Authors: Alex Scarrow
Maddy was about to rap her knuckles again on his door when she heard the clatter and snick of a lock turning inside. The door creaked open and she saw his pale face peering through the gap.
Her heart skipped inside her at the sight of him. After all these months, now finally seeing him again. She’d almost forgotten what his face looked like, almost convinced herself she’d imagined that spark of ‘something’ between them. Now he was standing right before her, wide-eyed and open-jawed: like soon-to-be roadkill caught in the headlights of an approaching truck.
Now here she was with her heart hammering in her chest. That took her completely by surprise. Not for a moment had she thought that there was anything more to this re-visit than following the flimsiest of clues. There he was, the edgy young man she’d encountered a lifetime ago: scruffy ginger-brown locks, a chin tufted with a poor excuse for a goatee, ghostly pale skin dotted with freckles and wide green, intelligent eyes, sunk deeply beneath a furrowed brow, puffy and red from sleeplessness and anxiety.
She’d met this same young man again seven years after today. Somehow he’d tracked her down in New York. Very different then. Well-groomed. There was an air of brash confidence about him by that point in time: a successful software engineer in
Manhattan making a fortune designing secure systems for commercial clients on Wall Street. A young dotcom-era entrepreneur, a cocky lad-done-good livin’ it large in the Big Apple. He’d been far more confident … and yet, she had seen that the confidence was a cloak that covered a frightened man still desperately trying to make sense of the impossible – trying to get his head round the fact that someone living in the Middle Ages knew his name.
‘It’s … it’s you …’ he whispered through the gap.
‘Again.’ Maddy smiled. ‘I know.’
He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbed like a cork. ‘I … know … I know that you and the other girl came from the f-future …’
‘Can we come in?’
He nodded absently, opened the door and ushered them in. He closed and locked it behind them as they surveyed the squalid mess of his room.
‘This is Liam,’ said Maddy.
Liam offered Adam a hand. ‘Mr Lewis! We’ve met before, so we have.’
Adam looked at him, eyes narrowed, confused by that, confused by this visit. By everything, in fact.
‘Well, to be more precise, we WILL have met before, I should say.’
Adam turned to Maddy. ‘I … I thought I was losing my mind.’ He shook his head, as if trying to reshuffle the order of thoughts in his mind. ‘I thought I was going mad. Dreamed you up. Hallucinated you.’
‘No, it’s for real. We visited you last night … I promise you’re not going mad.’
A smile flickered across his thin lips, then abandoned his mouth just as quickly. ‘Yes, yes … I know I’m not mad. I – look
… you left proof.’ He turned, stepping across a floor scattered with mouldering clothes to a desk cluttered with notes and balled-up paper. ‘It’s right here … here somewhere … somewhere …’
Maddy and Liam looked around the dim room, at the walls almost completely covered with sheets of paper tacked to corkboards in a chaotic mosaic of ancient symbols and dead languages. The living space of an obsessed mind. A troubled mind running in endless inescapable loops.
Adam yelped with manic glee as he found what he was looking for. He snatched it from his desk and returned, waving it in front of Maddy. ‘You left this!’
She spent a moment trying to see what it was, held too close to her face to focus on. She reached out for Adam’s hand and steadied it. He was holding a slip of coloured paper with something faintly printed on it. Then she recalled. That day in 2001 when the older, more self-assured Adam Lewis had tracked her down and come knocking on the archway door in Brooklyn. He’d told her how he’d managed to find her after seven long years of planning and waiting, and he’d waved this very same small slip of coloured paper at her.
‘It’s a ticket,’ he said quickly now. ‘A ticket of entry … to a club or a bar, isn’t it? West Fifty-first Street.’
‘Yes. Yes, it is.’
‘And the date … the date!’ He grinned manically. ‘Look! The date –’
‘Yes, I know. The ninth of September, 2001.’
Adam swallowed again. His mouth dry. ‘This is real … isn’t it? All of this? My name appearing in a thousand-year-old document? You … coming from the future? This ticket stub? My God! It’s all real, isn’t it? I haven’t disappeared into some drug-induced psychosis?’
‘It’s all real, Adam.’ Maddy smiled supportively, reached out a hand and rested it on his arm to settle him. She could feel he was trembling.
‘It’s real. You and me, Liam here, the girl who was with me last night … we’re all caught up in this thing – whatever it is.’
He grinned again: a there-and-gone flash of a smile that stirred Maddy’s heart. The same boy-like grin that Liam flashed from time to time, when an exciting possibility, a crazy idea, occurred to him.
