The Michaelmas Phantoms
The Invisible Terror
It was like a gigantic metal doughnut. That was the best analogy Sonia McIntyre could think of, as she looked at the bulk of the particle accelerator. The torus was about the size of a football pitch, and almost completely filled the specially dug basement of the building. It was several metres tall, and stood a metre or so above the ground thanks to the metal framework that supported it. At many points around the doughnut, huge electrical coils encircled it.
Her guide, Professor Bernard Saunders, was pointing these out now. "These are the electromagnets," he said. "They're among the most powerful ever utilized in Britain. They create the magnetic field necessary to contain the chronon stream within the torus."
Sonia nodded sagely. She was no scientist, but Saunders had explained the principle well enough. She knew all she needed to do her job of protecting the thing.
"Unlike a conventional particle accelerator," Saunders went on, "there is no risk of radiation contamination. However, the properties of the chronon are not fully understood. If the magnetic containment field was ruptured, the consequences might be far worse than any of us could contemplate."
"It doesn't sound particularly safe," Sonia remarked.
"I assure you," said Saunders, his feathers ruffled a little, "that the electromagnets are more than enough to contain the stream. The reason they are so powerful is to prevent any unfortunate accidents."
Sonia smiled to herself. She had hit a nerve. Professor Saunders was just a little too proud of his achievement. He was the head of the research project, but more than that, it was mostly his vision and design. He was a dedicated man, certainly, but Sonia felt he spent too long dreaming of a Nobel Prize for Physics. Still, that was her opinion. There was no doubt Saunders was a brilliant man. She had checked his file thoroughly. His academic achievements spoke for themselves.
He was in his fifties and going grey, quite a thin and wiry man and possessing a sort of nervous energy. When he got excited, particularly about his own research, there was no stopping him.
"Once we have accelerated the chronons to velocities approaching the speed of light," he said, "they will start to break down, releasing the energy within. The very energy of creation itself. It will provide a source of almost unlimited power, efficient and clean, and with no harmful waste products. It is the solution to the world's energy problem."
"Which is all very well," said Sonia, bringing him back to earth. "But it's not a lot of use if it doesn't work."
"Well, that's why you're here, Major," said Saunders, regarding her. He was beginning to wonder whether he had done the right thing calling in UNIT. But the decision was scarcely his. Ultimately this was a government funded project, and the Ministry had the right to demand a security presence.
Saunders had been a little surprised by the form this presence took. On the very morning that the Ministry of Technology had telephoned to say that they were turning over security of the accelerator project to the British Section of United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, Major McIntyre had turned up in his office. She was about thirty, and dressed in mufti, a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. The sight of uniformed soldiers in Oxford was clearly felt to be inappropriate. Her brown hair was cut rather short, and she looked like she meant business. She spoke with a northern accent, and was too pragmatic and down to earth for Saunders's liking.
"So you suspect sabotage, do you?" Sonia asked.
"Well, the results of the first test runs have been disappointing," said Saunders. "My team and I have checked over all our figures, and there's no reason why that should be."
"A fault in the equipment?"
"That was my next thought, but we looked over everything thoroughly, and we couldn't find anything wrong."
"So what was the cause?"
"I don't know," said Saunders. "That's why I suspected sabotage, and why I phoned the Ministry."
"But there's no evidence of sabotage?" Sonia asked.
Saunders shook his head.
"Well," said Sonia slowly, "it looks to me like you must suspect one of your own team."
"I never said any such thing."
"No, but you must have thought it. I can't see any other way the equipment could have been sabotaged without your realizing it."
"But we checked the equipment over," Saunders protested.
"I imagine you're all responsible for separate sections of the equipment? What's to stop the guilty party from lying about the serviceability of his area?"
"I hadn't thought of that," Saunders admitted. "But look, I really think you're barking up the wrong tree here. I shouted sabotage in the initial panic, but I don't really believe it."
"Don't fret, Professor. It's just my job to suspect everyone. I hope to get to the bottom of this. With luck, it won't be a security problem. I just have to cover every possibility."
"I'm sure it must be something I've overlooked," said Saunders. "Either in the apparatus, or the calculations. Maybe a fresh eye will be able to spot the error."
"Well, I can't help you there," said Sonia. "I'm hoping that our scientific adviser will turn up soon to give his opinion."
"I had thought," said Saunders, "that he might have come down with you."
"Well, it's not quite so simple. We can't always pin him down."
The project control room was in the next chamber to the particle accelerator. Unlike the reinforced concrete and steel walls of the accelerator chamber itself, the control room was situated amid the somewhat crumbling stonework of the original basement. Inside, it had been packed out with all the necessary monitoring equipment for studying what was going on inside the torus of the accelerator. Banks of instruments lined the walls. Placed on three metal desks, amidst a clutter of papers and coffee cups, were computer terminals for each of the three scientists.
