Celia’s eyes seemed to drill into Michael, ‘I think they should use it for what you originally planned, but the chances of that are slim to none.’
‘I don’t see why, it’d be easy enough to create jump-able platforms that you could stack supplies on, then send to wherever they needed to go.’ He took a tentative sip of his chocolate and put it down on the table, returning her gaze.
‘It’s not a question of ease or money, it’s a question of intent. Do you know if the military, or the government, have even revealed the existence of the jump technology to anyone outside this project?’ Cooke shook his head noncommittally. ‘Exactly! I’ll bet you any money they haven’t and aren’t planning to. They’re going to keep hold, so they can use it to get the upper hand the next time they think it’s necessary, which it won’t be!’ She crossed her arms and looked down at the floor, showing her heavily applied, nearly-black eye shadow.
Michael took another mouthful then carefully placed the cup down. He sighed and looked out of one of the small horizontal windows high up on the walls, then placed his hands on the back of his head, fingers intertwined. ‘I’ve always had difficulty seeing ulterior motives and agendas, and what people are actually thinking seems to go over my head. You’re probably right to ask what’s going to happen with our toy though, maybe this guy will be able to shed some light on it.’ Michael waved his arms towards the corridor, ‘Masterson, have you got a minute?’ He looked back at Celia and noticed one side of her dark red, glossy lipstick painted mouth turn down.
Robert marched into the room, standing almost to attention. Michael noticed Celia’s eyes, which seemed to be dragged further towards the ground the closer Masterson got. ‘What is it Michael?’
‘We were just wondering what’s going to happen?’ He stopped then realised he hadn’t actually told the other man what they were talking about, ‘With the project, that is. What’s the future of it?’
Robert scratched the top of his head, eliciting a rustling sound from his recently trimmed short back and sides. He sat down on one of the seats opposite them. ‘Well, first and foremost we need to sort out all the problems Darwin caused. Obviously that’s going to require quite a lot of work, after that you two,’ he looked from one to the other, Celia’s eyes flicked upwards, but ricocheted down again with a more distressed expression, ‘need to make sure you can measure current conditions to a high enough level of confidence, that we can be certain things are as close to normal as they can be.’ He moved forward to perch on the edge of the seat. ‘After that we have to decide what to do with the Jump Box. There are any number of applications, but I don’t think we can do anything until we’ve successfully repaired the damage done, and made sure there are a more thorough set of properly enforced rules now we have a better understanding of the consequences, of time travel.’
He made his apologies for having to be somewhere else and quickly left the room. As soon as his footfalls had receded from hearing Celia looked away from where her eyes had trailed him out of the door, back to Cooke. ‘What a load of crap!’ Michael looked mildly surprised at the invective, but she wasn’t really looking at him so much as through him. ‘They know full well what they’re going to do after this, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t involve weapons research, or military intelligence. Although that’s an oxymoron, especially for that man!‘ She realised what she had said and her cheeks coloured visibly, even under the pale foundation.
The worry on Cooke’s face seemed more intense, ‘What’s the matter, Celia?’
Evans’ surprise at hearing Michael use her first name almost disarmed her into talking, but she stumbled over her tongue and stopped herself. Her face writhed around, trying to find an expression it was comfortable with and settled on resigned. ‘I can’t tell you Mike, I need to speak to him. But I’ve been having trouble finding the words… or the opportunity. For that matter, the courage.’
‘Well you know you can talk to me if you need to Evans. Don’t wait too long, it’s affecting you and Masterson for the worse.’ Celia smiled at him, realising the moment was over and he was back to surnames. His normal state of slightly vacant, or at least distant and thoughtful returned, so she said goodbye and sauntered back to her room to think about what she should do next.
It was, predictably, hot. Jessica stepped out of the big glass doors onto the balcony of the room they were currently occupying, wearing a rather attractive, diaphanous, brightly coloured dress she had picked up at a market not far from the hotel entrance. She was carrying a drink in a tall, fluted glass with fruit floating in it. Jonny was luxuriating, or at least attempting to relax on one of the canvas loungers. He looked like he was constantly falling off the mutable material, but eventually managed to find the sweet spot and lay reasonably still. Jessica leant against the railing of the balcony and looked towards the ground, ‘These are nice, you should try one.’
