Time quake, p.34
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       TIME QUAKE, p.34

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  Gideon looked as sad as Peter had ever seen him. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘I grow weary of this place. I need to find you food and water and a roof for your head.’

  What’s the point? Peter was about to say. We might just as well lie down now and wait for it all to be over. We’re all alone, with no means of getting home, in a world that’s falling apart in front of our eyes! What’s the point of doing anything? It’ll only prolong the agony . . . But he bit his lip. He felt suddenly ashamed. For the first time he considered what Gideon might be feeling.

  ‘We need to find food and water and a roof for our heads,’ said Peter.

  The time quake was still raging over London. The strange wind that emanated from it came in violent gusts that blew the hair from their faces and, although it was early afternoon, there was so little light now it seemed more like dusk. They had left an empty Tempest House and now not a soul was to be seen in the gardens. Even the birds had stopped singing; the only sound was that of the splashing of fountains and an ominous roaring, like an angry tide, rolling towards them from the city. Gideon suggested that they walk away from London, deeper into Surrey. Perhaps Abinger Hammer, the village where Gideon had lived as a child, still existed in this world. Gideon suddenly stopped. He wheeled around and stood, alert and watchful. Peter looked at him. He was put in mind of a fox sniffing the air to see if hounds were on its trail.

  ‘What is it?’

  Gideon pointed. A large white vehicle, a van of some kind, had come into view at the opposite side of the park. It was heading towards the house. It was still some way away and, unwilling to draw any attention to themselves, Gideon pulled Peter behind the nearest cover, which happened to be a large barrel. It was painted white, and contained a clipped bay tree. They crouched down behind the barrel and peeped out. The van approached the house, drove right past it and continued onto the lawn.

  ‘They’re heading for the anti-gravity machine!’ said Peter incredulously. ‘But why? Why do they want to shift a broken machine now, when they don’t even know what it is and when half of London is in meltdown?’

  Gideon started to smile. ‘I know who it is.’

  Peter looked at him, puzzled, and then the penny dropped.

  ‘Do you really think he’d come back?’

  The Tar Man jumped out of the van and ordered the driver to direct his headlights at the anti-gravity machine. From their hiding place, some fifty metres away, Peter and Gideon saw him kick over the canes, take hold of the trunk of the birch tree, and drag it away. Then the Tar Man called to the driver to help him. They picked up the heavy weight between them and loaded it onto the back of the vehicle. The driver got back into the van and started up the engine.

  ‘Surely you’re going to tell him we’re here?’ hissed Peter.

  Gideon put his finger to his lips and continued to watch.

  The Tar Man did not get in the van but slowly turned around in a full circle. Then he stepped into the yellow beam of the van’s headlights, so that he was spotlit for all to see, cupped his hands to his mouth, and shouted: ‘Gid-e-on! Gid-e-on!’ till it echoed all around the valley.

  Gideon laughed out loud. ‘Upon my word, Peter, Nathaniel is full of surprises!’

  ‘Nathaniel?’

  ‘It is his name.’

  Gideon leaped up and hollered. ‘Here!’ he cried.

  The Tar Man ran forward to meet him. Peter thought he looked very pleased to see them, or pleased to see Gideon, at least, yet he stopped short of actually greeting him.

  ‘I wagered you would have need of my help.’

  ‘Greetings, Nathaniel! What has brought you back to Tempest House? Is blood thicker than water or was it the device that you sought?’

  ‘Do not flatter yourself, Gideon, I have come for the device.’

  ‘I did not doubt it,’ said Gideon.

  ‘It is broken – yet I may find someone to mend it in this strange future.’

  Gideon pointed to the amorphous, semi-luminous mass over London. ‘You have seen the city?’

  ‘Do you think I am deaf and blind? Yes, I have seen the city. It seems that Nature is angry, in this century just as in our own.’

  ‘I fear that Lord Luxon has made much use of the device,’ said Gideon.

  ‘Yes, damn his eyes! He has changed the future and I do not care for it! I scarcely recognise his London!’

  ‘Yet you contrive to get what you need,’ said Gideon, indicating the van and the driver.

