Time quake, p.21
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       TIME QUAKE, p.21

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  She grinned in approval. ‘Not bad!’

  Dr Dyer was still scratching his head. ‘I’m sure I recognise him from somewhere but I can’t for the life of me think where.’

  ‘Maybe he’s a celebrity,’ said Sam.

  ‘Well, he’s in New York, at any rate,’ said Dr Pirretti. ‘That lion he’s patting is in front of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, and the other photo was taken in Central Park.’

  Mrs Dyer spotted Tom and made room for him. She saw his red-rimmed eyes. She patted the grass next to her. ‘Come and join us. Anjali will be back to visit us, I’m sure she will.’

  Tom sat down.

  ‘Someone in America has sent Dr Pirretti these photographs of someone that they think could be a visitor from the past.’

  ‘Is it the Tar Man?’ asked Tom eagerly.

  ‘No, it’s definitely not him,’ replied Mrs Dyer. ‘Dr Pirretti and Inspector Wheeler have both had close encounters with the Tar Man! No, it’s bound to be a hoax. Sam, pass it over. Let Tom have a look.’

  Mrs Dyer watched Tom’s eyes widen as she placed the picture on his lap.

  ‘What is it?’ she cried. ‘Don’t tell me you know who it is!’

  Tom nodded energetically. ‘I do, madam, it is Lord Luxon! I was his footman for a short time. The Tar Man was his henchman!’

  ‘Of course it is!’ exclaimed Dr Dyer. ‘I didn’t recognise him in modern clothes! I saw Lord Luxon at Tyburn – when we rescued Gideon from the gallows and the Tar Man had to be physically restrained from killing his former master! Lord Luxon was a real peacock. Clever, too – and nasty with it from what Gideon said. If he has got hold of an anti-gravity machine . . .’

  ‘If he’s still here, we’ll find it!’ said Inspector Wheeler. ‘If he’s in the States, it’ll have to be done unofficially, but we’ll get him.’

  ‘Andrew, our priority must still be building a third machine,’ said Dr Pirretti. ‘You can’t go, and neither can I.’

  ‘Don’t you worry about that,’ said Inspector Wheeler. ‘I’ll go. Why, I might even try and cajole young Tom into coming with me. He’ll be able to pick out this Lord Luxon for me in a crowd . . .’

  Tom looked terrified.

  ‘You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,’ said Mrs Dyer quickly to Tom.

  ‘The Tar Man was in the habit of fading back to 1763 to ask Lord Luxon’s advice,’ said Tom. ‘He told him how he loved the future and about the fortune he had made. Lord Luxon knows all about the twenty-first century . . .’

  ‘That’s all we need,’ exclaimed Dr Pirretti angrily. ‘A time tourist loose in America.’

  ‘It might yet be nothing to worry about,’ said Mrs Dyer. ‘Lord Luxon will probably be just into seeing the sights like anyone else. It looks like he’s having a good time! What harm can one foppish aristocrat do to a continent as big as America? Anyway, he can’t be worse than the Tar Man.’

  ‘The Tar Man is wary of Lord Luxon,’ said Tom. ‘He says he is like a cat who purrs and then scratches you for the pleasure of it.’

  Mrs Dyer looked at Tom and didn’t know how to reply. ‘Don’t worry, Tom, we’ll keep you away from Lord Luxon’s claws . . . Anyway, despite all the excitement, there was a reason for us all being here today – and it would be good if we did not forget it. This gathering is about Kate.’

  ‘If it will help Mistress Kate,’ Tom whispered to her mother, ‘I shall go to America with the policeman.’

  As the sun began to set on that summer afternoon, casting a red glow behind the valley that was now in deep shadow, Sam and Megan helped Dr Dyer to light the bonfire while Mrs Dyer and the other children laid out the food on a large tablecloth. Before they began to eat, Mrs Dyer asked everyone to raise their glasses. She held her own glass high and said in a firm voice: ‘This is for you, Kate, to celebrate your thirteenth birthday. Wherever you are, know that we miss you and that we love you and that everything that can be done will be done to bring you and Peter home.’

  The mood became thoughtful and for a while people were reluctant to eat or talk. Presently, though, the children started to play again and Molly made a nuisance of herself, begging for leftovers. Then Inspector Wheeler and Montfaron started to argue the pros and cons of living in a time when everyone was ignorant of world events, as opposed to living in the twenty-first century, when news travels around the planet at the speed of light.