Jonny scrutinised the colourful concoction and shook his head, ‘This is fine for me. thanks,’ he said, making a cheers-ing motion with his own slim glass, which was the closest he had been able to find to a pint from the room service menu. The movement unbalanced him and he started swaying back and forth again. Rather upsettingly, Jessica swung herself on to the other hammock and was settled and comfortably drinking her cocktail before Jonny had come to a standstill. ‘So what do you think will happen, if Darwin succeeds?’
Jessica smoothed her dress down over her legs and looked out at the almost red, early evening sky floating over Bali’s capital city. She sucked noisily at the straw sticking out of the glass, then stared at Jonny who was wearing dark green shorts with big pockets on the side of each leg and a faded black t-shirt with the word “RUTS” over a red warning triangle. ‘I think,’ she said after mulling the question over, ‘that the best thing we can do is hope he doesn’t bring the whole of existence to a crashing conclusion. In the meantime we should just do our best to fit as much into our trip as we can. Starting off by seeing how many of these cocktails I can drink.’
‘You certainly seem to be enjoying them.’ He finally stopped the impractical lounger wobbling too much and picked his drink up, watching the emerging, changing cloud patterns in the vermillion sky. He nearly fell off as Jessica let out an alcoholically uninhibited exclamation. ‘What is it?’
‘We forgot the package.’ Jonny’s blank expression stayed put, ‘That box Alan, I mean Ian, whatever his name was, gave us at the airport.’ There was no change from the face at the other side of the small wooden table separating them, so she effortlessly rolled on to her feet and hastened into the well-appointed apartment. Jonny carefully, wobblingly, put his beer down on the table, finally succumbing to the temptation to fall on the decking without the indignity of being watched. He followed Jessica and pulled the door closed to allow the air conditioning to do its job. The slightly muffled voice said something about being badly organised, from where her head was lodged in the top of Jonny’s hand luggage, then she emerged holding the large, plain paper bag that had been stuffed in there, what seemed like days ago but which was probably less than twenty four hours earlier.
Jonny started shuffling his flip-flop clad feet around and looking agitated, he had never really grown out of the excitement of receiving a gift. Jessica pulled a reasonably sized box out of the bag and set it down on the bed, Jonny ran over and looked over her shoulder. Being smart enough to know he should let her open it, even though he wanted to tear the box to pieces himself. Inside were two more boxes, wrapped and carefully labelled. Jessica removed one of the boxes and handed it to Jonny. ‘This one’s for you, apparently.’
Jonny took the box and bounced away, trying to find a flat surface on which to unwrap it. Jessica just stared at hers until she heard tearing coming from the other end of the room. She meticulously removed the paper and lifted the lid, letting out an audible sigh of joy. She lifted one of the beautiful things out of the package and looked at it in awe. A second item was retrieved carefully and placed with its partner. She delicately lifted them from the bed and placed them, as gently as possible, onto the floor. She had forgotten Jonny was even in the room until she heard him from beyond the bathroom, which created a thin corridor splitting the room in two. He was making similarly pleased noises. ‘What did he get you, Jonny?’
‘Um. I’m still not sure how comfortable I am with showing you my,’ he paused, searching for a way to say what he didn’t want to, ‘hobby!’
She sighed, wondering if she had imagined going through this already. A number of times! ‘I tell you what, I’ll show you mine then you can show me yours, how’s that?’ Jonny mumbled something that sounded a bit like an agreement, so Jessica slipped on the fabulous footwear and stepped nervously into the small hallway. Jonny’s breath halted when he saw her. She paraded back and forth a couple of times, then turned her head to look at him. ‘Who would have thought the military budget stretched to Yves Saint Laurent? Look, the red matches my nails perfectly, and they fit like gloves.’
Jonny stared for a while before he could think of anything to say. ‘I like those.’
