Time quake, p.28
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       TIME QUAKE, p.28

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  ‘Of course! But she says that the important thing to get clear in your head is that all the other Peters and Kates are in parallel worlds – the duplicate worlds created at the precise moment a time event happens. But this is the original world. It is in only in this world that it is possible to put things right . . .’

  ‘So your Dr Pirretti in her parallel world can’t do anything to help?’

  ‘No. Do you remember what the Marquis de Montfaron said? If you want to cut down ivy from a house, you don’t snip it off a leaf at a time, you just cut through the trunk at the base. We’re the trunk of that tree . . .’

  Peter got up, inadvertently dragging Kate along with him, with no more effort than pulling a balloon on a string.

  ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I forgot. I wanted to pace up and down a bit.’

  ‘That’s okay.’

  Peter looked down at Kate’s gossamer hand holding on to his. ‘I guess it’s going to be like this from now on.’

  ‘You do understand? I need to hold on to you. Each time I fast-forward I think I’m accelerating through time. I see shapes in the air now. I don’t know what they are but I think they’re alive. At first they moved about so fast I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Then it was like seeing insects flitting past. Now they float and drift around like thistledown or something.’

  Peter nodded and remembered the thistledown floating in the valley in Derbyshire the first day they were catapulted back in time. How could it possibly have all come to this?

  ‘Now, each time I stop fast-forwarding,’ said Kate, ‘I look at my hands . . . and each time it looks like there’s a little bit less of me.’

  Peter looked away.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ said Kate.

  ‘It’s not your fault!’

  ‘Touching you is the only way I can stop it . . . I feel so alone when I’m fast-forwarding . . .’

  Peter squeezed Kate’s hand. ‘Have you asked Dr Pirretti why you’re . . . fading?’

  ‘She reckons it’s to do with dark energy.’

  ‘A guess or is she sure?’

  ‘A guess, I think. You know how some materials conduct electricity better than others? Like copper’s brilliant but rubber’s useless?’

  Peter nodded. ‘I think so.’

  ‘Well, when it comes to conducting dark energy, I’m copper. She thinks the Tar Man is a good conductor, too. But you . . .’

  ‘I’m rubber?’

  ‘Yes. And my dad. Dr Pirretti reckons that it is the way dark energy and time react with each other that caused us to shoot off to 1763 in the first place. She thinks the accidental discovery of time travel is partly my fault for being such a good conductor of dark energy . . .’

  ‘I don’t get it. Is that what’s making you fade?’

  ‘You know how gravity attracts one thing to another, holds us down to earth and stops us floating off into space?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Well dark energy does the opposite. And you know how too much gravity is not good. Like with black holes. Everything being sucked in until even time itself stops . . .’

  ‘Time stops in a black hole?’

  ‘Apparently. But dark energy does the opposite – it pushes things apart. Dr Pirretti says it’s gravity that keeps things together and dark energy that keeps things apart. And as the universe is expanding it looks like dark energy is winning out . . . So it’s the balance between gravity and dark matter that makes the universe the way it is. Do you see what I’m saying?’

  Peter pulled a face. ‘Don’t ask. But you still haven’t said why you look like you do.’

  ‘Do you want me to explain again?’

  ‘No!’

  ‘Well, anyway . . . She says that what is happening to the galaxies in space is happening to the atoms in my body.’

  ‘What?!’

  ‘It does make sense if you think about it. You know how there’s a nucleus at the centre of every atom with loads of electrons spinning round it and empty space in between?’

  ‘Not really.’

  ‘Imagine some planets revolving around a sun.’

  ‘Okay.’

  ‘Well, it’s the same sort of thing, only instead of space and massive distances, we’re talking atoms and tiny distances.’

  ‘So what does Dr Pirretti say is happening to your tiny suns and planets?’

  Kate opened her mouth to answer but stopped. They heard footsteps approaching up the hallway and there was a knock on the door.

  ‘I’ll tell you in a minute . . .’

  Hannah opened the door.

  ‘Master Blueskin is growing impatient, he asked me to—’

  It was then that Hannah caught sight of Kate, standing next to Peter in front of the window. She screamed and ran out of the room. Peter and Kate looked at each other.