‘This is real!’ he whispered. ‘I … I was thinking, even this piece of paper was fake. A delusion.’ He laughed – a short shrill bark that sounded like madness, bottled, with a cap screwed tightly on. ‘To be honest, I’m not sure whether I’m relieved or, or bloody terrified by this.’
‘There’s something going on, Adam … something’s happening, or already happened long ago. And it’s as much a mystery to us as it is to you.’ She looked at Liam and he nodded. They’d agreed this earlier. Adam could know everything, if that was needed. They’d deal with the consequences of that later.
‘Yes, Adam, we
time travellers. It will become a viable technology in the not-too-distant future. It
become possible and that’s when everything starts to become messy.’
‘We were recruited by an agency to make sure things stay right,’ added Liam. ‘To make sure any other troublesome buggers with time machines don’t go messing around and changing the course of history.’
Adam frowned. ‘You mean … like, sort of Time Police, or something?’
Maddy nodded. ‘Yeah, sort of like that. Only … things have become a lot more confused than we can handle. We’re …’ She pursed her lips in thought for a moment, then looked at her watch. ‘Look, there’s a lot to tell you, and most of it can wait for later.’
‘Aye,’ said Liam. ‘We’re here because of something you said to Maddy last night.’
‘You were telling me and Becks –’
‘Becks? The other girl?’ He frowned. ‘Your friend seemed … quite intense. She nearly broke my finger.’
‘Oh, now she’s a whole other conversation,’ said Liam.
Maddy was keen to stay on topic. ‘Adam, you told us how you managed to break the code. It was because of that weird pre-Aztec writing you discovered?’
‘Right.’ He nodded eagerly. He gestured at the sheets of paper tacked to the corkboards on his walls. ‘Yes, that. Although it’s not Incan. It’s closer to Mayan if anything. Although the tribe wasn’t strictly Mayan. More like an offshoot of –’
‘The tribe.’ Maddy jumped on that. ‘The tribe … you said their name? What was it again?’
‘Uh? Their name?’
‘Well, they didn’t have a name as such. Just something I called them. The Windtalkers.’ He shrugged. ‘Seemed like as good a name as any.’
Maddy shot a glance at Liam.
‘Who were they? What can you tell us about them?’ asked Liam.
Adam shook his head. ‘Not much. Professor Brian was following rumours about a tribe. It was his pet thing, you know? His hobby. His obsession. To discover a lost people, a lost tribe, and make his name studying them. Apparently some Spanish conquistador bloke encountered a tribe in the Nicaraguan jungle once upon a time. Not called
then, of course. I think it was referred to as the Spanish Main back then. Anyway … the conquistador said he saw a golden city. Said they had magical
powers or something. Said they were way more advanced than any of the other tribes he’d encountered.’ Adam laughed. ‘It’s the classic “Lost City of Z” cliché. Very
‘This was the tribe? The one you called the Windtalkers?’
He shrugged. ‘I dunno if it was the same tribe who did that cave painting. Might have been.’
‘And so?’ Maddy urged. ‘What? Did your professor find them?’
He looked at her. ‘No. But I found that cave with the symbols on the wall. That’s all. That’s all. But see, that on its own is a pretty significant find. I think the symbols display the structure of a written language, not like the usual thing of pictograms depicting discrete ideas but a proper language: verbs, nouns, adjectives.’ He turned towards his desk and rummaged through the mess. ‘Here … I’ll show you. I’ll show you. Ahhh … here it is.’
He had in his hands several photographs. ‘So, I took some pictures of the writing.’
He held them out for Maddy and Liam to look at. ‘The writing covered a couple of square feet of the cave wall, written quite small and broken into sections just like paragraphs. But there, see? If you look, each “paragraph break” has these uniquely different glyphs at the beginning and end, almost like quotation marks.’
She stared closely at them: spirals followed by a wavy line.
The exact same glyphs that had appeared in the Voynich Manuscript. So unique, so distinctive. She could understand
now how they would have leaped out of the manuscript at Adam, the moment he decided to try his hand at decoding the thing. The symbols were like beacons, crying out to be spotted by one particular person. Just like Rashim’s tachyon signals, calling out across time.
‘Adam,’ she said, handing the photographs back to him. ‘There’s a message in the Voynich Manuscript meant specifically for us. But look – you’re gonna love this, this mystery gets better … that particular passage in the Voynich was transcribed from a much, much older document. A document that dates back
Adam pushed a stray dreadlock away from his eyes. ‘Two thousand years old?’ He chuckled nervously. ‘Jesus time? Uh, so … you’re not going to say what I think you’re going to say?’ He looked at them both. ‘Right? You’re not …’
‘It depends,’ said Liam. ‘What do
think she’s going to say?’
