Chapter 1: Prototype
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?"
Chapter 2: Time to Kill
It was about ten minutes later that the cellar door swung open and Georgie tiptoed down the stairs. From above came the distant murmur of voices: Adam and Doctor Turner, engaged in an endless, allusive negotiation. Georgie had left them, to it, making an excuse about needing the toilet, and commenced her own investigation.
The first time she'd entered the cellar and seen the machine, she'd wondered if it had all been a fraud: something like a stage prop, intended to impress Adam into investing just by looking complicated. But it seemed that Doctor Turner was sincere, at least in her intention to build... this. Whatever it was.
Georgie looked the machine over. Obviously she wasn't any sort of physicist, but she'd seen enough musicians assembling and dismantling their kit to understand about wires and switches. The cables from the brass bowl ran to a switch at one end of the control panel, and then into the works of the machine. But there seemed to be another wire, running out of the switch and down to floor level. As Georgie traced it, she quickly found that it ran all the way around the room and back to the machine.
Idly, she toggled the switch back and forth a few times, to no effect. Then she ran her hand along the other controls. It was only when the machine began to hum, and the lights glimmered into life, that she realised what she'd done. She tried to restore the switches to their original positions, but, when it came to it, she couldn't remember what those positions had been.
"Miss Jones!" It was Adam's voice; he was hurrying down the stairs, with Doctor Turner in hot pursuit. "What are you doing?"
"Just looking around," Georgie said, not sounding remotely convincing even to herself.
"Switch it off, you numbskull!" Doctor Turner shouted.
"Shunt power to the auxiliary resistance grids. But make sure you decouple the condenser bank."
Georgie shrugged. "I didn't understand a word of that."
"Neither did I," Adam said. By now, he was beside Georgie at the controls of the machine. "You will have to make allowances for the lay mind."
"OK." Doctor Turner was hanging back on the steps; she presumably had a better idea than the other two of how safe it was close to get to the machine. "Second dial from the right. What's the reading?"
"Two hundred and five."
"So much for that." Doctor Turner ran her hands through her hair. "It can't be shut down safely. The power's already too high. We'll have to go through with it... or rather, you will. Throw the switch. The big one."
Georgie's hand was already closing around the switch. This time, the blue glow engulfed the walls and floor of the cellar, bars of light moving upward as if the room was sinking into the ground.
"No!" Doctor Turner's face looked pale and sick, and that wasn't just due to the light from the machine. "You didn't— One of you, put the watch on. Now!"
Georgie dived forward and grabbed the watch. For a moment, it felt as if it was somehow slipping through her fingers, or her fingers were slipping through it; then it returned to solidity. Before she could fasten it round her wrist, she was distracted by what was happening to the room. The blue light seemed, if anything, to be growing. Not only were the walls and ceiling melting away, so was the machine in front of them. Doctor Turner still seemed to be shouting instructions to them, but her voice made no sound, and she was as translucent as a ghost.
And then Georgie was lying on a concrete floor. She managed to open her eyes, and saw a large, open space, that might have been an abandoned factory or an empty warehouse. Daylight flooded in through a long row of windows, illuminating a dusty concrete floor. She jumped to her feet and looked around wildly, as if she might catch a glimpse of scene-shifters in the process of removing Doctor Turner's cellar from the stage.
"Remarkable!" Adam's voice said. Georgie turned to find him a few feet away, dusting himself down. "It would seem that Doctor Turner's machine is capable of more than she gave it credit for."
"You mean..." Georgie looked around again. "You mean it's sent us to the same place where it sent the marbles? But we haven't smashed to pieces."
"We are better placed than them to survive a fall onto a concrete floor."
"Yes, but where are we?"
"A pertinent question, Miss Jones."
"Then we'd better explore and find out, hadn't we?"
Adam held up a hand. "Before you do, I suggest you check the time on the watch you retrieved."
"Oh, of course. We go back after five minutes, don't we? At least, that's what happened with the marbles." Georgie clipped the band onto her wrist, looked at it, then held it to her ear. "I don't think this is working properly."