  ‘I’ll tell you about my planets later,’ she whispered to Peter. ‘I think we’d better get dressed and go and frighten the Tar Man next . . .’

  ‘I can guess what’s happening to your planets,’ said Peter quietly. ‘You’ve got too much dark energy in you – your atoms are drifting apart . . . Aren’t they?’

  Kate held up her hand to the light. ‘And having your atoms drift apart is definitely not good.’

  ‘Have you asked her how you can get better?’

  Kate looked at him. ‘Don’t you think she would have told me if she knew?’

  They got dressed back to back and somehow managed never to lose contact, even if it was just their heels touching. And even in such dire circumstances they could not help laughing. Hannah found a veil and a pair of gloves to disguise Kate’s increasing transparency but if she had been brave tending Sir Richard, Kate’s condition terrified her. She was still trembling half an hour later when she opened the door to Sir Richard’s drawing room. They were expecting to find the Tar Man but it was empty save for Parson Ledbury who stood up and bade them all a good afternoon.

  ‘Ah, Mistress Kate,’ he said, approaching her and taking her gloved hand. ‘Hannah has told me of your condition. Do not feel you have to hide yourself behind a veil. We are friends, are we not?’

  Kate slowly pulled off her veil and Parson Ledbury’s expression did not change except to smile at her. ‘That is better. Now I can see your pretty face.’

  Hannah drew out her handkerchief and wiped her nose and damp cheeks.

  ‘The Tar Man was anxious to depart for Tempest House and would wait no longer. He was anxious to arrive before nightfall. Gideon has accompanied him. They have taken the cart in order to transport the device—’

  ‘But do you think we can trust him?’ interrupted Peter. ‘You remember what happened the last time Gideon and the Tar Man rode off together to Tempest House—’

  ‘True, Master Schock, Gideon was lucky to come out of it alive. But as we have something he needs, and he has something we need, what alternative do any of us have? Mistress Kate, forgive me for putting the question to you – but tell me that it was not a ruse. You do possess the code, do you not?’

  Kate tapped the side of her nose. ‘That would be telling.’

  Peter and Parson Ledbury looked so crestfallen, she relented. ‘Yes, yes, I do. I promise.’

  ‘I am most gratified to hear it!’ said Parson Ledbury.

  He turned to Hannah. ‘Hannah, Sir Richard cannot spare you, so I will accompany Mistress Kate and Master Peter in his carriage and six myself.’

  ‘Oh, I had forgotten about Sir Richard!’ Kate exclaimed. ‘How is he?’

  ‘He is much improved,’ Hannah replied. ‘I do not doubt that he will soon be up and out of his bed for all his doctor tells him to rest.’

  ‘If all goes well, pray tell Sir Richard that we shall return with the device on the morrow.’

  ‘Yes, Parson, I will. And I shall buy the biggest goose in High Holborn to celebrate your homecoming. Should I set a place for the Tar Man, do you think?’

  ‘Pish pash, Hannah, has last night’s excitement stripped you of yo
ur common sense? Do you see Sir Richard agreeing to entertain the Tar Man at his table?’

  ‘Even though he is Gideon’s brother?’ asked Peter.

  ‘Enough unto the day are the troubles thereof,’ said Parson Ledbury. ‘Let us first hope that the rogue will not lead us astray . . .’

  As the clock struck three, Hannah placed the veil on Kate’s head and accompanied the children to Sir Richard’s carriage. She handed Peter a basket piled high with bread and cheese and apples and, ever so delicately, put her arms around Kate as if she feared she might break.

  ‘God bless you, Mistress Kate. Bring back the machine as fast as you can so that we might send you home to your family.’

  She leaned over and kissed Peter, too. ‘Look after her, Master Peter.’

  ‘Don’t worry, Hannah, I will. I shan’t let go of her, no matter what. I’ll bring her safely home, I promise.’

  Kate smiled up at Peter and squeezed his hand in gratitude, but he did not notice her gesture for he could not feel her fingers gripping his.

