throw you out.’ ‘Well that’s okay. But before you do, might I suggest that you get in touch with your friends at the hospital.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I can’t tell you.’ ‘Why can’t you tell me?’ ‘It is a matter of saving a life. That is what you do isn’t it?’ ‘Yes.’ George seemed to shift then and he sat back as if unstrung. The stranger had hit the sweet spot of George’s true vocation and called on his oath to preserve life into being. ‘Fine.’ said George. ‘Then I will go.’ he stood. ‘If you know me in the future, then you’ll know I prefer to have someone ring first.’ ‘Only if you’ve met them before.’ ‘You said you know me. Isn’t that enough for you people?’ ‘The job of a Traveller is not always a merry jaunt my friend.’ ‘Yes. But a bet it can be interesting.’ ‘You want to know what it’s like?’ ‘Yes. Of course I do.’ ‘One day. You’ll know. A little while George, a little while.’ And with that he turned to go. Gina met him on the way out as he donned his outer wear again. ‘Nice hat.’ she said enthusiastically. ‘You always say that.’ the stranger replied. ‘I do?’ Kyle watched Gina’s cogs whirring from the other end of the hall, ‘I do!’ she said brightly. Kyle sighed, she would be unbearable now. George better be warned…. Then again, why spoil the surprize? As it turned out it was timely. George almost straight away got on the phone to one of his Doctor pals. He really was taking this thing seriously. He came back in and then wandered off to the kitchen with his coffee making face on. A few minutes later you could hear the plop plop of the percolator. Gina curled up in the armchair and started reading a book. George looking thoughtful came in with a tray. ‘Chocolate biscuits?’ Kyle raised an eyebrow, ‘What is the occasion?’ ‘Me being thick.’ said George, ‘I should have seen it. I really ought to see it.’ ‘See what?’ ‘The connection.’ ‘Between what and what?’ Kyle was patient. ‘The Man who was missing and the Cheese Sandwich.’ ‘You mean,’ said Kyle carefully, ‘the man who turned up recently and the Sandwich that was left on the bench when Drucker vanished?’ ‘The very same. It is all about cheese.’ ‘Sorry I don’t follow.’ ‘Universal constants in the Universe. There isn’t a culture that doesn’t have it.’ ‘Have what?’ ‘Cheese making.’ ‘Cheese making?’ Kyle was incredulous, ‘What has this got to do with pickled gherkins, weird archives and a fax; a diary, a mad guy, and zebra stripes…. Oh; well yes.’ Kyle paused, ‘you have me. I’m sure it’s connected.’ ‘Undoubtedly.’ said George ‘I just can’t work out how.’ ‘The Man who showed up. He is still in a hospital somewhere?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘And he cannot remember who he is?’ ‘Nope.’ ‘And you think you know?’ ‘Maybe.’ ‘Two out of three definites. Not bad. What’s for pudding?’ ‘There are more donuts if you want.’ ‘There’s cheesecake too,’ said Gina, ‘I checked it. It’s okay.’ ‘Uh…. Thanks Gina.’ Kyle fetched a slab of the cheesecake. It helped him concentrate. George took down the plunger on the pot of coffee and took out a pad of paper. ‘I need to think.’ ‘See you later Sweetie.’ said Gina, and wafted upstairs without complaint. Sam came back late. He sat in the kitchen and nursed a whisky. He said nothing to Kyle who still sat trying vainly to crack into the file. It just wouldn’t give. ‘Trouble?’ Sam came and stood behind him. ‘I’ve tried everything. It is being a stubborn asshole.’ ‘Reverse it.’ ‘The code?’ ‘The deposit box. Yeah. Try it.’ ‘Okay.’ Kyle tapped in the number which was the equivalent of the binary code. Black, white, white, black…. The original. That was One, Zero, Zero, One; that was Nine. So reversed Zero, One, One, Zero…. And that was….Six. Not four letters….. So what do you do? Add a zero? Front or back? Zero, Six... Bother!! ‘Try S,I,X,0; or 0,S,I,X.’ ‘It’s the second one, I think.’ Kyle tapped it in. ‘We’re in!’ Kyle was relieved for a moment until he saw a blank file. ‘There is nothing to be seen. Are you sure it’s right?’ ‘It’s bloody big file for something that empty.’ ‘Properties of Word files.’ Sam mused, ‘It could be in a very small box somewhere.’ ‘No… look there is one big blank empty box.’ ‘Is it there.’ said Sam. ‘Of course it is. Piss off for a bit and see if George needs anymore coffee, I’ll work it out.’ About an hour later George was eating mini pancakes. ‘I’m surprized you aren’t fatter?’ Sam remarked. ‘Shut up.’ George flipped another one. Kyle looked up and pressed another key. ‘One big annoying text box.’ he muttered, then straightened and stretched his back. ‘Is it hiding from you?’ George said through a mouth full of pancake. ‘Ah!! I get it…. I think…. Yes…. no…. shit.’ ‘Just one thought,’ George said clearly this time and stirred his batter mix, ‘Have you tried moving the text box?’ ‘Yes. You’ve tried selecting all first and copy to another file?’ ‘Of course. It’s empty.’ ‘The contents of the file have to be somewhere. Maybe they are hidden behind that box in another box?’ ‘Gadzooks! He’s right!’ Kyle pealed it off carefully. Underneath blank. Select all. Yes! ‘There’s something here.’ said Kyle. He carefully enlarged the little box. It looked blank but when he selected all, there was something there. He copied it to another file. Colour of text: turned to Black. ‘She rides!!’ Kyle was pleased. That was until he saw the string of letters. All nonsense. ‘It’s bloody encrypted!’ Kyle was half way between hysterical relief and being cross, because there was still a way to go before he could call it a night. George glanced at it, ‘It might be a Playfair cipher.’ ‘I knew that,’ said Kyle, he turned to Sam, ‘You know I knew that?’ ‘Yeah, right. But can you decipher it?’ ‘Yes, if I have the key word.’ ‘Is it encrypted more than once?’ ‘More than one word…. Black, White…. Or perhaps Chain…… or even Zebra?’ Sam got out his notebook and pen, ‘I think you need a little help Kyle.’ ‘Thanks. I mean alright.’ He picked up a biro and prepared to do battle with the decryption boxes and possible patterns. The following morning, in the early light a figure shuffled their way along. The old woman with her big bag; her aprons and her dusters and her packet of Murray Mints. She let herself into Sam Parker’s house ready to do the weekly deep clean. She set to it with a will as she always did. Her elbow was aching a little so she stopped for a cup of tea. Just as she was rinsing the cup out she saw a shadow pass by the kitchen window. What? Who? But she felt suddenly suspicious. A moment later it was gone. The morning was brightening and she hummed as she worked; she checked the bugs and checked the pantry for any sign that Samantha had been looking a little too closely. Without; someone was knocking on the door. She saw the shape of the postie by the steps. And knowing this was a usual occurrence answered it. A man bounded towards her knocking her out. He leapt over her body, and was rifling through the kitchen drawers as quick as you like. She stirred, being of stronger stuff and not easily knocked out. She went towards him. She needed to see his face; whatever the cost. He had a hat pulled down. She grabbed it from behind. He instinctively turned. Her fate was sealed. He drew a long fine knife out. Time to understand we mean business. She absorbed his face, every detail, every contour. She would know it again. Even if he aged. In time. George and Kyle were on the way there when they heard a siren. They parked a little way away. ‘Stay here.’ George ordered. He came back a few minutes later, ‘It’s the help. She’s dead.’ He climbed back into the driving seat, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck!’ he slammed his head against his crossed arms. ‘Will they think it was Samantha?’ ‘Not likely. He left boot prints. Size twelve. Bloody Hell!’ ‘Do you want me to ask anything?’ Sam looked strained. ‘Yeah. Hop out, find out what you can. Feign ignorance; get a lift back to the station, see what you can pick up. And I’ll see you later. I think we need to visit Henry’s grave. I think I can cope with it now.’ Sam jumped out and sauntered towards the nearest policeman. George turned the car round and followed the lane back onto the main road. Kyle navigated them round the one way system. For as George said: ‘I’m not having some electronic chick telling me where to get off.’ Kyle and George stared at the graveyard, and then walked slowly towards the slightly newer part. ‘It’s a big plot.’ Kyle walked round it carefully. ‘Yeah. Just a bit.’ George took out his camera, ‘A lot of plants have been put in. Sam wasn’t exaggerating.’ ‘Shall we go to see Treacle?’ ‘No. Not good. There’s a reporter and I don’t think it will serve any purpose. Besides, if our assassin does turn up there, I don’t want him getting a good look at us before I knock him out.’ ‘You’re not joking.’ ‘I never joke about gratuitous violence.’ ‘Quite right too.’ Kyle shrugged, ‘So what do we think about this?’ ‘Too many plants.’ said George, ‘It lacks subtlety. There is something amiss here.’ ‘When did it happen?’ ‘Last summer.’ ‘Burial? ‘Three months later.’ ‘Was the will contested?’ ‘No as far as I know.’ George turned his face to the sun, ‘Nothing really makes sense. Well not yet.’ ‘Waiting for the fog to clear?’ ‘Something like. Come on, let’s go. There is nothing more to be done here. Let the dead rest in peace.’ They climbed in the car and George offered Kyle some gum out of the dashboard drawer. ‘Thanks. So where now?’ ‘Now we do what we should have done in the first place. Go back to the point of origin.’ ‘Sheffield?’ ‘That’s the one. Is there anything you need?’ ‘No. got it all here.’ ‘Okay. Let’s go.’ ***** Chapter Seven The Unpredictable Truth. It’s the smell, if such a thing can be communicated. That of old corridors. Places of learning that stand in their dusty polished splendour and scent the world of learning with that mixture of dust, beeswax, warm bricks, and old books. And perhaps a school is similar except for the smell of cooked cabbage that hovers in the air like an unquiet ghost. George made an appointment to see the head mistress. It seemed like the decent thing to do. He introduced himself in a semi honest, yet obscurely referenced way that left the person he met with the impression of learning and medical knowledge that although the truth, wasn’t quite the emphasis that did reflect his true purposes. Kyle was instructed to remain as silent as possible, and then with the time was right excuse himself and find his way into the computer system of the school. Having already procured a layout plan, and worked out that a suitably timely activation of the fire alarm and possibly the sprinklers if things got a little tense would make it possible for George and himself to leave without being followed. It was simple, rough, and relied on people generally not playing attention. But then of course, most of them don’t. George’s charm and professional manner gave him the edge with exactly this sort of educationalist. So he chatted amiably, and Kyle made friends with the intranet. George glanced at his watch; his phone had not begun to jiggle in his pocket. Maybe it was shielded, or Kyle was not finding it easy…. Not likely. George had almost run out of things to say about the research arm of the hospital he was supposedly representing. ‘So wonderful… Mr Carter. Our Summer fayre would welcome a stand and the most generous donation to the school is so timely!’ ‘I’m glad of that.’ George was stalling now, ‘I hope that we can bring a few of your young people round to the idea that a medical career is a worthy and noble outlet for their talents.’ ‘Oh! Yes indeed. We have such talented young people. So full of promise and the joy of life. It had always been an aim of mine to encourage the sciences, all of them. A very noble cause indeed.’ Uh oh! George tried not to show the hungry for information look on his face. He went for careful neutrality instead, ‘A very noble way to spend one’s time in life. A good career. Excellent prospects for the right student.’ ‘I like to think so.’ she said, ‘It has been a long time since we looked at awarding the Boddington-Wright Trophy for exceptional achievement.’ ‘Is that a bequest to the school?’ ‘Oh, yes. It comes with a large sum; a really substantial reward for all that hard work.’ George was about to reply to this promising line of enquiry, when his phone buzzed. He looked pointedly at his watch, ‘Goodness! Is that the time already? I will have to go to my next appointment.’ ‘A pleasure Mr Carter,’ she said as they both stood up, ‘Most enlightening.’ The school bell sounded as on cue for that moment. George was making his way down the steps just as Kyle was sliding into the crowd streaming forth. They both were shuttled towards the entrance with the wave of student bodies. ‘Got it?’ asked George without looking at him. ‘Yeah!’ said Kyle in super casual mode. They went two different ways round and met back again at George car. ‘That was just about the most stress I have ever had for one morning!’ ‘Why?’ George looked startled as of all his worst nightmares were about to come true all at once. ‘Calm down big guy. There is nothing of threat to us. But someone might be regretting a few of their actions through the whole of the internet.’ ‘How so?’ ‘A certain fellow might find his account full of jelly teddies by this Friday. And he will definitely have an order for two thousand green Lego bricks arriving early in the morning.’ ‘That is not that many.’ ‘Every day for a week; double on Saturday. He was spying on the girls. I saw the video evidence; the shower heads have been wired.’ ‘Isn’t that dangerous?’ ‘Not really.’ ‘I wouldn’t like to tangle with one of those yummy mummies. They do look dangerous with their hairdos and their pointless activity and lunches.’ ‘Not to say expensive clothes and pointy nails.’ said Kyle. ‘I’ve got nothing against expensive clothes. But I dislike them being wasted on really stupid people.’ ‘I don’t like the way they jangle car keys in their hands, and stand looking impatient even when they are sitting down.’ ‘You are very funny.’ George interrupted him, ‘but what about the Science Prize?’ ‘It has been award only twice since Samantha’s time. On both occasions there were no other contenders. The people are normal; there are supportive parents to the brainy sprog. So nothing that needs following up.’ ‘Fine. What about the prize back in the eighties?’ ‘Samantha was one of three that year.’ Oh?’ ‘Yes. She, and another from her school; and then someone from out of town. Specialisms too young, that sort of thing.’ ‘Yes. I saw some of the photos on the wall in the Head teacher’s office. A notable event indeed.’ ‘I’m glad I don’t think tangentially.’ said Kyle, ‘Anyway, there is nothing else. It was all done properly. Or does seem so according to the records. She got lucky maybe.’ ‘I suspect outside interference,’ said George, ‘Could we extrapolate back to what readings might have been produced just before the event?’ ‘What?’ Kyle glazed over, ‘I don’t see why not. Isn’t it possible that this may be ruled by something way beyond our ability to predict or control? I mean the records aren’t always so reliable. The only advantage is that we know what did in fact happen in the main flow of events…. So, yes it might be worth a try. Triangulate possible things with known actual events to provide more accuracy to the predictions.’ ‘I say,’ George was startled, ‘That’s brilliant.’ ‘I am rather. Don’t you think?’ ‘Yes Kyle. Now let’s decide what is to be done about the Drucker connection.’ ‘Right.’ Kyle reached into his bag, ‘No. This has to been done fat free and no sugar, get it?’ ‘Humph, fine.’ Kyle made a face, but made no further move to get out the sturdy mini-computer. They parked near the Lab. It was deserted. A clutch of new build to the right was all that was left that would indicate any sign of life. Kyle got out first. He kicked a grassy tussock with his foot, ‘Why is it still here?’ ‘Economics.’ said George, ‘There is a lot of stuff that had lain fallow around that time. No one could afford to knock it down.’ They entered carefully, watching all the while for signs of unstable ceilings. ‘It seems alright. It is just old.’ Kyle hissed softly. ‘Why on earth are you whispering?’ George said and went forward to the stairwell. Next to that, was the gapping maw of the lift shaft. ‘Someone else has been in here.’ Kyle said. ‘No doubt,’ George turned the corner, ‘It is against the law to squat in commercial buildings. But if you want a roof anything will do.’ They reached the outer offices that housed the suite were Samantha had once worked. It was just space, lots of empty space and a few broken bit of office furniture that remained as the movers took less care. ‘It all went to the older building in the city centre.’ ‘Next to the University?’ Kyle asked. ‘Yes. There does seem to be that connection every time doesn’t there?’ ‘It isn’t that they are more corrupt. I think they just have a different way for things to be declared to the tax man. It is a good place to hide something. A way of avoiding certain…. Mmm things becoming taxable. Strip the assets and what do you have?’ ‘A company name?’ ‘Yes. Just a name. So where did all the money go?’ ‘A paper trail?’ ‘Flushed through someone else’s accounts. No one thinks that it is their business. And everything is legit. Nothing really can be traced.’ ‘Storage space?’ ‘Perhaps,’ George walked out into the empty room, ‘But I think you would find it empty. If it exists at all.’ ‘Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?’ ‘The archive. The machine.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘Nothing so far. But someone is looking for it. And the Historical Preservation Society has kept it safe for all this time.’ ‘But why let us in?’ ‘Credentials Kyle. Credentials. You ate something. It is like an entry code. They don’t let you in unless you are showing the right signs. The door simply won’t open. There may be another way in. But you would need specific knowledge. Another kind of key…. Of course!!’ ‘Samantha?’ ‘Yes. She went there, and the staff are not travellers, are they? Their total discretion. The price… a small part of their memory. A Key…. We need to get in her house.’ ‘We do? But I thought you said we didn’t?’ ‘She had something. But it would mean nothing to anyone else…. it must be something she read. And something that was already there. So she wouldn’t need to have a copy…. Unless the thing itself is the trigger… no, then she would have to destroy it. It has to be words on a page. A key trigger.’ ‘And we already know that this has been used successfully.’ ‘Certain military applications used this memory suppression. You already have the knowledge. You need a key. It is like a locked file inside your head…. A bit like the file that you have in fact got! How did you do?’ ‘I think we got down one layer of encryption. But then it got muddy.’ ‘Have you got the original?’ ‘I have several copies, all with different attempts to decode…. But I didn’t try the last word; yet. ‘What word?’ ‘Zebra.’ ‘Ah!’ George looked thoughtful, ‘Let’s go to a pub and find a beef and mustard sandwich.’ The art of the Sandwich, in that George was well versed. And with a pint at his elbow and a lean wodge of beef flowing out the sides of the crusty bread he was content. ‘The keywords are?’ ‘White, Black, Chain, Zebra… and Umm don’t know.’ Kyle pushed a few beer mats out of the way, ‘It is doing my head in.’ he added. ‘Tell me the rest of the thing in the notebook.’ ‘That is all there was. The verse and the symbol.’ ‘Let me see.’ ‘Well?’ ‘Give it a minute. I’m thinking.’ Kyle stared across the crowded pub waiting for George’s flash of brilliance to take effect. He noticed someone was looking at him. Maybe they were just glancing in his direction. Kyle looked down, looked back up being careful to look just to the right, but seeing if the person was still staring at them. They were. ‘George.’ said Kyle with a warning note. ‘Yes. I know.’ said George still chewing on his bread. ‘What now George?’ ‘Take your stuff; go to the bar. Wait a few minutes, then leave.’ ‘How? There’s three of them now!’ ‘Calm yourself. Go. Now.’ Kyle stood and merged with the people pressing forward to get served. George got up a moment later and the men orientated on him. Kyle watched. ‘Shit!’ he muttered hugging his rucksack against his chest. Suddenly there was a commotion. People were turning. An excitement was travelling through the room. Like the magnetism of particles everyone was moving outside onto the beer garden, even the ones who didn’t know what it was about sensed opportunity and followed. The way cleared in front of Kyle and the side door was there with no one in the way. He quickly left and hurried through the narrow streets to where the car was parked. He let himself in and ducked down in the back. Ten minutes. He waited. He didn’t dare ring George. But what was taking so long? Suddenly George was there. ‘Will you drive? I have evidence.’ George was bagging a mobile phone. ‘Bloody hell?’ Kyle climbed quickly into the driving seat and strapped himself in. They started gently down the road. In the rear view mirror Kyle spotted a man looking around trying to find George again. George slid down in the seat. ‘Take a right.’ ‘That’s back to the bar.’ ‘Yes. Do it.’ he got his camera out. ‘These guys mean business and so do I.’ They sailed smoothly past the pub. George wound the window down and was taking pictures. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ ‘They saw my face. I want a record of theirs.’ Kyle took the next left and relaxed a little. ‘Take a right and then a left. First exit at the next roundabout. Then floor it Kyle.’ George got his phone out. Kyle grinned, ‘Gridlock bomb?’ ‘Just a small one.’ ‘Code: ABC7sheep.’ ‘Sheep?’ ‘Traffic stopping.’ ‘Of course.’ said George. ‘Press the button….. Now!!’ Kyle glanced back as the lights changed and stayed at red while they sped off into the distance. ‘Magnificent!!’ George relaxed, ‘thanks Kyle.’ ‘I expect more Donuts.’ ‘Whatever you want.’ ***** Chapter Eight Counting Sheep. Sam didn’t waste time upon the policeman once he had the feeling that they might decide to arrest him for….well he kept crossing paths with them around about the time a body appeared on the scene. ‘One of yours?’ said the young PC. ‘One of my what?’ ‘Clients.’ ‘No. who is it?’ ‘Sorry Sir….’ ‘Yeah, it’s police business. I know.’ ‘I was going to say, I don’t know the victim. I’m not from round here. They briefed me.’ he pointed. Sam looked. Yep. He recognised them. The Inspector turned and caught Sam’s eye for the finest fraction of a second. It was a look of annoyance. He wasn’t going to get anywhere. ‘I say,’ said Sam, ‘Do you mind if I smoke?’ ‘Nah. I mean no Sir. That’s a tough thing to give up.’ ‘How did you?’ ‘I’m psychic.’ ‘That will do it.’ Sam lit the fag and drew it in. ‘That is really my job. Being a police officer helps them explain the flashes of insight. But I really am a Psychic.’ ‘No kidding.’ ‘Unless you’re taking the piss.’ he stood straighter. ‘What’s your name constable?’ ‘Bobby Green.’ ‘Bobby?’ ‘Yes. If you Sir find it amusing, then feel free to laugh loudly. I think it best to get it out as much as possible.’ Sam stared up at the tree on the nearby verge, and blew a stream of smoke outwards, ‘So they briefed you?’ ‘That is it. So I will have to ask you to be on your way Mr Wright.’ ‘The warning; a timely one. I thank you Constable Green.’ ‘Just don’t mention it.’ he gave Sam a really sharp look, ‘Really don’t mention it.’ Sam walked right past the Inspector who gave Sam the once over. Sam thought he was trying to work out if there was something coming he didn’t expect. It seemed to follow Sam around. Unexpected events. The group of them turned back to their discussion as soon as Sam passed by. He walked past the yellow and black tape and realised that he was going to have to take the bus. He did have a car. But it was still at home. Drat! ‘Are you stuck?’ ‘Pardon?’ Sam wheeled round to see the girl form the house the other day. ‘Hello,’ she came forward, ‘what is your situation? Stranded? In need of assistance? Or none of the above?’ ‘You are a reporter.’ ‘Interesting. Most people notice other things before they get to that usually.’ ‘I saw you at the Art Gallery a while ago.’ ‘Yes?’ she seemed puzzled, ‘I didn’t see you.’ ‘There were a lot of people there.’ ‘I never forget a pretty boy. No offense.’ ‘None taken.’ he dropped the tab and twisted his heel on it. ‘They might arrest you for littering. So you think that will be reason enough to get what you so obviously want?’ ‘What I want?’ ‘I know what it is.’ ‘I see.’ Sam tried to play it cool. ‘I am Jade Bergen, reporter. You?’ ‘Sam Wright, private detective.’ ‘I see now why they are looking at you in that way.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘It’s professional jealously. All the freedom of the job; and none of the drawbacks. It’s the paperwork that kills it. Are you a spy?’ ‘What?’ Sam stepped a little closer seeing the Inspector out of the corner of his eye moving towards him. ‘Do you need a lift?’ ‘That would be appreciated. I was dropped off.’ ‘I saw. Your friends?’ ‘Associates.’ ‘They are not your friends?’ ‘Yes. That too.’ the Inspector was getting closer, much to Sam’s discomfort. ‘Alright,’ she said, ‘but I need your help.’ ‘In what way?’ ‘Follow me.’ She turned and almost at a run went and unlocked a bright yellow Mini. She leaned across and pushed open the passenger door. Sam climbed in. she had the car started up and was pulling out before Sam had chance to wonder if he had made the right decision accepting her help. The stopped outside Treacle’s house. ‘Why are we here?’ ‘Oh… I think you know. You’ve been watching the place. Spying one might say. So I think it’s time you came clean.’ ‘Thank you for the lift.’ Sam turned as if to get out. The door wouldn’t open. ‘Tell me why you are spying on us?’ ‘I wasn’t. I mean it’s not like that. Do you mind opening the door… or the window?’ ‘Why? Are you claustrophobic?’ Sam was… a little but he didn’t answer. He screwed his eyes shut for a moment trying to think of something calming and upbeat… or a bad joke. That was it. He looked at her. She watched him with a far more appraising expression. Her intentions clearly were not hostile. She was feeling threatened she wanted to make sure he wasn’t the enemy of the people. ‘Treacle is not the real thing.’ said Sam. ‘I spoke to him.’ ‘I know. He is very forgetful. He might not remember you after today. But he told me.’ ‘Why would he do that?’ ‘We’re friends. That was why I was watching out for him. He’s alone in the world since the Brother is gone.’ ‘You say it like you didn’t know Henry.’ ‘I didn’t.’ she turned and reached for a diary, and flipped it open. ‘The last time that the Brother came to see Treacle was about three months ago.’ ‘Right before he died.’ concluded Sam, ‘So what he said was right.’ ‘Yes.’ she seemed hesitant. ‘There is something else, isn’t there?’ ‘I know that you will tell your two friends if I tell you so I’ll have to think about that. But here’s my card. I work for a big magazine. It’s normally more lifestyle stuff. Not dead bodies and all that.’ Sam took the card. ‘Look, I have to go see Treacle. You will have to walk from here. But it saved you a step.’ ‘Yes. It did. I’ll go to the bus stop.’ he stared at her waiting. ‘The door’s not locked.’ she jumped out the driver’s side. Sam stood up more slowly and carefully pushed the door shut. ‘I might see you.’ she said, ‘In the course of events it might be considered inevitable.’ ‘I think that is what I can call fate.’ ‘The question,’ she said, ‘is do you believe in it?’ ‘No.’ ‘You don’t like something else being in control of your life?’ ‘Not at all.’ ‘Me too.’ She smiled, ‘I will see you again though?’ ‘Yes…’ Sam stopped, ‘I suppose so.’ ‘Of course.’ She said and turned to walk up Treacle’s path to his front door. Sam walked and thought about the business with Treacle Green. Something didn’t fall right. A young, a very attractive reporter being friends with a Sixty-Something guy. It wasn’t really what he expected. She was telling the truth; but yet there was a shadow behind it. He caught himself thinking ‘Why not!’ and double back to find out what was really going on between them. Sam peered carefully through a window. Treacle sat in an arm chair. The girl reported knelt on the floor at his feet. She was talking in a low soft voice that didn’t carry. He nodded as she spoke. Then on thing she said and he shook his head. She pressed her point but he still shook his head in a strong gesture of negation. So then she got a small rolled up cloth out of her bag. She laid it on the table next to his arm chair. She unrolled the thing to reveal two syringes. Sam had got the idea now. She was giving him something, but it wasn’t on prescription. He needed to know what it was. Sam had a brain wave. Back at Jade’s Mini; Sam decided if there was ever a time when George’s training in the noble art of lock-picking should work; well this was it. He felt around gently, while ducked down behind the car. He was conscious of the time. She could come back out at any moment. Suddenly it gave way. There was a small net travelling bag with a zipper. Using gloves he quickly took a look inside. There was one roll in the bag identical to the one he had just seen. Inside there were three full syringes, the liquid was bluish and vaguely familiar. He thought though he had not seen this before. A sound from the house. He would have to be really quick. He had no other container. ‘Oh well. All’s fair in love and war.’ Sam pocketed one of the syringes and rolled the others back carefully, making sure that the knot round the little fabric case was done exactly the same way. He clicked the boot shut carefully, and making sure that it was closed properly and put as much walking distance as possible between him and the Mini. ‘No one ever asks the obvious question,’ George said as they sped back down the motorway, ‘Is Henry really dead? And is he really buried in the ground?’ ‘That’s ghoulish George.’ said Kyle from the back seat. They had swapped round to allow Kyle more time to plunder his not inconsiderable cleverness in trying yet another decryption sequence. ‘Any joy?’ George put the radio on. ‘If we weren’t on the Motorway, and this wasn’t vital, or even essential. I would throw it out of the window and blow it up.’ ‘I won’t buy you a new one.’ ‘I’ll just sulk then… or rather I would if I decided to. There has to be a simple way of doing this. I think I’ve got a letter. ‘Which one?’ ‘An ‘E’. But then again it might not be that.’ ‘Give it a rest. Have a kip. We’re nearly at Newark.’ ‘Yeah, fine.’ George tuned the radio. The weather forecast. ‘Heavy weather.’ said George, ‘We’re driving into it.’ Parker was still waiting in the suite in the mysterious place known as the Historical Preservation Society. She had been summoned with politeness to dinner with the director of the institute. Perhaps he was the person who would answer her questions. She had tried not to sleep. It was only so she could retain the information in her own mind. But she was tired and lay back on the comfortable bed. It was so soft. Not to sleep. Just to close one’s eyes for a moment or two. Just a few moments. Is it the fact of being a genius, or was she determined? The memory block was crumbling. It had been activated too soon. The magazine she had with her. She had read it again. She felt the trigger and the reinforcing of the information about the archives and their role in all this. The people who were there, which ones that she could trust. The advice that was necessary to keep her from harm. Bu the file was still beyond her reach. If Kyle was doing what he thought he could do then he might not be in it yet. But them again, without him, she could not have got it at all. Fate… after all it is all about what you believe. Not what you want to believe. And truth… harder still. Did she love him? She curled round in the thick comfort of the coverlet. There was no room for Love in her world. Yet she craved it. He craved that warmth. She had had friends and they were gone, lost in time. She felt so old. Was it possible to go back? Was any of it? She had seen what Kyle did in the future and she was not in his timeline. Ships that must pass. Or was this a trick? Of course the file was about some work in the lab and how it affected the current situation. Samantha was worrying a little that something she had forgotten until now would come to seek her out. She tried to cling to that knowledge the stuff of her dreams. Drucker knew. He had warned her. And control was just trying is best to maximise her efficiency by keeping distractions to a minimum, but this was a dangerous piece of self-knowledge and she could not afford to lose it. George was thinking about the day and how the least little bit of difficulty would put things back where they had been two days ago. Kyle was chewing over the contents of the file in a dogged and resigned way. Five minutes later Sam arrived and swept George up to the mini lab. The syringe was examined, and George hurried back down with something like surprize, alarm, and an arrogant need to be right. Kyle looked up from his computer with something approaching a smile. A hopeful sense of optimism bubbled up. ‘It’s a wonderful mixture.’ said Sam, ‘It seems that someone has perfected the clone technology. This is a repair serum. And get this: it is matched to the person’s DNA.’ ‘You know who it is?’ Kyle’s voice went slightly squeaky. It was mainly due to his own excitement. But he let them continue. ‘I think we might,’ said George, ‘just running the scan now.’ Ten more minutes and Kyle was still printing out the transcription of the decoded file. ‘Wait a minute,’ said Sam, ‘you mean you actually did it?’ ‘Yep.’ Kyle picked up more sheets. ‘So what does it say?’ Sam reached for the next sheet coming out. Kyle slapped his wrist, ‘Hands off! I need to keep these in order.’ George, who was being unbearably self-satisfied, took the sheaf of sheets off Kyle. They all went into the rarely used dining room with the huge table. ‘Time for a party.’ said Kyle and cracked his knuckles. ‘It is bad for you, you know.’ Sam gestured with both hands. ‘Like you know everything there is to know about healthy living.’ Kyle threw back at him. ‘Shut up!’ said George. They both turned towards him. ‘That’s better,’ he said in a smooth quiet voice, ‘now pay attention boys. This is serious stuff. The reporter is doing a little freelancing. She is quite likely up to her pretty little neck in it. And the man who we thought was Treacle is none other than a precise copy of Henry Green.’ ‘Henry?’ said Sam, ‘But…’ ‘I said pay attention. No questions,’ George picked up a sheet, ‘This is telling us that the clones are not just copies; they are soul migration containers. A spare in the fridge so to speak?’ ‘Is that why he looks so much younger?’ asked Kyle. ‘Good question. But no. I don’t think that this ‘Treacle’ is what he seems to be in any sense. What we are seeing is the body’s attempt to contain foreign matter. A state of persistent rejection, the stuff in the syringe counteracts that.’ ‘But I thought you said they were perfect clones?’ Kyle tapped a biro on the table, ‘They are not Plant People, are they?’ ‘I wish you wouldn‘t call them that.’ said George, ‘and no, they are not like them. The thing that is being rejected is the consciousness. The mind. One might even say the soul.’ Sam was making a face. A deeply held sense of revulsion that such things were possible or even existed gripped him. He tried to control the heave in his stomach and then turned to face George, ‘So this…. this clone. Who or what is it?’ ‘I think it must be another person. But that is a person who has yet to have a walk on part in this particular Psycho drama.’ ‘So it could be anyone?’ Sam looked even more disgusted. ‘No. It has to be someone who knows the person intimately: someone who could be convincing in the role. Perhaps a relative or a close friend.’ ‘Just one thought,’ Kyle tapped the biro some more, ‘Where were these, err…. Things cooked up?’ ‘Good question. I don’t know. But I think it might be right here in London. Somewhere near the river… you would need a water supply for cooling. And a means to get them around the country with them being noticed.’ ‘But of course,’ Sam changed tack, ‘there is still the question of the possible location of the Time machine.’ ‘You doubt it? We were there. We were inside it.’ ‘We didn’t travel through time George!! And besides, you said that was a Bad Idea. Remember?’ ‘I recall it vividly;’ George didn’t react much to this, as Sam was looking flushed. ‘I think I need to drink some tea.’ Sam went and flopped in a comfy chair neat the window. What is Henry hiding?’ George sat down too. ‘We have found the pot of gold. But this is going to take weeks to unravel. I suggest the righteous hack.’ ‘But you said NOT to do that?’ Kyle’s need to object was being overcome by his rabid curiosity even as they spoke. ‘These are special circumstances, and I need the entry ID for Henry’s old filing system.’ ‘Won’t that be deleted?’ George shook his head, ‘The University that employed him as well as the others would not keep the record in the main hard drive. They will get you forever in some other way. There is a backup, an archive of things, of files that resist deletion.’ ‘Resist?’ Sam turned to Kyle. ‘They won’t let you get rid of them. They duplicate a backup. The duplicate is an exe file as well. In the event that the original is lost, it simply created another copy from a secure backup.’ ‘But what if that is your problem? I’m not trying to change anything; and then suddenly wap! What happens to the body that had a soul that doesn’t fit it?’ ‘Goes to the nearest available body…. Or at a pinch an animal. Quicker that way.’ George heaved himself upright, ‘A cup of tea. And then we can look for the relevant port.’ ‘The final resting place of Henry’s research?’ asked Sam. ‘Where the real people are!’ George waved his hands, ‘Haven’t you been playing attention?’ ‘No. said Sam. ‘Tough.’ said Kyle. ‘This is weird.’ George said suddenly, ‘it is as if we have been led to this point. As if we have something someone else he wants. And we can deliver the package most effectively. Kyle, check the subroutines. I think it will help set my mind at rest.’ ‘Yeah… sure.’ Kyle was not making any objection, as George disappeared to fetch the diary, and make the tea, ‘What is the most relevant are the sub-normal bits.’ ‘Do you mean the computer file or the….. err, real people?’ Sam gazed at the ceiling. ‘Both,’ said Kyle, ‘It’s called multitasking.’ ‘I think you’ve been alone too long.’ Sam stabbed the air with his finger. ‘And I think you need to talk to Juliet.’ retorted Kyle, ‘stop bugging me.’ ‘Well at least I have a girlfriend! Samantha doesn’t seem to want to get up close and personal at the moment, if ever?’ Sam stood up, ‘Oh, I forgot. She is only on the wish list. I guess that means you’re keeping your options open?’ Kyle stared at him with his mouth open. Sam stomped out of the room, just as George came back in: ‘Well, that was almost unpredictable.’ he said. Kyle breathed out in a heavy sigh, ‘Well I guess Scrabble is not on later then.’ As a result of Sam's mini meltdown, George turned his attention to the clone research that Henry had allegedly been involved in: ‘Because’ he said, ‘There is less chance that we won't hit upon the truth sooner or later’ ‘I just don't get it.’ said Kyle. ‘Just because I didn't say anything doesn't mean I don't know what is happening.’ ‘Juliet said something to you?’ ‘She did in fact take your advice. I had to mop up a lake full of tears. She's really scared I'm afraid,’ he handed Kyle another mug of tea, ‘and we might be the only thing between her and a fatal moment of indecision.’ ‘Thanks for having such faith in me.’ Kyle tapped a key casually, ‘I thought you didn't know.’ ‘Really, when didn't I know what is going on?’ ‘Err..... so what about Sam?’ ‘He will just have to tough this one out. It is unfinished business, in a manner of speaking.’ ‘Is it about that other thing?’ ‘Yeah,’ George's eyes unfocused, ‘I don't know how Sam is the magnet for paradoxical events. But somehow he is.’ ‘And the thing with the reporter girl; tell me about that.’ ‘That is a bit of a mystery, I grant you. There seems to be no connection between her and Henry's brother. How is it she has the drugs that the brother needs? This is bugging me.’ ‘I already checked her out George. She appears to be completely clean. Not even a parking ticket.’ ‘Careful Huh. That I find suspicious in itself.’ ‘She is what she appears to be. Do you want me to look deeper in?’ ‘No. This is back to the drawing board. There is something in here that cannot be got at by conventional means. Put the computer away. We will do a mind map.’ ‘Away? Are you..... um okay?’ ‘Right as rain. After all I'm not the one with the complicated Love life.’ ‘Seriously?’ ‘That is you and Sam. I am a happy man. I can therefore devote my effort to getting to the bottom of this increasingly complex mystery.’ ‘A really big pad of paper then?’ Kyle stood looking expectant. ‘Make it the A0 stuff. It is in the back office.’ he dangled the key in front of Kyle's face. Kyle snatched the key with a sudden jolt of enthusiasm; which unless the novelty wore off, would carry him through the undergrowth of all the multifarious distinctions of meaning and change to find the empirical truth behind the mask of all things. ***** Chapter Nine Revelations of Absurdity. There is a moment for all of us. That moment in your life when you discover the real purpose of a particular object, idea or kitchen appliance; and your life is transformed. Ever after you will see a version of that very thing everywhere you go. For Sam it was tin openers. He went back to his flat and sat in the semidarkness trying not to cry over Juliet. How can something so great…. somehow be so Not Great, and cause him and Juliet to carry that big heavy shopping bag of emotional pain? He hadn’t got to the point of feeling guilty about Kyle. He hadn’t even got to the point of sending a text to George at least to let him know where he was. He sat very still and then suddenly moved. In the kitchen he flicked the light on banishing the horrible twilight with the stark bright light of kitchen cabinets and shiny, tidy things. On the table the thing stood: a strange monument to the forgotten art of inventing stuff just for the sake of it. He let his mind slip sideways into reminiscence. Not a good idea if you really want to use said object to extract some tasty meaty chunks for you enormous and ever hungry cat. She was at this moment trotting along the balcony and winding between plant pots. She seemed to be keeping a regular schedule in a subdued rather human allergic way. Gone were the midnight jaunts; the falling into other people’s shopping bags and the sense of smug pleasure at getting someone to feed you treats even though you weren’t actually hungry. But now she seemed morose. Sam thought it was like a human depression, but she seemed annoyingly happy, just not as adventurous. She was suffering a strange kind of loss too. A love that was familiar yet odd, with a friend of Sam’s. Where had he gone? With weirdly distorted thoughts of Juliet popping into his mind he didn’t have much processing power left for devoting to his friend Jay. But then, as he did consider it for a moment, he realised that Jay didn’t really consider him at all…. maybe. He was there and he was gone, just when Sam was getting used to the other Lad being there. They had known each other a long time ago back at college. And for reasons that would require a lot of explaining Jay was not quite the person that Sam remembered from long ago. He had been involved in the ‘Sandglass’ project. The same one that Sam had been working on as a technician. The whole thing had gone to hell in a bucket and Sam had been the one to help put some of the broken remnants of the human guinea pigs back together. Jay had been one of the main ones. George seemed to think he would come back. Sam was sceptical. Being wanted for a crime you didn’t commit was really more than a reason to stay away. And there was nothing they could do for him. This was another connected branch in the same forest, even in the same tree. What did all these people have in common? They could travel through time. Sam thought for a moment about the ramifications of taking a trip to another place in time, and it just made him feel sick. But then he did already. He was mourning for a relationship that almost nearly, but not quite had been the best thing that ever happened to him. In true melodramatic style he was mentally preparing a farewell speech. He shook his head trying to remind himself that this was silly. But, it was as if he needed to be sure how he would react in that eventuality. Planning and controlling things were still his lifebelt. And even Juliet, who had things of her own to plan around had not managed to break him free of that habit of mind. While these thoughts were at their height, he heard a tapping on his front door. Considering that he lived on the third floor of a building with main door security and a doorman who claimed he had once shot someone, this put Sam on high alert. At that exact moment Camille (Sam's enormous cat) barged her way in through the patio doors and charged for the cat bowls at lightning speed. Sam carefully spooned in dinner for her, making sure he didn't drop it on her head; she was in the habit of getting in there as if there was a world crisis and she had only three minutes to live so she better spend it eating dinner. Sam waited a full ten minutes, and then he went to the door. He carefully peeked through the spy hole. Nothing. Sam rolled away from the door leaning against the wall. His heart hammered in his temples. Who? Should he look? Maybe.... He had to know. There was no one there. Perhaps it was his imagination? The corridor was empty. He was alone. He went back inside; he shut and bolted the door. The cat was waiting for him. She was staring at him while standing foursquare on the rug. He sat in the chair, and she leapt onto his knee and immediately started purring. Sam sighed and stroked the cat. He was waiting, for what, he wasn’t sure. But somehow waiting for this thing was the answer to many other irreducible things. Juliet….. and Cheese Sandwiches. He felt vaguely hungry. He thought of George and his hunger disappeared. George knew the extent of Sam’s loss of control, the whys and wherefores and the therefore and what ifs too. George was a good man, Sam decided, if a rather conflicted one. There were some secrets that only George knew. What if someone would make him tell? But George would never tell; that Sam was sure of. There was something so strongly implacable about his persona; something quite solid and honourable beyond simple principles. Sam decided he needed to apologise to George. He resolved to go and ring as soon as the cat decided to get off his knees and dive for the cat crunchies to top herself up. He stroked the cat some more, and the sharp pain of Juliet’s anger and harsh words faded a little into a dull ache. He loved her. That he was sure of now. And with that thought, came the thought that it would soon be over and he would ache with a hollow hunger that his being alone never gave him access to before. She was distant, confused and confusing, and he could not make it better. Like a sunny day where clouds gather and the pleasant little breezes seem to transmute into petulant gusts that chill your back; his time with Juliet had begun to cool into that perspective of distance where everything looks blue and far away. He longed for her, and yet was helpless to do anything about it. At her house, Juliet was sleeping. She lay on the settee with a blanket round her chest, to ward off the chill she felt. She was dreaming. In her dream she was alone. For a long, long time. She climbed up and up into mountains and saw amazing things. She built her own house, and explored magical places. Sometimes she interacted with people from a tribe who lived on the other side of the river that gushed in her dream forest. It was warm and there were bees. Big ones. They were like miniature furry mice, so stripy, so golden. The scent of honey gave her hope. Then she remembered that it was the smell of the heady flowers and she cried in her dream because she was so lonely. But no one came, and no one saw her cry, except the animals she saw. Pity, is a hard thing to have. Juliet woke and had none for herself. Rather it was a cold contempt for the girl she had once tried to leave behind. Because of this, her heart was trying to compensate. She didn’t know that she needed Sam. She just saw another burden on her already bewildered self and closed down all but essential processes. Dreams. Who believes them anymore anyway? She felt the chilly track of one cool salty tear. She blinked and ignored it. These dreams were so real…. But of course they weren’t…. of course not. But she felt that one night she would find herself inside that reality unable to leave. It was an instinct that would save her sanity in the not too distant future. Juliet was among many things a practical person. So when there was a knock at the door, she very practically got a heavy paper weight ready in her free hand before she answered it. There was a figure standing in an unthreatening way. She was a young woman about Juliet’s build, height, age, body shape and hair length. In fact, from a distance, in a dim light it might be possible to mistake one person for the other if you didn’t know them that well. This person radiated confidence and cheerfulness. Juliet was put out, she expected something bad, and was faced with a social challenge instead. Not a good thing to have to do. So what now? The girl was peering at her through the crack in the door, (she still had the chain fastened). ‘May I speak with you?’ the girl had a soft lilting voice. This for some reason made Juliet feel suspicious. ‘Who are you?’ she heard her own voice and wished she could make it sound more imposing. But the girl lowered her eyes before speaking again, so it must have been more assertive than she actually felt inside. ‘I’m Jade…. Jade Bergen. I know Sam. I mean, I met him the other day.’ This wasn’t the best way for the girl to introduce herself; but Juliet decided to keep an open mind. ‘Come in.’ she said abruptly, and undid the chain on the door. They went to Juliet’s lounge. It was untidy. If the reporter had known what Juliet was usually like she would have been shocked. From the plate that hadn’t been cleared away, to the pile of blankets on the settee, the overflowing ashtray, and the messy basket of knitting wool with two large needles rammed into it. Juliet picked a paperback off the nearest comfy chair and flung in onto the low table where it slid along the surface and landed on the floor. She made no move to pick it up, sitting down rather and picking up a small tobacco tin. She motioned for the other girl to sit down. Jade sat cautiously; perhaps she was already regretting her decision to come and visit. ‘I was hoping you could help me,’ the girl Jade began, ‘I hope that it is not inconvenient.’ ‘It’s never a good time,’ said Juliet flatly, ‘but don’t let that bother you. I’m hardly bowled over with work these days.’ ‘I see.’ said Jade. ‘I should take some of these….’ she picked up a bottle from among the debris, ‘Give me a minute.’ ‘Yes, of course.’ Jade moved sideways in the chair. This wasn’t the girl she had expected she would meet. This was a new version of the person. A tormented version of the dear Juliet. Jade waited while Juliet went to get a glass of water. She stared with a squirmy feeling of discomfort at the room. Juliet returned, ‘So, to what do I owe this impromptu visit? Has Sam put you up to this?’ ‘Sam? No, not at all. I expect you are wondering why I came to see you.’ ‘Just a bit,’ Juliet started to make a roll up, carefully adding the pieces of tobacco from the little tin on the table in front of her. She looked up, ‘You can stop pretending to not notice. I know how it is…’ she gestured with one hand round the room, ‘I need to do a bloody excavation on this place next. I could get someone in to clean. But then they might just find a reason to say something to someone and have me spirited away again. They are still watching me. Are you one of them?’ ‘No,’ Jade replied and seemed to be thinking about her next words very carefully, ‘I am a reporter for the magazine ‘Rouge’; do you know the one?’ ‘I know of it, yes,’ said Juliet bringing the slim cigarette to her lips and producing an equally slim lighter, ‘You write articles about how great it is to be a woman. And all the models look as if they haven’t eaten for at least a week.’ ‘I’m on the reviews section. It’s a bit more life relevant than that.’ ‘Books? The way you tell people why and how they should read certain author’s work makes it sound like a lifestyle choice one just has to make.’ ‘You are right of course,’ said Jade, ‘that is what I do. But that is not why I am here. My friend Elm is in trouble and I need to get a message to the doctor.’ ‘If he is sick take him to the hospital yourself.’ Juliet blew a light stream of smoke upwards and outwards towards the centre of the room. ‘I can’t, I need your help. You know the doctor who deals in special cases of this sort.’ ‘You mean George?’ and when the other didn’t say anything, ‘I see. You want me to go to talk to him on your behalf? Is that it?’ ‘Yes. I need to find out if he can be trusted.’ ‘You want trust? That is a bit rich coming from someone who prints lies for a living.’ ‘Actually reviewing something is giving an educated opinion.’ ‘Well at least I’m convinced that there may be some get out clause. But humour me? If you needed to see him that badly, why not just approach him yourself directly?’ ‘Because I think that I am contaminated. It is possible that there nothing I can do? So I look for the answer in the usual places. But time is running out. I need to get my friend to safety to just be sure.’ ‘You need a guarantee?’ Juliet stared at her very hard. ‘I do. I cannot risk this getting out of hand.’ ‘You said you had met Sam. My Sam….’ Juliet turned away, then back to Jade, ‘And you are a reporter. So how can I trust you?’ ‘Trust me? I wouldn’t suggest you do. I am after a safe situation for Elm.’ ‘You want a safe house?’ Juliet shifted her position and her voice became brighter, ‘Now why would you do that for a Man like this Treacle?’ ‘It isn’t Treacle.’ ‘No shit!’ Juliet took another drag, ‘I can see that this will take some doing. I can’t trust you. You can’t trust me. But still you came to me. You wanted something so badly because you thought it worth the risk. The risk outweighs….. wait a minute. No. That’s not it is it? There was no risk for you. You just hung around for the sake of what you could get out of it if Treacle dies?’ ‘That’s….. it isn’t like that….’ Jade pulled a face and she seemed to bunch herself up. Juliet leaned forward, ‘Nerves are raw things when they’re pressed aren’t they? I heard you can get hold of something to alleviate that too?’ ‘Yes, no…. maybe. What do you want?’ Juliet leaned back in the chair and relaxed as she finished the smoke. Now she was in control. The other was eating out of her hand. This was more like it. Experience they say is a good teacher, and now Juliet had been experiencing first-hand the effects of one of the experiments. She was the guinea pig, and she knew it. When they came she did not know. But she needed an antidote to the thing that had undermined her. It was not a drug that did this; she had been and had every test know to her local GP and some. They said it was stress! So now she needed a cocktail of the stuff that was like Treacle’s confection. But instead of stabilising the rejection forces between the body and the mind; a drug was needed that would let Juliet find her own solution. She was in the grip of something she understood but could not control. So she needed something to back her up. ‘I’ll tell you what I want.’ Juliet began, and pulled the ashtray forward, ‘and then I will give you what you want.’ ‘Very well,’ said the other, ‘You have got yourself a deal.’ Juliet regarded her for a moment, ‘Your powers of observation must be trained right? So tell me Reporter Girl; where did I put my lighter?’ In the most coincidental way possible, Sam at that very moment was decided that it had all be a figment of his deranged imagination when someone knocked on his door again. The phone. Ring George? Not a good idea. Shit.... Camille looked up at him with a sense of approaching trouble. She turned round twice and jumped down onto the rug and then continued to stare at him until he went to his front door. He stood there uncertain. ‘This is not a good time.’ he said to Camille who was curling her tail round her toes. Sam turned and peeked through the spy hole. There was a man there, very tall, dressed in a long dark coat. Sam breathed in sharply. he looked a little like his friend Jay. But it was the keen clarity of his eyes that gave that impression, that and the way he stood perfectly still staring towards the door as if he could see Sam looking at him. Sam very carefully opened the door, ‘Hello?’ ‘Good evening.’ said the other. His voice was softly enunciated, almost a whisper. Sam blinked and then undid the chain and opened the door. He was thinking of Jay again, and he could feel a rising wave of disappointment that this person wasn't his dear friend. ‘Who are you?’ Sam felt the words strangulate in his throat. ‘I am from the future. I am sorry if you experience some discomfort.’ ‘The future?’ ‘Yes. It is not normally allowed. But these are special circumstances.’ ‘Perhaps you ought to come inside.’ ‘Only if you feel entirely comfortable.’ ‘A bit late for that.’ Sam winced. He stepped back and indicated that the man enter. They went to Sam's kitchen. Sam automatically started to make a mug of tea. He put another one out and glanced at the man who nodded. ‘I am called Zachariah. But most people call me Zach.’ he lifted the cup and sipped, ‘Here, I thought you might want to look at his.’ he pushed a tag and chain across the table towards Sam. Sam gave him an enquiring look. ‘It has my ID on it. Like most of the Sandglass tags.’ Sam picked it up and swung the two halves apart. There was the name alright: Zachariah Lewis. And a small pattern that Sam did not recognise. ‘Oh, that is a Travel profile. It helps a lot of people to get used to their identity. I find that part of it quite interesting. But then I am from out of time, so I cannot be affected by the distance from a point of origin.’ ‘You mean Sandglass?’ ‘Yes. I am one of the friends who gather. But this part of time is still wavering. We could have some serious alterations soon. We might not be able to stop it.’ ‘But why would you want to?’ ‘I cannot tell you.’ ‘A matter of trust?’ ‘A matter of paradox.’ he drank the tea down, and put the cup down carefully on the countertop. ‘So why come to see me?’ ‘I don't know exactly. Your friends were a little clearer than I am myself. But I think it has to do with the fact that now I am here the memories I have start to be affected. It is not permanent. But to retrieve what is lost I would have to go back to the future. We are in a time that cannot be defined in terms of seasons of the time stream. You understand? You can change it at any moment. I am not as involved because I am from the future, but I still find myself interacting with the people here and little things start to change like a cascade of dominoes.’ ‘But you must have some idea? What is the last thing that gave you some indication that things might not be as you think they ought to be?’ ‘You. You gave me that indication. It was you Sam.’ ‘But, but......’ Sam gripped his cup a little too tightly, ‘But that means I.....’ the cup suddenly shattered. There was a silence that echoed on and on. Zach spoke softly again, ‘My presence here is a risk. It could cause all kinds of minor fractures in the continuum. But I need you to do something for me. In this present, there is only one other person who has as much time stability as you. But he is not here.’ ‘You mean Jay? Is that who you mean? Is he there? In the future I mean.’ Instead of answering Zach lifted the sack onto the countertop. He had been carrying and had put it down when he came in the kitchen. Yet somehow Sam had not noticed it before now. He undid the knot that held the top together. he pulled out a second smaller cotton bag. Out of this he drew a belt. It was made of metal in jointed plates. There were bulging pieces where the power packs went. On the end a large buckle clip with a catch to cover it up, underneath which Sam knew there was a large button that activated it. ‘I am instructed to give this to you, and only you. I apologise for the manner of my arrival. I did not wish to cause you more distress.’ ‘I err....’ Sam was thinking of all the questions he wanted answering. About his life in general, about his friend Jay who he seemed to miss far more than was reasonable, and about Juliet. He must know about Juliet! ‘Please tell me something about the future. Just so I know you are on the level here. And what do you want me to do with the travel belt?' ‘Why Mr Wright! You're to use it of course! I thought that was obvious?’ ‘Yes, but use it to go where?’ ‘That is....well, let me say that there are several different answers to the same question. In different versions you are doing different things. But not every version is visible.’ ‘What do you mean by visible?’ ‘We can detect it. The science exists to pin point your exact location. But it only works if you are in a near parallel. Too far from the current course and we cannot see.’ ‘So I must interact with a possible future in order to bring about the best outcome?’ ‘Indeed. The belt allows you to undo a version. To go back to a point. The key is to choose a point. We think that occurs tomorrow morning. At about Eleven o'clock.’ Zach looked at his watch, ‘elapse time Mr Wright. I have to keep it to a minimum.’ ‘But you drank tea. You have interacted with me.’ ‘Yes. But outside the safe margin of the diverging event line. I must leave by Ten Thirty, just to be clear of none involvement.’ ‘But you are telling me.... something is going to happen. Will it change the direction of events?’ ‘Certainly. For you; absolutely. But you must keep your head Mr Wright. Stay as calm as possible. It is the only way to be of help in the circumstances.’ George and Kyle were getting along famously. That is if you conclude that all of what they knew was getting in the way of the most important thing of all: good instincts. It was amazing what a packet of colourful markers could do for the soothing of George’s mood. But now and then instincts are the best way to unravel things. After the next cup of tea Kyle began to get a funny feeling. Fortunately George was used to such things and didn’t dismiss it as rabid nonsense. ‘It looks very pretty; but there is something missing.’ said Kyle. ‘Sam Parker’s file?’ George drummed his fingers on the edge of the table, ‘a second one?’ ‘Maybe. The Zebra file has a lot of information on how to cook up a clone. It’s a kind off recipe book. It is a bit like the fax, except that is a recipe for a machine and all its home comforts.’ ‘Mmm….’ George looked as if he was trying to add two really big numbers together, ‘if that does exist then it will tally with what we already know.’ ‘And what is that?’ ‘Illegal research using human tissue samples.’ ‘Yes; and what does that tell us?’ ‘It was kept really quiet?’ Kyle shook his head. ‘Yes. No. I mean that’s a given. But they needed the tissue samples…. And what do you need if you are going to cook a good cake?’ ‘Quality ingredients?’ Kyle seemed startled as he said this. ‘Indeed you do. The question is: whose? Is this Treacle just a Henry clone. Is Treacle actually real?’ ‘That would be hard to say,’ Kyle flipped open his notebook, ‘because there are too many things that they could have changed. Too many records on the net that have been altered in some way. It must have been very important to someone to preserve that secret…. whatever it was.’ ‘The secret?’ ‘Of Henry’s whereabouts…. I mean Treacle’s.’ ‘I think that we possibly might only find the truth about Treacle if we go back in time to school history.’ George frowned, ‘But considering our last foray into a place of learning, I think it best if we leave that for now.’ ‘So you suggest what?’ ‘The reporter. She knows a lot more than just what is happening to Treacle’s clone…. I mean Henry’s…. this is getting really confusing. You’ve got me at it now.’ ‘We spy on the reporter?’ Kyle folded his arms. ‘Not exactly. Come on, we need to smarten ourselves up a bit.’ Kyle stood up, ‘So where’s the party?’ George just smiled, ‘Smart but casual.’ ‘Are you carrying?’ ‘Yes. And give me an ear piece.’ ‘You betcha big guy. Let’s go.’ Sam stirred a small pan; baked beans. They always seemed to help the situation, however awful it got. There were always the simple things that made all the other things dip into forgetfulness for a while. He wished he could wipe it clean. Now, when he was doubtful of all the pieces on the board another piece had introduced himself. George surely ought to know this. But he didn’t ring George, he mused in a guilty was about his insult to Kyle. And then shrugged, ‘Daft bugger had it coming….’ Sam had endured Kyle’s abrupt condescension on many occasions. He stirred the beans again and then lifted them off the hob. In the sitting room he flicked on the TV some news report about some guy. Something Kyle had been casually following. He changed the channel; that was more like it: a sci-fi story. Nice and mysterious, and slightly cheesy in a B-movie type way. He was just getting to a good bit, when his mobile rang. Thinking it must be George he was about to let it go to voice mail, when he realised it was in fact Juliet. She did not usually ring him on the mobile, generally because he coincidentally seemed to have it out of power of in his coat pocket when she had done so before. He grabbed it just before it buzzed its way off the smooth table top. ‘Juliet!’ he gasped in a very breathy way, ‘Are you alright?’ ‘Hello Sam,’ she said evenly, ‘I hope that I wasn’t interrupting anything.’ ‘No. of course not. I’m at home.’ ‘You are?’ she sounded upbeat all of a sudden but then added, ‘Well I suppose it had to happen sometime.’ ‘Do you want me to come over?’ ‘No. I mean it’s alright. I’ll see you in the morning.’ ‘Yeah, uh…. Okay. Can I get you morning coffee and a cream cake?’ ‘You know I don’t eat sweets.’ ‘Sorry. I forgot.’ ‘That’s okay. Usual place?’ ‘Definitely.’ Sam paused, at a loss for what to say next, ‘I’ll see you there then…. Ten o’clock?’ ‘Ten,’ Juliet repeated, then sighed, ‘I guess I better tidy up now.’ Sam heard the shuffling of objects that might have been Juliet gathering her mug collection together. ‘See ya.’ said Sam with a cheery tone. ‘Yeah….’ Juliet sighed then laughed, ‘No, really. I will tidy up a bit. Then you can come for tea. If you’d like?’ ‘Yes please.’ said Sam softly, then added, ‘I’ll get a bottle of good red…. a Merlot, okay?’ ‘Yes. Lovely. Okay then…..tomorrow. I'll see you tomorrow.’ ‘Okay Juliet. I’ll look forward to it.’ ‘Right. Yes. Bye.’ she rang off. Sam returned the phone to the coffee table and stared at it. She was okay, he decided. That meant they were okay. At least for the moment. He breathed out. Just as he did so the house phone rang in his hall way. He pushed himself to his feet. He heard the answering machine begin to take the call as he reached it. George. Sam picked up the handset but didn't say anything. ‘Get your backside back here.’ George said, ‘I need you.’ and then he rang off. Sam returned the handset to the cradle. he paused, turned and then went to get his coat. When he got to George's house Sam didn't get chance to take his coat off again. George was in the hall with a small rucksack and concentrated expression on his face. ‘We are going to the source. Again. And I need you to help me break in.’ ‘What? I mean why?’ ‘There is something I need to check. In a manner of speaking. Narrow something down to one thing. If I'm right we'll know by what isn't there.’ ‘Okay.’ Sam pulled on his zipper. ‘Kyle is staying here. He is better being back at base.’ ‘Fine.’ Sam followed George to the Range Rover. As they set off Sam shrunk down in the seat. ‘Sorry about the late call.’ said George, ‘But there's nothing else we can do until we find out what it is that Samantha Parker knows.’ ‘That is not possible.’ Sam stared ahead. ‘Well, one step at a time. But I think that we are looking at the source of industrial espionage. This is about the techniques used in certain combat situations. A way of storing information so it is not accessible; not even to the person carrying it. There are ways of making someone behave like a memory stick. But there are other ways of releasing the information. If you know the trigger, you can find the information. You can retrieve it safely. And the subject: the person carrying it does not have to suffer a mental block of a fatal kind.’ ‘What?’ ‘Yes,’ mused George as they turned into the ring road, ‘I need you, because I need Kyle working at optimum operating strength. His feelings for the intriguing Ms Parker may at some point cloud his judgement. Since we are going to break into her house and poke around in all her drawers there is every chance that Kyle might be err, distracted and start getting all fuzzy.’ ‘Fuzzy Felt.’ said Sam sullenly. ‘A suitable analogy.’ George turned into the road that led to Parker’s house. He slowed to find a space to part that was obscured by trees. They got out. ‘Do you think that anyone will be watching?’ Sam seemed a little more animated. ‘Undoubtedly. That is why we are going in from the next doors garden.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘On holiday.’ said George, ‘I got Kyle to find their alarm system’s central control. He can disable it for ten minutes at a time.’ ‘He can?’ ‘Yes. Now put this mask on.’ ‘Why?’ ‘We don’t want anyone to see your ugly mug.’ George reached behind the seat and pulled out a small rucksack. ‘Fine. I see where this is going. But for heaven’s sake can I please know what it is we are actually looking for?’ ‘Evidence.’ said George. ‘Evidence of what?’ ‘Samantha’s point of origin.’ ‘Her….what?’ Sam slid onto the pavement and George came round to the side of the car. ‘Listen,’ George hissed and handed Sam a torch, ‘there is nothing I can say that can explain this quickly. So you need to take it as read that the fascinating Ms Parker might very well be the very thing we are looking for. She might be the evidence. She is not as old as she ought to be. In fact she is, beyond the limits of some very effective face cream, good genetics and healthy living; quite, quite impossible.’ ‘Well, if you put it like that…’ ‘I do. Now shut up.’ George led them round to the thick hedge that obscured them from sight. They let themselves into Samantha Parker’s house. George, who was naturally careful, led the way. Kyle whispered in his ear. ‘We need to avoid the hall.’ George mouthed to Sam. They slid round to the untidy room in which Parker kept her personal documents. George checked that the curtains were shut and then clicked on the desk lamp, ‘Blackout blinds.’ he said to Sam. They carefully searched through the items in the room. Sam found a pile of magazines stacked in the corner next to filing cabinet. They were a popular monthly science publication. On the desk were some others. They found that they were all there, more or less in date order. ‘Which is the latest one?’ ‘Err…. June.’ ‘Interesting.’ George felt around in a drawer, ‘we need July.’ ‘Not here.’ ‘Very interesting. This is popular stuff. A woman of her calibre reading this is not totally odd. But I consider it unusual that she would have every single copy going back to…. when?’ ‘Just a minute. Counting. Wait. Yes, it is going back four years.’ Sam straightened, ‘Do you think…?’ ‘I’ll get Kyle to check.’ ‘When she moved in?’ ‘Exactly.’ George grinned and checked in another drawer, ‘I do so love it when you are in tune.’ ‘When am I not?’ Sam said and felt round the underside of the desk. Something clicked, ‘What the….?’ there was nothing inside the little drawer except a pencil and a rubber and a few elastic bands. ‘Weird.’ said George. ‘Perhaps.’ Sam got down on the floor and looked underneath the drawer, ‘there’s something here.’ ‘Can you read it?’ ‘Very tiny writing. It’s sellotaped to the bottom of the drawer.’ George handed his tiny digital camera to Sam, ‘You got it?’ ‘Yeah. Just a second.’ he moved around. There was a brief burst of the flash. ‘Just one more.’ said George, ‘I think we might need to move.’ There was a movement of shadow outside the window. ‘Done.’ Sam scrambled to his feet, then, ‘Oh shit!’ They both crouched down as the beam of a torch slid upwards through the tiny slit of the curtains. ‘I thought you shut them?’ Sam tried not to sound to annoyed which was difficult to do when bent double and whispering. ‘It must have moved.’ George started to slither towards the door. ‘There is someone here.’ Sam followed cautiously. ‘That is why we need to not be as quickly as possible.. Kyle?’ George paused listening, ‘we’ve got three minutes.’ he added. ‘Three?’ ‘Come on.’ They swiftly worked the route in reverse. A strong hand clamped over Sam’s mouth and he was pulled backwards. George had the sense to not react or cry out. ‘You’re nicked.’ the grip of the man shifted and Sam twisted out of his grip and was doing a fair impression of being in charge until he saw the man’s face. ‘Bloody hell!’ Sam tried hard not to sound too shocked, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Excuse me.’ said the other pushing Sam’s arm back easily, ‘But what are You doing here?’ ‘And this is?’ George was impassive. ‘The law. But you better keep still. There’s something criminal afoot tonight. Just stay here!’ and with that stern warning he went round the bushes to the front of the house. There was hissing whisper of a conversation, then a pause. George and Sam stayed still and waited, neither daring to speak. George rolled his eyes at Sam, and they began to edge slowly to their right. George stopped and swore under his breath. There was another person crouched in the shadows. ‘Who is that?’ George said softly. ‘PC Green.’ said Sam breathily, ‘he is on our side.’ ‘I didn’t realised I’d joined the force.’ said George still with a breathy sound. ‘Evening all.’ said Green, who had just strolled round the side of the bushes again. Sam took one look and gave the thumbs up to George. ‘I can keep them off your trail,’ Bobby Green rocked back on his heels, ‘That is if you want me to?’ Sam looked at George, who shrugged. Sam nodded perplexed. PC Green turned away, and walked towards the other crouched in the shadows. ‘No! Wait!’ Sam exclaimed as loudly as he dared. Bobby half turned, smiled, and then continued. Sam blinked, rubbed his eyes, ‘What the....?’ he glanced at George who was staring intently into the shadows. George moved nearer to Sam and then peered round the hedge. ‘The inspector's young minions appear to have called it a night.’ ‘Crumbs,’ said Sam, ‘Good job too. Where's the car?’ ‘Not far. Come on.’ They scrambled across the corner of the now deserted front garden. Sam and George reached the car and locked the doors as soon as they were in. ‘Now tell me what the hell all that was about?’ George rounded on Sam. ‘I....I honestly don't know.’ ‘Really?’ George was irritated. Sam could see that he better get any and all information out quickly before George decided to grill him properly. ‘He's here because he's a Psychic. The Inspector is calling on his skills for a quick resolution of the murder of the old woman.’ ‘She wasn't that old,’ said George, ‘Primula Jenson was FiftySix.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘Look,’ said George after and uncomfortable silence lasting several seconds, ‘I know you think that it is your thing to go out on your own; but we are a team. And you can cut the crap about earlier; I know you have something on your mind.’ ‘Primula might be a spy after all.’ said Sam. ‘Yes. Well, I wasn't really thinking about that. Perhaps you feel you cannot tell me; but trust me it would be better if you did.’ ‘Not this George, I'm sorry.’ ‘Very well,’ George put the key in the ignition, ‘But it better be good when you do the reveal. It better be the best yet.’ ‘I guarantee that.’ Sam fastened his seat belt, ‘Safety first.’ Kyle was still up when they both got back. He was nursing a hot chocolate and looking really pissed off: ‘Why didn’t you answer the phone? I called three times.’ ‘It didn’t ring.’ George replied, ‘Not even the third time.’ ‘Yes, well,’ Kyle sniffed in a dismissive way, ‘You can get me some more donuts tomorrow for that. I need a little ten minutes George. I have the phone records for the mobile we picked up. It is unregistered. But we expected that. However, there is something to be said for the number of times someone calls a specific number….’ ‘Go on.’ Said George and put his metal framed glasses on, ‘I really need a stiff drink, but tell me the bad news.’ ‘Not bad. Just odd. It is as if all the phones…. Are clones…. They are the same as phones owned by, get this: professors in the University here in London. It is really crazy. They we sent to find us George. They knew we would be up in Yorkshire they had even known when. It’s crazy and weird. Don’t you think it’s getting a little out of hand?’ ‘Maybe,’ George rubbed his temples with one finger. Sam smiled slightly and went into the kitchen, leaving the two alone in the big sitting room. ‘What’s up with him?’ Kyle looked irritated. Much of that was to do with the late hour as well as the thought that Sam might be in a bad mood at a moment’s notice. Kyle needed to stay calm so he could keep all the information in the air so to speak. It was hard to remember everything at once, and he didn’t like to let George know he was struggling. ‘Get some sleep.’ George said suddenly, ‘I’ll do breakfast. We will need to go back to the Historical Soc. tomorrow.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘A Gentleman of our acquaintance is going to let us borrow a time machine.’ ‘Borrow?’ ‘Temporarily discombobulate.’ ‘Jolly good.’ Kyle grinned at him, ‘Do we anticipate the company of a Lady?’ ‘Indeed we do. So make sure you get up early and have a shower.’ ‘Yes Boss.’ Kyle ambled out of the room, much to Sam’s annoyance. He had just come in with a tray and three cups of tea. ‘Great,’ George took a large swig, ‘I’ll have both of those. Now let’s look at what we’ve got.’ ‘It’s late George. I need some sleep.’ ‘In Ten minutes.’ George glared at him and then his expression smoothed out again a second later. ‘Alright,’ Sam sighed, ‘so we know that Parker was getting a science magazine every month…’ ‘And…?’ ‘She was a hoarder; but only with respect to her special interests.’ ‘Go on…’ ‘And she had something to hide….’ ‘Getting warm.’ ‘And there was something inside a magazine.’ ‘Warmer…’ ‘We look for the one that was missing.’ ‘Cold as ice. It’s not that one, the July edition of the science mag. We are looking at this all backwards. Think about Juliet. What do they have in common?’ ‘Err……’ ‘Come on Sam! I thought you were bright?’ ‘Yes, when I’m not tired, unhappy, and getting hungry.’ ‘How can you think of food at a time like this?’ ‘At a time like what? I need to eat something. I feel all funny you know.’ ‘Ha, ha! But get it Sam…. do you see?’ ‘Maybe…. She did like reading the science journal, but that wasn’t the one was it?’ ‘Of course not. Too obvious. Way too obvious. It must be something that she was interested in, but not something too out of the ordinary.’ ‘Another magazine?’ ‘Knitting.’ ‘What?’ ‘Knitting.’ George repeated, ‘She kept a basket in the corner with balls of wool in it, and several sets of needles.’ ‘Do you think there is a connection? Between that and the disappearance?’ ‘Definitely. But we know where she is. She went to the one place that CCTV cannot follow.’ ‘The Historical archive.’ ‘Bingo!’ George pulled the top off a marker pen. He swept a line across the paper. It was to be the greatest triumph of his career. ***** Chapter Ten Once More with Feeling. Morning. The crashing down of the night. The inconsistent daylight meandered into George’s kitchen and saluted the pots and pans hung so pristine and bright. George with sleeves rolled up stared at Sam, who in turn was staring at Kyle; who was looking at the small laptop. He groaned, ‘Bugger.’ ‘There is always pie night to look forward to.’ Sam said philosophically. ‘Look. I have got the files. I have got the passwords. You think it’s my job to actually make sense of the things as well?’ ‘Henry’s file, is it in some sort of code?’ Sam asked. ‘No. it’s nothing like that. I just don’t understand a word it’s saying.’ Kyle turned the machine round so the other two could see it. ‘Okay,’ George said in a decisive tone, ‘Print out what you’ve found and I’ll give it a quick scan through after breakfast.’ Kyle looked like he was grinding his teeth, ‘It is a hundred a fifty pages long. Do you really think you can read all that?’ ‘No. Well get me a PDF instead. Transfer it to my reader. I’ll take it with me.’ ‘Thanks,’ said Sam as George set a plate down in front of him, ‘I’ll have to go see Juliet this morning. Can you phone me when you’re ready?’ ‘You be back here at One sharp.’ George said, ‘No messing.’ ‘How long will it take? I mean, I promised Juliet I’d go round later…. for tea.’ ‘Look,’ George put the last plate down, ‘We are investigating something that could prove to be the undoing of this part of the time line as we know it and you are wondering if being late for Juliet’s evening treat will severely jeopardize things in an adverse way?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You are…..I won’t wait if you’re late.’ ‘You said you needed me.’ ‘Not that much,’ George retorted, ‘I’ll have to rely of my usual sidekick.’ ‘You mean me?’ Kyle squeaked, ‘I say….’ ‘Shut up.’ George said irritably. ‘Well…. I’ll make sure I’m back then.’ Sam picked up his fork. George sat down a stabbed a mushroom purposefully. He looked up at Sam over his glasses. ‘I’ll be back at Twelve.’ Sam said and jabbed his fork into a sausage. Sam knocked on Juliet’s door. Ten-Twenty. He had waited at the café, but impatient for time with Juliet he had walked quickly the short distance to her street. He rapped and knocked on her door. Silence. Odd. Maybe they had missed each other. He went back round the path and circled round the side of the house. There was a set of rose bushes and a small neat patio with some tidy garden furniture. He pushed open the small gate. He shook his head. Some instinct, something odd about the sound, or lack of it made his stomach contract. ‘Juliet?’ Nothing. He licked his lips and tried again; but the words stuck in his mouth the door was slightly open and the gauzy curtain moved through the gap in a way that Juliet would have corrected immediately. Someone had broke in? Someone was still here. He stepped forward and carefully swung the door to one side. He called her name again. Inside: it was untidy. There were pots waiting to be washed. There was a set of mugs in the middle of the kitchen table and a TV paper from a week ago. Sam began to get a queasy feeling. He went into the big front room. He saw the debris and mess, and momentarily thought that someone had robbed the place. But no, it was not that. A swelling wave of pity tightened his throat. He felt guilty he had not seen it. He would make it better. He promised himself he would tell her all that had been on his mind. He would hold her in his arms and tell her it was alright….. a slight sound. He turned suddenly. The cat from next door had wandered in; it jumped up on the settee and began licking the remains of sauce from out of a soup bowl that had been left there. Sam lifted the cat down and it trotted back into the kitchen then round to the bottom of the stairs. ‘Juliet….’ his voice was hissing with that tight feeling. He went up the stairs. Juliet lay on top of the quilt. She was curled on her right side. He went to her. She was asleep. He sighed with relief. ‘Juliet! I’m here.’ He shook her gently, ‘It’s alright. I understand. Let’s just go for a little walk. By the river. The café is nicer there. Great sandwiches…… Juliet?’ He bent over her. She wasn’t waking. Her breath slow, and shallow. He bent near and brushed her hair away from her face. ‘Oh no. Oh no…..’ he found the bottle on the little table by the side of the bed. Sam was pacing up and down in the kitchen. The doctor came back down. ‘Well?!’ ‘Mr Wright, Your Lady friend Ms Penn is not the victim of an overdose.’ ‘Oh! Thank God! Can I see her now?’ ‘No. Mr Wright. The crew will bring her down in a minute.’ ‘But….but she must be alright? Tell me what’s happening?’ The doctor laid a hand on Sam’s arm, ‘I will be able to tell more up at the hospital. Don’t worry. Things are stable. There’s no more to be said for the moment. Not at this stage. As soon as I can tell you anything I will.’ ‘Thanks Doc.’ said Sam and sat down rather suddenly on one of Juliet’s kitchen chairs. George and Kyle (with his rucksack on his knee as usual) sat in the waiting room. Gina joined them, ‘Good God!’ she exclaimed as she sat down, ‘What on earth made her do that?’ ‘It isn’t what you think.’ George said. They all turned as Sam came through the nearby double doors and slumped rather awkwardly in the chair opposite them. They all looked at each other. Gina spoke first: ‘I’ll go sit with her. Alright Sam?’ Sam nodded dumbly. Gina gathered herself up and swept through to the nurses’ station. ‘Fuck.’ said Kyle. Sam stared at him, ‘Exactly right.’ Then turned and stared at the table top again. A few minutes later Gina returned minus voluminous bag. ‘Look boys, I think I will be more use here. Are we up to speed George? I’ll work the problem with a pen and paper. I’ll phone if there’s any change.’ ‘Yes,’ George seemed deeply thoughtful, ‘You will do the most useful thing by staying here. I think it is time to pay our Mr Stone another visit.’ ‘Who?’ asked Kyle. ‘Mr Gary Stone, at the Historical Preservation Society; don’t you remember?’ ‘No.’ Kyle hugged his rucksack even tighter. ‘Well just let us know if there’s anything on the Arc file; Drucker’s Time Travel research; or the decoding of the Zebra file.’ ‘How did you….?’ ‘Know?’ George raised an eyebrow, ‘Russian dolls Kyle, Russian dolls. Onions, layers….. I believe.’ ‘Yes of course.’ said Kyle and seemed to sit up straighter. ‘Come on.’ George stood and looked hard at Sam. Kyle shook his head, George put his hand on Sam’s shoulder and nodded. Sam raised his eyes and stared at them solemnly. ‘You can’t…’ Kyle began. ‘I bloody well can,’ said George, ‘so get back to Base and do your thing. If I find the back door of the Society I’ll call you.’ ‘What the…?’ Kyle grimaced. ‘Staff entrance. Shouldn’t be too freaky.’ ‘But how will you get in?’ Kyle stood too. ‘Pickles.’ said George, ‘I have rediscovered a taste for them. And see if you can get hold of the Reporter for me. Something is wrong there. She should have been at the Gallery.’ ‘I was looking forward to the grub.’ Kyle grumbled. ‘Stop thinking with your stomach and get to work. One hour. I need results.’ ‘I do what I can. But George, what do you want the most? It’s quite a shopping list.’ ‘Reporter whereabouts; Zebra file; Arc file; Joseph Drucker….. or maybe put in the news reports on the old amnesiac above Drucker….. he could be important.’ ‘What if it’s a red herring?’ ‘Then put Drucker right to the top of the list. He is connected somehow….. it’s the entry in the diary. Too pat, too neat. Arc was never about making a bright future…. It was all about changing something…’ Sam turned with his lips parted but didn’t say anything. ‘Yes,’ continued George, ‘a future; that is what they were going to make it…. a new super race perhaps, eugenics with attitude? Perhaps. Totally immoral… definitely. And see if you can get anything on the Primula Jensen murder. Notes from the scene, that sort of thing.’ ‘And where do you want me to put that on the list?’ ‘Oh…. at the end. Or do it if you get stuck on anything else. Tea break job Kyle?’ ‘Yeah…. Right.’ Kyle slung his ruck sack on his back, ‘And what about him?’ he indicated Sam. ‘I need a co-pilot.’ George said. ‘This is insane.’ Kyle muttered. George grinned at him, ‘Of course.’ Sam just followed, head bowed, still too shocked by what had happened to Juliet to say much at all. They let themselves in with the minimum of fuss and this time the entrance hall to the Historical Preservation Society seemed quite homely. ‘I don’t like the Pickles.’ Sam said. ‘It was just a small gherkin.’ ‘They taste metallic.’ ‘They are very special pickles.’ George concluded, ‘So I suppose they have a right to taste any way they want.’ ‘What are we going to do with this Time Machine?’ ‘Fly it.’ ‘But it’s a Time Machine.’ ‘It was a figure of speech.’ ‘And what about Parker?’ ‘Knitting. Ask her about knitting. I’m sure she will remember something telling.’ They came to a junction of two corridors. They turned right and continued. George led them through the maze, but he was frowning. ‘’What’s up?’ ‘This cannot be right.’ George stopped and turned round and came to a standstill, ‘I mean, where is everyone?’ ‘The place appears to be deserted.’ Sam remarked. ‘You have a talent for overstated the obvious. But why is it?’ George had a worried look now, ‘I am getting a funny feeling on the back of my neck.’ ‘It looks like your funny feeling is about to grow two heads.’ he pointed. Two people came towards them on the corridor. They seemed a little hesitant. ‘Mr Carter?’ said one. ‘Mr Wright?’ said the other. ‘He is expecting you.’ said the first, ‘both of you.’ ‘Better not keep the Boss waiting.’ George kept it light, but Sam glanced at him, conveying as much as possible in one millisecond. They followed the two men. George put his hand inside his jacket. Sam shook his head. George just stared but put his hand back down by his side. They seemed to be climbing up and up. A door opened. And they were ushered inside. The room was quite dark, and lit by a few lamps high up on the walls. The effect was something like an ancient castle. Dark walls loomed. ‘Good afternoon.’ said George in a friendly even tone. A figure leaned forward scrutinising the two of them. There were others in the room in the shadows. The men who had brought them in hovered uncertainly by the door. Sam half turned, ‘Tell your Boss thanks, we got the message.’ ‘Uh?’ one of them looked frightened. ‘Just go!’ the man in the chair stood and stepped into the light. Sam nodded at the nervous man. The two of them left closing the door behind him. George seemed unmoved by this development. Sam edged nearer to him, ‘Tell me when I ought to get him in a neck lock.’ ‘No need for that.’ said George. ‘No need at all.’ said the one who stood facing them, ‘You have a rare talent Mr Carter. Clearly your friend does not entirely share it.’ ‘Mmm….It is simply a matter of practise. I would suppose that if you really wanted to test me you would do something a little more…. Err dramatic.’ ‘Ah!’ said the man, ‘You want snow and ice? Do we need to scare you Mr Carter?’ ‘Who are you?’ said Sam with a hiss. ‘Mr Wright? I see that you on the other hand have yet to master the skill of seeing through a perception filter.’ ‘I…what?’ The man stepped forward and stood in front of George, ‘You are not as stuffy as they said.’ The voice shimmered and changed and there in front of them stood a tall woman with dark hair. ‘Good God!’ said Sam. ‘Indeed,’ George remarked, ‘you cannot always tell those apart. Best to keep your hands to yourself in those circumstances.’ Sam frowned as it looked like George and the tall woman were amused. ‘I’m sorry. The staff are not always terribly compliant. Mr Stone will be along presently I imagine, since you alerted him.’ ‘Yes.’ said Sam. ‘Are we alone?’ asked George. ‘Judge for yourself.’ she raised her hand and the dark walls faded like smoke to reveal a modern bright room. Sam glared at George, ‘So what is this… this person doing here?’ ‘I think it’s time to tell us what happened to Samantha Parker.’ said George to the woman. ‘You look like the housekeeper.’ Sam said. ‘Yes, of course I do.’ she answered, ‘I have been watching Samantha for a long time. But now I have to switch my attention to my missing colleague Joseph. You understand why?’ ‘I think so.’ George said, ‘It must have been Drucker that got Miss Parker in the mess she’s in in the first place?’ ‘I wouldn’t quite put it like that….’ ‘You are Primula Jensen?’ Sam said suddenly, ‘We need to get to Samantha’s Time Machine.’ said George ignoring Sam’s look of annoyance, ‘We mustn’t let her go to find Drucker.’ ‘Why would she do that?’ Primula asked, ‘we are aware that Joseph still has some contact with Samantha; but it isn’t what you’d call a close relationship.’ ‘Just a minute,’ said George, ‘are you the one who trashed my fax machine? No don’t answer that….’ All three of them had their mouths open in surprize a moment later when a small entourage marched in. First came the nervous staff member, followed by Gary Stone and then two of the three thugs that George and Kyle had dodged in Sheffield. ‘I’m guessing that a cup of tea is not being offered here.’ George had a complicated expression as he said this. Sam glanced at him. They were out of their depth and sinking. ‘She’s a clone.’ mouthed Sam. ‘I know.’ said George, ‘Do you think it’s time for your particular brand of Kung Fu?’ ‘Fucked if I know George.’ said Sam, ‘Perhaps something simpler?’ with that he kicked the first guy and punched him in the gut. There was a violent thirty seconds of confusion in which George and Sam extricated themselves and were pelting down the corridor. ‘It did not occur to me that they might be using another disguise underneath the first one!’ George panted as they rounded a corner. ‘Shit George!’ Sam grunted, ‘I didn’t know you were so stupid? What is it with you and brunettes?’ ‘We do know one thing though; this place is not a safe place to be. Where do you think Samantha will be?’ ‘In Stone’s apartment I would assume. I bet that the real Mr Stone is hiding somewhere. There must be other doors out of this place.’ They slowed and slid sideways through a set of doors and then into a little upstairs gallery. ‘I think I know where we are.’ said George. ‘Good. So find an exit.’ ‘I think there’s someone coming.’ George ducked into a small wood panelled door. They pressed it shut behind them and tried not to breathe too loudly. Boot steps passed on the other side and slowed. Then, after a pause moved away again. They both turned to see the London skyline through a big picture window. It was Sam that moved first, walking forward to examine the glass topped coffee table and the comfortable chairs. ‘This is Mr Stone’s lounge. So where is he?’ ‘I don’t know. But I think we are safe here.’ George pointed. They both saw the doorway disappear into the wall behind, as if it had melted. ‘But how do we get out?’ Sam asked. ‘I’m sure there are back doors to everywhere from here. I suppose the only reason we got in is because he wanted us to. If that is the case there must be something here for us. Search the room Sam. There has to be a message or something we need to advance our quest.’ ‘I think Kyle is right,’ said Sam and he started to systematically move through the room, ‘you really do need to lay off the fantasy fiction.’ ‘I thought it was myths and legends that you disapproved of?’ ‘No. I don’t disapprove of anything George. You think I do ‘cos you spend so much time having your favourites trashed by Kyle.’ ‘Fair comment.’ ‘I have my own opinions.’ Sam grimaced and bent down to look under the settee, ‘However, I choose to keep them in the place least able to be hacked.’ ‘Naturally.’ said George, ‘You are reliably tight on information. That’s why we’re friends.’ ‘And I thought it was my charm and intelligent insight?’ ‘That as well…. Ah ha! I think I have something.’ ‘A fish tank?’ ‘What is in the fish tank.’ ‘A fish?’ ‘No. An object of equal worth my friend. And here is a helpful mini fish net.’ George leaned over and slowly lowered the little net into the water. He scooped the long brass coloured miniature cannon out of the tank. Sam got a wodge of tissue from out of the box on a nearby table. ‘There’s something inside.’ said Sam. ‘I guess it’s our passport.’ ‘It’s a key. I can see it through that tiny grill under the base.’ ‘Well get it out then.’ ‘It’s a puzzle. I don’t know how to do this one.’ ‘Give it here!’ George took it off him and with a few deft moves undid the little figure. ‘You cheated.’ ‘Did not! I had a box just like it when I was a kid. I hid stuff there so my sisters wouldn’t find it.’ ‘I cannot imagine you as a kid.’ ‘That’s funny, some people cannot imagine that I am now an adult.’ ‘Now that I do believe!’ George’s eyes narrowed and he twisted the key round in his fingers. He turned and carefully replace the little brass cannon in the fish tank. He dried the little net and leaned it against a glass jug on the nearby shelf. They continued through the apartment into another room. This was again furnished comfortably and had a bar with drinks at one end. They searched and went on to the next room. This was smaller. A little like a dressing room. And so they continued. There was a small internal corridor and several doors leading off it. ‘Have you noticed that there is no perception filter in here?’ ‘I guess.’ said Sam, ‘Are these bedrooms?’ ‘Well here’s the bathroom.’ said George peering in through another door. ‘Ah…. and here is a guest room.’ Sam stood aside so that George could have a really good look. He went in. ‘A lady was here.’ George sniffed. ‘Perfume.’ ‘A specific type. Do you know what it is?’ ‘I think….. could be something by Calvin Klein.’ ‘Who wears that?’ ‘I err…. Don’t know.’ They both turned and saw another person coming through the door to the end. ‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Parker?’ ‘The same… I think I am anyway. It might be a good idea to have a drink. While the opportunity presents itself.’ ‘I’ll have a scotch.’ said George. ‘I kind of meant tea.’ she said. ‘That as well.’ George looked her up and down, ‘You’ve lost weight.’ ‘That’s not the thing to say to….’ began Sam. ‘It is. I need to know who you are.’ ‘Fine,’ she said, ‘I’ll tell.’ They followed her through to the lounge with the bar. She set out three glasses. ‘I think I am still retaining the memories I used to have. I cannot be sure but I believe they are mostly intact.’ ‘Memory suppression?’ George was cautious. ‘Yes. I think certainly. It is something I have lived with for a long time. I’ve got used to the disorientation that you feel afterwards. I was one of the few who could still operate at full strength mentally even when it was applied. That is why I was given the option to work for them. You see, I didn’t know what was being planned. I just had to sit tight until I was summoned. Mr Stone has been looking after me. But I didn’t know that until…. recently.’ she turned her face away from them deep in thought, ‘It is actually amazing that anyone can be subjected to that kind of conditioning without losing their sense of knowledge or identity. In fact there is only one other way to do this…. But I cannot consider that as an option.’ ‘And what is that?’ Sam asked. ‘I think that it ought to be obvious by now. You must have met the handiwork of the Gradore Science Group?’ ‘You mean the original people in the Sheffield lab?’ ‘Yes. I suppose. But you find out that you weren’t working for them at all. You were always in the pay of people who frankly hadn’t been recruited yet. Not in the normal sense of the word.’ George was flicking through his reader, ‘I know that name…. It’s here somewhere.’ The others sat down and waited for him to find the page. ‘Here. Look. I don’t know what I going on; but there it is again….. I’m getting that feeling. Right down the spine. This is big; bigger than…. Well, the biggest thing you can think of.’ ‘I’m sorry to leave in such a rush.’ Parker said, ‘Do you have the item I need?’ ‘Item? What item?’ George looked at Samantha with that flicker of caution. She sipped her drink and looked at them levelly. ‘Well I guess you left it with Owen?’ ‘Yes…. of course.’ said George, ‘So perhaps we better be going…’ The door snapped open and the room seemed to fill up with people. ‘Really! Not again!’ George stood holding his drink with an air of determined stubbornness. ‘Goodness me! What do we have here?’ Mr Stone’s voice silenced any protests they might have had. Right behind the crowd of firmly professional looking staff members was another Samantha Parker. She come forward looking hollow eyed from lack of sleep. ‘Oh Fuck!’ was all she said and then sat down abruptly in a nearby chair. The two of them looked at each other. Mr Stone, with softly enunciated words ordered tea and cake. This simple thing, however inappropriate some might find it was at that moment just what they needed to calm the tension. The staff remained nearby and took positions that included guarding the entrances. ‘What is happening?’ said the tired looking Parker. ‘I think you can conclude that one of us is not the real Samantha?’ said the other.’ ‘That is just stupid!’ exclaimed Sam, ‘Honestly George! Do we have to get us mixed up in any more narcissistic ranting of crazy science people?’ ‘I guess that we will have to take a vote on it.’ said George, ‘That way we can be sure we are not allowing one person’s emotion to overwhelm the general cheeriness of the day.’ ‘Cheeriness George?’ Sam asked, ‘That is bonkers you know? Or it’s Science gone mad.’ Meanwhile, Kyle had a bit of a break though. He rang George and was amazed to find him in a receptive mood. George took the call while balancing teacups. ‘The reporter is here George. She came round about 20 minutes ago. We had toast.’ ‘Well, don’t let her leave!’ ‘Sure thing George. But I don’t think she wants to.’ ‘Oh? why is it?’ ‘The Zebra file…. Hidden within. She has a sodding copy George. It took her five years to get that far.’ ‘Your legendary exploits remain intact.’ ‘Yes; quite so…. and get this…. The lad supplied the drugs for Treacle’s condition, as long as Treacle kept other people away. Eyes off the experiment. No one wants someone who is sick. The secret is not to let it loose. It still survives.’ George was calm. A glance at the tired looking Parker and the efforts of the other one to remain alert were really grating on his subconscious. Then he had it. Something that was not hidden, but needed someone with a keen sense of the ridiculous. What do people hate the most about themselves? Their name? Their age? Height? Weight? Hair colour etc.? George didn’t react. He stared at the rest of the room. ‘Well,’ said George, ‘I don’t suppose you have a thing, or a means to test this mystifying state of affairs?’ ‘I’m afraid not.’ said Mr Stone, ‘I’d hoped that this might make things a bit easier. Just a calm chat. Get some point of reference…. Yes, yes. Nice and calm and polite. There is no need for anything else.’ ‘What about this Primula? She turns up here looking very much alive?’ George put the glass down ignoring Sam’s alarmed expression. ‘Oh dear, oh dear..’ Mr Stone frowned, then smiled, ‘You are testing me? Of course you are. How clever. So my dears? What is it to be? I can supply pistols if you so wish it?’ George looked down to his mobile. Kyle had sent him a text. ‘Clone is active in several forms. 1.Container. 2.Physical vessel for a friend. 3. The enemy in a vessel.’ George looked at the two Samanthas. It wasn’t any of those, he thought. But he remained still, seeing what they would decide to do. The one they had first spoken to when they arrived in the apartment spoke first: ‘I think we need to clarify the situation, just so you know… I am sorry to say that I was cloned at an early point in the project. I was one that worked early on. So my clone…. Here you see her, did not need to know what the truth is…. She served as the assistant to the Head of Science and it only became apparent that she wasn’t an ordinary asset after Drucker disappeared. I thought we should contain it. But development of character and will; and all that science. I mean, they are practically people. They are people.’ The other; the one they knew as Parker looked up with sad eyes. There was something at work in her mind. But it was not without a sense of despair. She had been dismissed as merely an experiment in front of all these people. Sam watched her face, there was something of quiet dignity when she stood and announced softly: ‘I would like to go home now. I just want to get on with my work.’ ‘Of course my dear,’ said Mr Stone, ‘I will get one of my staff to escort you to the door and call a taxi to the main road. Naturally that is the only way to get somewhere on time without one’s own car!’ he smiled at her and she turned and inclined her head to him for a moment. Parker turned and left the room, two of the staff in tow. ‘Most generous.’ said the other Samantha, ‘I do believe that there is only a short time left until another house move anyway, so she will be able to tie things up here with ease?’ ‘Yes, yes. Most convenient. I will let you Gentlemen go about your business. There is much I could tell you. But only one thing is relevant at the moment. Time waits for no one… oh dear, oh dear…. It’s not a cheering prospect.’ The two staff came back. They had the woman Primula with them. She seemed innocent enough. And as she hadn’t been the one who tried to stop them, they might conclude that she was a benign clone too. ‘Good afternoon.’ she said, ‘I hope you have a pleasant trip.... I mean journey back today. You must be very tired. I feel like it's Two in the morning..... I mean I haven't been this exhausted since the last Cup final. Kept up all night by my neighbours. No one sleeps anymore.’ George and Kyle glanced at each other. ‘Just one question,’ said George, ‘How long have you two known each other?’ ‘Insightful?’ Samantha was leaning back and swinging the glass between a finger and thumb, ‘As long as it's possible to know anyone. We are cousins in fact.’ ‘Cousins?’ Sam repeated. He put his glass on the edge of the edge of table and picked up the cup of tea. Mr Stone was watching him. ‘That is certainly a surprize!’ he said and grinned, ‘I am relieved to hear it.’ The two women visibly relaxed. But something in Primula's expression seemed a little forced. ‘Time to go?’ she asked George, ‘I will see you again I hope?’ ‘I always turn up again. I'm everyone's bad penny.’ he stood and Sam did so too. ‘Well, well,’ said Mr Stone, ‘Such a brief visit. You need not worry about that other thing. I have cleared the blockage. It should work fine now. Just make sure you go out of the front door. Everyone is out of the building..... Afternoon off.’ he glanced at the opposite wall. A tiny little light flashed on and off just below a shelf near to a small china ornament. George and Sam were then escorted to the entrance lobby. The staff, having performed their duties, almost ran back the way they came. Sam turned round slowly and sighed. George was checking inside his backpack. He drew out a torch, ‘Come on.’ Sam followed him to the right, down that long mysterious corridor that never seemed to get you anywhere. ‘What is happening George? and don't BS me.’ ‘We need to hurry. I'm betting that even with a head start it will take some time for her to get there.’ ‘Who? Get where?’ George sighed, ‘Bloody Amateurs.’ ‘You mean me?’ ‘Shut up.’ George responded. ‘I don't see....’ George held a finger to his lips, ‘This way; I think.’ They made a right turn, and continued for about twenty feet. There was a door there; the entrance to the cold storage place. Sam peered through the window in the thick door, ‘What is going on?’ ‘If I didn't think I needed you I wouldn't have brought you.’ George sounded as if he was gritting his teeth. He fastened his coat and got his gloves out; ‘Look, just so you know, I intend to fly that time machine to the place where this all started. I have the starter coil. We just need to find it again.’ ‘You think Parker is going to try to fly it?’ ‘Yes.’ said George, ‘Are you ready?’ ‘Yeah, got it. So she is trying to find the Machine too?’ ‘Yes Sam,’ George was patient this time as they pressed through the double doors, ‘But she can't.’ ‘It's the wrong key?’ ‘Right again. Henry's Machine is here, not Parker's. She will have to hitch a ride with us. If we can find her.’ ‘So whose side is Primula on? Come to think of it, who is Primula?’ ‘She's one of the Project managers. The one with a more hands on role. She didn't mind getting her hands dirty. She is Parker's contemporary. I think the other girl is from there too.’ ‘The past.’ ‘Exactly so. They are working in the field, as it were. They answer to a control. I don't think it is Drucker. But I think that Parker embedded something in her own memory to help her. She was very tired. I think she has found a way to reintegrate certain things that were lost as a necessary part of her work for the Project. And yes....I do believe that Arc is connected. In fact I think that Arc ran all these satellite programs. Parker was smart enough to use; perhaps too smart. That is why she ended up here.’ ‘Is she a clone of the other girl?’ ‘I say not,’ said George, ‘Besides, there are other reasons why a person looks like someone else.’ ‘And they are?’ ‘Coincidence; Plastic surgery; or genetically related.’ ‘But that is what a clone is…..genetically connected.’ ‘Right. So if that is true, why did she call Kyle “Owen”?; and why did she think we had the start-up key to give to her?’ ‘Err….they are both called Samantha….that surely….?’ ‘Coincidence.’ said George firmly, ‘I bet my best chicken and mushroom pie.’ ‘She’s Primula Jenson’s cousin?’ ‘I guess adopted cousin.’ ‘A bit like the two we know?’ ‘Marcia? Certainly… but suppose that Marcia had a twin sister. They were separated at birth and adopted by different families….. What if, those two families…. In the course of chance both called their children Marcia?’ ‘Then she would have a genetic twin, with the same name who looked like her.’ Sam stopped his eyes round, ‘You don’t think? Surely not…’ ‘It would be worth it just to see the look on your face when I’m proved right.’ ‘But someone would know…. I mean…. Surely it’s not allowed?’ ‘There is actually nothing to stop it. The system is stupid, you know that.’ ‘Yes…. I see. It is….. Here’s the shelf sign George.’ ‘Right. Yes.’ ‘What now?’ ‘We wait.’ ***** Chapter Eleven We Can, Because We Think We Can. Samantha, as in Parker as she preferred to be known; walked slowly with a semblance of resignation. That was until the people who had escorted her to the street were out of sight. Mr Stone had given her a tip - there were some doors that did not look like doors, but could be opened in the conventional way. It was easy therefore once the information inside her own head could be accessed again to find her way back in. She took advantage of the secretary’s cupboard and loaded up with her snacks and standard issue kit. The woman was an inconsequential individual who remembered very little of her time in the building. So she felt no guilt at taking those items that ensured her comfort if not her survival. Samantha’s state of mind was one she chose for those ten minutes to ignore. Mr Stone had said that she should not take everything as being obviously true. The first thought was that the other was her clone; and she was the original. But that meant that she had forgotten more of her life than just the boring bits; and more to the point she was aligned with some of the most evil people in the world as she saw it… so it did not square with her moral outlook. She saw a paradox, her mind could not accept it, and therefore she ignored it until she reached the doorway to the deep archives. She slid through, and hunched in her coat, slowly inspected the shelves and huge gantries in what she thought was a systematic manner. But he thought of that other and the phrase “Practically People” came back to her and infected her mind until she was bent double gasping and crying with shame. Or perhaps fear… there was one feeling, a mixture of all those things and more. And now, she saw one way out: one light in the tunnel of her darkness and disillusionment with the path that had brought her to this place. Now; she looked for the Time Machine, to bear her hence from this place, and in her heart she saw a shrinking, a dying, and soon, so soon it would be gone. Hope, and light. Perhaps on a further shore they existed. She could not think about it now. She had to focus and think carefully about where it would be. The exact location. She knew of course. But this door was on the side at right angles to the complex map in her head. Normally she would have found the place in a few minutes, and have run through the dark cold place light foot and full of certainty. But this creature she had become crept slowly and sometimes turned and doubted and wondered if it was here at all. Samantha stopped at an intersection. Although she had been sure, she doubted her thoughts now. Nothing had a solidity to it now. That had been taken and she must wrest it back once she was safe and could process what was happening. Mr Stone warned her, he knew that she was not stable. Forcing a locked door was dangerous. Her mind was rebelling. She wanted to sleep, and yet now she was awake with that rush of fear and horror that consumed her whole being, as she stumbled and sank on the corner near to the Time Machine. Sam and George were hidden in the shadows. They caught a glimpse of her. Then they saw something following her course. At that moment she could not see those others. But it was clear that she was listening. She raised her head and felt her way round a large packing case and skirted the end of that row and began to run away lightly on tips toes. The ones in her wake were not fooled and followed her direction. George did not speak but raised a hand. Sam nodded and followed into the dark. George turned and blended into the shadows near the lumpy end of the object. ‘What the hell!’ Samantha pulled back out of sight of the two men in official jump suits. They had caps and a lot of pockets and one carried a clipboard. She stared at their shoes as they walked past. She tried to breathe silently and not to sneeze. Her passage through this labyrinth had stirred up a lot of dust. They seemed not to notice, but turned abruptly right at the next intersection, the arc of their torches tracing an eerie glow into the ceiling high above everyone’s heads. Samantha sighed. But then she saw that they were circling back round to her position. She moved and ran again, this time not caring to be as quiet. No. Bad move. There were others and they did see her. They started to run, and then she caught the machine glowing in the dim light. Now she would see what they did to her, it was coming back now. Not how this story should end. Fear added speed to her flight, but she was dodging this way and that, trying to evade her potential captors and still orientate herself on the shape in the darkness. The place that all this foolishness had taken her at last. ‘Gotcha!’ This one cried in triumph at his own cleverness. Samantha struggled vainly. There was a commotion, and she was suddenly free again. She ran without looking behind and hid for a long time. Her breath was raggy and her lungs were feeling the effects of the unexpected exercise in this cold place. She realised that while she was trying to get to a specific place, they were trying to simply find her, and she better move again soon so that their target was lost to them. Shapes in the semi-dark. Samantha was lost, and she did not dare break her position. She had circled again and then she heard a sharp bark of indignation and a heavy thud. Someone else was here too! That was not good news surely. There was a chance they were simply marking the odds for their favour, not hers, and she would be grabbed by someone else instead. What difference! So she scrambled up and ran scared to her destination; this place had made it dusty in her mind’s eye, so she did not immediately recognise the Time Vehicle. She slid to a stop, blinked and slithered down underneath the nearby rounded black object that looked like an old car. The sound of the sea roared in her ears, and the despair she had felt was giving way to an unidentified panic. All that was left was a determination to find out where this had all begun, and how, and why she…. Why they had made her of cloned tissue and what her role apart from careless annihilation could now be. She saw her chance as the sweep of arc lights faded, and scraping her ribs on the sharp edges, pulled herself out from under the dark car and sprang for the door of the machine. Once inside, she started the ignition sequence. The door would not lock and she had to rely on working without the inner lights. Time to put the round gear into the recess in the dashboard. Her fingers were made numb by panic as she found the clip and pulled back the little sliding panel. She took out the golden ring with its power coil residing within, and carefully pressed it into the housing. She was just about to turn it the quarter turn to the right when there was a loud clang outside and a horrible scuffling and someone swearing very imaginatively. She slammed her hand down on the lever hoping to activate the Time Warp and throw off her assailants. But the door swung open and crashed against the edge of the low shelving that ran round inside the mid parts of the craft. A moment later someone strode forward and twisted the round golden donut shaped ignition control out of its place. Samantha instinctively took a swing at the second person who bent over her. He caught her wrist and gripped it firmly. The first had then slammed the door shut with them all on the inside. Out there a commotion could be heard and a lot of shouting. Someone was calling her name, and it was in rhythm with the stranger shaking her by the arm. She stopped struggling and went limp. ‘Samantha. Samantha Parker…. We have the right one. It’s here. Yours won’t work. It might fry the circuit. Do you hear? Parker…. Come on.’ Dumbly she looked up and saw the face of the Detective. That one, the nice guy. The one she thought she could trust….. Her head shook from side to side, and she thought she heard a long soft moan of a “No….” escape her own lips. ‘Get ready!’ said George sharply. Samantha’s awareness snapped into focus. She could feel the flexing buzz of the Time Warp activate, and as much as she wasn’t sure of her predicament this always made her feel special. She eased herself to her feet as Sam the Detective moved away to look out through the viewer to the men furiously waving their arms and mouthing something that looked like “Stop!” A gasp of amused irony escaped her lips. And then she laughed, a bitter taste of reprieve; but for what, or when? ‘Buckle up!’ George roared, ‘This is going to be really rough.’ She obeyed, sat in the nearest seat and tightened the strap. She could feel the dragging wave of another time vehicle. Almost visualise the heat haze of the shimmering of the time warp and the whining creak of the physical anchor. ‘Bloody release switch?’ ‘Where the hell is it?’ Samantha was aware that the voice was addressing her and she pointed. Whether she just decided, or it was the swift cooperation between the two friends made her think that they couldn’t be on the side of the baddies; she quite rightly decided to play it cool. But the pitch of the outer noise increased, and it ceased to matter. It was time. There could be another one of these Machines somewhere…. Somewhere in time and space, near the place where everyone goes but no one sees? A little like flying and a lot like sinking…. No rhyme or reason to the path that they would take. Time Warp. She had forgotten the euphoria of that moment; that wonder and that majesty of the first taste of Time Travel. To fall in love, with time…. it had been too long; too long for love to survive she believed. Time enough. And next thing she knew there was a smooth oblong of light and there was a fresh but gentle breeze coming in the space from somewhere. ‘Are you awake?’ ‘Yes.’ she mumbled, ‘I think yes. But not very.’ Sam moved away slightly, his face concerned but innocent of any deception. ‘How did you know?’ she said thickly, ‘About the ignition coil I mean?’ ‘I think you better ask George. He will be back in a minute. He’s just checking the outside.’ Sam sat down and rubbed his hands over his face, ‘It was a bit bumpy.’ he added. ‘What happened?’ she tried to move and he raised a hand to stop her. ‘George says stay still. You might have banged you head.’ ‘Oh…..’ Samantha tried to focus on the oblong of light, ‘Where are my…?’ Sam handed her the glasses case. She didn’t remember which pocket they had been in, ‘Did you….?’ But at that moment George barged back in wide eyed. ‘Frigging hell! Have you any idea where we are?’ ‘Not as such.’ Sam said calmly. ‘George knelt down and spoke in quite a different tone, ‘Now dear Lady, I hope you will cooperate with a few simple tests to see if you are concussed or not.’ ‘Okay.’ Samantha shook her head to clear the buzzing. ‘Does anything hurt?’ ‘Not really.’ Sam went to the door while George checked Samantha. Outside there was a patch of grass, and then a low old brick wall. ‘Where are we?’ he called over his shoulder. Samantha scrambled up behind him. ‘Oh, my, God!’ ‘Tell me I’m parked in a restricted zone.’ said George. ‘We shouldn’t be here.’ she said, ‘We must go. Right now.’ ‘What it is?’ Sam half turned and saw that there we people streaming out of a building just beyond the low wall. ‘It’s the lab.’ Samantha cringed and ducked down. ‘Shit!’ George pulled them back and shut the door. ‘What is going on?’ Sam watched the people through the front window. ‘It’s the coordinates,’ said George, ‘it was all I had to go on.’ ‘You took us back to the day Drucker went missing?’ Samantha was aghast. ‘Those things we do,’ said George, ‘that lead us into the underside of the soul.’ ‘Is that a quote?’ Sam stopped and froze, ‘No… wait a minute.’ He turned to Samantha, but she had dropped to the floor. ‘It’s her… I mean her in the past.’ George found his camera and took a couple of photos, ‘I must say Parker, you haven’t aged a bit.’ ‘It’s only been five years.’ she said through gritted teeth and swallowed. ‘Hey! Come on. We are the good guys. We’re not against you.’ ‘It’s not that. I mustn’t be seen. It would create a paradox.’ ‘Get up.’ said George, and held out his hand, ‘They can’t see through the glass even if they were looking this way; which they weren’t by the way. I am as ever amazed how unobservant people are.’ ‘Only some people!’ said another voice. Samantha sat down. She took out her glasses and polished them. George and Sam remained standing. Samantha pushed her glasses up her nose and waited for the man to speak. He regarded her with a strange caution. ‘Good afternoon.’ said George, ‘I suppose you two already know each other.’ ‘Yes,’ said the man, ‘And who is your sour looking friend?’ ‘Oh, him. Don’t worry about him. Merely my assistant in this afternoon’s enterprise.’ Sam rolled his eyes but otherwise said nothing. The man stared at him and then at George his eyes sweeping across Samantha in a way that suggested that she disturbed him, but did not wish to say it. ‘And now, I will have to trouble you for the use of this rather fine machine. After all, I did invent the thing. Most timely of you to pop in!’ ‘I’m sorry,’ George said, ‘but I promised my Ward I would be back in time for pizza night.’ ‘What?’ the man looked taken aback, especially as George then did not show the slightest hint of alarm when he suddenly produced a gun. Sam rolled his eyes at George who was staring out of the window. ‘Time to go….’ he said softly. ‘Don’t think about it.’ said the man, and jerked his head in the direction of the door. George motioned to Sam to pick up both their packs, and then helped Samantha to her feet. ‘That’s right. Don’t be so sure that we won’t meet again, but I would advise against coming after me. That would be most unwise.’ They stood outside on the grass. Samantha was looking up at the one she had thought about so many times. The man she thought was good and noble and full of the principles that make science great. But she saw a look in his eyes; a cold contempt that shrank her down. She stood shivering. George put his arm round her shoulders, ‘Come on. We need to get back. Mustn’t be caught in the back blast.’ They backed off. Sam handed the pack to George who swung it behind the wall and helped Samantha. They ducked behind a silver birch. Sheltered by the vegetation they turned just as the time flux began to burn. There was a sudden rush of wind wand them and silence. Then all the sounds around turned back on. The birds were singing on a late spring morning. And all the talk about afternoons; and the thing that had been not spoken rolled back in. ‘He knew who you were, didn’t he?’ asked Sam. ‘I’m afraid so.’ said George, ‘It has to do with Sandglass. I think that there is a connection. Well, more of a connection than we suspected actually. I think we might in fact have just helped the founder of the group that started Nimbus; and set up the Arc project and called the bluff of the rather annoying Traveller’s society. That, I grant you would be quite gratifying; but as for the rest, well, it’s at least as much of a problem as the Cat.’ ‘You’re understating the problem.’ said Sam. ‘Yes. Yes I am.’ George smiled, ‘For the sake of general calm and in deference to the pleasantness of this rather well-proportioned day, I thought it best not to be too melodramatic.’ ‘Look to the Lady.’ said Sam, ‘I think she’s feeling a little under the weather.’ Samantha sat on the grass and covered her face. She couldn’t help it. She was stranded in the past in the one place that in theory she had wanted to get to, but the one place that in fact she now did not what to be in. And with a couple of geeks who were on the face of it not the most sympathetic to the seriousness of the problem they were facing. She felt a tear leak out and did not want to move. ‘I think that tea is good.’ said George ‘Is there somewhere where we can get a good cup of tea?’ ‘But we’re in the past!’ said Samantha. ‘Yes. Is there a problem? They do serve tea round here I take it? All this excitement had really made me thirsty.’ George seemed quite jolly. He poured the milk and tea with a flourish. Samantha had recovered a little and accepted the cup and curled her fingers round it. ‘Are we safe here?’ she looked around. ‘Surely you know more about it?’ Sam took the cup George handed him, ‘This is where you were. And the project….?’ ‘The project was a deceit,’ she said, ‘we are led astray by the worst people in the world.’ ‘They are not the worse.’ said George. ‘There’s more?’ she responded. ‘I’m afraid so.’ ‘When were you going to tell me?’ ‘As soon as we got into the lab.’ ‘My lab?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘You mean here, in the past?’ ‘Well, yes.’ George looked surprised as if the thought that she might not realise it had been an option she had considered. ‘Of course.’ Samantha sighed and supped her tea, ‘But I was intending to wait until I had gone. I would have taken it two years further on, and then waited until I left for the tour into the future before going into the lab.’ ‘But why?’ George was still looking surprised. ‘Because,’ she sighed, ‘the programming would be complete for the machine. I suppose now I’m stranded here. In the past, I mean. But from my point of view it is in the place I left in the first place. It just never seems the same when you’ve been away so long.’ ‘So that would make you….?’ George was counting on his fingers. ‘I’m Twenty-Seven. And please don’t ask me to explain. It wasn’t the first trip into the future I went on.’ ‘I’m guessing that you were in the place they called Mobius?’ George was thoughtful now. ‘Yes… how did you know? No one knows that! I mean… it is Top Secret.’ she pushed the cup away, ‘Oh shit!’ ‘It’s okay.’ George put a hand on her wrist, ‘Really. I’m trying to help.’ He stared at her, and then there was that thought in both their minds; the one that would remain unspoken. They had both been servants of the same master. They both were trying to extricate themselves. ‘Yes….’ said George to her indrawn breath, ‘I know it. I also want to find out where is its place of origin.’ he squeezed her hand and then let go. ‘I see.’ Samantha was very still, ‘You have it too. Don’t you? Time is like a maze, and we look for the beginning that could be anywhere?’ ‘Of course,’ said George not breaking her gaze, ‘I am trying to save people like you. I want to put right the wrongs that have been done…..’ he lowered his voice, ‘even the things I was unwittingly party to. You know it Ms Parker, just as I did, that awakening to awareness. Then one day you just have to get out. But slowly…. Oh, do it slowly and with care. Yes. Tread carefully my dear. We are all slaves to the system still.’ Sam shifted in his seat, ‘The business we need concern ourselves with now is more mundane folks: a place to stay, and a way of getting back.’ ‘The long version, or the short version?’ George said. ‘Short.’ said Sam, ‘What of it Parker?’ ‘Mmm, yes.’ she nodded, and her mouth twitched with amusement, ‘Go ahead…’ George just shrugged, ‘I suppose you will find the full flavour of my useful discourse at a time yet to be decided. The thought occurs that I…. I go back and pick up Kyle and bring him here. He is the only one who can get inside without getting caught. Even in that system, there have to be some challenges to an intellect like his?’ ‘Wait…’ Sam fiddled with a napkin in that nervous way that George recognised, ‘you said fetch?’ ‘That’s right,’ he leaned forward, ‘you didn’t think I came without backup do you?’ It was in the nature of things for Kyle to be just a little concerned when George didn’t ring and somehow his mobile had a disconnected signal…. Well, just weird. And so, with a flash of astute inspiration he checked the fax machine. The light was flashing. Kyle set it to print the message out. Only one page. It was simple. “Pack the kit. Time for Kung fu.” ‘Thanks George.’ Kyle muttered and folded it up and stuffed it in the pocket of his jeans. He trotted back down stairs where his guests were setting up the Scrabble board. Jade looked up sharply as he appeared, ‘You have something in your mind?’ ‘Is that female intuition?’ said Kyle. ‘Not really. More a nose for a story. What’s going on?’ ‘I think,’ Kyle considered the variations of answer he could give, ‘You might want to stay here tonight. I can put you up in the third guest room.’ ‘Oh?’ ‘It’s very comfortable,’ Kyle added, ‘with a four poster bed.’ ‘And where will you be?’ she looked suddenly very interested. ‘Err…’ ‘He’s going on a little trip,’ said Treacle, who was arranging the Scrabble pieces, ‘In time, we’ll all have an answer. Just a little time and then you can get it all in one. All at one moment. They say it only takes a moment…. Just like having your shots…. They lean you back and you don’t remember a thing.’ ‘That’s right Honey,’ said Jade, ‘You and I will stay here tonight. That will be alright won’t it?’ she looked back at Kyle with an enquiring glance. ‘I will warn you now.’ Kyle tried to sound firm, ‘If you fiddle with the computers it will do something very nasty to you.’ ‘Oh? What’s that?’ ‘The release of extra strong sneezing powder into the bedrooms.’ ‘I’ll be sure to keep my hands to myself then.’ Jade was grinning, and Kyle sighed. No matter what he said they never seemed to believe him: girls that is. He better just stick to the observable facts. ‘I’m going to be out for the night. Help yourself to anything in the fridge, and avoid opening the front door. Actually you can’t, and getting out through the first floor window is a bit of a pain.’ ‘Tried it have you?’ she was smiling again. Kyle turned away. Too much in one week. Women that is. He went to get his kit together, and for the first time had a pang of real concern for Samantha. Somewhere down a dark alley there was movement. Bobby stepped out of the shadows. Another was there, he was tall and wore a floppy hat, and nodded at Bobby with acknowledgement of his presence. They both turned and walked to a place that had become familiar and strangely ordinary. In the evening light, within a clear still night they stood together. ‘I am limited in this matter. You know that?’ ‘Yes,’ Bobby turned, the nearby streetlight leaving some of his face in shadow. They entered the gate and stood near the monument. In the rising moon the graveyard looked still and peaceful rather than creepy. They walked forward together. ‘I can stay here. In case they come.’ said the tall man. ‘How long can you wait?’ ‘Until the matter is concluded.’ he replied, ‘It is the least I can do.’ ‘Very well,’ said Bobby, ‘I will see if they have got any further on in their investigation.’ The tall man nodded and seating himself on a nearby bench got out a flask vacuum flask and set it beside him. He looked up at Bobby who stood there glazing out at the mount of earth and the flower bed that had been carefully planted. ‘I always liked yellow flowers,’ he said, ‘It makes me think of Butter or Honey.’ ‘It would go with the tea.’ said the tall man and twisted the neck of the flask. ‘It will be a long time before I can think about that again.’ said Bobby, ‘I will find them and see if they are any closer.’ ‘As you wish.’ said the tall man and started to pour. Bobby was already walking back out through the gate. In a moment the path was empty. The tall man shook his head and sipped his tea carefully. ‘We know that Henry’s brother is a clone. Or rather…. It appears that he was substituted for a clone. And he’s well…..over to you Sam.’ Sam stood with his back to the room looking out of the window of the small flat they had rented. He lit a cigarette and cracked it open a little to blow a stream out before replying: ‘Yeah, well…. We think he is completely off his head, as in nuts. George here thinks it’s something to do with the mind rejecting the body it has been put into. I’m not sure what that means, but he said a lot of stuff that on the surface of it didn’t seem to make sense.’ ‘Did you note it down?’ said Parker who seemed cheered by the sandwiches that George had ordered on room service, not to say the mini fridge full of booze. She twisted to top of the vodka and added it to a glass of tropical juice. Sam handed her his note book. She scanned it quickly and gave it back. ‘There’s nothing here. We already know that sometimes they used temporary containers for people’s consciousness. It helps if the usable bodies are in stasis so they arrive intact.’ ‘You came in the machine.’ George said, ‘you were not put in a clone?’ ‘No. I know that. It means nothing now. I have what I have that’s all. I will however kill the person who did this.’ Sam half turned and met her eyes. She looked back at him with no trace of humour. He looked away, ‘Revenge is a poor motive for this.’ ‘It might be my only compensation for a life unlived.’ she said and slugged most of the peach mixture, ‘You understand that I don’t know what I might get out of this at the end. So humour me a little at least.’ ‘I think you must have to be one hundred percent human.’ said Sam. ‘How can you know?’ ‘I don’t understand you; even when I know exactly what you’ve said.’ She just smiled and looked at George who had got his gun out and was checking it carefully. ‘Anachronism Mr Carter?’ ‘No.’ George checked the barrel, ‘Insurance, Ms Parker.’ ‘I thought you were a doctor?’ ‘So did he.’ said Sam, ‘It’s funny how things happen. We will have to tell you all about it sometime.’ ‘Maybe.’ said George. Gina watched the sky outside darken. Juliet remained where she was. Time stretched out in rolls and folds. Gina drank a cup of tea Matron had brought her, and then ran her hand down the centrefold of the notebook. She tapped the end of the pen on the paper and thought about all the things that had been happening. Something stacked up…. and dear George was right, someone was manipulating the situation. So how to get ahead of them? She looked at Juliet again, and then realised that she had been looking at the bracelet on Juliet’s wrist. I wonder? Gina very carefully took hold of the other girl’s hand and whispered softly: ‘Now then Girlfriend, we need your help. I hope your pal Gina isn’t going to regret this! But George asked me to find out something…. the bit that is missing. And well; you are not going to be bothered by being knocked out…. Since you are already.…’ she bent over the other girl and saw no movement except the soft rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Juliet was hooked up to all these monitors and doubtless the alarm would go if anything happened to change the fine balance of all that. But… she had to help, and Juliet couldn’t be in a worse state, could she? Gina pulled her own bangle into position. The key was to get Juliet’s to hit against hers. That way Gina would teleport and Juliet would remain where she was. Under normal circumstances the one who didn’t teleport got knocked out. But since she was already…. Gina reasoned that it was a chance she would have to take. Gina stood with her bag slung across her body. She had a torch, a waterproof and various other items of a useful nature. Being George’s girlfriend had not dented her vanity, but rather added a dimension to it. Gina was determined to be prepared for any eventuality. In fact nowadays she prided herself on it. That was why she always carried her emergency eyeliner and a lip slicker in with the kit of useful items. She gripped Juliet’s bangle firmly and raised the other girl’s hand just above her own on the coverlet. She had slipped on a thin vinyl glove to insulate it just enough. ‘I hope the boys are alright.’ she said to Juliet, and then with a swift motion jerking down forcefully, smacked Juliet’s bangle neatly against her own. Gina coughed. She tasted dust and quickly found the torch. Here was a place that needed industrial cleaning. A cavern: manmade it seemed crumbled with a layer of thick cream coloured grit. She swept the torch around. There was a gleam of metal. Gina orientated on the thing and cautiously moved forward. A small door that stood ajar. A rush of crumbling earth was brought down as she pulled it open a little more. She went inside the room. It was dry and dusty and clearly the inside of a machine. Gina knew straight away what it was. She went forward and examined the console and being careful not to move any of the levers and switches brushed some of the dust away. She sniffed. Then she smelt it. An odd kind of odour. Vaguely sweet, but musty. It reminded her of something. Something that was calling from the back of her mind to frame a memory of something that she did not like. She went towards another small door. Against drifting dust was disturbed by her passing through. It was one of the small rooms off the main area. Inside were several items. A chair and table and bookcase and radio set… this had it innards out on the table and looked as if it had been vandalised. There was that scent again. Something old. Something….. She saw it then… and pity overcame her horror at the discovery. She saw it through George’s eyes. And she analysed the position and took in the probable cause of death and the evidence of the presence that had been of another… and then, after that gagged and had to move back into the other space to recover. It was then that she realised her predicament. There was no way out. There was no exit door to the outside. She was buried. But Gina did not waste time thinking about that too hard. She knew that the bangle that had drawn her here had to be on the body. She would have to look closer. She found a mask to out on to cover her nose and mouth and got a sample bag. she went back in and feeling braver decided she was an investigator and this better be a good sample…. A bit of hair and the man’s watch for it was a man. She used her camera and took some photos and then lastly gently left the wrist. A sense of sadness and pity rose in her chest and she leaned closer: ‘I am so sorry…. I will try to find out who you are and give you some rest. My George will help you. He’ll know what to do. But now, I hope you understand I need to use you bangle to send me back. I’ll find out. I promise.’ Gina felt the moment fade, and the sober sensation of being trapped underground had her grip the other bangle and strike it against hers in a determined way. Gina vanished. And the dust motes settled back down. And in the silence and the dark something like a sigh was heard… if there had been anyone else to hear it. Primula was running as fast as she could. She had to get away. Gary had said not to worry about him. There were so many doors he said. Lots and lots of them. Primula had waited until the memories came back. It took a couple of days. Then she had it…. the face of the man who had killed her. It broke her heart, just knowing how he had been used. It was his face, the one she knew so well…. It was cruel of them to use his clone; to contort the features into a mask of hate. Yet it could not erase the real memory of the boy she had known. So the reason? One only… Prim ran for her life. And in the knowledge of a betrayal that went back to the beginning. How could she protect Samantha now? And following her…. The clones, like shadows in the night. They had one job - to clean up other people’s mistakes. If only it were that simple! The truth was more complex than even she had imagined. She tried not to think about it and dodged round the corner. She thought she must have lost them and slowed slightly. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps. There wasn’t far to go. But then she felt it; that whisper on the air of the presence of the others. They had a trace that was hard to pin point. Primula could read a Time Trace with ease and other ordinary people if she concentrated. In her hyper-adrenalized state she could hear the echoes in her head of all everyone she passed. But the clones….. They were different, like ghosts… she yanked her mind towards her target and accelerated. She burst in through the door of the restaurant, and ignoring the protestations of the hostess, ran down the corridor that led to the staff area. She could hear them trying to come after her. But the boys and girls were doing their job. Those were some who wouldn’t make it back to their master. Damn him! She slowed and found the room. The girl in there helped her change out of the clothes she had been wearing. They took the thin case that contained Prim’s older clothes and quickly got her ready to leave. The girl nodded in approval as Prim stood and straightened her jacket with a little tug. ‘Your watch Ma’am.’ she offered it in the case without touching it. Prim took it and met the girl’s eyes. ‘Thank you.’ she said relieved that she did not have to stay. She fastened the watch and the Girl walked round her to check that all was well. ‘Go now.’ she whispered, ‘It’s time.’ Prim took the door to the right; the plain one. That seemed quite innocuous. And in a few minutes was walking through a corridor and out the other side. Here it was ruined and a jumble of mess: an old outhouse. The other building - that one she had just left was not here. Not yet. She found the lab coat, still draped neatly over an old chair. On a nearby bench a cup steamed. A moment ago, that was when Prim had left. The disorientation was still upon her as she heard someone calling her. She sipped the tea and went out into the sunny place. ‘Whatcha Jensen? I thought you didn’t smoke?’ ‘I can still have a break can’t I?’ ‘Yes of course,’ he replied, ‘we’re just testing another batch. Do you want to see?’ ‘I’d love to.’ she followed him somewhat unsteadily. ‘I say, are you feeling alright? You look a bit flushed.’ ‘No…. no, I’m fine.’ She brushed a hand over her already neat hair. He was looking at her too closely, his brow furrowed with concern. She looked down and realised that she was still wearing her bangle. It was peeping from underneath her sleeve. She tugged the lab coat down over it and smiled at Jeremy, ‘Come on. Show me what you’ve been cooking.’ ‘Great!’ he said, ‘It seems we’re getting somewhere. They should have the results by this afternoon. Perhaps I can interest you in lunch?’ ‘I…. err….’ ‘What about it Jensen? I’m really not just a lab coat under here you know.’ ‘Of course not.’ she smiled and they continued walking towards the lab’s side door. Inside, she excused herself and went into the ladies. She focused and managed to slip off the bangle. She muttered to herself, and breathed a few times, flushed the loo and then went to inspect herself in the mirror. She looked pink cheeked from the recent exercise, and she still felt disorientated. It might be a good idea to accept Jeremy’s lunch invitation. After all, he would not trouble her with anything so tedious as actual conversation. And with him holding forth about all his fascinating facts she need not be under pressure to reveal anything about herself. She went out and entered the busy bustling energy of the experimental area. She paused, took a deep breath to compose herself and plunged in. She approached the project leader and they turned as she approached. ‘So,’ she said, ‘we might have results?’ ‘Yes, yes indeed Miss Jenson. The reality of Time Propulsion could soon be in our grasp. This is a fine day indeed!’ ‘Yes.’ she responded as another came to join their group: Samantha Parker…. still so innocent. Primula held her breath momentarily as she always did. And then saw inside her mind as being the younger version of herself. Before it all went wrong. Poor Parker! But the project leader was speaking. He flashed a look towards Prim, a knowing look and then continued talking to the group that had gathered. He would be the enemy. Soon. And Prim would hunt for him. The breakthrough was coming; and although he never intended it, it was all to end the way he never imagined. And another would take his place. The one who made Samantha Parker comply, for her own good of course. The one who did not really go by any name that they knew. Classified…. He was simply the project leader, the boss; the last word. In this time Jensen still had some leverage. And if she was to protect Samantha she had to live this one through. She knew the future and knew her own fate; or reported fate. And there was only a slim chance she would get out of this. She was confident that the odds could be swung in her favour. After all: she had all the time in the world. She looked up, Drucker was watching her. ‘Do you agree?’ ‘Pardon?’ ‘If we could use three packs instead of two?’ ‘Yes…. I mean, why?’ ‘Ah! The only one who asked the question. What would I do without you Jenson?’ ‘You would most likely advertise the job through the least publically exposed channels.’ she retorted. They all laughed. The disorientation had passed and she returned to her work. But someone watched her…. The other. She wished she was not here. And the damage she could already exact had been set in the Timeline. Her cousin, the other Miss Jensen. She looked around. They were all laughing at another inappropriate but well-meant comment. It would be time to deal with that soon. She did not relish the thought. She looked away. Another person was watching her, watching the new girl. A young man. He was only here as an intern from the University. He wanted to do forensics. This was what was available. He flicked a thick fringe away from his face and she turned then, catching his eyes. He had green eyes, and a steady thoughtful expression. It was hard. But she must resist the temptation to tell him everything. She looked at the watch and hoped the afternoon would not drag so she could go home and stand under the shower. To wash away the fear. By the following morning Prim felt things return quite towards normal. The lab buzzed with the happy conversation of colleagues at work. Samantha came in, ponytail bouncing as she walked and stopped to talk to the young intern. Uh Oh! There it was again, that look. He returned it. A little while later Prim was in the wash room when Samantha came in; she got out a comb and teased her hair into place. ‘Going somewhere?’ Primula tried not to sound too interested. ‘Maybe…’ Samantha turned and flashed a grin at Prim, ‘Do you think I should? Wouldn’t it be nice Prim? I mean I’ve had boyfriends before…. But he’s just a bit… well he doesn’t get scared when I talk science stuff.’ ‘I know,’ Prim took out a lipstick and made a show of carefully applying some, ‘He’s sweet. What does he want to be when he grows up?’ ‘Oh! Prim. He’s older than he looks, and smart and funny. And he can protect me!’ ‘Forensics?’ ‘No…. no, that’s only part of it,’ she put her comb away, ‘he’s going to be a detective. A policeman.’ ‘So why is he here?’ Prim studied the other closely. ‘He says that they want him on a special detail. We need a copper we can trust to work with the local people. Set their minds at rest; that sort of thing.’ ‘It might be better if you don’t date him then.’ said Prim sourly. ‘You’re just jealous,’ Sam turned to go, ‘I’ve bagged a nice boy and you haven’t.’ Prim couldn’t find anything to say. She watched Sam skip away in a happy mood. She stared at herself in the mirror. She had not aged much. The difference was not noticeable. Not yet at least. But she could not keep this up. She would have to find the point of insertion soon. Primula knew that she could not risk missing the right day, the right moment. So this risk, this double-ended life of time doors and deception was tiring her out. The help she needed was there; but the strain she personally felt was eating away at her resolve. And the, as yet, unsullied work of youth that Samantha was one day to cease to be would haunt Prim’s memory. Her personal timeline was as Kimmy put it: “A fucked up mess”. That was Kimmy the researcher from the future. Kimmy who worked for Mr Stone. Mr Stone was her other ally. He soothed her shattered nerves when it all became too much. But even Mr Stone could not keep out those slithering pawns to the great man…. that project leader, that blight on the world; that manipulator of the weak and helpless, that cruel, lustful Man of darkness and the graceless product of a diseased mind. Primula had thought she knew who he really was, and before the discovery of the time door and her jump into her own future she had not seen his face. But now she saw it everywhere. He infected her dreams, and sometimes, like a grinning shark, he woke her up with fear in the watches of the night. This missing time that she had jumped over by accident she was now filling in… by simply playing herself. It was so tedious to live her own life knowing what was going to happen in eighteen months’ time. She sighed and left the washroom. She nearly cannoned into Joseph Drucker. He stared at her with a vague kind of attentiveness that made Prim reflect on the thing that had brought her here in the first place. A coincidence….. Samantha was reeling with disorientation. She was waiting at the corner. And there quite suddenly she saw the boy…. He was so sweet she decided. So near, and yet so far. ‘Be careful!’ George hissed and pulled her backwards. ‘Are we here?’ Sam looked serious and frowned, ‘Is it time?’ ‘Quiet.’ Said George, ‘Shouldn’t take a mo.’ with that he leaned forward and set the little beacon. It hummed slightly but did not light up. ‘He’s coming this way!’ said Samantha alarmed. ‘Pick a number from one to ten.’ said George. ‘You what?’ ‘A number,’ George said patiently, ‘between those two.’ ‘But….’ ‘Five.’ Sam said quickly. ‘He’s looking this way.’ said Samantha. ‘Count down.’ said George, ‘Slowly.’ ‘Five, four, three….’ Sam was sullen, and looked bored, ‘Three… uh… Two… One.’ There was a faint popping sound as if someone had taken the top off a ketchup bottle. And there was Kyle, slightly surprized with his hair stood on end but otherwise on one piece. George was just about to reach for the little beacon when there was a sudden gust of wind out of nowhere. And another person appeared next to George. She tumbled over and fell on top of him. ‘Shit!’ ‘You look absolutely fine to me.’ George replied, ‘but if you would get your elbow out of my stomach I would definitely appreciate it.’ Samantha stepped back, ‘No! Please!’ But there was Bobby Green, slightly annoyed and puzzled and with eyes flickering in that way that very intelligent people’s sometimes do when they are processing the observable facts extraordinarily fast. ‘Miss Parker, Miss Jenning; you might what to follow me please. Bring your friends.’ Samantha turned to George who was being helped to his feet by both a very flustered Prim and Sam Wright. George nodded, ‘What he just said.’ The group went into the old shed. The same one that, from Prim’s point of view, she would hop in and out of through time in her own personal future. Right now, Bobby had decided the place and he was very much in control. ‘You people are trespassing.’ he said reasonably, ‘You do know that?’ ‘Technically, it was not trespassing since we arrived here before we knew there was a sign telling us that.’ ‘There’s a sign?’ asked Sam. ‘Shut up’ said George, and to Bobby, ‘And you are?’ ‘An employee of this… Base.’ ‘Well Technically No.’ George was smiling, ‘I think that your legal status as well as your presence here is just as questionable as ours; is it not?’ ‘No…..’ but Bobby was uncertain, ‘I saw what happened. I saw…..’ ‘You didn’t see anything Bobby. Please.’ Samantha stepped forward. Bobby turned to her, and as if he had noticed her for the first time lifted his hand to touch her cheek. ‘Samantha?’ Prim said, ‘Where are we?’ ‘The future.’ said Samantha, ‘It’s your future Prim. And you better be ready…. Oh Prim…. I’m so sorry…. So very, very sorry. I already know you see. What is going to happen.’ At that moment they all turned and there was a man that Sam and George, and perhaps Samantha knew… but as yet this Primula did not. He took one look at Bobby and pulled a gun on him. ‘No!!!’ shouted someone, probably George. And if then he was fighting with Kyle. But Kyle’s instinctive reaction to hit someone where it hurt came into play. The women backed off as Kyle elbowed him low and hard. Bobby dropped to the floor and rolled and disarmed the man all in one swift moment. It took George, Kyle, and rather bewildered Sam to hold him down while Bobby twisted the gun out of his hand. ‘I know you.’ said Bobby, ‘You’re…..’ ‘No!’ Samantha shouted, ‘don’t say it. Please don’t….’ ‘Alex Rimmington.’ said Bobby. Samantha hunched, backed away. Primula, round eyed stayed close. She seemed to know that something had gone wrong with the experiment. They were from all different parts of the timeline. Cause and effect were like sorry cousins who did not communicate their intentions well. ‘Well! This is amusing. Do get off!! You bested me gentlemen. Can’t you at least let me stand?’ He struggled to his feet as George loosened his grip. Bobby had the gun. ‘Talk.’ said George. It was hard, cold and uncompromising. ‘I see you have picked up the stragglers.’ He looked towards Samantha and Prim. ‘No.’ said Primula, ‘I think that you are the straggler, as you put it.’ ‘Miss Jenson, You are mistaken. I never intended to permanently disfigure your little amour. Oh! You didn’t know?’ the last remark was aimed as Samantha who remained unmoved now Bobby was out of danger. Primula shifted uncomfortably and stared at Samantha pleadingly. Bobby looked from one to the other in a startled kind of way. ‘This is all very entertaining, but tell us your intentions?’ George said, ‘That is before I get my assistant to knock you out.’ he indicated Sam. Sam stood very still with a strange undefined neutrality. ‘I don’t have information about the past.’ he said, ‘I can’t find the point of inception.’ ‘He’s lying.’ said Prim. ‘Do go on.’ Samantha said. ‘I am from a future that you will never see. It doesn’t exist like these time periods. We are whatever you make us. We are the sum of all the possibilities. And in answer to your unspoken question; No, I cannot go back. It is impossible. And that is why I am trying to stop what is happening. I want to put it right.’ ‘You do?’ said George. ‘Now wait a minute,’ Kyle began, ‘it simply cannot be extrapolated like that….’ ‘Your friend is right…. but only up to a point. And we all know what happens next…?’ ‘No Shit!’ Sam growled. ‘I would reign in that temper Mr Wright. It will get you into trouble.’ ‘That’s is rubbish! I….’ ‘And Samantha….. All the romance one could wish for. Tragedy and comedy in the same episode of life. There is so much promise with so little return.’ Kyle half turned. He saw the light go out of her eyes. She looked down. ‘Let him go.’ said George. ‘We cannot touch him. And he knows it.’ ‘Because?’ asked Kyle. ‘Consequence.’ George said. ‘The gun?’ Bobby was still holding it. ‘Let him have it back.’ Bobby held it out to Rimmington; palm down. Rimmington took it carefully, ‘Always the gentleman Bobby.’ He quickly turned and left the large shed. Samantha ran to the door just has he disappeared through it. She pulled it back. But there was no one there. ***** Chapter Twelve When We Knew What Love Was. The small group of unlikely comrades sat round the campfire that George and Kyle had helpfully set going. They were in a dark woodland to the north of the Sheffield Base. Samantha had started to build a shelter with Bobby helping her. Prim sat with her knees drawn up staring into the flames. She spun the bracelet round on her wrist and watched the firelight flicker into the night and some curls of smoke rise into the fine clear sky. She glanced at Bobby and then back, hunching her shoulders a little more. George knelt down beside her. ‘You can stay here with us. You need to let it wear off. You may be alright to travel again by tomorrow.’ ‘I was just leaving,’ she said, ‘I’d finished my shift.’ ‘Who gave you the bracelet?’ George asked softly. Primula looked at him startled, ‘That’s supposed to be classified.’ ‘We are from your future. And we do already know about the bracelets.’ ‘Oh…’ she stared at the fire again, then frowned and drew a breath, ‘So you know what happens to me?’ ‘No,’ George sat back and rubbed his eyes, ‘I don’t know that. You are someone who we just met. It seems that you are quite the guardian angel.’ ‘Who? Me? I hardly think…’ ‘I think,’ said George. ‘You are perhaps fortunate. There is something afoot at the Base as you knew it two years ago. But tonight is the night that something crucially important happens. We need to look forward a little. It is all fluid you see. And You, Bobby and Samantha are tied up in the whole thing.’ ‘I know that I was pulled in by a stronger force. You know what happens to other people? So what happens to them? And don’t give me any bullshit about it being liable to cause paradox or any other such nonsense. I really cannot do anything with so little information.’ ‘My price is the entry codes into the computer system.’ George seemed relaxed and poked the turf near the fire with his foot.’ ‘Where is your other friend?’ asked Prim, perhaps as a way of avoiding the answer to the question that she must inevitably give. ‘Very well,’ said George, ‘but on one condition.’ ‘As you wish.’ ‘You tell us…. erm what happened on the 6th of May?’ ‘You don’t need anything else? That’s it? What year are you suggesting I comment on?’ ‘From your point of view….. as in this morning; five months ago. There was someone who made a breakthrough. Who was it?’ ‘You know I cannot tell you that.’ she said breathlessly. ‘Ah….’ George looked up thoughtfully, ‘Then I will have to put my almost famous powers of deduction to work. Mmm…..Yes…’ ‘Are you always like this?’ ‘Pretty much.’ he said and smiled, ‘I think it’s called “Flippant” by some; and “Annoying” by others.’ ‘That would be teeth achingly irritating.’ said Sam who had just returned, ‘There’s no one about. I think it better we wait until after Nine before going back to the hotel.’ ‘You have a Hotel room?’ Primula stared very hard at Sam, and then turned to George, ‘Why are we sitting in a field?’ ‘Forest.’ he corrected, ‘Patience dear Lady; we need to see if what we think happens, does in fact happen. And someone has to stay here to keep a lookout.’ ‘And you are looking for what exactly?’ ‘An event that turns the course of history in this place. Of course if you let us have those codes…. Well, we could do this all from the comfort of a nice warm chair. Free Wi-Fi and all that.’ ‘Your little friend?’ ‘My Friend,’ said George ‘has considerable powers of insight at his disposal. Sam here is the muscle, for the time being anyway.’ ‘So what does that make you?’ ‘I’m a Doctor.’ George smiled engagingly, ‘Sworn to protect life. So any ethical dilemmas; I ask my friends to help me.’ ‘I see,’ said Prim as Sam sat down listening, ‘You get them to do your dirty work?’ ‘Yes. It is laundry day on Thursdays. In return I supply a wonderful place to stay, and a well-stocked fridge.’ ‘It sounds like heaven.’ ‘It would be if the parking wasn’t so terrible!’ Primula laughed and then sighed, ‘I guess I will go back tomorrow. But now I know all this…. I suppose we are destined to meet again?’ ‘Indeed,’ said George, ‘There are after all consequences to everything.’ ‘I see.’ she said and lapsed into silence. George turned away as Samantha beckoned Sam and George forward. ‘Okay Parker, amaze me.’ George rolled his eyes. ‘There is something to be said for being a Girl Scout. But I rather thought you were interested in the view?’ ‘Ah!’ ‘What is it?’ Prim jumped to her feet. ‘Shush now.’ said Kyle who had just come back from round a tree. George glanced at him and then took out his binoculars. Bobby and Samantha exchanged a glance. George handed Samantha the glasses, as Prim came and stood with the group. Bobby seemed a little uneasy. It was after all, not your usual evening out. From his point of view this was all so sudden and he had to catch up fast. As much as the facts were fine to assimilate, the implication of Rimmington’s words had not been lost on him. He had always liked Prim… one might even say he loved her… as a friend; but then again maybe as more than that. But there was always Samantha - the sweet and brilliant girl. She had dazzled him; and like a rabbit in headlights he would come if she called. Perhaps it was because of Addison that Bobby had never got together with Prim. Dark-haired lovely Primula; the girl with golden eyes. That was what he thought of her. But she seemed to always be shifting into another gear. Always in an on/off thing with Jeremy… the site comedian Addison that is; Doctor on site, first aider attracted to Ladies of certain proportions. With Parker and himself getting along so famously, well, it was only natural they should go out to the pictures together. And that Prim would sit and be regaled by Jeremy Addison about the merits of new technology and its domestic applications. He stole glances with her though. She smiled back often, but of late there was something of her missing, a certain something that unless you have known someone for a long time you would not pick up on it. Of course, now he saw why she seemed so sad. There had not been a place where they could be friends, and this….this thing that was happening right now. What did she know from this? If Parker was perturbed by this, she certainly wasn’t showing it right now, and had regained her composure. In fact, so much so that Kyle was forced to conclude that she was the finest woman he had ever met. He did not share Bobby’s indecision on the matter. Samantha was great! And therefore wholly desirable. She would not let him in easily….what he had to do was to use his intellect to do it…. a challenge and a provocation of an exotic kind. So within the boundaries of what was, and what could be the disparate group bound temporarily together by a common purpose was intent on one thing.... the movement in the distance in the dim halflight of a strange misshapen moon; neither crescent nor full. It was Bobby who pointed. Sam mouthed wordlessly to George 'It's her.' what was meant by that... who could say, as the person they saw was a man. And to judge by his furtive approach was intent on some mischief. George naturally was attentive to Sam's exclamation. They had a low worded conversation while the others watched the man make his way to the fence of the outer edge that marked the base. Graydore was officially at last a purely medical research facility. The fact of such sneakiness confirmed George’s worst suspicions; that they had found the source of a Time Anomaly and would soon be in danger of affecting their own future, if they didn’t, as Kyle put it most succinctly "Got the Hell out of here." 'Shut up.' said George irritably, 'Let’s see where he goes first.' Bobby was very still. Perhaps he knew that something that the other Prim knew. Perhaps he wasn't quite what he appeared to be, this young policeman. A Man of Honour certainly, amongst Men of Straw but did he know as the other Prim had known when she looked at him, that his fate was along different paths this night. Bobby started to walk forward. Sam clenched his fists to stop himself from interfering. Kyle said 'Hey! I say...' and was silenced by George with a gentle hand on his arm and a look that Kyle had not seen before. 'What time is it?' Prim asked. 'Midnight.' said George, 'Hush now.' So they watched this game play out. Whatever Samantha felt, she stood still as a statue and if the light could have shown it the colour had left her face. She knew that fate was dealing the hand it must. Without interference…. or perhaps they needed to observe this time, so they could come back again. It was as Samantha had told them. The board was set and the players were in place and the Samantha who would interact with Joseph Drucker in a few hours’ time was presently at home. Here was the precursor to those fateful events. Someone was putting the other pieces in place. Only Bobby could tell them who, as he was in his own time, and therefore not liable to cause a paradox event. A short while later a strange noise was heard: a muffled sound. It was neither human nor animal, or so it seemed. Samantha looked down, maybe she knew. Then a light flared briefly in the sky and died like a firework. 'We need that passcode.' said George, 'Now.' 'We are too far away.' Parker said, 'It’s not a problem.' Kyle unfolded his laptop, 'Just trust me.' Samantha Parker turned to him as if she had only just seen him. Doubt flared in her eyes and then died. She sighed in a shuddering way and went and knelt on the ground next to Kyle. She whispered in his ear. Kyle's fingers moved over the keyboard. There was a pause. The breeze stilled and a cloud skidded across the odd halfway moon. Suddenly; like the jarring jolt of a sudden fall on a step you did not expect there was a scream in the night. Most of the group flinched. George didn't do so but put the night sight binoculars to his eyes and carefully twisted the bezel. 'Where's Bobby?' Primula asked. 'How we doing Kyle?' George said, 'Are you in there yet?' 'You bet, Big Guy. I'm just copying the files now.' 'Great.' muttered Samantha. 'What is Bobby doing?' said Prim, her voice rising, 'I thought he would be back in a minute.' Samantha looked at her and then looked away. 'What was that?' Prim asked, 'Tell me!' They all looked at her, but said nothing. 'What is the matter with you all?' her voice was wavering now, 'Why don't you answer me?' she turned to Samantha, who rejected her with a stony stare. 'Please..... Sam. Please tell me?' she was almost crying, it was pitiful to see. George put his glasses away. They all knew the danger. No one spoke. 'Well I'm going.' Prim said, 'You are all just awful. I don't know what has happened to poor Bobby.... but you are all just despicable!' With a shake of her head and half tripping over the low bushes she shakily made her way to the other edge of the coppice. She turned defiantly 'And by the way!" she shouted, 'It was Jeremy who gave me the bracelet! For all the good it’s doing I might as well have not bothered!' and with that she turned and made her way across the dimly lit rough grass. George let out a breath he must have been holding and everyone shifted their position. Samantha ran her hands through her hair; 'Do you think that she’ll come back here? The future version of herself I mean?' 'I'm counting on it.' said George darkly. Sure enough, as they focused on the edge of the distant dark perimeter a figure detached itself and rather haphazardly made its way towards them. The person moved quite slowly and stopped several times. No one spoke until Kyle moved and folded his laptop down, 'Nailed it Boss.' He said and was already stuffing the rugged kit into his backpack. 'Is it Prim?' Samantha asked. 'Yes.' said George softly, 'Let’s get out of here sharpish as soon as we know if she is the right one.' 'Roughly parallel to my event line.' said Samantha as Sam Wright made a helpless gesture of unknowingness. 'Parker?' it was Prim. She stumbled into their little hiding place, and they gestured that she follow them. This Prim was well informed and aware. She had remembered and then made her way back in the almost dark, two years to the day that she first was here, when her past self was yanked into the events of the day. She was a witness, and she was running. Samantha was her friend and they would help each other without need for words. Samantha gently laid her hands on Prim’s shoulders, almost as if she was afraid of Prim not recognising her. ‘He’s gone….’ Prim choked it out, ‘I want to go back…. But I cannot, Samantha…. It wasn’t what it seemed…’ Samantha hugged her friend Prim. Prim was shivering with shock; but at what? No one had time to ask her right now. ‘Move!’ George barked. They turned and ran. Suddenly Kyle raced past them despite his cumbersome bag. The reason becoming clear; Sam glanced back and gasped. Soldiers, armed heavily. They accelerated. Ten minutes later the small company were crouched, half gasping in a hollow. ‘What now?’ Sam looked at his watch and then at George. ‘We have to use the bracelets.’ ‘No.’ said Sam, ‘I don’t want to be teleported.’ ‘I have a spare here.’ said George, ‘I rigged it to create a chain reaction. We will all end up back at…. Well not here at any rate.’ ‘Err…. George.’ Kyle said peering round a tree, ‘The time would be now!’ ‘In a circle. And join hands.’ George ordered, ‘Sam!’ Sam obeyed and gripped Parker and Prim. The others followed suit. ‘Does it hurt?’ Sam asked. ‘Shut up!’ George and Kyle snapped. ‘They’re coming!’ Parker cried and then was silenced by the tearing ripple of a sudden and grinding time warp. It was horribly uncomfortable. They were all joined together as by a powerful magnet. Sam was struggling. Prim and Parker both squeezed his hands rather sharply. Sam would have yelped if the air in his lungs had not been squeezed out by the tearing air. But then quite suddenly there was silence. The light was golden: a sunset in the room at the hotel. It was Samantha who moved first. She stood and then threw her head back and howled in pain. The vision had connected all of them; but perhaps they did not see it clearly. But Samantha was used to these things and perhaps she saw more than the others. ‘I’m sorry….’ Prim was on her knees, ‘I couldn’t help him. He’s hurt…. It’s my fault.’ ‘It wasn’t your fault.’ said Kyle in a weirdly calm voice. His expression was wide eyed and bright as if he had quite suddenly found a deeper insight into all these things. The wonder of time…. he looked into Samantha’s eyes, ‘I see it now.’ he said. ‘Can you break in?’ Parker asked. ‘Yes…. yes I can. I believe I see what has happened.’ Kyle put his hand on his messenger bag, ‘I know it now.’ He turned and went into the dining area, still in that tranced and spacey state and reverently took out his laptop. George turned towards the kitchen and busied himself with some serious tea making. Sam seemed torn between poor broken-hearted Prim and seeing what Samantha and Kyle had found on the files. ‘He’s gone.’ said Prim and burst into tears. Sam sat down, ‘I don’t know what I saw but…. Well perhaps it’s not what it seems…’ ‘Don’t you see!’ Prim cried out, roused to angry pain, ‘They are killing him. They are taking his soul! I saw it! It was him….. his copy…..’ she ended in incoherent whimpers. Sam, not used to the emotions of anyone expressed in a serious and obvious way was taken aback by the intensity of it. ‘I am truly sorry….Miss Primula. I mean…. It was what?’ ‘Bobby….’ she said, ‘They sent a copy of Bobby to kill me: my Avatar, the one who was protecting Samantha in your time.’ ‘The old woman?’ ‘I wasn’t that old.’ she smiled a little then in spite of herself, ‘I had to help Sam, my Samantha I mean…. Because of the other…’ she stared at Sam in sudden shock, ‘I mean….’ ‘The other?’ Sam was on surer ground, sensing something. But Prim just shook her head. Sam looked toward the small kitchen wondering where George had got to. George was muttering to himself and pulling the milk out of the fridge with a determined grip. ‘So tell me where we are?’ Sam caught George’s eye. ‘In the poo poo,’ George retorted ‘unless I am right of course and Kyle can fix us up with some hard evidence.’ ‘Evidence of what?’ ‘Experiments in time. The point of insertion of a Paradox event so great that all these other little intrigues with become null in the face of it.’ ‘What about Juliet?’ Sam grimaced. ‘She is at the centre of the paradox. And in a unique position potentially.’ ‘Right. That’s it. Make with the facts George before I get lost in your philosophy or run out of patience or both.’ ‘Copies; Avatars Sam. They take a person and put them into one. But the person doesn’t know they are inside the Avatar. They think they are themselves. They act and think and look as if they are just doing what they are doing.’ ‘And what is that?’ ‘Do think Sam! What is the last thing that Juliet said to you?’ ‘I err…. I can’t remember…. I think we… talked and she said….’ ‘Precisely.’ ‘What?’ Sam shook his head, ‘I mean what the fuck are you talking about?’ ‘You cannot remember. You don’t remember the last thing that the love of your life said to you…? Not likely is it?’ ‘I’m not sure.’ ‘You are never “not sure”. This is about memory. We have to forget for the thing to work. Time mended in a messy way, because they didn’t have the time to do it properly. It was hurried; and unprofessional. The question is why? And why am I being made to believe that the one who lost his memory has the answer?’ ‘Because he does?’ ‘No! Don’t you see? Misdirection. Mistake…. Again and again. Do you remember what you had for breakfast?’ ‘Not as such. But it was a long time ago.’ ‘Granted. But do you know what happened ten years ago?’ Sam went very still. He looked down. ‘I don’t. Please.’ ‘I need you to remember. Because it is a way of making you want to forget an event that is so traumatic that it ensures that you will choose to forget as much of it as possible.’ ‘I wish I could.’ ‘Of course you do.’ George sighed, ‘that is the point.’ They went back into the sitting room and handed a cup to Prim. George went through to see how Kyle was doing. ‘It’s been a bad day.’ said Prim. ‘Yes.’ Sam sipped his tea. ‘I know what it is that is troubling you,’ she said suddenly, ‘I saw inside your mind.’ ‘How is that possible?’ ‘The boundaries blur when you time travel. It allows things to flow into one another. That is why it is not a good idea to do it too much.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘You love her.’ ‘I don’t see….’ ‘You love her. Just the way I loved Bobby. I never told him. I never did Sam. And I regret it….. so much.’ ‘You were in love with him?’ Sam was startled by so personal a comment. She sipped and seemed calmer now, ‘Yes, I was. And now I need to tell him. He’s gone. I don’t know where they put him.’ ‘But Bobby is alive Prim! I mean we saw him.’ ‘Young Bobby?’ she stared, ‘Don’t you see how impossible that would be. He wasn’t a Time Traveller. He was doing his job. You say you saw him? Where was that?’ Sam told her. She was silent for several minutes, and then looked up. ‘It must be nearby.’ she said at last. ‘What is?’ Primula put the cup down carefully, ‘Where he is now.’ ‘In my time?’ ‘Yes.’ Sam decided to leave it there for now. He took his tea to see what Kyle had managed to do. They had got a big sheet of paper spread on the dining table. ‘Wot! No computers?’ ‘It isn’t all about pressing buttons dimwit.’ Kyle moved his pen without looking up, ‘Unless you just want to create the impression you’re a genius, instead of actually being one.’ ‘Fine. So what have you found then?’ Kyle did look up then, ‘I think we are on the verge of finding out that it all goes back to one point in time. And that is not far away. I found that Henry was asked by none other than our Mr Charles….’ ‘Who?’ ‘The fruit loop who was conducting the time experiments last year. Do keep up….. and he was working for… get this a small team called “Nimbus”. Yes, I know. It’s like the renamed Nimbus project. The umbrella organisation Project Bank is the corporate sponsor of the University in London. We already knew that. But he thing we didn’t know, the thing that until now defeated our ability to predict what was happening was that it was all connected back to something else….’ Kyle took deep breath. ‘It was part of the now defunct Graydore project in Sheffield. But the time lag, as it were, allowed us to see it as being different. It a bit like a plant from a bigger version of the same thing; as if the project is having babies and each on is sent off in its own direction to do its own thing. Each time it fails or goes wrong, sometimes for ordinary reasons, they just set up another one.’ ‘Like a hydra, lots of heads…’ George began. ‘Yes, I get it,’ said Sam, ‘but now what do we have?’ ‘You need to see it not as now. As in the present we are from, but as now in the time life of the project.’ ‘What?’ ‘It was run from somewhere in the future. That is to say that there has to be a permanent link into the different Time frames. Not just a small aperture…’ ‘What?’ ‘It would usually be a post box… sort of to send things through. The reason why we had such trouble with Treacle, as he is called, is that there is no Treacle.’ ‘But….’ Sam loosened his already loose tie. ‘We met him. He’s with the reporter….Jade Bergen; at our house.’ ‘The reason,’ Kyle continued ‘why Samantha could not break the Zebra file is because she wasn’t the one who encrypted it. It was using an algorithm that only works backwards. It gets more and more simple as time goes on. It was designed to be retrogressive.’ ‘Why?’ asked Sam, ‘I am sure I will regret asking that.’ ‘You might. But it had to be more complicated in the past; where it was needed. It runs backwards you see. To the place it is needed. Just like the Nimbus project itself.’ ‘So what you are saying is that we are looking for the start of all of this in the future?’ ‘Looks liked it,’ said George who had been very still thinking, ‘It all started next year…. Or the year after that, or the… well you get the idea.’ ‘Alright. I get it. But what about….. Joseph Drucker?’ ‘Mmm….’ Kyle bent over the paper, ‘over to you Parker….’ Samantha pulled a face, ‘Joseph is not the man I thought he was. But then we are all not what we think we are. So I suppose that is a good as it’s going to get. I never want to be faced with that again. He wasn’t himself. I guess that I was mistaken. Drucker was Drucker. But the man I knew and respected was someone else. Someone who thought they were Drucker. But they were not. The question of course is Who invented the time machine?’ ‘So who did invent it?’ asked George. They all looked at each other. At that moment Prim came in. ‘I think I might have something to say about that.’ she said. The sun was going down as the sun often does. And on that day that was still called today they waited. This time there would be no mistake. Mr Charles was following orders. As he always said: He was doing that for his own reasons. If it reason enough you want, then any reason will do, but murder? That requires a different motivation. Something that the real Drucker did not have the stomach for…. So when Bobby came looking he overpowered him with the drug. By the time Bobby was coming round he was neatly trussed up like a turkey ready for the oven. At that moment Rimmington made his entrance. He soaked up the adulation of his acolytes and it lifted his spirit so, to see so many buzzing busily at his command. It was like power steering, having all that at ones fingertips. So much for modern technology. Yet in the past they had built great ships. The ancient world just had so much more style…. But a liking for the comforts of the modern world as you and I would understand it made certain that he would reside in the 21st century as a general rule. That is why George and his friends had come to conclusion that their arch enemy was lurking somewhere near. They were not only right; they were spot on. Before the first light of dawn, they dragged the new machine out onto the grass. The technical assistant was on hand. He held a stop watch and clipboard on which were attached some notes: a simple checklist to make the whole thing flight ready. Over the dew soaked ground the two conspirators came. They were, as they had intended to be, getting the jump on the scheduled experiment. The time was tomorrow afternoon. And now they were ready. The technicians followed their instructions to the letter. And so as the first light came into the quadrangle the fizzing of the Time Flux was heard. In an instant everything was changed. Something had gone drastically wrong. Had they not taken something into account? Had they not calibrated the capacity of the charge in the power packs carefully? Was there a lack of conventional rules to power the thing in the emergency situation? Not at all. This was something else again. Another person…. A stowaway. One who would wait for the right moment to rehearse their deep and abiding dance to the fear they felt inside. This was the person who was now being watched by Samantha Parker. And this was the test of her resolve to try and find the end of the ball of wool. She feared the answer yet she must know…. Was she the clone? Or was it the other? Kyle held the scanner as they watch events unfold. ‘She doesn’t read like a skin job.’ said Kyle, and added quickly, ‘Neither do you.’ ‘That’s alright. I know what you are all thinking. So I have a soul; and I am not immune to sadness Kyle. I just always dreamed of finding my family. I wanted so much to be not alone. It was a sad way to grow up. I wanted to know who they were…. Really.’ ‘You were adopted?’ ‘Yes. But it was back in the bad old days. They said I had a Brother but they wouldn’t say where.’ At that moment the ripple on the surface of Time itself travelled towards them. ‘Bloody Hell!’ Kyle exclaimed, and scrambled to his feet. They ran with the wave travelling over the ground towards them. It was a trembling curtain of time. ‘Shit!’ Kyle dragged Samantha behind a low wall. The radiation from the Time Flux travelled past them, the wall seemed to shield them from it, and yet they felt the static prickle of electricity on their forearms. ‘Goodness. I didn’t realise being a geek could be so energetic!’ ‘I did do sports at school,’ said Kyle defensively, ‘I was actually not bad.’ ‘It’s not a crime to say you don’t know what is going on sometimes.’ ‘Fuck!’ said Kyle, ‘It’s playing silly buggers with the detector rod.’ ‘Is your language always this bad?’ ‘Only on days when I’m trying to help save the world and history as we know it.’ ‘Okay then,’ she smiled, and her face fell, ‘Oh fuckarama!’ ‘I thought that was my line.’ Kyle retorted and shook the rod again as the display in the portable box reset itself. ‘No…. look.’ she pointed. Coming towards them over the ground in smooth even strides was the other “Samantha”. ‘Hello.’ she said as she came to them, ‘I suppose you’re wondering what this is all about?’ ‘Rather. Yes. Uh huh…’ ‘You are not real Samantha. But I am. I know you are not really going to understand the meaning of this but we will of course terminate our experiment at our earliest convenience.’ ‘I rather gather that will not be to my advantage.’ Samantha, feisty as ever was trying to keep her talking while Kyle tried to get a fix on her signature. ‘Point of origin.’ said Kyle, ‘Locked.’ ‘Go for it.’ said George over the radio. The signal abruptly cut was they locked on and were flashed momentarily through the vortex. ‘Three weeks ago.’ said Samantha. ‘I know this time. I must not meet myself…. Wait a minute, there is value in waiting for someone. We might catch them red-handed.’ ‘If it ends up us being turned into fish bait….’ said Kyle. This is not good. Something’s not right.’ ‘Look. There she is again.’ ‘Who is that she is talking to?’ ‘Addison. Shall I find out what he said?’ Kyle asked. ‘Jeremy?’ Samantha ducked down then as the other girl turned towards their position, ‘Oh Shit! I gave him what she wanted….he asked me. It was that morning, about the setting for the afternoon’s trials. I gave him the corrections I had made….’ ‘But he was part of it.’ Kyle was calm. He took a Dictaphone out of his pocket, and plugging in a small microphone eased into above their heads onto the wall. They listened. ‘He’s not the one.’ said Kyle at last. It’s just small talk…. Wait a flipping minute! I know what he’s doing! He thinks she will give him an alibi. He was…. Well!’ ‘What?’ Sam said in a worried tone. ‘He was being a two timing rat! And the fact your double came to visit him to talk was to give herself time to get into the place to where the device was stored. Wait…. There’s more. He is giving her the pass codes. Idiot! But then again the superficial resemblance might fool some people.’ ‘We look exactly the same.’ Samantha said darkly, ‘It’s obvious he couldn’t tell the difference.’ ‘So she got the info out of him?’ ‘Dead right. Sweet smile and all that. Not like yours.’ ‘Kyle?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Save it.’ ‘Huh; okay.’ Kyle fiddled with the small lever on the Dictaphone. ‘Shall we go? I think we get the picture.’ Sam stared at him waiting for the go ahead. Kyle softly pocketed the recording device. They stood as still as they dared behind the crumbling pile of rocks. They joined hands and Kyle activated the return signal. The swift but momentary blast of frigid air was the only discomfort in Time travel. Well at least that is what they thought. The rudimentary understand of those strange creatures: the Travellers, served more to confuse the issue. Those were diverse in their application of the skill, and geographically spread in a fashion not conducive to cataloguing the people who possessed the key to cheat the world of its sweetness. ‘Report!!’ It was George shouting down the microphone, ‘Talk to me!’ ‘I’m here.’ Kyle shrugged and smiled at Samantha as he spoke. ‘I need you back here.’ George’s voice was tinny and strange but that only served to underline his insistence. ‘What’s up?’ ‘It’s Prim,’ George was blunt, ‘she’s sick. Back now.’ ‘Righto.’ Kyle tightened his shoulder strap. He held out his hand to Parker, ‘Better Boogie. I sense trouble.’ ‘Just from that?’ ‘George is never wrong.’ said Kyle, ‘We better be ready to leave in a hurry.’ Back at the hotel, Prim was slugging whiskey and putting a damp flannel to her head. She looked deathly pale. George shook his head. Parker sat down next to her friend. ‘You can’t change true destiny…’ muttered Prim. ‘What?’ Parker shook her head, ‘Come on. We can find a way.’ ‘No, no…. Sammy girl. I was protecting you and they killed me for it. They used him….. Bobby I mean. They used him to make the clones. He was their model, their first born… He was the one who was fit enough…. That is what they thought that you need to be super fit. But now they can clone anyone…..’ ‘I know….’ Parker gazed into the distance. ‘You don’t see it Sammy girl. They will get rid of me. They will; one way or another. I know why. I just don’t know how. But the thing is… the real thing is…. You are not a copy of anyone. You are the unfortunate victim of the most bizarre of coincidences…. You see it don’t you? Do you see Sammy girl…’ she took another slug of the whiskey. ‘How long has she been like that?’ Parker demanded. ‘Easy!’ said George, ‘It started just before you went on your recce. I think it is something to do with the action of someone you have just met. Did you interact with anyone?’ ‘Samantha..; the other one....’ Parker began, ‘She’s tangled in this.’ said Kyle, ‘but I think we need to have a word George?’ he stared at him pointedly. ‘Go ahead.’ Sam nodded towards the kitchen, ‘I’ll stay near the Scotch;’ He grimaced and gave George and meaningful look, ‘just making sure she doesn’t overdo it.’ ‘Tell me.’ Kyle didn’t sit down. ‘It’s bad,’ said George, and there’s nothing I can do. Primula Jenson doesn’t exist in this time stream. We’re in some sort of parallel. I can’t tell is we have somehow nudged things the wrong way by interacting with her; or… of we don’t interact with her it works out really badly.’ ‘She’s part of Parker’s timeline back at our place of origin George. She cannot just cease to be…. That’s ludicrous.’ ‘That is probably why she is so sick. Her whole existence is preserved by the reality that she is touching. That’s us Kyle. But if we take her with us…..’ ‘I could create another paradox event.’ finished Kyle, ‘I get what’s bothering you George, and we need to peel back the layers. We cannot knowingly kill her. Press the kill switch as it were. After all, isn’t she part of our destiny too?’ ‘Not really.’ George sat down suddenly and Kyle followed, ‘It is only a matter of time before the Company come after her. We cannot of course let that happen. But the way they work is going to be stupid in the extreme. They will try to eliminate her before she started working on the project in the hope that it will eradicate the whole experience. That’s it what Rimmington is doing. He actually believes that the murder of an innocent woman will change things for the better.’ ‘And will it?’ ‘It could actually solve the whole thing,’ said George coldly, ‘on the other hand it could needlessly fuck up the timeline in a way that causes a ripple into the future of epic proportions. It is the ambivalent nature of all the people in this scenario.’ ‘I’m guessing that Rimmington likes the terminal solution best?’ ‘I think, yes.’ George lowered his voice, ‘we need to consider that Miss Jenson is the answer to this whole thing….and that her termination…..may actually be the answer.’ George straightened, ‘But of course that may happen by accident, not design. She is a complication in the plan of the movers and shakers and she isn’t about to let go of the greatest thing of all.’ Kyle smiled, ‘Come on George, less of this drama. What is she?’ ‘Did you look at your login in the kitchen? The time it appeared? Did you check the other frames?’ ‘Not as such…. I meant he whole thing switched so quickly.’ ‘Someone did not what you to find ti out. They hit you on the head. But I saw it.’ ‘What?’ ‘About Samantha.’ ‘About Parker? I thought it was Prim?’ ‘No, you Pillock! They are connected by more than just their mutual passion for science. It was the amnesiac that gave me the clue….. I talked to the doctors and they were trying to find out who he was…. And they said…. If only we could find one of his close relatives on our database….’ ‘They are what?’ Kyle was round eyed, he reached for his bag. George stopped him, ‘She must not know. They are actually related. They were both adopted. They were a family Kyle. Prim is Samantha Parker’s half-sister…. That is if my memory of genetics is up to scratch.’ ‘Same Mother, or same Father?’ ‘Same Father…. different Mothers.’ ‘What about the other Samantha?’ ‘I think….’ George paused, ‘we might consider the obvious option.’ ‘They look like each other…..exactly….. That means they are twins?’ George nodded once, ‘Now the machine.’ he pointed at Kyle’s bag, ‘Two sisters; adopted separately….. Twins. Both renamed Samantha….. What are the chances of that you might say? But two different families with no connection…. Or so we thought. But I believe that the thing was uncovered early on by the adoptive families themselves. I think that the reason that there is a connection is because someone who knew them both wanted there to be. I think that the other Samantha is somehow of the conviction that they have cloned her. She is therefore of the opinion that she is untouchable. If anyone cops it, it will be the clone and not her. Of course she is wrong. But that is what happens when you spend time around cruel and dishonest people.’ ‘Triple locked.’ said Kyle who was tapping away. ‘You become cruel and brutalised yourself. Parker is cold…. but not that cold. And there is that marker Kyle.’ ‘What marker?’ ‘The Traveller’s signature.’ ‘In who?’ ‘Parker; Primula; and possibly the whole Green family.’ ‘Whoa!! Are you saying what I think you’re saying?’ ‘What am I saying?’ ‘That they are all Travellers?’ ‘Yes… but No. They are all related.’ ‘And the greatest thing is what?’ ‘Oh, so you were paying attention?’ ‘Tell me George, before I get bored.’ ‘She is probably the person who invented the time machine.’ ‘Primula is?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘She invented it?’ ‘Yes. She did.’ ‘She didn’t get the credit though?’ Kyle prodded something and a chart appeared on the screen. ‘No. Not in this reality. She was cheated. Someone cheated. And they cheated her out of the most precious thing of all.’ ‘He own life….’ finished Kyle. ‘Bobby Green’ said George. ‘Her invention.’ said Kyle. ‘A joint venture.’ said George. ‘With whom?’ George nodded towards the sitting room. ‘Parker?’ ‘You really do have a problem with intelligent women.’ ‘No.’ said Kyle, miffed. ‘Then get over it. I need you more than ever. Get the fucking blue prints to the thing. I want everything, and I want it by 6am.’ ‘What happens at six am?’ ‘We go back to the future.’ ‘With or without Primula?’ ‘That is up to her.’ ***** Chapter Thirteen The Effect of Gravity. There are rules. Not many. But they are there. Rules for Travellers. It is said that if you break the rules you will be punished by those beings that inhabit the heavenly places. If only we could measure our trouble in pounds and ounces? Well then it would be something to sell off and burn. And like the remains of our tattered consciences, we take the World to be on our side. It isn’t. And neither are most of the people in it. That is a paranoid viewpoint….. But, let’s face it; if you had the power to bend time to your will, would you feel safer with some power brakes? Travellers are dangerous, but so very, very superstitious. It’s what keeps them safe. It is not a good thing to NOT know that you are in that group. But then again, a little self-knowledge is a dangerous thing.
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