As she rounded the corner, skimming deftly between a taxi and a builder's van, Georgina Jones decided that her shadowing skills were definitely improving. She'd been able to track Mr Adamant's Mini across half of London, without following it so closely that her target might realise what she was doing. As the journey had gone on, the driving had become almost instinctive for her — leaving her with more time to wonder where Mr Adamant was heading, and how, if she lost him, Georgie would be able to find her way back to any part of London she was familiar with.
The Mini slowed, and turned into a side road. When, shortly afterwards, Georgie followed it, she saw that it had come to a halt a few doors down, in front of a row of run-down terraced houses. Mr Adamant had already climbed out of his car, and politely raised his hat to her as she brought her scooter to a halt.
"Miss Jones," he said, betraying no hint of surprise. "A remarkable coincidence to see you here."
"I saw your car in Chapel Street and I thought I'd have a go at shadowing you," Georgie said cheerfully. "How did I do?"
"If you were to make a career of such activity, I would suggest further practice. But it would be better for you to refrain from it altogether. You would only be placing yourself in needless danger — from the traffic, let alone if your quarry should become aware of you."
"If you had your way I'd spend all my time wrapped in cotton wool." Georgie looked around. "So what are we doing out here, anyway?"
"I am proposing to call upon Doctor Turner, an acquaintance of mine. Your business, Miss Jones, remains your own."
"So what's this Doctor Turner like?" Georgie asked, falling into step with Adam. "What sort of doctor is he?"
"A scientist," Adam replied. "Quantum physics, which I believe is considered a reputable field of study these days. Though I cannot say I care for some of its implications."
"What, you mean things changing just because you look at them?" Georgie asked. "Or that thing about the cat that's dead and alive at the same time?"
Adam raised his eyebrows. "I was not aware that you had made a study of the subject, Miss Jones."
"Hey, I'm not just a pretty face," Georgie said. In fact her knowledge of quantum mechanics was limited to a single article in 'Time', which she'd become bored enough to read while immured in a dentist's waiting room. "This doesn't look like the sort of place you'd find a high-powered boffin."
"Nevertheless, this is my destination." Adam came to a halt outside the house numbered 18. "And now, Miss Jones, I must bid you good day."
He pressed the doorbell with the handle of his sword cane. The door was promptly opened by a dark-haired woman, in her mid-twenties by the look of her.
"Mr Adamant," she said. "Punctual as ever."
"Punctuality is the politeness of kings," Adam replied. "Besides, since on one occasion I arrived sixty-six years too late, I am anxious not to add any further delays to the debit side of the ledger. Shall we go in?"
"Hang on!" Georgie obviously considered herself part of the conversation. "What about me?"
"Is this your friend Miss Jones?" the woman asked.
Adam assented with a silent bow.
"I thought she was. She's just as you described her. Miss Jones, would you like to join us?"
Georgie grinned. "Fab! So I get to meet Doctor Turner too."
"You've met her." The woman held out a hand. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Doctor Kirsty Turner, Georgina Jones," Adam said, as the two shook hands. "Miss Jones, Doctor Turner. You seem somewhat taken aback, Miss Jones. Does Doctor Turner not meet with your approval?"
"You did that on purpose," Georgie muttered.
Adam gave her an innocent look. "Did what?"
Before she could answer, he had removed his top hat and entered the house.
"Wait for me, Mr Adamant!" Georgie called, and hurried after him.
The inside of Doctor Turner's house was much as the outside had led Georgie to expect. It was clean and tidy, but the furniture and the wallpaper were all old. Not the carefully-selected antiques of Adam's penthouse, but an assortment of oddments from the previous two decades.
As for what business Adam had here, Georgie was as much in the dark as ever. She'd wondered at first whether Doctor Turner might be Adam's girlfriend — or whatever the equivalent phrase was in his code of conduct — but if so, Georgie would have expected to be sent away with a flea in her ear. Looking at their body language, though, she couldn't rule the idea out. As for what they were actually saying, everything was couched in the vaguest of terms, giving her no hope of working out what was going on. She suspected that, as with Adam's concealment of Doctor Turner's gender, they were doing it deliberately to annoy her.
"I presume you're here for a progress report?" Doctor Turner asked.
"If you have such a report, I shall listen to it with interest," Adam replied.
Doctor Turner made a vague, unsatisfied noise. "You know that progress in such a new and unexplored field is bound to run into difficulties."
"One sees further than one can walk."