‘You should, they must have cost four hundred quid. Okay, now show me what you got, Mr Reticent. I’ll go behind the wall again if it makes you feel any better.’ She dipped back to the bed, sat down and eased the fabulous footwear off, symbolically placing them back in the container and putting the lid on to keep them safe.
‘I’m kind of ready. Or at least worried.’ Jessica stepped from behind the partition wall again and waited until Jonny appeared at the other side. She wasn’t sure how she was going to take to this new side of him but she relaxed, a little, when she saw how nervous he was.
‘Well the legs make more sense now. You actually look good, better than me I think. What size are they, can I try them?’
Jonny looked overwhelmed, like he had been expecting her to run out of the room, but raised his shoulders in supplication and stepped aside for her. Jessica ran barefoot through the space between them, then tittered, ‘Damn, slightly too big. Means I can’t have a borrow.’ She stepped lightly away, pulled the big curtains across and flicked on the light switch. ‘Go on then, I want the full effect.’
Jonny’s hunted countenance slowly dropped away and he nodded his head and unzipped the rucksack laying in the corner of the room, meticulously pulling things out and discounting them as he went. Finally he settled on something which matched, Jessica smiled at him encouragingly, ‘Just go for it. I’m pretty sure I love you Jonny, it makes no difference to me if you’re dressed in a crappy old punk t-shirt and shorts or…’ and she nodded at what he’d laid out on top of the suitcase, ‘a slinky black dress and stilettos which, from the look of them, made a bigger dent in the army’s budget than mine did!’
Striding heavily through the building wasn’t really helping lighten Robert’s mood. He had been asking himself what might have put him on the wrong side of Celia, as it had seemed like she was finally dropping her barrage of anti-military comments until the jump before last. But since then she had clammed up completely, ignoring him at every opportunity. He rounded a corner and stamped a bit more but it didn’t improve his temper any. His footfalls eased off slightly as he passed a few doors, some of which were open. Then he stopped completely as he saw Evans, sitting, staring into space with her big blue eyes, behind the glass of the rec’ room door. He fought with himself as to whether he would make things any more uncomfortable by broaching the subject, but figured it couldn’t get much worse and turned the handle.
Celia twitched as if she had just been woken up, looked round and turned back, then her eyes glazed over once more. Robert stood directly in front of her so she couldn’t easily ignore him. ‘Celia?’ There was no visible sign of recognition so he tried a little louder, ‘Celia?’ Nothing! He reached his hand out to touch her shoulder and she twisted round to stop the contact, leaping up from the chair like she’d had an electric shock. She looked a little humiliated at her own action but quickly regained her self-control. ‘Well I know I have your attention now. Can you tell me, what’s the matter?’
‘Nothing’s the matter. I’m perfectly fine.’
He heard the extra hint of cynicism in the first person pronoun. ‘I realise I’ve obviously done something wrong. Whatever it is I’m sure it can be explained.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Could you give me a hint?’
‘On that jump, I saw you kill David.’ Masterson’s shoulders dropped and he stepped backwards to sit, ponderously, on a chair opposite her. ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes at first, I saw it happen and tried to trick myself into thinking it was something other than what it actually was. You’re a murderer Masterson and I’m not sure I can be friends with someone who can take a life.’
Robert rubbed his forehead and shut his eyes. A number of responses went through his head but he discounted most of them quickly, on the grounds they probably wouldn’t improve matters. ‘That wasn’t what was meant to happen, David wasn’t a bad man. He was just…misguided. You do know what he had done, don’t you?’ Celia barely shook her head, ‘He delivered the Jump Truck into the hands of a psychotic individual, seemingly without undue pressure, then continued to do so as the terrorist’s plans became more extreme. Without Moulder we wouldn’t be having to fix the past and save the universe. In any case my orders were to neutralise him and return him to base, so he could be interrogated about the fanatics’ activities. When I confronted him he attacked me. I had to fight back, quite hard actually, to stop him from killing me! I pushed him. It was just bad luck that he fell where he did. I really didn’t mean to hurt him but he wouldn’t stop fighting.’