  ‘Goodbye, Hannah!’ called Kate as the carriage pulled away. ‘Thank you!’

  As the six horses turned in unison to leave Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Peter stuck his head out of the window and looked back at Sir Richard’s house. Hannah was still standing wistfully on the doorstep, but he also saw Sir Richard standing looking down at them from an open upstairs window, one arm in a sling. Peter shot his hand up in greeting, and gave him the thumbs-up sign, and hoped that Sir Richard had seen them as they left behind the green oasis of Lincoln’s Inn Fields and entered the never-ending stream of city traffic.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  Tempest House

  In which the two brothers co-operate, Gideon

  resumes his career as a cutpurse and

  Tempest House plays host to some unexpected visitors

  And so it was that for the first time in over two decades, Gideon and his elder brother set off on a journey together. Neither wanted the other to drive the cart as both preferred to be in control of the horses. In the end, and to Gideon’s relief, the Tar Man decided to take his own horse and rode sometimes behind and sometimes in front, as the fancy took him. Each time the Tar Man overtook the cart, or waited while Gideon drove past, he would taunt him with some barbed comment, for the pleasure of provoking a reaction from his younger brother. Gideon barely managed to keep his temper and the Tar Man could see him brace himself each time he drew near. At this point the Tar Man would change tactics, opening his mouth to say something and closing it again as soon as he saw Gideon glance up at him, jaw clenched in irritation. Then the Tar Man would smile good-humouredly, or even whistle, which would exasperate Gideon to the point of fury. It was in this way that Blueskin kept himself amused while they followed the path of the Thames, past Westminster and St James’s and then, when city started to turn into country, past the pretty village of Chelsea with all its fine, large houses, before proceeding to Putney and Mortlake. By the time they reached Richmond, early in the afternoon, Gideon felt exhausted, but was too proud to ask the Tar Man if they might stop awhile. By the time they reached the riverside at Twickenham, Gideon could go on no longer and pulled on the reins so that cart and horses drew to a halt outside the Swan Inn, opposite Eel Pie Island. The Tar Man rode back to the cart.

  ‘’Tis a fine prospect, Gideon, but we have not come on a grand tour, we have business to settle at Tempest House . . . Or do I detect fatigue in my brother’s features?’

  ‘The horses need water,’ retorted Gideon quickly, stroking the black nose of the Tar Man’s horse whose hot breath tickled his ear. ‘And there is no need to remind me that we are brothers with every sentence – I have grasped the truth of it, I assure you!’

  The Tar Man smiled. ‘Ay, grasped it like a nettle! I shall fetch us some vittles. I know the innkeeper here of old and his wife is a tolerable cook.’ The Tar Man leaned close to Gideon and scrutinised the purple and yellow bruise that covered half of his face. His eye was still very swollen and had the look of raw meat. The Tar Man reached out to pat it gently, making Gideon flinch. ‘You’ll live! But I shall have the landlord bring table and chairs to the bank, else your face might drive away custom.’

  Gideon did not respond. In fact, it was his face that was causing him least trouble. His ribs and his back were a different matter, however. With every jolt and pothole in the road he winced with pain. The fight had only taken place the previous evening yet, to Gideon, it seemed half a lifetime ago.

  While the Tar Man went to the inn in search of refreshment, Gideon unharnessed the horses and led them to the banks of the Thames. It was a different river here, pretty and fringed with tall trees. In the city the river was thronged with watermen and sailing boats but here it was a quiet stretch of water inhabited by ducks as much as men. The horses waded in amongst the weeds and drank. A pair of swans and their cygnets, almost full grown, swam nearby on the ribbon of bright water that separated the inn from Eel Pie Island. Gideon looked over in the direction of Ham House on the other side of the river, and saw the old ferryman tugging at the oars of his boat. A heron flew past and landed at the foot of a great willow on the island.