"It says six and a half hours. Look."
"It seems, then, we shall have to wait for six and a half hours before we can be retrieved," he said calmly.
"Six hours! I couldn't sit around doing nothing for six..." Georgie tailed off, as an idea crossed her mind. "Well, at least you can tell me what that machine's supposed to do."
"Miss Jones, my interest in that machine—"
"I know what you're going to say: it's none of my business. Well, it's dumped us both in this place so I think that makes it as much my business as yours. Don't you?"
Adam bowed. "Very well. Doctor Turner is attempting to develop a time machine."
If he had been hoping for stunned incomprehension from Georgie, he was sadly disappointed. She merely put one hand to her head, and said "Of course. Why didn't I realise?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Well, it's what you've always wanted, isn't it? A way to go home."
Adam gave her a disapproving look. "Miss Jones, please dismiss from your mind all thoughts of what I would or would not do with a time machine. The fact remains that while Doctor Turner may be trying to construct a time machine, she has not so far had any success in so doing."
"That's what she told you. But she said it couldn't do anything bigger than a few marbles, didn't she?"
"Miss Jones! You suspect that harmless, innocent girl of attempting to deceive us?"
"What would you call it, then?"
"A scientist's natural caution, no more. She was not to know you would take it into your head to make your own experiments with her invention. It is fortunate you were not killed."
"Point taken," Georgie conceded. "But hang on a moment. You said Doctor Turner told you she hadn't managed to build a time machine. But maybe she was fibbing about that too. Maybe we're in the past or the future."
"The past seems unlikely," Adam said. "Doctor Turner's house must have been seventy or eighty years old, and I cannot imagine this structure existed previously on the site."
"The future, then!" Georgie's eyes lit up. "I bet everyone flies around on jetpacks and goes to work on the Moon."
Before Adam could stop her, she'd dashed off.
"Miss Jones!" Adam made to follow her, but paused as a thought struck him. Hastily, he pulled a stick of chalk from his pocket, and marked the spot where he stood. If Doctor Turner was to be believed — and he found it hard to suspect such an accomplished young lady of any deception — they would have to be standing in that exact place as the count on the watch reached zero.
Then he set off after Georgie, regretting that his swordstick was back at Doctor Turner's house rather than in his hand.
Chapter 3: Protectorate
The door of the warehouse had been left ajar. It led into a courtyard, from which a similarly open gate brought Georgie to the street. To her disappointment, it didn't seem that she was in the future; the cars parked here and there looked much like the ones she saw every day, and the pedestrians' fashions looked more Fifties than twenty-first century.
Georgie's heart leapt. She spun round, to see a policeman heading her way.
"Just looking round, officer," she said, as the man came to a halt in front of her. "Sorry, was I trespassing? It doesn't say 'keep out' or anything."
"Doesn't mean you're allowed in there, miss." He gave Georgie a hard stare. "And if I was you, I'd take care not to go exploring round there again."
"Why, what's the matter?"
"Got a bad name, that place has. Now, girl, are you going to run along and behave or do you want me to take you down to the station?"
"Do you mean arrest me? That's absurd! I haven't done anything wrong!"
"Sergeant at the station'll be the judge of that, miss. Declare if you're a fit and responsible person... or if you're not. So if I was you, I'd get along back to my—"
He broke off, at the sound of the warehouse gate. As he turned, Adam emerged from the gateway, closing the gate behind him.
"Ah," the policeman said, his voice shifting toward a more respectful tone. "Are you with the young lady, sir?"
"That certainly appears to be the situation," Adam said. "Miss Jones, are you unharmed?"
"I'm fine," Georgie said. "Not a scratch. Except this policeman says he thinks I mightn't be a fit and responsible person, or something."
"Can you vouch for her, sir?" the policeman asked.
Adam paused in brief contemplation. "I should say so," he declared. "Subject to the usual vagaries of the fairer sex, of course."
"Of course, sir," the policeman said, with a knowing chuckle.
"Now just a minute," Georgie began, but the policeman took not the slightest notice.
