He went back to the Cat in the Bag, later – two years later, he had to remind himself, unfamiliar music playing in the background.
Bloody hell, not Stephen Hawking as well, he thought to himself, glancing at the muted television screen in the corner. He ordered a pint, then remembered he still hadn’t a wallet, the small pile of cash Gabbie had tucked into his jacket pocket earlier on growing thinner by the hour.
At least I’m wearing shoes, now, he shrugged, fishing into his pocket for a tenner – the texture all wrong under his fingertips, same as the shape of those shiny new quids he was given with his change. It’s going to take a while to get used to, this two-years-into-the-future malarkey, he sighed, even as he retraced his steps to the table he and Gabbie had been sitting at what still felt a mere couple of hours ago. Unsurprisingly, it was already occupied – a cheery young man, probably in his early thirties, looked up from his drink and offered him a smile that was a little too friendly for comfort, even more so coming from a stranger.
“Oh, hello, I didn’t see you standing there. Is this your table? If so, I can probably go and sit somewhere else – I’m waiting for an old friend, actually, only he texted me that he’s running a bit late. You know how they always place you in the holding pattern at Heathrow – not that we ever landed there, actually, Mum says it’s horribly expensive – my name’s Arthur, by the way, I don’t think I caught your name?”
“I – what?”
“Your name – you must have one, everyone does. Even the royals gets loads, though they do get to pick a new one when they become King or Queen – or, I think so, at least, I do get a bit mixed up sometimes.”
Blinking repeatedly under the barrage of non sequiturs, Martin gestured vaguely at his pint, the frothy foam on top already starting to recede a little. “No worries, mate, I’m just having a quick drink before going home. I’ll leave you to it.”
Well, if I still had anywhere to go home to, that is, he winced internally. It had been two years, after all, and his friend Graham must have thought he’d died in the explosion – just like everyone else up until Gabbie informed the police, right before storming in to save the day.
“Oh,” the young man’s face fell all too quickly. “Was it something I said? Mum always says that I talk too much, and people may find it annoying.”
“That’s not,” he sighed, and trailed off. “It’s been a bit of a tough day, that’s all.”
“I’m happy to listen, too, if that’s any help? I love helping, and since Martin’s running late...”
“Who?” he snapped up his head, half expecting some kind of time-travelling version of himself materialising at the door any time now.
“My friend, Martin – he’s an airline pilot. Like, a proper one, with a salary and everything.”
“Oh, okay,” he nodded somewhat absently, heaving a sigh of relief. “I just thought – my name’s Martin, too, you know.”
“What a brilliant coincidence! Are you also a pilot, by any chance?”
“Not at all, no. I – suppose I’m rather on the unemployed side, at the moment.”
The man took a swig of his drink – which looked suspiciously like peach juice, actually – and made a sympathetic face. “I’m sorry to hear that. Tell you what, why don’t you sit down and tell me a little about it? Douglas says it usually helps, talking stuff out.”
“I – fine,” he shrugged, scraping back one of the chairs and sliding down on it. He knew this was madness, but as of right now, he was too tired to even muster the energy to care. “What would you say if I told you I’m actually a time traveller?”
“Oooh, like someone out of Doctor Who?” the young man nearly jumped on his chair, excitably. “Do you have a TARDIS of your own?”
“Not exactly – but if you must know, only this morning I was forced at gunpoint into Heaven, where an Angel shoved a magic spanner into my brain – and now the spanner’s broken, and here I am in 2018, and it all sounds ever so ridiculous now that I’m saying it out loud.”
“How did you get past all the otters, though?”
“...what?” Martin spluttered, nearly choking on his beer.
“Well, you know how Heaven is full of otters? Douglas said so – unless it was another of his jokes, I’m not sure.”
He stared at his beer for a long moment. Of all the absurdities he’d ever heard – on the other hand, the man seemed quite happy to take this whole story about magic and angels in his stride, accepting it as something that had really happened rather than a product of Martin’s imagination, so that had to count for something. “Can’t say I’ve seen any otters, no. Robots, on the other hand...”
“Tell me more!” the man grinned, and leaned forward way more excitedly than he had any right to be, narrowly avoiding knocking over his glass in the process.
Martin took a long sip of his beer, then decided he might as well start from the beginning.