  The large bonfire glowed orange in the dark meadow, infusing everyone’s clothes and hair with the smell of woodsmoke. Dr Dyer encouraged everyone to lie flat on their backs and look up at the heavens as a meteor shower had been forecast. Only Tom was left sitting up and he stayed close to the fire, poking it every so often with a stick so that the logs glowed fiercely. By the flickering light Sam watched Tom’s white mouse scampering about on his master’s shoulders before darting back down into his collar.

  Dr Dyer and his wife lay side by side, holding hands.

  ‘Do you remember,’ said Mrs Dyer suddenly, ‘when Kate was still really little, and I told her to eat all her dinner up or she’d get no pudding—’

  ‘Yes,’ Dr Dyer interrupted. ‘And she said, “If I ate all my dinner up there’d be no room for pudding!” I do remember. Like it was yesterday. Our Kate’s smart. She was smart right from being a tiny baby . . . She’s going to get through this.’

  ‘It’s so hard . . . the hope and despair that you feel. Hoping that she’ll pull through, fearing that it’s too late. Knowing the difference between keeping your spirits up and being in denial.’

  ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Dr Dyer softly to his wife. ‘If I could go back in time, right now, to that Saturday, last December, I’d go straight into Tim Williamson’s laboratory and smash this machine into smithereens and put a restraining order on anyone who even expressed an interest in anti-gravity—’

  ‘Look!’ shouted Sam, jumping up and pointing. ‘Meteors!’

  Suddenly everyone was on their feet and fighting for the binoculars. Intense streaks of light shot across one corner of the sky and for a moment everything was forgotten as it seemed that stars were raining onto the earth.

  ‘Magnifique!’ exclaimed the Marquis de Montfaron when it was finally over.

  ‘It was worth getting out of the city lights just for that,’ said Inspector Wheeler. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’

  Everyone settled down again and soon Milly and the other younger children and even Sam were all dozing near their parents, lulled by the crackle of the burning logs and the comforting heat.

  ‘We really should get these children to bed,’ said Mrs Dyer.

  But no one moved. It was so peaceful. The air was still and fresh. Far away, on the other side of the valley, a barn owl screeched.

  As Dr Pirretti lay on the hard Derbyshire earth, she listened to herself speaking from a parallel world. She listened to a description of the universe duplicating itself at an exponential rate like a deadly virus. ‘With each time event,’ she heard, ‘another parallel world appears, each one containing the seeds of time travel. We fear that the universe is fast reaching saturation point, like a dead sea unable to absorb a single extra grain of salt. If we do nothing to stop it, this will be the end of all things. Nothing can survive. Not even Time itself.’ Dr Pirretti listened but did not speak. Let Kate’s parents enjoy the peace of the night and their thoughts of a beloved daughter.

  It was late. Arm in arm, or hand in hand, everyone made their way across the fields through a fragrant night. The younger children led the way with their mother; the Marquis de Montfaron carried a sleeping Milly, draped over one shoulder; Dr Pirretti and Inspector Wheeler were still deep in conversation; Sam and Megan escorted Tom.

  Only Dr Dyer walked by himself. He was the last to return to the farmhouse and had lagged behind so that he could be alone. ‘Happy thirteenth birthday, my dear Kate,’ whispered her father to the stars. ‘Whatever is it that you’re going through, I’ve got to accept that there’s little I can do to help.
You’re on your own with this, Kate. Just know that I love you and that I believe in you. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think how lucky I am to have you as my daughter.’

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  Ghosts on the Waterfront

  In which Kate witnesses a shocking apparition,

  has an important conversation

  and discovers an interesting property of water

  All Kate wanted to do was to lose herself in sleep. She managed to escape the agonising present only in brief snatches, for although her mind longed for oblivion her body did not. Each time she awoke she would roll over onto her back at the bottom of the boat and would let her eyelids slide slowly open onto this permanent night. The constellations of stars stared down at her accusingly. How could she lie there when Peter was drowning not ten feet away?