‘Why did you lie?’
Masterson hadn’t been expecting this and it showed on his face. ‘I don’t know. I guess I didn’t want you to know what had happened,’ his head turned towards the ceiling and then stayed looking upwards, ‘which is stupid, because some of the things I’ve seen and done would make you cry. At least this one was just an accident.’
‘What sort of things?’ Celia didn’t look as cold as she had before, but Robert was wary about divulging his experiences.
‘To tell you the truth I’ve actually had enough of what I do. I often wake up in the night dripping with sweat. I don’t want my retirement, assuming I make it that far, to be memories of the things I’ve been through in my life so far.’ He started talking, going right back to his early days in training and just kept going, finding it helped to share his burden with someone else. Celia spent the time looking concerned, but it seemed to be for his state of mind, rather than for any acts he had been party to, and as the time passed so did some of his guilt.
The mood in the truck was noticeably a little more positive, with everyone talking and the knowledge of one successful, if interesting, trip under their belts. Masterson turned to address the team. ‘So, we’re back in China. We’ve landed half a kilometre away and half a day later than our previous jump. It appears the fanatics drove the inhabitants out of Beijing, then released a rice boring insect which successively debilitated the crops and prevented the locals from returning. These,’ he held up a clear box containing several canisters, stuffed with insects which looked a lot like moths, ‘are Eoreuma loftini,’ he looked up at Andrea to check his pronunciation. ‘It’s a Mexican rice pest that the terrorists introduced as an experiment, to see if it would affect the crops. It appeared to have the desired effect. We’ve created these ones,’ he held up one of the boxes, ‘to try and control them. They’re the same species but we’ve infected them with a disease, which should stop the next generation being viable for reproduction. That means in around ninety to one hundred and eighty days they should all be gone, as we’ve tampered with these to make them more prolific than the introduced variety. Hopefully this is all we need to do and it should bring the local rice production back to normal within a year or so.’
Peter James looked at the boxes full of insects, ‘Is this not a little like introducing cane toads to Australia, or rats to Madagascar? Is there not the possibility they might cause more harm than they fix?’
Masterson barely registered his observance of James’s question, ‘Nothing’s certain, but in this case we’ve been quite lucky. The terrorists picked a bug with a small range, because they wanted to keep the blight localised to the city and its surrounds. This is why I need you to pair up, take a couple of containers of these each and head away in different directions to release them.’ He walked up the length of the truck handing out the transparent packages of fluttering insects as he went, then took two himself and opened the rear door. Once outside he paired people up, Michael with Celia, Peter with Andrea and himself with Emily. Celia wondered if that had been on purpose, but didn’t have to wait to find out, ‘Emily and I are heading this way, we need to speak to the locals and persuade them to move back in. Give it a ten minute walk, then circle round to do the second release before you head for the truck again.’
Emily looked perplexed but followed him anyway, as the others walked diametrically away from them. ‘How are we going to find these locals? And come to think of it, how exactly are we going to convince them it’s a good idea to go back?’
Masterson fixed her with a nervous stare, ‘I was rather hoping you might have some idea about that, you’re the expert after all.’
They walked in silence for a couple of minutes, then Emily looked up from the ground in front of her, ‘I think I may have an idea, but you have to forgive me if it doesn’t go to plan. This is a little different to anything I’ve done before. For one thing I know quite a lot about social customs, but that would be social customs from a hundred and twenty years in the future. I don’t know if they translate, if you’ll excuse the expression,’
She half smiled at him but he didn’t really notice, as he was staring at a large, rocky protuberance a few hundred metres away. ‘From what we’ve been able to gather, it looks like the braver members of the city holed themselves up in some caves. We’ll head for that opening,‘ he pointed to a vertical slit in the rock face. ‘I’d guess there won’t be too many of them but I’ll go first, you follow.’