"Now, you make sure she stays out of trouble, sir," he said. "Wouldn't want a pretty girl like that to get mixed up with the Protectorate."
"I shall do my best," Adam said, with a plaintive look that Georgie instantly read as For all the good that ever does.
"Then I think we may call the matter closed, sir. Miss." The bobby touched the brim of his helmet. "Mind how you go, then."
Adam took Georgie by the arm, and together they walked away down the street. The policeman, having watched them until he was sure they had no intention of returning to the warehouse, then turned and continued his beat.
"Are you wearing the wristwatch?" Adam asked.
Georgie nodded. "Six hours eighteen minutes."
"Then we can hardly hope to remain here for that length of time without attracting further attention from our good friend, policeman H.242. Shall we take a little walk?"
"I suppose so." Georgie looked around. "I don't get where we are. Is this the past? It looks like about ten years ago. But there's something about the cars..."
"You mean, perchance, the shield each one bears on its number plate?"
"That's it!" Georgie took a closer look at a parked car they were passing. It was, apparently, a Swallow Speeder, which wasn't a make Georgie recalled ever seeing before. "Hang on, I'm sure I've seen that shield somewhere."
"On a Meissen plate, hanging over the fireplace in my dining room. The design has been simplified somewhat, but the heraldry is unmistakeable."
"You said that plate was part of your family dinner service, didn't you? Does that mean it's your coat of arms?"
"So every car's going around with your coat of arms on it. That's crazy — unless this is all a dream." Georgie pinched her arm. "No, didn't work."
Adam glanced over his shoulder, in case they once again caught the policeman's attention. "Shall we continue with our walk?"
"OK. Where are we going?"
"My suggestion would be to locate a library and research the term 'Protectorate', Adam said. "Whatever the place or time that we have arrived in, knowledge is still power. And at present we are sadly lacking in both."
After half an hour or so of walking, Georgie was even less sure where or when they were. The layout of the streets was approximately the same as the London she knew, and enough of the landmarks were recognisable that it could be no other city. But there was as much strangeness as familiarity: old buildings where she'd have expected new, new where there should have been old. The design of the new buildings wasn't right, either; they had a ponderous, imperialistic look to them.
And then there were the posters. A lot of the billboards were for normal products, even if Georgie couldn't recognise the manufacturer's name. But among them were huge posters with nothing but a man's face and a slogan. It was the same man each time, though the slogans varied; "BRITANNIA — INDUSTRY — FAMILY" seemed to be a popular one.
"Aha!" Adam caught her arm and directed her attention to a newsvendor's stand.
"Aha?" Georgie repeated. "Oh! A paper'll have the date, won't it?"
"Precisely." Adam crossed to the stand, and presently returned with a folded newspaper. "The Morning Post, no less."
"Let's have a look." Georgie peered at the masthead. "But that doesn't make any sense. It says it's today!"
"I find that newspapers often do."
"Oh, you know what I mean. This isn't the past, or the future — it's now. Except it can't be. What's going on?"
"I could not say. But I shall be interested to hear Doctor Turner's thoughts on the subject, in approximately five and three-quarter hours."
"So you do think she knows more than she was letting on."
"No: merely that quantum physics are her area of expertise. Shall we move on? I believe your clothes are again attracting attention."
Georgie nodded. Wherever they were, it was obvious that they had very different ideas about fashion for women. Muted pastels appeared to be the order of the day, with knee-length skirts; Georgie's brightly-coloured striped top and trousers couldn't help standing out wherever they went. Normally she wouldn't have minded, but round here it seemed to attract policemen. They'd all used the same words, too: 'fit and responsible person.'
"Let's find somewhere we can read this—" she began, broke off suddenly, and put her hand to her mouth. "Hey, you know what?"
"I think you may assume that I do not, Miss Jones."
"We haven't gone forwards in time, or backwards, have we? So we must have gone sideways!"
"Your point, I regret to say, remains obscure to me."
"Listen, it's a quantum thing." Georgie groped in her recollection for the article she'd read. "Every time something happens, there's a universe where it doesn't happen. Or happens the other way. Or something."