  And yet, sleep she did and it helped for a while. Kate closed a door against the present and the future and buried herself in the safety of her dreams and memories. She found herself in the kitchen at the farmhouse, her back hot against the Aga and her arms and knees wrapped around Molly’s barrel chest and with her chin resting on her dog’s golden head. She tickled Molly’s soft ears and listened to the dog making a contented sound that alternated between a high-pitched whine and a growl of pleasure. Then she recalled Molly as a puppy, placed in a pale blue blanket on her pillow on her ninth birthday, the most exquisite creature she had ever seen, who, from that day on, only ever had eyes for her. As Kate drifted into sleep, her hands resting on her stomach, she half believed that it was Molly’s breath which she could feel gently rising and falling.

  Much later, the vision of the grown-up Peter Schock came to her. She was observing his profile as he looked out to sea, standing on the prow of the Dover packet, the white cliffs of the Opal Coast looming on the horizon. She could feel the wind whip her face and smell the salt tang of the English Channel. Kate understood now why he had wanted to conceal his true identity, but how furious she had still been with him then. She missed him: his thoughtfulness and his intelligence. She remembered how angry he had been when she had gone off with Louis-Philippe and what he had said to her when they exchanged their final goodbyes. He had made her cry. It was clear to her now how very much he had cared for her – and how much he had always cared for her.

  I’ve got to save Peter! thought Kate. If I don’t find a way of saving his younger self, this world will miss out on having an adult Peter Schock in it and that will be a tragedy.

  A faint noise prompted Kate to sit up with a start. She had only very gradually become aware of it, like being awoken by someone stroking a feather across your cheek. She held her breath as she listened to the rhythmic noise growing closer. It was like footsteps, only too slow. The sound rang into the night. Kate crawled to the stern of the little boat and peeped over the edge, her eyes searching the darkness. Oh, for some street lamps! All she could see with any clarity was St Paul’s and the moonlit rooftops, and the glittering river. The slow footstep sounds drew closer. How could this be? She was this world’s sole inhabitant. Fear quickened her heartbeat and made her flesh crawl. She put her knuckles in her mouth. As long as she made no sound and did not move she would remain invisible.

  Then she saw it: a pale shape floating along the quayside, from London Bridge. Kate wanted to scream. How could this figure be gliding so smoothly over the cobblestones? Could it be a ghost? The figure continued to head in her direction. It was a girl. Every instinct told Kate to run but she forced herself to remain, rigid with terror, crouched at the bottom of the boat. Kate felt a shudder of recognition which she could not yet acknowledge. The figure hugged the edge of the quayside, stopping every few steps, to look this way and that, but at only half the speed you would expect. She had long hair, like her own. She wore a long dress, like her own. Now the figure moved directly towards her, so slowly it seemed that she had rolling castors instead of feet, and that an invisible person was pushing her along. Kate ducked below the edge of the boat, her head bowed towards her chest, her ears straining. All she could hear was her own breathing. Could ghosts walk over water? After what seemed an age Kate slowly lifted her head. There, bathed in bright moonlight, a replica of herself stood before her in a light-coloured dress whose hem was spattered with mud. Long strands of pale red hair had come loose and tumbled over white cheeks. Two frightened eyes peered directly at her. Kate shot to her feet and opened her mouth in a scream of pure terror that echoed over the sleeping city. After a few seconds delay her mirror image echoed her scream, only it was at once a slower and a deeper cry, the sound waves pulsing out towards her like the roar of an animal. The hairs stood up on the back of Kate’s neck. She covered her ears and screwed her eyes tight shut. When she dared to open them again the pale figure was retreating back into the darkness, skating over the cobblestones, sending back long, slow looks over one shoulder at her alternative self. Suddenly the spectre vanished from sight and Kate stood in the middle of the Tar Man’s boat, nauseous, and with her limbs shaking violently with the shock of what she had just seen.

  For a long time Kate crouched on her heels, too bewildered to think, too horror-struck to do anything save rock backwards and forwards. Was this strange place where parallel worlds met? Time passed. The stars still shone down. From time to time she would glance over at Gideon, spreadeagled in the water; at Peter, fully submerged, his dark hair floating about his white face; at the Tar Man who still looked as if he would tear his younger brother apart given the chance. She tried again to look at her own future but could not push her way past a solid wall of darkness. And so, cradled in the Tar Man’s little boat, Kate drifted, lost in time, unhooked from all certainties.