They reached the entrance and Masterson put his finger to his lips to signal silence. Emily made a complicated and slightly rude gesture, which ended with her hammering on her forehead. She assumed he didn’t know British Sign Language and grinned at his uncomprehending face. He sneered and led on. The crack in the rocks was only just wide enough for him to squeeze his muscular torso through, Emily’s front and back touched the stone on either side as she slid through. Once inside they stood, motionless, listening. There was muted conversation coming from one side of a fork in the tunnel, so they went that way.
Emily looked down and saw that her black top was now slightly grey where it had touched the walls at the cave opening. She quietly brushed herself down, wondering why she was bothering as the cobwebs drew in on either side of the slightly more negotiable passageway. Cracks of light illuminated the tunnels from small holes bored through to the outside. As they went on there were less of them and finally the light from the wall gave out, just as it became possible to discern an orange glow up ahead.
In another hundred metres there was a ninety degree bend. Robert pulled a circular mirror from his top pocket and held it in front of him. He turned and nodded to Emily whose gaze settled on a dark corner, then clearly but quietly pronounced ‘Ní hào’. Masterson recognised it as a greeting and nearly said it was a bit of a weak start, but there was a string of words in reply from beyond the turn. Emily started talking quickly to the unseen respondent, who butted in every so often, Robert guessed with questions, although it was hard to tell with the speed, and the naturally sing song sound of the language. He drifted off until Emily prodded him in the chest, ‘Time to meet them, come on.’ She stepped out into the opening and Robert, feeling unusually helpless, trailed after her.
There was a small group of men, who looked like they had been in various states of repose around the fire in the centre of the cave. They had just stood up and gathered together, seeming scared and confused at this intrusion into their previously safe environment. The faces didn’t improve when a European man, who was almost twice their size, stepped out of the shadows. Emily started speaking and slowly the consternation ebbed away and they began to relax again. Drinks were offered to the visitors and Masterson looked at Emily for the correct etiquette. She motioned what he needed to do as she kept talking, then nodded to him that it was time to leave. She closed the conversation, ‘Zài jiàn’ and they retreated down the corridor, followed by a loud exchange of views between the men they were leaving behind, and eventually blinked their eyes as they returned to the light of day.
‘So what did you tell them?’ Robert asked as they walked back towards the truck.
‘I started off by saying that a dragon had found their city on its nest. It was displeased and couldn’t control itself, attacking the city walls in anger,’ Robert looked incredulous. ‘You have to understand that a lot of these people still wholeheartedly believe the myths and legends. Anyway, I said that once the beast had realised its mistake it retreated back to Tiān, that’s the sky, kind of like heaven in this context, and told me to relay the message that it was sorry and had retrieved it’s eggs, imploring them to move back to their homes and do their best to get through the next couple of harvests. I told them that removing the dragon’s eggs might have turned the soil bad but it would recover and become more bountiful if they were patient.’
The truck was in their line of sight now. Robert whistled softly through his teeth. When they were almost back he said, ‘You really are very imaginative. I can see why Michael likes you.’ He smiled to show a certain level of truth behind the witticism.
‘If you must know, it’s not the language skills he’s really interested in,’ she ran to the truck and jumped through the back door, leaving Robert regretting his flippancy.
Michael turned in his seat at the front of the truck to survey the other occupants. He smiled at Emily, who had a stack of papers on her knees, parish records for the village of Coalbrookdale on the river Severn, in Shropshire. The plans recovered from Darwin’s office appeared to indicate that a fire had been started, burning down part of the village which would, later in the eighteenth century, become the centre of iron smelting for Britain. The fire hadn’t injured anyone but had caused most of the residents to seek shelter on the other side of the village. It had also razed the factory of Abraham Darby almost to the ground, leaving the bare bones of the building, which should have been destined to become the longest successfully trading blast furnace in Europe, in the early part of that century.
Cooke turned away from Emily to regard Celia, who seemed much more herself than she had been recently. However for this jump she seemed on edge again, he thought about asking her what was up but decided it could wait until they got home, after all this mission was likely to be quite a difficult one to successfully accomplish. They were going to try and help rebuild the Coalbrookdale ironworks. This required them to find Darby, persuade him that the factory was worth restoring, then gather enough people to repair the building and the machinery.