"I see. You believe that we have been transported to a world where history took a different turn at some juncture. For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost... you know the proverb, I'm sure."
"Right!" Georgie waved the newspaper. "I mean, look at this. The Morning Post. There isn't any such paper in the real world, is there?"
"There was — before I was frozen. I understand it ceased publication some time between then and the present day."
"I wonder what's in it?" Georgie came to a halt and opened the newspaper. "Hang on, that can't be right."
"You remember Mr Sinoda?"
Adam raised an eyebrow. "It is hard to forget a blackguard who planned to wipe out humanity with a lethal plague."
"Well, it says here he's been executed! Beheaded!"
"May I see?"
Georgie, still looking shocked, handed the paper over. Adam glanced down the article. It was clear that this world's Sinoda had proved as much a fiend in human form as the one they had known. But in this world, he had lived to stand his trial, been convicted of treason, and been decapitated at the Tower of London.
"It seems that in this world he received something closer to justice," he said. "You would, I hope, agree that a trial is preferable to an act of private vengeance?"
"Well, I suppose so. But cutting his head off! That sounds like something from the Middle Ages."
Adam handed the paper back. "I'm sure there are many aspects of our world that the residents of this one would find equally unfamiliar."
"I should just say so." Georgie was flipping through the pages. "There's something here about an Empire Parliament." She turned another page. "And re-education camps. Creepy. Hang on, where are you going?"
Adam had turned sharply, leading her into a narrow street between two buildings.
"Three men in plain clothes are following us," he said. "Hurry!"
They passed through the network of minor roads and alleyways at a brisk walk rather than a run, making half-a-dozen turns in as many minutes. Though the alleys were less trafficked, the occasional political poster or list of emergency regulations could be seen. And, here and there, a curious graffito: a circle containing two smaller circles and a D-shape, forming a stylised, grinning face.
"Have we lost them?" Georgie whispered, after a while.
Adam nodded. "I believe so," he replied, equally quietly.
"I wonder what they wanted us for."
"I have not the least idea. I suggest, Miss Jones, that we find a library or other source of information with all speed. Our lack of knowledge regarding this world is rapidly becoming more than a mere inconvenience."
Chapter 4: For Want of a Moustache
In order to absorb the maximum of information, Adam and Georgie had split up, and each made their own investigation of the library's history shelves. Their researches complete, they met in the panelled, marble-floored lobby of the building to compare notes.
"You go first," Georgie said.
"Very well." Adam looked as if he was confronting a painful subject, one which he knew could not be avoided. "It would seem that the Lord Protector is one Clive Adamant."
Georgie nodded. "The man on the posters. He got the Royal Family locked up in the loony bin in the Thirties, didn't he?"
"Those are not the words I would have used, but that is sadly the case." Adam winced. "Clive Adamant, I regret to say, is my son. Or rather the son of my counterpart in this world."
"And that's why he's put your coat of arms all over everything. So if his dad was you — well, you know what I mean — who was his mum?"
"Louise." The word fell from Adam's lips as though it had lacerated him to speak it. "I fear he took after his mother."
"My book didn't have anything about that. So in this world Louise didn't sell you out to the Face?"
"It would appear not. The Face met his end soon afterwards."
"What, properly? Or was it like one of those serials in the cinema where the baddie falls over a cliff and there's no body and then he shows up next month as right as rain?"
"The book did not go into details."
Georgie made an exasperated gesture. "Why do they always leave the best bits out?"
"In this case, I suspect the hand of an official censor. The Face's death — in deference to your scepticism, Miss Jones, I shall say 'apparent death' — was sufficient to change the course of the European wars that followed. And the character of the governments that subsequently came to power."
"I got that bit... well, most of it." Georgie said. "You're saying this government's basically Fascist."
"From the accounts I have read, there do appear to be some similarities. Though of course, a British government of such a stripe would never stoop to using an Italian term to describe itself."
Georgie shrugged. "Same thing, isn't it?"
"I do find one aspect of the affair puzzling," Adam went on. "Surely the Protector's father would be a well-known and recognisable figure. Yet nobody has accosted me."
