Authors: Alex Scarrow
Adam swigged back some of the coffee Billy had made for them. ‘So, we all die.
Rashim nodded. ‘Pretty much all of us. That’s what they told me. I never actually saw the outbreak of this Von Neumann virus. It is supposed to have happened about six months after I left for Ancient Rome to set up the receiver beacons.’ He ran a hand through the sweaty strands of his dark hair.
‘But I can quite easily believe that is the fate that awaits us. We have always had a built-in redundancy, I suspect: a capacity, perhaps even a desire, to one day destroy ourselves.’
‘Jesus.’ Adam shook his head.
‘In 2069, we could all see that something bad was coming our way,’ continued Rashim. ‘A war over the last of our resources, the last of the oil reserves. It was either going to be a nuclear war, or more probably biological warfare.’
He poured himself some more coffee. ‘This is why Project Exodus was set up … a chance for some of us to escape into the past and try to reboot a modern civilization far enough back in time that we could redirect our destiny. Make it so these things do not happen.’
‘You know, when I was at school,’ said Adam, ‘that would be 1989. I remember we discussed that kind of thing in Social Studies. What the world would be like in a hundred years and so
on. We were given that subject to write an essay about. I remember my teacher, Mr Armstrong, reading some of them out in the class.’ Adam laughed as he recalled. ‘It was pretty naive happy-clappy stuff. The future would be all hovercars and Mars already with a colony on it and busy being terraformed. Space tourism. People going to the moon for a holiday. Cures for every illness, even cures for old age. All very hopeful, optimistic, utopian ideas. I was the only one who wrote something negative.’
Rashim looked at him. ‘What did you write?’
‘Oh, some pretentious babble about the fall of man, how we were doomed to repeat history, to repeat the errors of other fallen civilizations. How we would consume the world and then the world would one day consume us.’
‘Very prescient of you, I think.’
‘I was just trying to impress one of the cool girls in my class, Amelia Hall, with my moody, brooding intensity.’ He smirked. ‘Didn’t realize back then that girls are far more impressed with a bloke who can do a funny voice and make ’em laugh.’
They sat in silence for a while before Rashim spoke. ‘It is a hopeful sign.’
‘What? The transmission beacon?’
Rashim nodded. ‘It is a clear indication that mankind will one day recover and rebuild itself. Perhaps our distant descendants will be far more responsible with technology than we ever were.’
Adam nodded. It did seem to bode well for mankind’s eventual future. But how many hundreds of years were going to pass before mankind emerged from almost complete annihilation? The future seemed such a fragile and fickle thing: a slave to the decisions of those in the past. He understood now why Maddy had been so coy with him back in the rebel camp. She’d said the less she told him about his future, the better.
Billy’s voice echoed out across the plaza. They both looked his way and saw Maddy, Liam and the two support units approaching them.
‘Wow, that was quick,’ said Adam. He looked at his watch. ‘They went only an hour ago?’
‘Remember, Adam … time isn’t symmetrical. They may have been gone days, weeks even. We will find out.’
Maddy climbed several stone steps leading up to the others. ‘Hey, guys, we’re back!’ She sat down wearily on a block of stone. ‘Coffee. Any left?’
Rashim leaned forward, scooped a ladleful and poured it into a mug. ‘So? Did your support units gather the information they were after?’
Liam settled down beside her. ‘Aye, we
we know where that tachyon signal is coming from and going to.’
‘According to them –’ Maddy nodded at Bob and Becks – ‘the signal is travelling between one point nearly two thousand years ago and another in the year 2070.’
‘So, it is a beacon that is transmitting across just over two millennia?’
‘Yeah. But it gets just a bit weirder than that. The beam end points –’ she looked at Adam – ‘You’ll love this.’
She looked up at Bob. ‘Go on, I’ll let you two tell them.’
‘One of the signal end points is at this location,’ said Bob, ‘in the year 2070.’
‘The other end point,’ said Becks, ‘is on the other side of the world. We calculate the origin time to be approximately twenty-one centuries earlier.’
Adam looked at them. ‘The other side of the world? Where?’
Maddy and Liam exchanged a glance. He nodded that she might as well answer the question.
‘Bob and Becks were able to be a lot more precise about the location than the times. The other end point is located in the city of Jerusalem, Israel. It travels through the middle of Earth from Jerusalem and emerges out the other side, right here.’