The plan was for Emily to make contact with the locals then introduce Peter, who would direct the engineering and reconstruction alongside Darby. The rest of the team would, to all intents and purposes, be working as hired hands. Doing whatever was necessary to hasten the job.
The Jump Truck appeared right next to the factory, the taste of smoke was pervasive, even though the doors and windows of the vehicle were closed. Peter was first out this time and his movements filled the truck with fumes. Masterson opened his window and shouted, ‘I’m going to find somewhere to park this thing,’ wound it back up and drove towards a densely packed bank of trees, carefully twisting the wheel, navigating through to find a well hidden dip and a truck sized recess in the plant life.
The rest of the team climbed out and headed back, to find Peter standing next to a hole in the floor, within the building. They gathered round him and looked down to see an ovoid tunnel leading down to a metal container at the bottom. ‘That’s the crucible, it’s where the iron collected from the ironstone, when they poured it in here with the limestone and coke. If it was working there’d be fire shooting out of the mouth of it here.’
Masterson had camouflaged the truck, circled the perimeter of the building then returned. ‘Okay, now I’m not sure how long this is going to take, it could be a week if we’re unlucky, so find yourselves somewhere comfortable to stay. Then Peter, Emily and I will go search for this Abraham Darby guy.
As it turned out, Darby was a lot more amenable to the help being offered than the team expected. The local residents seemed to treat him with the regard that his hard work had earned. The shell of the building was cleaned up, and with Peter’s purposefully well-masked modern knowledge, the inner workings were close to repaired within five days. The team were finally preparing to make the jump back home. Andrea and Peter were sitting with Darby, on the small brick wall near the factory entrance. It had turned out that Emily’s skills had not been all that important. The accent of the inhabitants of Coalbrookdale had sounded surprisingly like a West Country drawl, with American inflections. Abraham stood up and shook Peter’s hand, ignoring Andrea, telling him he would never be able to repay the obligation.
Peter shook the other man’s hand firmly, ‘Seeing your machinery in action has returned on my investment more than you can know. It’s been a pleasure Mr Darby, but we have to be going now. I’ll watch your ongoing career with interest.’ Peter enunciated everything carefully, as they had discovered while working in this time that the best way to make themselves understood was to talk slowly and not to contract words or use slang. Darby headed away, checking his pocket watch as he hastened back into the burning hot innards of the workshop. Peter watched him leave and sighed, ‘I like that guy. Sure he’s a bit seventeen hundreds, but who isn’t round here? Shame he only has eight years left.’
Andrea raised an eyebrow, ‘You mean he’s going to die? But he’s only young.’
‘Unfortunately, that wasn’t so unusual back here. He’s thirty, he’ll be thirty eight when it happens. He’s going to get ill in about six years, then get worse until it takes his life. It’s a shame.’ Peter seemed resigned to the man’s fate. Andrea put her hand on his knee and wondered out loud if there was anything they could do to help. ‘Probably antibiotics, but they’re not going to be discovered for another couple of hundred years. Mike told me, we can’t interfere with things to that sort of extent or we’ll end up coming back again, to fix what we break. And that wouldn’t be much fun!’ He stood up and went to the door of the factory, glancing at the large clock hanging in the entryway. Walking back he tapped his wrist, where a watch would normally have been strapped, ‘Time to get going. When I saw Cooke earlier he said he needed to get some stuff sorted and told us to meet him at the truck at five o’clock, which is getting close. Come on Mrs James.’ He took Andrea’s hand and they walked between the large, wrought iron gates of the premises. They meandered through the burnt grass and tree stumps, which currently surrounded the factory, towards where Robert had secreted the Jump Truck.
As they drew closer they could see Michael, standing at the door of the truck with Emily, looking agitated. ‘What’s up, guys?’
Cooke turned his attention away from Emily and massaged his hand through his lengthening, due to lack of attention, buzz-cut hair. ‘You know I said I had to do something?’ Peter nodded, ‘Well what I had to do was find Masterson and Evans, but I can’t. They’ve gone!’