"Ah, I know that one." Georgie smiled. "There was a picture of the other you. And he had a great big moustache from here to here. It really changed how he looked." She stopped briefly in thought. "I wonder if that's why Louise stuck with him. Maybe she had a thing for men with moustaches."
"You believe that for want of a moustache, all of history was lost." Adam looked at her, his expression far-away. "On the merest stroke of a razor, empires stand or fall."
"Well, I think you look better without one."
"Thank you." Adam inclined his head. "How much time remains to us?"
Georgie checked her wristwatch. "Three hours forty minutes. Look, I've just had an idea."
"About how we find out if the Face really did get bumped off in 1902. What we need to do is ask someone who was around then, don't we? Someone who saw what happened."
"I fear that after sixty-six years we cannot hope for eyewitnesses." Adam cast a sharp glance at Georgie. "You do not agree. Whom do you suggest?"
Georgie took a deep breath. "Gramps."
"Your grandfather." Adam nodded slowly. "I see. In this world, he may well be alive. But how would you propose to find him in three and a half hours? The telephone directory must contain many Joneses."
"I know — I looked. And I made a list." She gave Adam a beseeching look. "We could visit a couple and see if they're the right one, can't we? Since we're here anyway."
"And I presume that, were I to forbid you, you would do it anyway." Adam rose to his feet. "Firstly, though, we will need to ensure we leave this place unmolested."
"Those men following us... you think they were the Protector's Gestapo or what have you? Do you think they recognised you?"
"Possibly. The trained mind is better able to ignore such distractions as the presence or absence of a moustache. I propose, in any event, that we leave the building by a less obvious route than the front door."
"How about the fire escape?" Georgie asked eagerly. "Bags I go first."
According to the countdown on Georgie's watch, there were less than two hours to go before they had to be back at the warehouse. Following the list of names and addresses she had compiled, they had been to one address after another, hoping to find this universe's counterpart of her grandfather. So far, none had borne fruit, and Georgie's feet were beginning to hurt.
In addition, the Protectorate's secret police were still, in Georgie's words, nosing around. Up to now they had managed to give them the slip, but it was a time-consuming business. It had also brought them to the seamier areas of this alternate London; areas that, in Georgie's opinion, were scarcely better than slums. Instead of the thrusting modern tower blocks of her own city, these were patched-up Victorian terraces, suffering from decades of neglect. The posters of Protector Clive Adamant were few and far between in these neighbourhoods, easily outnumbered by the grinning-face graffiti.
"The next address is in Fairbank Street, is it not?" Adam said.
Georgie nodded. In her own London, Fairbank Street had been pulled down a few years ago and replaced by a new development, but she knew they could not be far from its site.
"It's a bit up this road and round the corner," she said.
"Then... ah." Adam paused, looking over her shoulder. "I fear that we have attracted unwelcome attention once again."
"I suppose that means we'll have to waste our time dodging them—" Georgie broke off as inspiration struck. "Hey, why don't we split up? You can lead those Gestapo types all round the houses while I pop into Fairbank Street and see if it's the right address."
"Miss Jones, I consider that plan to be highly inadvisable—"
"Fab, let's go." Not waiting for a further reply, Georgie set off at a brisk walk, trying to ignore her aching feet.
Adam sighed inwardly. Inadvisable as Miss Jones's plan was, he had no choice now but to follow it, and hope that it succeeded. At all costs, the men shadowing them needed to have their attention drawn to him, and not her. He set off in the opposite direction from the one she had taken, adding a certain swagger to his walk.
As Georgie had anticipated, Fairbank Street had been no great distance from where she'd parted with Adam. She looked around; seeing no obvious secret policemen skulking after her, she walked down the terrace, looking for the correct house.
"Can I help you, miss?"
Georgie jumped, and looked around. The man addressing her was a policeman: a uniformed constable, burly and with a military bearing.
"I'm looking for number 14," she said. "Mr Jones."
"Oh? And what's your business with Mr Jones, young lady?"