‘More precisely, the other end of this signal is located somewhere beneath what is quite possibly the
building on this planet. The Dome of the Rock.’
‘I know that,’ said Adam. ‘You mean that big cathedral with the gold dome? The one on the hill in the middle of the Old City of Jerusalem?’
She nodded. ‘That one, yes. Built on Temple Mount. The holiest place in the world for Christians and Jews, and also one of the holiest places in the world for Muslims. Apparently the hill on which it was built is the point from which Muhammad the Prophet ascended to Heaven.’
‘My God,’ Adam gasped.
Maddy cocked an eyebrow. ‘Funny you should say that …’
‘And the time of that end point,’ continued Liam, ‘is about the same time as a certain fella called Jesus Christ was walking around.’
Rashim stroked his beard. ‘Are you suggesting there is a link between this tachyon beam and – and the
of the Christian and Islamic faiths?’
‘I’m not suggesting anything.’ Maddy shrugged. ‘It
a suspicious overlap, though. I’m not saying there’s a causal link here, not at all. But whoever set this beam up must have been walking around Jerusalem at that time. It’s possible that they would have appeared other-worldly and exotic to the locals. Perhaps even god-like? Right?’
‘So why build this thing?’ asked Adam. ‘What’s its purpose?’
Maddy waved her hand. ‘A conduit to the past to … to – I
dunno – to view the birth of Christianity? Perhaps these are future archaeologists?
keen to learn more about humankind before the big apocalypse. Think about it … to them – God knows how many thousands of years in the future they come from – we would be their long-lost ancestors.’
‘So, are you saying Sal is now stuck in biblical times?’ asked Rashim.
‘No. We don’t think so.’ She looked up at Bob and Becks. ‘You two have a theory about
she is, don’t you?’
Bob nodded. ‘We detected the echoes of a sudden fluctuation in energy along the transmission axis of the signal. The fluctuation appears to have occurred approximately five hundred years ago.’
‘The fluctuation,’ continued Becks, ‘may have been caused by the column being opened. This would result in a significant discharge of energy. If that is what has occurred, then Sal may have exited the tachyon conduit at that point.’
Maddy leaned forward. She wanted to clarify what Becks was saying. ‘This beam appears to be a completely sealed thing. Like a water pipe, if you like, transporting tachyons to and from Jerusalem, year zero, to this location in
2070. But … it appears to have sprung a leak sometime around
‘And that’s where we’re going?’ asked Adam.
‘That’s where me and Liam and our pet meatbots are going. It’s up to you guys whether you want to tag along. But this is about getting Sal back now. Pandora? The actual purpose of this beam? All the rest of it –
questions are going to have to wait.’ She looked at Liam for support.
‘Aye.’ He nodded. ‘Sal comes first. She’s our top priority. Once we find her …
we’ll go take a look at them other things. Then we’ll go get some answers.’
Bertie watched in silent awe as the dark brick dungeon began to fill up with people. First Dr Anwar’s main assistant, Miss Carter, the girl with the frizzy hair, then the Irish lad, Liam O’Connor. Then Dr Anwar himself, followed by a scruffy young man with ginger hair like lengths of frayed rope. Then a short dark-skinned man with bulbous goggle eyes. And, if that wasn’t enough to make the room feel crowded, Bob the giant man came next followed by the cool grey-eyed beauty.
They filled the room with three or four conversations, talking over each other. Bertie picked out bits and pieces passing between them. The fact that they were preparing to leave this place for yet
destination some time in the fifteenth century. The fact that something needed recharging and that some additional supplies needed purchasing.
The fact that they were going after someone who’d gone missing.
And he knew from her absence who they were talking about.
Miss Saleena Vikram.
Bertie cowered back behind the hammock as they paced around the room just beyond the curtain. On one occasion Liam had stepped right up to it and without warning reached through, inside, his hand almost brushing Bertie’s cheek, to grab a cloth cap that was hanging on a coat stand. Then he was off out with
the giant and the grey-eyed beauty, ‘Becks’, on some errand to collect supplies.
Dr Anwar and Maddy discussed dates and spoke numbers that made little sense to him, other than that they were trying to calculate more precisely
in the fifteenth century they were all heading off to.