Andrea looked at Emily, who nodded. Peter couldn’t help but ask the question that immediately came to mind, ‘Gone where?’
‘I don’t know, they just disappeared. We were meant to be meeting at three this afternoon to get going, but there was no sign of them at half two. I went to the house they’ve been staying at, all their stuff had gone. It’s like they were never here.’
Andrea thought quicker than her husband, ‘Is there any point looking for them? What are the consequences if we don’t find them?’
Emily shook her head this time, ‘We’ve been from one end of the village to the other, knocking at every door. Which was less fun than it sounds in seventeen hundreds Shropshire…when you’re a woman. We can’t use the truck to find them, it’d be a little bit like showing these people a digital watch or a television.’
Michael stopped tapping his fingers in sequence on the truck door handle, gripped it and pulled it open. He turned around to face the others, ‘I think our only option is to go home and see if we can find anything out about what happened to them. If we can glean any information from newspapers or records of births, marriages and deaths then we can come back and collect them.’ He swung himself into the truck and looked down at Peter, ‘Guess you’re driving, James.’
Peter looked at the two remaining team members he was standing with, ‘You’d better get in then, we’re going.’
Emily jumped up the stairs at the rear of the truck, offering a hand to Andrea who gratefully accepted. They strapped themselves in and with a final, ‘Ready,’ from Michael the Jump Truck winked out of existence, leaving the chirruping of birds in the trees and the distant sounds of the industrial revolution getting started.
The hard suspension of the heavy vehicle meant that Ian was only just able to skim the printed email during the drive. The sender’s address was familiar as it belonged to Darwin, or at least one of his alter egos. The second address on there was new, and also unusual in that it wasn’t possible to track down any details of the individual who owned the account. Even though it was formatted as first name, followed by a dot, then surname. The mail was in Cornell’s outbox when they broke into his accounts, but there were no other details of the addressee. Luckily, during Ian’s numerous searches of Darwin’s house and office, he had discovered a single small scrap of paper left in a locked drawer, for which they had found no other explanation. So he raised his team to go to the location written on the note and find out if it was what he hoped.
The wheels ground to a halt on a bed of gravel and Brookfield hopped out. Something didn’t seem right and he was almost certain he knew what it was. Although the small cottage was still exhaling smoke from the chimney it seemed a little too quiet and serene, even considering that the place was situated in the wilds of Dorset, amongst old trees and a small brook, which flowed past the bottom of the garden. Ian knelt down to get a better look at the shadows falling across the tyre marks on the driveway, which was expansive if not well kempt. A single set of tracks led away from the house, it looked like a small car had made them, something like a Ford Fiesta or a Vauxhall Corsa. He turned back to the driver of the truck and signalled for the team to disembark, even though he was sure they weren’t going to find a thing.
Ian crunched across the stones, stood in front of the door and knocked twice with as much force as he could muster, on the heavy oak. After a minute it was clear no one was going to answer, so he turned to regard his troops as he bent down and lifted a plant pot from the doorstep. A small piece of tape was holding a key to its base. He effortlessly pulled it away and eased it into the barrel of the lock. With a little effort he managed to find the bite point and force the key round in the partly rusted mechanism. The door creaked open revealing an empty but still warm house.
It was just starting to rain so he motioned the guys inside and told them, without much conviction to, ‘Search the place for anything worth finding’. After ten minutes the only piece of constructive information appeared to be that whoever had been here had vacated the place too swiftly to bother taking anything, apart from a laptop. The docking station they had been using in the small upstairs office was still plugged in, the network lead in the back flashing sporadically.
Ian pointed his men back to the truck and sat down in the armchair, which was a little too close to the large fireplace, burning large chunks of wood like it had never heard of climate change. His eyes roved about looking for anything useful, then settled on a weathered cabinet sitting next to the telephone. He heaved himself from the overly forgiving seat and paced over to it, picking up the handset piece and listening for a dialling tone, which rang out clearly in the silence of the room. He trawled his memory for the digits, carefully pressing the buttons as he recalled each one. After a small delay a woman’s digitised voice stated the phone number he was calling from.