"I don't see what that's got to do with you."
"Now, miss, you keep a civil tongue in your head, or it'll be the worse for you. What's your business with Mr Jones?"
"If you must know, I've lost touch with my grandfather, and I wondered if Mr Jones might be him."
"I see, miss. And what's your name?"
"Let's see your papers, then."
"My papers?" Georgie felt the blood draining from her face. "I... I must have come out without them. Wasn't that silly of me?"
The policeman shook his head sadly. "I think we'd better take you down to the station, miss. If you're forgetful enough not to carry your papers, you mightn't be a fit and responsible person. Why, you could wander around after curfew and get into all sorts of trouble."
"Look, I'm not doing anything wrong!"
"Maybe not, miss, but we'll take you down the station and get a few more details. Just for your own protection."
"But I—" Georgie began, and broke off. The policeman had let out a gasp, and a puzzled expression had appeared on his face. He rocked back on his feet, then toppled forward. Instinctively, Georgie tried to catch him, but found herself pulled down by what was very definitely a dead weight. A black-feathered arrow, of all the incongruous things, was sticking out of the policeman's back.
Georgie looked around. The street appeared deserted.
"Help?" she asked, tentatively.
A number of figures emerged from various doorways. Despite the warmth of the day, they were wearing heavy overcoats, with caps worn low on their heads and scarves wrapped around their faces. Without haste, they converged on her.
"I didn't do it!" Still pinned under the policeman, Georgie could do nothing but look desperately around the tightening circle. "I was just asking the way. Who are y—"
Strong arms caught hold of her, and a hood was thrown over her head. She struggled, but against so many it was hopeless.
"Adam!" she managed to shout, before the hood was pulled tight, almost suffocating her. She felt herself hoisted onto somebody's shoulders, and roughly carried away.
Chapter 5: Truth Will Out
At first they'd bound Georgie hand and foot, and dumped her somewhere dark that smelt of petrol. She'd struggled against her bonds, but hadn't made any progress before her captors had returned. Still bound, she'd been hoisted onto what felt like a workbench, and tied to it. The countdown watch was taken from her. Someone put her right hand between the jaws of what she guessed was a vice, and then wound it just tight enough to hurt. Wires were clipped to her left arm. Only then was the hood pulled back. Above her, she could see a bare lightbulb hanging from a cobwebby corrugated-iron ceiling, and a few shelves with tools on them.
With quiet footsteps, a figure approached the workbench and looked down at her. Georgie, despite her resolution to remain defiant, couldn't resist a squeak of terror. The quilted robes and leather mask were instantly recognisable.
"So," the Face whispered. "What have we here?"
Georgie remained silent, keeping her eyes fixed on the eyeholes in the mask.
"Please pay careful attention," the Face went on. "I shall ask you various questions. You will answer them truthfully. Your responses are being monitored by a lie detector. For each question that you do not answer to my satisfaction, I shall tighten this vice by one quarter turn. Do you understand that?"
Georgie clenched her teeth.
"So be it." The Face bent over the workbench, and Georgie cried out as pain shot through her hand.
"I understand!" she gasped.
"Excellent." She wasn't sure, but perhaps the pressure slackened by a trifle. "Let us begin again. What is your name?"
"What was your business in Fairbank Street?"
"I wanted to visit Sam Jones."
"To see if he was— the man I thought he might be."
"Who did you think he was?"
"I thought he might have been my grandfather. We've lost touch."
There was a hiss of indrawn breath from the Face. "Was this visit solely for family purposes?"
"I..." Georgie swallowed. "No, it wasn't."
"What else did you hope to gain by it?"
"I wanted to ask him what happened to the Face." Georgie looked up at the impassive mask. "I don't need to ask him now, do I?"
The Face shook his head. "When did you last see your grandfather?"
"About two years ago."
"What was his address then?"
Georgie recited the address, as best she could remember it.
"When you were captured, you called for Adam. Who is Adam?"
"A friend— ow! Adam Adamant!"
"Adamant." The Face fell silent for a while. "Adam Adamant died more than twenty years ago. Your Adam: what is his full name?"