Adam grinned, shrugged, almost wanted to back away from what he was about to say. ‘Maybe, well, I was going to say something like the Dead Sea Scrolls? Something in the Bible … or … or …’
‘Actually, it’s the Holy Grail.’
Adam’s eyes rounded. His eyebrows rose and made a double arch and his jaw hung open. ‘Oh Jesus …’
‘We didn’t manage to crack the message. And I’ll explain why later on. But we think … the answer may lie with this undiscovered tribe of yours. Perhaps even with this cave. Perhaps even in that writing. I don’t know.’ She cocked her head. ‘The reason we came back, Adam, is we need to know where that cave is.’
‘You want to go there?’
‘Uh-huh.’ She nodded. ‘We
to go there. Maybe even …
go back in time, maybe even try and speak to these Windtalker people. If we can.’
Adam nodded slowly, stroking his chin thoughtfully. The notion of time travel, messages buried in the Holy Grail, people from the Middle Ages knowing about him … all of it was insane and impossible, and yet equally these pieces seemed to have some cohesion, like a puzzle that might just click together if the other pieces could be found.
Maddy was quite taken with his steadiness. His trembling had subsided. The nervous tics, the darting edginess of the eyes had gone. Now he seemed to be settling into some kind of super-calm meditative state.
‘Adam?’ She was surprised with how he was taking this. It looked like he was coolly piecing it all together. Quite impressive really. Until he ruined that illusion by doubling over at the waist, then dropped down to an untidy, wheezy squat on the floor.
‘Gimme a moment …’ He looked up at them with glassy eyes. ‘Feel a bit light-headed. I … I just need bit of … a bit of air here …’
And then he flopped sideways on to his unmade bed.
‘I think he just fainted on us,’ said Liam.
Maddy knelt down beside him. ‘Yup. We broke him.’
‘We’re taking him back to London with us?’
‘If he wants to come, I guess. What do you think?’
Liam hefted his shoulders. ‘Why not? The more, the merrier.’
‘All right then. We need to bring him round.’ She nodded. ‘There’s a bottle of Coke over there … Let’s pour that on him.’
‘You ready for this?’ asked Maddy.
Adam looked even more pallid in the light of day. His matted ginger dreadlocks and goatee looked almost dark against his ghost-white skin.
‘Not really. This portal thing –?’
‘Is perfectly safe, Adam.’
‘Although, aye, to be fair, it’s very strange,’ added Liam. ‘You might want to keep your eyes closed, so.’
Maddy checked her watch. The portal was due to open very soon now. ‘It’s non-dimensional space we’re stepping through, Adam. Looks just like a white mist. Some people – me, for example – find that it’s just too weird to look at. I prefer to just screw up my eyes and jump in.’
‘And you’ll feel like you’re falling,’ added Liam. ‘That takes some getting used to, so it does.’
Maddy checked the alleyway once more; it was a narrow walkway between an academic bookstore and a coffee shop. An alleyway dotted here and there with flattened shipping boxes, tatters of bubble wrap and discarded cigarette butts. It was deserted. Up at the top, where the alley opened on to a busy street, a gaggle of students passed by, their voices (all talking at once, no one listening) echoed towards them then quickly faded.
‘I’m really … actually going to travel back to Victorian times?’
Liam grinned. ‘Aye. And once we get back we’ll need to dress you right so you fit in better.’ He laughed. ‘Although, God knows what they’ll make of that Medusa hair of yours.’
‘We’ll shove a docker’s cloth cap over his head,’ said Maddy. She turned to him. ‘You’ll love it, Adam.’ She remembered her very first trip back in time to 1906, to San Francisco. The thrill of dressing up. The exhilaration of stepping into real history for the first time. The smells and noises. ‘It’s a bit like stepping into a virtual world, in a way.’
Maddy nodded. She knew what he meant. That TV series,
. ‘Yeah, I suppose it’s a bit like the holodeck. But of course it’s all totally for real. No simulation.’ She squeezed his arm. ‘The first time really is something quite special. Nothing to be afraid of.’
Liam looked him over. ‘You got all your bits ’n’ pieces there, Adam?’
He nodded. His backpack was full of his writings, his pictures, his clunky laptop and one or two practical things for their trip to the jungle. But, most importantly, the notes he needed to navigate them to that cliff-face – that cave. ‘Yes. Got all the things I need.’
‘The portal should appear any second now,’ said Maddy, checking her watch once more.