Colin Dicken was seated at his desk now, making some final adjustments to the data collection sub routines. His main task was to ensure that all results were recorded correctly. He felt overshadowed by his two colleagues, Professor Saunders and Doctor Wells, who between them had designed the particle accelerator. He was only here because some of his own theoretical research into relativistic effects had been incorporated into the original design specifications. It was all going towards his D.Phil., so he couldn't complain.
Charles Wells was sitting at the next desk, idly doodling on a scrap of paper. He seemed to find the abstract patterns he produced much more interesting than the technological breakthrough that was going on around him. He looked up impatiently. "Why is he taking so long?" he asked rhetorically.
Colin glanced towards the heavy metal door that led to the accelerator chamber. The Professor had gone through there with the woman from UNIT half an hour ago. Colin knew the way that Saunders got carried away about his invention, so he wasn't surprised that they had yet to emerge.
Wells started to doodle again with renewed vigour. "We should have started the accelerator test long ago," he said.
Colin did not reply. Doctor Wells gave him the creeps. Colin couldn't put his finger on what it was exactly. Wells had joined the project rather suddenly, bringing with him just the final pieces of equipment that Saunders needed. Previously, he had been working at a university overseas somewhere. Colin couldn't remember where. Of course, Wells's paperwork must have been in order. The University was very strict on that. Colin remembered the fuss when he had simply changed college a couple of years ago.
Wells also had a precise way of speaking - almost too precise, suggesting that English was not his first language but one he had learnt very carefully. His name sounded English enough, but you never knew. He also had a very good suntan, and Colin thought that was good enough cause for suspicion in Oxford in November.
The accelerator chamber door opened, with a whirring of the electric hinges. Professor Saunders came back into the control room with Sonia. "We've run tests three times in the past fortnight," Saunders was saying, "and always with the same disappointing results."
"You always run it at night?" Sonia asked.
"Yes, we have a special connexion to the National Grid. The accelerator requires a massive amount of electricity to get started. The power is only switched on when the peak demand is over. We got the connexion free of charge - the idea was that the energy produced would be fed back into the Grid, so they would be getting something out of it. Of course, it didn't work out like that."
Wells looked up and asked, "Are you ready to run the test now?"
"Yes," said Saunders. "Stand by to power up the electromagnets." He turned to Sonia. "You're welcome to stay and watch."
Sonia shrugged. "I don't see what good it will do, but it might give me an idea of what I'm facing."
She took a seat, and watched as the scientists got to work. The initial stages of the test were long and arduous, as the scientists pressed a myriad of buttons and called numbers to each other. Sonia got up and went to the door that led out of the control room. She caught a slightly offended look that Saunders threw in her direction, and indicated that she would return when things got more exciting.
The ante-chamber outside was used as a cloakroom. The scientists' coats hung behind a small wooden table, where sat the single member of Sonia's security team. UNIT HQ had felt that this matter warranted only a minimal presence. Sergeant Peter Starling was bright and alert. Despite his attempt to dress like a post graduate, he was too much of a soldier for the disguise to work. He jumped up and snapped to attention as Sonia entered.
"At ease," she said. "Anything happening?"
"All quiet, sir."
"I don't think we're doing any good just standing on the door," said Sonia. "Why don't you go upstairs and have a look around for anything suspicious?"
"Very good, sir."
Sonia went back into the control room. There was a hum of power coming from the accelerator chamber now, and the three scientists seemed just that much more excited. Colin was calling out figures as he read them from his computer screen: "Fifty seven... fifty eight."
It seemed that sixty was the number they were aiming for. Then the magnetic field would be strong enough for their purposes. "Fifty nine," Colin read.
"Stand by," Saunders called.
Wells seemed to tense, as he turned his attention to a special set of controls mounted beside him.
"Sixty and stable," said Colin.
"Begin injector cycle," said Saunders.
Wells started to turn the controls. "Injecting first chronon stream," he
It was cold at this time of the year, and Crabtree's breath turned to vapour before him. A few street lamps lit the square in which he stood. According to his map of Oxford, the tall cylindrical building behind him was called Radcliffe Camera. He did not know why, nor what its purpose was. Local information was often scant on such a distant mission.
The clothes he was wearing were supposed not to attract attention - a sharply pressed black suit and homburg hat. The disguise did not work terribly well, for he felt the stares of people upon him continually. He had in fact seen no one else dressed in this particular style. Although the costume came from approximately the right period, within fifty years or so, it seemed that styles changed fast in this era. The research files back at headquarters could sometimes be a bit vague about what precisely was fashionable when.