  ‘Can you hear me?’ asked the voice inside her head. ‘I can hear you sometimes. Kate? It is you, isn’t it? I’ve sensed you for a while. I can talk to my parallel self in your world but I don’t know for sure that you even exist in mine . . . But that’s not important. It’s your world that is the important one. Your world can make things right again. Mine can’t.’

  Kate groaned in her sleep and her forehead wrinkled.

  ‘I can sense how lost you feel, how brave you’ve had to be. I am going to ask you to suspend your disbelief. You must talk to me for all our sakes. You see, Time is beginning to splinter. The number of parallel worlds has increased exponentially. We don’t believe that the universe can contain them all. Massive disturbances are being triggered in the time mantle. We’re calling them time quakes but we’ve no idea how destructive they are. We need your help, Kate. If you can hear me, try to talk to me. Reach out with your mind . . .’

  Kate opened her eyes and blinked, unsure whether or not she had been dreaming. She scanned the darkness looking for signs of another Kate Dyer. There had been a voice, a woman’s voice, with an American accent. She had wanted to speak with her. All at once Kate remembered the amazing celebration at the farmhouse after she and Peter had both managed to make it home. Everyone was there: Peter and his family, Inspector Wheeler, the Marquis de Montfaron, Megan, her brothers and sisters . . . and Dr Pirretti. It was her last memory of home. The celebration was short-lived – within a few hours the Tar Man had abducted them and brought them back to 1763. But she had a vivid memory of Dr Pirretti going into a kind of trance during the dinner. Suddenly Dr Pirretti had started to speak in a voice which was her own and yet not her own at the same time. That alternative Dr Pirretti had spoken of the parallel worlds formed as a consequence of time travel. Her father had seemed highly sceptical. But if the existence of parallel selves in parallel worlds seemed far-fetched, Kate herself had just seen proof of it with her own eyes . . . And, no, she hadn’t dreamed that voice – a Dr Pirretti from another world really had just spoken to her! Kate sat up abruptly, now wide awake. She must remember everything that she had said. Dr Pirretti had talked of the splintering of time. She had talked about needing her help! But what could she, Kate Dyer, possibly do for anyone? I can’t help Peter, she thought, I can’t even help myself.

/>   ‘What can I do?’ she cried into the night. ‘Is anybody else out there?’

  But all she could hear was a deafening silence.

  Kate sat looking out over the city, and after a while she felt a surge of anger rise up inside her, anger at the injustice of her dilemma, anger at her father and Dr Pirretti and Tim Williamson for their part in the accidental discovery of time travel, anger at the whole string of events that had led to a situation that was now spiralling out of control. Suddenly she rounded on the Tar Man.

  ‘This is your fault!’ she shouted in his face. ‘You walked off with the anti-gravity machine in the first place. And then you couldn’t resist stealing it back again. But Lord Luxon ran off with it, didn’t he? And who knows what he’s been doing with it . . . Don’t you realise what you’ve done? It sounds like the universe is about to explode because of your greed! What makes people like you think they’ve got a right to spoil everything for the rest of us? You’re a grown-up! My baby sister has got more sense. How can you have lived so long and still be so stupid? Do you hear what I’m saying, Tar Man? I hate you!’

  As the word hate fell from her lips she drew back her hand and struck his scarred cheek with a stinging slap. But at the instant Kate’s flesh came into contact with the Tar Man, a tremendous jolt flung her backwards and electricity crackled all about them. The two of them were bound together at the eye of a sudden and violent storm that crashed through the dead calm of her world like a witch’s spell. A strange wind sprang up and swirled around them in powerful eddies, catching at her dress and causing strands of hair to whip wildly in front of her so that she could see nothing. Kate tugged her hair away from her face and looked up at the Tar Man. His eyelids snapped wide open and his eyeballs swivelled in their sockets so that he was looking directly at her. The rest of him remained statue-still. The effect on Kate could not have been more shocking if she had seen a dead man walk. Kate was petrified. She leaped to the far end of the boat and, without thinking of the consequences, launched herself off the stern hoping to reach dry land. Her cries were lost in the roar of the wind. But even the powerful rush of adrenaline which put renewed strength into her limbs did not provide sufficient momentum to reach the quayside. Kate fell through the air, stomach lurching, the skin on her hands and arms grazed by the coarse stone of the supporting wall, then landed on the surface of the water.

 
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