  ‘Human nature is the same no matter what the century. Besides,’ the Tar Man said, patting his pockets, ‘all the panic in the city has made for easy pickings. But it does not please me here. Would that the machine was not broken, I would—’

  ‘How can you talk like that?’ burst out Peter. ‘Can’t you see that the universe is disintegrating around our ears because of time travel? How can you think about easy pickings when the earth is about to end?’

  The Tar Man looked directly at Peter for the first time.

  ‘Peter speaks the truth, Nathaniel,’ said Gideon.

  ‘By the laws, Gideon, do not think to lecture me! The world is strong enough by far to survive such things. Fear begets fear, has life not taught you that, at least? I recall that when I first lived in London I felt a tremor beneath my feet. ’Twas strong enough to cause a few fish to leap out of the Thames and to cause some plates to fall to the floor. I heard of no injuries to speak of, yet it struck so much terror into people’s hearts that it sent half of the city scurrying into the countryside like frightened mice! How I laughed to see the crowds creeping back the next morning, all foolish, when another day had dawned . . .’

  ‘There’ll be no countryside to scurry back to, you stupid man!’ exclaimed Peter.

  ‘Hold your tongue, you impudent young—’

  The Tar Man raised his hand, but Gideon caught hold of his arm.

  ‘He is distraught . . .’

  The Tar Man shook his arm away.

  ‘And where is your young friend, Master Schock?’ asked the Tar Man. ‘I do not see her.’

  ‘Mistress Kate is lost to us,’ said Gideon quickly. ‘We believe that Lord Luxon is . . . lost also.’

  The Tar Man drew in his breath. ‘Ah. Then, I am sorry for it, Master Schock. And you say Lord Luxon, too?’

  ‘Yes,’ said Gideon. ‘Lord Luxon, too.’

  ‘Upon my word . . . And how did this occur?’

  ‘In truth, we do not know. Lord Luxon and Mistress Dyer vanished at the same instant. Neither has returned – and we must fear the worst.’

  The Tar Man’s face revealed his shock. He rubbed his arms where Kate had touched him. Presently he said: ‘And Lord Luxon’s device, do you know of its whereabouts?’

  ‘Is that all you care about? Why can’t you get it?’ cried Peter. ‘It’s using the anti-gravity machines that’s caused that!’ He pointed towards the time quake. ‘Isn’t it obvious, even to you, that the world can’t cope with any more time travel?’

  ‘I’ll thank you to control your young friend,’ said the Tar Man to Gideon.

  He looked over at the city, beginning to pace up and down as he did so. It seemed to Peter that the time quake was beginning to recede.

  ‘Suppose for a moment that I accept that we are doomed – which, I have to say, I do not – what can be done, Master Schock, to tear us back from the brink of disaster?’

  ‘Nothing! It’s too late!’

  But even as he said it, Kate’s premonition came back to him. She said that she could not see a future for herself, but she also said that he would be all right, that when the time came he would know what to do. A spark of hope awoke within him, a glimmering of something stirred . . .

  ‘In which case, Master Schock, it can surely matter little to you what I do with the time I have left to me?’

  ‘Unless,’ said Peter, ‘unless we really could stop the very first time event happening . . . But we’d need to find Lord Luxon’s anti-gravity machine—’

  ‘Stop the f
irst time event?’ repeated the Tar Man.

  ‘The one that you and Gideon witnessed – when Kate and I were in her dad’s laboratory one minute and the next we were in the middle of nowhere in 1763. If we had not gone to help Kate’s dad that day, maybe the accidental discovery of time travel would not have happened. Or not in that way, or it might have happened later, or something.’

  ‘But you could take us back, could you not, Nathaniel?’ exclaimed Gideon.

  ‘It is possible, I suppose . . .’

  ‘What do you mean?’ exclaimed Peter. ‘How?’

  ‘Nathaniel uses objects to take him to another time . . .’

  ‘That’s what you were doing with Kate’s trainers!’ cried Peter triumphantly.

  ‘Ha! They were useless to me. They were made of too many parts – it confuses what I can sense. I need simple objects . . .’

  The driver got out of the van, wanting to know what was happening.

  ‘Patience, my friend,’ the Tar Man called. ‘You will be well rewarded, I assure you!’

  ‘And you could take us with you?’ asked Peter.

  ‘Nathaniel took me back in time,’ said Gideon.