  Presently the Tar Man reappeared, followed by a boy carrying a table, the landlord carrying two chairs, and a serving wench carrying a large tray. The furniture was arranged, the dishes were piled on the table, and the Tar Man gestured to Gideon to join him. The landlord had provided good bread and a ham baked in hay, and roast parsnips. They both ate greedily, having had little else that day. Once they had taken their fill, the two men stretched out their legs and, with a tankard of ale in their hands, listened to the water lapping on the bank. The mellow sun shone down and the air was warm and balmy. They did not talk, and the significance of this shared meal that brought them together after so many years apart did not escape either of them. Gideon looked at his brother’s profile as he gazed out over the Thames. He thought of some of the terrible things he had seen him do, of his reputation as Lord Luxon’s henchman, of the beating he had given him the previous day. And then, despite everything, Gideon detected a flicker of comfort in a corner of his soul. He was not, after all, the last remaining child to share the same mother and father. He was not alone. When the Tar Man turned, at last, to look at him, Gideon thanked him for the meal and the Tar Man saw that he meant it.

  The Tar Man must have grown tired of taunting his brother, for he mostly rode on ahead now. For mile after mile, through Esher and Cobham, and into the rolling Surrey hills, Gideon listened to the rumble of the cartwheels and found that questions were bubbling up in his mind. The sun was low in the sky and they were nearing their destination before he resolved to put them to his brother. They had stopped at a shallow brook and Gideon stood next to the rippling water watching the horses tear up fresh green grass.

  ‘Were you guilty of the crime that they hanged you for?’

  The Tar Man wheeled around, startled and outraged at the question.

  ‘What does that matter now? And would you believe my reply?’

  ‘Yes,’ said Gideon. ‘I would believe you.’

  ‘Our mother did not.’

  ‘Is that why she did not go to Tyburn?’

  ‘Why do you ask me? I cannot pretend to know her mind! All I know is that when the noose was placed around my neck, I was alone, and I had received no word from her.’

  ‘You were barely more than a child. Her silence must have been hard to bear.’

  The Tar Man mounted his horse. ‘Did our mother ever talk of me?’

  ‘All she would say was that the eldest had been lost to her in an accident. The memory was so painful to her that we were never to speak of it.’

  ‘She hated the sight of the scar that you gave me.’

  ‘I gave you?!’

  ‘You were playing in the hayloft. I walked into the barn an instant after a scythe had escaped your grip – you were too young to understand what you did. Our mother did not believe me then, either . . . Yet I hav
e had cause to be grateful. That scar has served me well.’ The Tar Man lifted his hand to his cheek. ‘Though in the twenty-first century I was tempted to have it removed . . .’

  The Tar Man picked up the reins and clicked his tongue. The black horse started to trot down the road.

  ‘I thought you had got the scar in some fearsome fight!’

  ‘Like the rest of the world . . .’

  With a shrug of his shoulders the Tar Man moved on.

  ‘Nathaniel! Wait!’

  Of all the names he had gone by over the years – the Tar Man, Blueskin, Vega Riaza, and worse – none had pricked him like the name he had been given at his christening. Nathaniel. It came to him that the last person to address him by his own name was the hangman as he placed the noose around his neck when he was fourteen years old. In most ways Nathaniel had died that day. The Tar Man found himself overwhelmed and, although he stopped, he did not turn to face Gideon but, instead, inclined his head a little.

  ‘Nathaniel! Do you truly intend to help the children?’

  ‘If Mistress Dyer provides the code, I shall return them to their own time.’

  ‘Will you remain in the future?’

  ‘I may. I may return and pause while the scythe strikes the barn door before I open it. I may return and prove my innocence. But I shall not count my chickens before they are hatched. It remains to be seen if Mistress Dyer has mastery over the device. We shall soon find out . . .’

  All at once the Tar Man slid down off his horse and walked towards Gideon. His mood had changed like quicksilver.

  ‘Yet I am minded to tell you a secret. I have shared it with Tom, why should I not share it with you? Come here. Put your arm around my shoulders.’

  Gideon looked at him suspiciously.

  ‘Come! Trust me – you will be astonished! I have learned to navigate time even without the device.’

  Gideon approached the Tar Man and tentatively did what he was told. He stood side by side with his brother and curved his arm around his shoulders. He felt the rough cloth of his brother’s black jacket under his fingers and smelled the beer on his breath.

 
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