He placed the receiver down and picked up the phone book, which was resting on a shelf of the small cabinet. Leafing through the pages he tried to find the surname referenced in the email address. It was there on the page in black and white. More surprisingly there was only one instance of the name. It matched the phone number, which Ian had just established belonged to this house. ‘Beginners oversight,’ he muttered to himself, before pulling a mobile from his top pocket and making a call. ‘I’ve found the house. No one was here but at least I know the guy’s name is right. He doesn’t appear to be a big fan of pseudonyms, so hopefully a quick scan of bank details should point us towards him. Yes sir. Yes, I’ll find him and bring him in for questioning.’ He pressed the button to end the call, putting the phone back in his pocket and whistling as he returned to the truck. He always enjoyed the chases more than the theorising and surmising which precluded them.
The hiss of rearranging atoms signalled the return of the Jump Truck from 1709. The remains of the team silently got ready to disembark. Emily let out a small gasp as she freed herself from the seat, the others looked at her. ‘This was in my pocket, I don’t know how it got there?’ She held up a modern envelope, with the words “Read me!” carefully penned on the front. The text was quite obviously written using a quill pen, of the sort that had been popular where and when they had been staying for the past week.
They extracted themselves from the truck and gathered round her, as she slid a dark red painted nail into the seal and ripped it open, slipping the letter out. She wasn’t the only one of the four that had a small shiver run down the spine at the likeness of the noise to that of the Jump Box. She unfolded the paper and held it out at a comfortable distance, adjusting her glasses to make sure she could focus. ‘It’s from Celia.’ Nobody seemed particularly surprised.
She read it out loud. ‘”Dear all, you’ve probably realised by now that Robert and I aren’t with you! We’ve decided to stay here in the eighteenth century, as it seems to suit us. Certainly a lot more than the modern world, which is somewhere that both of us have seen far too much of. We’re going to find somewhere out of the way and set up home”,’ Emily glanced towards Michael for a moment then went back to the message, ‘”maybe get a few chickens and sheep. You know, old school! There’s no point attempting to track us down because, as you may have noticed, I happen to be travelling with one of the best covert operatives there is, talking of which…”’ Emily turned the page over, ‘Oh right, it looks like Robert has written this bit.’
Andrea tapped her foot for a couple of seconds in anticipation before she couldn’t wait any longer, ‘Go on then, what does he say?’
Emily adjusted her glasses again then rubbed her forehead, before looking down at the paper once more. ‘Okay, he’s continued where she left off. He says, “If you want to check how good I am you can talk to Ian, Cooke knows him from the drop off we did. I would actually strongly suggest you contact him anyway, because I would recommend that he takes over from me, in an unofficial capacity, as supervisor of any further jumps”.’ She stopped and looked at Michael, ‘There’s a phone number here. Do you want to call him?’
‘Is there any more in the letter?’ Emily nodded, continuing to stare into Michael’s eyes, ‘Finish it off first, then I’ll give him a ring to discuss our options. He seemed like a pretty smart guy. I’m guessing Masterson didn’t want us to inform his superiors just yet, if he’s asking us to contact Brookfield. Sorry, that’s the Ian he mentioned.’
Emily found her place again on the page, ‘Celia takes over again here. “Hopefully my knowledge of the nature of spacetime means we’re not going to cause the end of the universe by being here. And if we really need to we can always find a way to send you a message, after all we know when and where to address a postcard! I’ll really miss you guys but am looking forward to setting up shop somewhere a little less complicated. Rob says it’s been the most fun he’s had since he finished training. Lots of love. Celia and Robert.”’
The four of them stood motionless, looking at each other until Cooke broke the spell. He walked over to the storage containers and rifled through one of them until he found his phone. He turned it on and walked back, reaching out towards Emily for the letter, she handed it to him and he dialled the numbers. ‘Hello, is that Ian Brookfield?’