  The Tar Man looked non-committal. ‘Why should I help you do such a thing?’

  ‘If you do not, I fancy you will soon have cause to regret it,’ said Gideon.

  ‘How can I believe you?’

  ‘You cannot.’

  Peter suddenly grabbed hold of Gideon’s arm. ‘If the first time event did not happen, Kate would still be here!’

  Gideon shook his head. ‘How can I understand the workings of time? I do not know . . .’

  ‘But even if I were to agree to help you,’ said the Tar Man, ‘it is a crude method. I cannot navigate time like a ship on the high seas. I cannot set a course. I am at the mercy of whatever object I have at my disposal.’

  Slowly, Peter reached into his pocket and took out a crumpled piece of paper. Thank you, Kate, he said silently. Where the paper had been folded it was worn and grubby.

  ‘On the last day of term, Mr Carmichael handed this out. It was our English homework for us to do over the Christmas holidays. It was the next day that I met Kate and we went to visit her dad’s laboratory and got catapulted back to 1763.’

  Peter held out the piece of paper to the Tar Man but then took it back again.

  ‘What’s wrong, Peter?’ Gideon saw the happiness fade abruptly from Peter’s face.

  ‘I don’t know if it will work . . . Lord Luxon changed the future. I don’t know if we can get back to that time . . . Perhaps it never happened.’

  The Tar Man took the piece of paper from Peter’s hand.

  ‘Do you remember being given this piece of paper?’

  Peter nodded.

  ‘Do you remember the first time event, as you call it?’

  ‘Yes.’

  ‘Then, can you doubt that it happened?’

  The Tar Man held the piece of paper between the palms of his hands and Peter and Gideon watched him as he concentrated. Peter watched open-mouthed as the Tar Man started to fade. After a few seconds he looked opaque once more and looked up at them. The Tar Man threw back Mr Carmichael’s English homework to Peter.

  ‘If I am minded to help you, the object will do,’ he said.

  Peter grabbed hold of Gideon’s arm. ‘But we’d have to go to Derbyshire . . .’

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  Derbyshire

  In which Peter takes an important telephone call

  It was early afternoon on Saturday, the sixteenth of December, the first day of the Christmas holidays. In a valley in Derbyshire, three figures waited next to a narrow track, out of sight of the farmhouse, in a frozen field where black and white cows grazed on hay. They listened to the biting wind whistle through the hawthorn hedge that screened them from the road, and they listened to the rooks cawing in the wintry sky. But then they heard what they had been waiting for. The sound of an engine carried over the crisp, cold air. Their arms were linked, Gideon standing between his brother and Peter. They had fallen silent for, as the Tar Man had repeated, there was only one way they would find out what good – if any – might come of this final effort to put matters right. Now that the time had nearly arrived, Peter felt very calm. He could only suspect what might happen to him and he was ready to take the risk. He looked up at Gideon.

  ‘Whatever happens next, I wanted to say thank you – while I can – for staying with me and Kate when you could have walked away.’

  Gideon did not reply but tightened his grip on Peter’s arm. Then Peter leaned forward to look at the Tar Man. ‘And you, too, Nathaniel. Thank you for doing this. I know how you feel about it . . .’

  The Tar Man indicated the approaching vehicle with his thumb. ‘It is time,’ he said to Gideon.

  While the Land Rover juddered along the farm track that was always so full of potholes in winter, Gideon got ready to take aim. Peter peeped out through a gap in the hawthorn hedge. The Land Rover was spattered with mud. He saw Dr Dyer at the wheel. Behind him he could make out Molly, Kate’s Golden Labrador, and then – his heart skipped a beat – he saw a flash of red hair and a pale face. It was Kate! As the Land Rover drove past, Peter saw the final passenger in the car. For the briefest of moments he was allowed to gaze on himself, on Peter Schock, this boy who was here for the weekend against his will, who wished he was not going to have to spend the day with Kate Dyer, whose mind kept brooding on the worst argument he had ever had with his father. How could so much have happened to him since that day? He wanted to pull open the car door and pound on his own chest and tell him: Don’t you realise how lucky you are? Don’t you ever feel sorry for yourself again! You’ve got everything! Everything!

  The Land Rover drove past. Now they could hear Mrs Dyer running up the track holding a phone in her hand.