"Adam Llewellyn de Vere Adamant."
"How does he come to be alive and walking the streets of London?"
"It's a long story."
The Face waved a gloved hand. "I have as much time as I require. You have as much time as I care to allow you."
Oh, boy, Georgie thought. He'll never believe this.
"We've travelled from an alternative universe," she said. "I swear it's the truth."
Chapter 6: Face to Face
"And that is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" the Face asked.
"Yes." Georgie's voice was cracking, and she felt utterly drained. She felt as if she'd been answering endless questions for hours — how many hours, she didn't know. Perhaps long enough that the deadline for returning to the warehouse had passed, and she was trapped in this world forever.
"Interesting." The vice was slackened a touch, allowing Georgie's swollen, throbbing hand some respite. "I shall now decide what is to be done with you."
The figure moved out of her field of view. The light clicked off, leaving Georgie alone in the darkness.
She wasn't alone for long, though. Though she had heard nobody approaching, Adam's voice suddenly whispered in her ear: "Miss Jones."
"Mr Adamant," Georgie croaked.
The ropes around her feet slackened and fell away, then the ropes holding her arms. She felt his strong arms helping her to her feet.
"How did you find me?" she whispered.
"I have my methods. Come, we must leave before—"
The lights snapped on again.
"Make no sudden moves," the whispering voice said from behind them. "Turn slowly."
Adam and Georgie did as they were told. Standing at the far end of the room — clearly a lean-to garage, now that Georgie had a decent view of it — was the Face, accompanied by two young men armed with crossbows. Georgie briefly wondered if they weren't able to get hold of guns, or whether the use of bows had been a personal choice by the Face.
"Adam Adamant." The Face took a step forward. "A person I never expected to meet."
Adam drew himself up to his full height. "If I offer you my life, will you allow Miss Jones to leave unharmed?"
"Remarkable. An Adamant prepared to sacrifice his own life for others. How unlike the craven dictator your counterpart sired."
"Your inability to see the finer qualities of humanity has always been your downfall."
"Always?" The masked head shook. "Mr Adamant, I know far more about you than you do about me. And yet you presume to judge me. I am not the Face of your world."
"Nor am I the Face your counterpart fought and defeated, six decades ago. Miss Jones was trying to find out whether that Face was indeed killed, or somehow survived. A foolish question." The Face chuckled. "Humans can be killed. But another merely takes up the mask, and the Face lives once more."
Enlightenment burst upon Georgie. "Those drawings on the wall. The faces. They're you, aren't they?"
The Face made a self-deprecating gesture. "I have my admirers. There are enough among the poor, the outcast, those with family who have been executed or sent to the camps. For one who has lost everything, why not? Men, tell them."
"We live for the Face," the two bowmen chorused. "We die for the Face."
"And what of us?" Adam asked. "Do we, too, die for the Face?"
"Possibly. But I shall give you a chance." The Face tossed something to Georgie. Automatically, she caught it, and found herself looking down at the countdown watch. It showed forty-three minutes remaining. "If you can reach the warehouse in time, and leave the world never to return, I shall be content. If not... you are not responsible for Clive Adamant's crimes, but I cannot allow you to remain here alive.
"If you do return safely, I have a message for the woman who sent you." The Face dropped a folded piece of paper to the floor. "Once I have left, you may retrieve it. Now go."
"Wait!" Georgie said. "It was your men who shot the policeman, wasn't it?"
"He would have arrested you and sent you to the camps."
"Yes, I get that. But why did you save me? You didn't know who I am. I might have been a government spy or anything."
"Have you truly not guessed?"
The Face took a step forward. Slowly and carefully, the gloved hands rose to the mask, and lifted it. For an endless second, Georgie stared at the precise duplicate of her own visage. Then the mask was replaced. Without another word the Face turned and was gone.
"How long?" Adam asked, as they arrived, breathless, at the door of the warehouse.
"Don't know." Georgie was red and breathless, and her side ached. It seemed as if they'd run the entire way, pursued by every secret policeman and uniformed constable in London. "But it's started going ping."