Adam swallowed anxiously. ‘You know … this is really exciting. That is, if I’m not losing my mind and this isn’t actually a big extended dream.’
Liam chuckled and shook his head. ‘I like this fella. He’s funny.’
Bubble wrap at their feet suddenly swirled and skittered in a
circle, then a moment later a soft blast of air on their faces made them all blink dust from their eyes.
And there she blows! Home again, home again, jiggedy jig
,’ sang Liam.
In front of them a sphere of liquid reality hovered above the ground, swirling in indecipherable spirals like thick cream stirred into black coffee.
‘My God!’ whispered Adam. ‘You two ever watch them
movies?’ He giggled nervously. ‘It’s just like … well, a
‘Yup, I know,’ replied Maddy impatiently. ‘So, you just step in, Adam. Step in and you’ll immediately get that falling sensation that Liam mentioned – like you’re falling through the floor of the world. Don’t worry. Don’t panic, that’s totally normal. OK?’
He nodded quickly. ‘Right. No panic. Normal. OK.’
‘I’ll go in first,’ said Liam. He raised a foot and stepped into the undulating sphere. ‘See you back in 1889.’ He merged with the portal, and his body instantly stretched out like melted plastic, swirled and became one with the twisting spiral coffee-and-cream pattern.
‘Oh crap! This is completely mental.’
‘Relax, Adam, we’ve all done this dozens of times. It’s kinda weird, yes, but harmless. You’ll be fine.’
‘Harmless,’ he repeated, nodding quickly. ‘Right. Harmless.’
She patted his shoulder. ‘You next. I’ll jump in right behind you.’
Harmless, Adam. Harmless.
He took a deep breath. ‘Right.’ He raised a foot and dipped it into the sphere as if he was testing the steaming water of a freshly run bath. The toe of his scuffed trainer began to extrude out to a curled point, like a jester’s shoe. The point elasticized,
stretched further, long and thin like toothpaste from a tube, like spaghetti, then began to twist into and join the flow of the spiral pattern.
‘Crap! I can’t do this!’ He jerked his foot back out, expecting it now to be drooping like a loop of sausagemeat. It was, of course, quite unaffected: a very normal-looking ankle and foot once more.
‘Honestly,’ said Maddy. ‘It’s better if you just step right in. Like getting into a cold swimming pool. You’re best just jumping in.’
‘Jump in.’ He puffed air again. ‘Right.’
He lifted his foot and stepped into the portal once more, this time letting his body follow; his centre of balance tilted slowly, finally committing him to enter, and he lurched forward into the sphere. The moment his head merged with the boundary of the sphere he found himself staring at a featureless white mist, and then experienced the unsettling sensation of falling.
‘Craaaaaaap!!!!!!!’ His voice, deadened by the fog all around him, filled the swirling silence and seemed to rise in pitch from a human voice to the high-frequency whine of a mosquito.
It seemed to last minutes, or perhaps it was seconds. But, with the tail end of the same breath that he’d started screaming with, he grunted with the sudden impact of his feet against a hard unyielding surface.
The white mist was gone in the blink of an eye and all of a sudden he found himself in the gloomy interior of some brick-and-mortar basement, lit by the unflinching amber glow of a large caged bulb dangling from thick electrical cord. A low brick ceiling overhead. A dark corner with a wooden bench table crowded with a dozen glowing computer monitors, several keyboards and one mouse. A thick, low, arched oak doorway. Wooden packing crates. A loose arrangement of threadbare and
worn armchairs around a second table. A net curtain pulled across another corner and the warm, welcoming glow of an oil lamp filtering through the dangling linen.
This place had an
homely ambience, in a subterranean, Hobbit-like way.
He spotted the young Irishman, Liam, standing nearby, talking to another man, lean and bearded, and a young, dark-skinned girl. Sitting nearby on packing crates was a giant ape of a man, racks of muscle barely contained beneath a stretched cotton smock, and next to him a familiar face: that stunning young woman who’d nearly broken his finger last night. He remembered her name – Becks. She cocked her head curiously, studying him like a pathologist might a viral culture in a Petri dish.
Adam nodded politely as all eyes finally turned and settled on him. ‘Uhh, all right there?’
He felt a puff of air from behind and turned to see Maddy standing there. The portal collapsed behind her.
‘See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?’
Adam shook his head absently. ‘I’m … not sure … I’m not sure any more whether I’ve completely lost my grip on … or … maybe …’
She swept past him, grabbing his arm. ‘It’s all real. Come on.’ She led him across the floor towards the others. ‘Let’s get the introductions out of the way. Then we’ll all go get something to eat and discuss our field trip to this cave of yours.’