The young man with hair like lengths of frayed rope spoke to the dark goggle-eyed man, explaining things to him in a way that Bertie was surprised to find he actually understood.
‘… so this is where their base of operations is, Billy. This is where they live. That rack of wires over there? You see where that row of orange lights is? That’s their time machine, although they prefer to call it a
The goggle-eyed man –
– seemed to be taking it all in his stride, nodding thoughtfully at every explanation. Bertie found himself getting extremely frustrated that the small man wasn’t asking follow-up questions.
How does this displacement machine work? Does it require much energy, and where the devil was that being drawn from anyway? The viaduct’s generator? Do these ‘windows’ or ‘portals’ open just anywhere? If so … what stops them opening inside the middle of a rock, or the ground, or another person?
Several times Bertie wondered whether he should just step out from behind the curtains and calmly announce his presence. Surely, eventually, someone was going to pull the fabric aside and come into this space looking for some possession and find him hiding here? Would it not be better to volunteer himself rather than be discovered, loitering guiltily like a common cut-purse?
But he didn’t, so yet more hours passed as he hid, praying that at some point everyone would finally be gone and he could make a dash for the door.
Liam, the Giant and the Beauty returned after a while with
wicker baskets full of things. Some tin-packed foods, bottles of medicines. A pair of ex-army Martini-Henry rifles and several cartons of ammunition and other assorted victuals.
Once again Bertie was sure he was about to be discovered when Maddy strode towards the curtain looking for something. But, at the last moment, Liam found what she was after – a jacket, lying on the back of one of the armchairs – and tossed it over to her.
More time passed as they sent the Giant and the Beauty out for hot food, to return half an hour later with a basket full of hot steaming pies. As they silently ate, sitting on the various armchairs surrounding a wooden table, Bertie realized how hungry he’d become, trapped, hiding in this room for the best part of the whole day. He was surprised the others hadn’t heard his rumbling, gurgling stomach.
Pies … followed by mugs of coffee. The water had been boiled not on a stove but in some futuristic-looking gadget that clicked itself off as steam began to spew from its spout. The odd gathering in front of him, again talking over each other, finished their drinks, and then Dr Anwar and Maddy approached the table on which the row of glowing ‘information windows’ sat. They seemed to be talking to the windows and in turn the windows changed their displays to show them numbers.
Presently Maddy turned round and announced they had identified a ‘best candidate’ time to go back to. That they were using ‘the cave’ as the arrival location. That the
displacement machine was nearly fully charged and that she’d be opening a portal in five minutes.
The room became busy with activity.
Maddy explained to Billy about standing very still within the square plinths filled with dirt and sawdust, that the ‘displacement machine was configured to capture the vertical space above them’.
Anything sticking out … will be left behind!
The supplies were hastily stowed into backpacks, the two guns were given to the Giant and the Beauty to carry. They slung them on straps over their shoulders.
Then Bertie heard that deep humming sound again, quiet at first, but he now knew what was coming. The hum would slowly rise in pitch and volume, the crackling sensation of static electricity building up, lifting the hairs on his arms, the nape of his neck. Then finally there would be either the appearance of that hovering sphere or the vertical shimmering column emerging from the two square plinths.
The first two to go were the Giant and the Beauty. The advance guard. Then the Irish lad and the man with rope for hair. Then the goggle-eyed one and Dr Anwar with the backpacks stacked together, one on the other.
Finally, Bertie found himself alone with the American girl. He watched as she spoke to the row of glowing windows on the table, issuing a command to them that she wanted them to open a ‘return window’ when she activated ‘her beacon’.
She took her place on one of the plinths.
Bertie knew that he was about to make a reckless decision that might possibly lead to a grisly death. A decision that almost certainly would change his life, his mind, forever. That could never be undone.
But … he had to know more.
Yes, it did seem that,
, the room would soon be empty and he could finally make his escape. But after all he’d seen, all he’d heard – how could he? How could he go back to being Del Hook’s mere errand-boy? How could he face going back to his rented rooms, his mundane life?
As the hum of the displacement machine rose and became an ungodly shrill scream of pent-up energy, he pulled the curtain to one side and leaped across the open floor and past Miss Carter, to land atop the vacant plinth.
Just before the power erupted and he became engulfed in a field of energy, he caught a final glimpse of her, two yards to his left, wide-eyed, slack-jawed, staring at him.