  ‘Andrew! Wait!’ she shouted after them. ‘Wait! It’s Peter’s dad on the phone . . .’

  ‘Now!’ said Peter.

  Gideon took aim. Suddenly the Tar Man grabbed hold of his brother’s arm.

  ‘One last chance, Gideon – what if this takes everything away? Do you truly wish to go back to how things were?’

  Gideon struggled with his brother. ‘Each day brings a new dawn, Nathaniel. Changing the past will never change that! You make your life each day, whatever happened yesterday . . .’

  The Tar Man seemed to relent a little but by now the Land Rover was some twenty metres away. Mrs Dyer had almost reached them. Peter grabbed hold of the pebble from Gideon’s fingers and for an instant their eyes met. Suddenly Peter was overwhelmed at the thought of what he was about to lose. And he would not even know it. Gideon returned his gaze and nodded at him. Peter turned and threw the pebble with all his force at the rear window.

  ‘What was that?’ asked Dr Dyer.

  Kate looked round. ‘It’s Mum! Oh dear,’ she giggled. ‘Look what’s she’s done to the glass. It looks like a bullet hole. I think you’d better stop, Dad.’

  Dr Dyer stopped the Land Rover and everyone got out. Dr Dyer inspected the rear window and tutted.

  ‘Did you have to throw a stone?’ he complained to his wife. ‘This had better be important!’

  ‘I didn’t throw a stone! And I don’t know about important, but it’s Peter’s dad,’ panted Mrs Dyer. ‘Here you are, dear.’

  Peter took the phone that Mrs Dyer offered to him.

  ‘Well, somebody did!’

  ‘Don’t make a fuss,’ said Mrs Dyer, ‘it will have just been thrown up from the road.’

  ‘Dad?’ Peter held the phone to his ear and listened.

  Mrs Dyer put her mouth to her husband’s ear. ‘Peter and his dad had a bit of an argument this morning – he’s talking about driving up this afternoon. He’s cancelled a meeting or something.’

  Dr Dyer looked over at Peter whose face had lit up as he listened to his father.

  ‘Why don’t I go over to the lab on my own – there’s nothing much there to interest Ka
te and Peter, in any case.’

  ‘All right, love – don’t be too long, though, lunch is nearly ready.’

  Behind the hedge, Gideon and the Tar Man exchanged glances – the Peter they had grown to know had gone. The two brothers were alone.

  ‘The deed is done,’ said the Tar Man.

  Gideon peered out from the hawthorn hedge.

  ‘Come,’ said the Tar Man.

  Gideon sensed that they were already fading.

  ‘Not yet! Wait!’

  Gideon ran out of the field onto the road, dragging his brother with him. The wintry light passed through them. The two brothers had scarcely any substance left in this world.

  ‘Wait, Nathaniel! Just a little longer!’

  Gideon reached out a hand to Kate who was throwing a stick for Molly, her cheeks rosy and her eyes sparkling. He reached out as if to touch her hair.

  ‘How good it is to see you well and whole, Mistress Kate.’

  ‘Gideon! Do not resist me!’

  ‘One moment more!’

  Gideon stood behind Peter as he talked to his father on the phone, smiling as if all the cares in the world had just lifted from his shoulders.

  ‘Farewell, Peter, be the man I know that you can become.’

  Peter turned, and looked all about him, but saw only the wind rustling the sparse leaves of the hawthorn hedge.

  Afterword

  When Dr Dyer arrived at the research laboratory on that Saturday in December he was met by a security guard. He asked Dr Dyer to come with him straight away. Someone had broken into Tim Williamson’s laboratory. The anti-gravity machine which Dr Dyer had come here to adjust now lay scattered in a thousand pieces over the floor. He surveyed the scene of destruction. Nothing else had been touched. Who would want to do such a thing? he asked himself, and, more to the point, why?

  The Universe contains mysteries we cannot even dream of, and it is right that its mysteries push us ever onwards. Who knows what echoes will resonate through the world on account of our accidental discovery of time travel. Ordinarily, we can only ever truly know our own stories, and are rarely allowed more than a glimpse of those of others. I have been privileged to tell the stories of those characters who, as you have seen, in their own ways, and within their own limitations, pulled us back from the brink of an apocalypse.

 
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