"Less than a minute, then." Adam turned the handle sharply. "Hurry!"
They raced across the courtyard, through the empty warehouse, and took up their positions on either side of the chalked cross. As they tried to recover their breath, they could hear the sounds of pursuit coming ever closer. Two soberly-dressed men burst through the door, and trained revolvers on them.
"Put up your hands!" one of them barked.
Adam exchanged a glance with Georgie. They both complied.
"Now walk slowly towards the door."
Adam shook his head by an almost infinitesimal amount.
"I won't ask you again."
More men were crowding into the warehouse now, all of them armed, and none of them looking the least bit friendly.
"Secure them," one of them snapped.
There was a final ping from the watch around Georgie's wrist. The warehouse seemed suddenly darkened, as the lines of blue light descended from the ceiling, surrounding Adam and Georgie with a luminous cage. A rushing, hissing noise filled their ears.
When the noise faded, they were standing once more in Doctor Turner's cellar. Doctor Turner herself was seated at the controls of the time machine, her hands darting swiftly and surely over the switches and dials. As the last lights winked out, she looked over her shoulder at Adam and Georgie, and let out a long breath.
"You're back," she said. "Seems that fortune favours the foolish. You've no idea how lucky you two are. There was no reason to expect the machine would transport you safely."
"I'm sure Miss Jones has learned her lesson," Adam said.
"She'd damn well better have. I want you two out of here before you cause any more trouble. Got that?"
"Got it," Georgie said. She lowered her hands, and looked at her right hand. "Hey, my hand's not..."
Before she could complete the sentence, Doctor Turner was ushering them both firmly out of the cellar and back to her living room.
"Now," she said. "You were gone for over six hours. I'd really like to know what you observed."
"Not again," Georgie said. "I've been interrogated once today already."
"That reminds me." Adam patted his pocket. "Her interrogator had a message for you."
He reached into his pocket, then drew his hand out with a puzzled expression. "It would appear somebody has stolen it."
"And my hand isn't hurt any more," Georgie said. "I noticed as soon as we got back."
"That would seem to confirm Horowitz's Theory," Doctor Turner said. "He surmised that a traveller returns as they left. They can't bring anything back except information."
"Then you will have to be content with a précis of the message," Adam said. "The... the sender instructs you not to use her world as a dumping ground for dead bodies."
"I don't know what you mean," Doctor Turner said. Her face had turned an unpleasant, sallow colour.
"Come, Doctor Turner. I may not share your knowledge of quantum physics, but please do not take me for a simpleton." Somehow, without either Georgie or Doctor Turner noticing, he had retrieved his sword cane. "It is obvious that you knew your machine was able to transport considerably more than a few marbles. You knew that if the machine was not shut down correctly, whatever it transported disappeared forever. And you are, by your own account, in urgent and immediate need of funds. How better to increase your funds, by selling your services as a discreet undertaker to London's criminal underworld?"
Doctor Turner glared back at him. "You can't prove anything."
"If you were to persist in such activity, that might not remain the case." Adam rose to his feet. "I do not think I shall be investing in your project. Good day, Doctor Turner. We shall see ourselves out."
Keeping Georgie close beside him, he left the house, politely closing the door behind him.
"Was any of it real?" Georgie said. "We haven't got any proof that we went to another world. Maybe it all came out of our heads."
Adam shrugged. "Possibly. That would explain why the world we travelled to was so intimately connected with my past — and your present. On which subject, I find it hard to believe that you could have taken on the rôle of the Face so successfully."
"What, you still don't think a girl can be a proper criminal? Except she wasn't a crook, really, was she? She was more like Robin Hood."
"I have by now had ample opportunity to see what depths young women can plumb." Adam had by now reached his Mini; he opened the door. "I simply doubt that you would be able to keep your voice to a whisper for any significant length of time."
Before Georgie could come up with a riposte, he had raised his hat to her, climbed into the car, and driven away.
"Hey, Mr Adamant," Georgie shouted vainly after his departing tail lights. "Wait for me!"