"Exactly. And, of course, I'm having to work with very limited resources."
"I find that necessity is often the mother of invention."
"That's often true. But not always. If the laws of physics say I need two hundred grams of red mercury, I've got to find the money for those two hundred grams."
Adam leaned back in his chair.
"And so we come to the crux," he said. "You wish me to invest in your experiment, for a variety of reasons. When it comes to investments I am, of course, naturally cautious. I believe I have mentioned my experience with the London, Chatham and Dover Railway company?"
"All the time," Georgie interjected.
Doctor Turner cleared her throat. "I take your point, Mr Adamant. I can't expect you to invest without seeing, at the very least, some evidence of progress. Perhaps you'd care to examine the prototype?"
"By all means." Adam rose to his feet. "Miss Jones, will you excuse us for a few minutes?"
"Oh, you can come too, Georgie," Doctor Turner said. "Just take care not to touch anything."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Georgie said.
Doctor Turner led her two guests out into the hallway, and thence down a dark, uneven flight of stairs to a basement. As Georgie reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw the 'prototype' for the first time. The racks of equipment, the ordered chaos of wiring, the spinning tape drives, the obscure, complicated objects forming pivotal nodes in the collection of wiring, the control board improvised from whatever switches and dials came to hand: this was obviously the work of a lone genius. She'd seen similar devices before, in Adam's company. In those cases the lone genius had usually been a mad scientist and the device a doomsday machine.
"Zoinks," she said out loud. "Is it a doomsday machine?"
Doctor Turner sounded offended. "Of course not."
"What does it do, then?"
"Do you mean when it's finished, or currently?" Doctor Turner had crossed to the control panel, and was adjusting various dials. "At the moment, all I can say for it is that it can make up to two ounces of glass disappear... briefly."
"Disappear?" Georgie repeated.
"That was the most recent test." Doctor Turner opened a cupboard, produced a bag of marbles, carefully weighed out a handful, and placed them in a brass bowl that stood on a tripod near the control panel. Wires ran from the bowl to a small switch at one end of the panel. Doctor Turner pushed the switch down, then turned on three more switches at the far end of the panel. Just above the switches, a miscellaneous assortment of bulbs glowed into life, and a low hum filled the basement.
"This is all most fascinating," Adam remarked.
"Well, there's little enough to see, I'm afraid. But if you want to see it, here we go. Five. Four. Three. Two. One." And with that, Doctor Turner threw a large blade switch at the centre of the table.
There was a brief pulse of sound, like the aftershock of an explosion without the explosion itself. A blue glow passed over the bowl of marbles, and then the bowl was empty.
"Remarkable!" Adam said.
"Where did the marbles go?" Georgie asked, more practically.
A reticent look came over Doctor Turner's face. "I haven't got round to that bit yet," she said. "I've been concentrating more on getting them back in one piece."
She detached a small device from the control board, carefully unplugging its connections, and held it up. It resembled a wristwatch, only with two dials and various exposed pieces of circuitry.
"This is worn by the operator," she said. "As you can see, there was a shift of approximately five minutes. The right-hand dial will now count down from five minutes to zero."
"That being the point at which the operator needs to place the machine in reverse?" Adam said.
"Yes. If you don't do that, or you throw the switch too early or too late, the payload disappears for good." Doctor Turner gave a self-deprecating shrug. "Of course, it's all theoretical. The system isn't anywhere near ready for an actual human operator yet." She clipped the wristwatch back into its place. "We might as well wait five minutes, just in case."
The five minutes passed, in silence for the most part. Georgie made a brief attempt to lighten the mood by whistling 'Ticket to Ride', but neither of the other two seemed to appreciate it. In the end, she decided she was wasting her talent on such an audience, and settled for watching the wristwatch as it ticked down the minutes and seconds. As the second hand passed the figure '30' a bell began to chime; Doctor Turner took her place at the controls of the machine, counting down under her breath. Precisely as the hand reached '0', she reversed the position of the blade switch. Waves of blue-white light rippled over the bowl, the tripod, and a patch of floor surrounding it.
As the light subsided, and the machine fell silent once more, Doctor Turner's two visitors looked at the bowl, and then the floor. The bowl was empty, but its contents lay scattered around it in a spray of glass shards.
"It needs a bit more work," Doctor Turner said, with the same reticence in her voice.
Adam was kneeling by the patch of glass fragments. "A remarkable achievement," he said.
"Thank you." Doctor Turner switched off a few more switches. "Shall we go back upstairs now?"