There was a movement to his left. He turned to see his colleague, Gates, emerging from a small lane into the square. He was dressed in an identical black suit. The garments were immaculate, and looked brand new. Like Crabtree, Gates had quite a tanned face, something else which seemed to draw attention.
Gates did not appear to be hurrying. When he had come within earshot, he said, "There is another trace." He spoke very precisely, as if he had carefully learnt the language.
Crabtree replied similarly. "From the same source?" he asked.
Gates nodded. "It would appear so." Gates and Crabtree were not their real names, of course, but they were the only names they were allowed to use when on assignment in this period.
Crabtree said, "I will fetch the car." The vehicle they had been given was also based on historical records, and Crabtree thought it was probably slightly out of period. He had not seen anything else like it in the streets. He was however quite fond of its rounded black shape. It was called a Wolseley. It was parked in a nearby street. Like their clothes, it was brand new, its paintwork gleaming and unscratched, its interior smelling as if it had just come out of the factory.
Crabtree brought the vehicle round to the edge of the square, where
Gates was waiting for him. Once his colleague was in the car, Crabtree
started to drive according to Gates's instructions. The scanning equipment
in the car was picking up the trace quite clearly now. Perhaps this time
they would succeed.
Thomasine King made her way quickly up the steps of the Nuclear Physics building. Of the many entrance doors, she found the one on the far right to be still unlocked. She went inside, out of the cold November evening. As usual, the lobby was empty. Colin was not waiting to meet her. He always ended up working much later than he said he was going to. Thomasine suspected that his professor was taking advantage of Colin's good nature.
She suddenly came over faint, and stumbled gratefully to the single chair outside the enquiries window. She sat down, and pressed her hand to her head. She could feel another migraine coming on. They seemed to be more frequent of late. They were especially bad on late nights like this.
Thomasine closed her eyes to try and calm the pain. The lights of the lobby were becoming too bright for her. Pain shot through her head. It was as if her mind were being torn in two.
She became vaguely aware of some footsteps nearby. Someone had emerged from the stairwell. Thomasine looked up and forced her eyes to focus, hoping that it was Colin. But it was a stranger who walked out into the lobby. He had light brown hair, cropped very short. He was in his mid to late twenties, she estimated. He was dressed pretty casually. Thomasine supposed he must be another research student working on the project, since no one else would be here this late. It was funny that Colin hadn't mentioned him.
Peter Starling was looking at Thomasine curiously. He hadn't expected to find anyone else in the building, so he was rather surprised to discover her here. His first reaction was one of suspicion. Who was this young woman, and what was she doing here? How had she got in? It was Starling's understanding that the main doors were to be locked at seven, and only opened when the scientists chose to leave.
The girl was quite good looking, with long blonde hair, but appearances meant nothing. Starling was about to address her quite harshly when he saw that she was not looking too well. He found a tiny fragment of sympathy in him then, and spoke more softly. "Are you all right, love?"
Thomasine looked up through the fog that filled her mind. "Don't call me love," she said. One thing she hated was false words of affection from complete strangers.
"I'm sorry," said Starling, suitably chastened. "But you don't seem very well."
"It's just a headache."
"Maybe I could get you an aspirin. There's a first aid kit downstairs."
Thomasine shook her head. "No," she said, "tablets won't do any good. I've tried. It'll pass. Don't worry about me."
Taking this as a sign that she was fit enough, Starling decided to press on with a few questions. "What are you doing here?"
Thomasine looked up at him more clearly. "Are you a member of the accelerator project?" she asked.
Starling was surprised at first - but then he recalled that the fact of the accelerator's existence was not a classified secret. Many people in the University, and the city as a whole, must be aware of it. It was a reasonable assumption that anyone here this late was connected with the project. "That's right," he said.
"Colin never mentioned you."
"Yes," said Thomasine. "I'm waiting for him. You can't go and hurry him up, can you?"
Starling smiled. She was a friend, possibly girlfriend, of Colin's, waiting for him to emerge. Mystery solved. "I'll see what I can do," he promised.
He saw Thomasine wince again as if a fresh pain had accosted her. "Are you sure you're all right?" he asked.
She nodded. Starling decided the best thing to do was to see whether
Colin could attend to her. He turned back to the stairwell.
At night, the Isis seemed a different place. The last time Mike Carswell was here, on Sunday afternoon, the water had been swarming with rowing teams and scullers and punters, even at this time of year. Now it was calm. He put his arm more closely around Angie as they walked along the towpath. Despite the cold, it was pleasant to be taking this stroll. They were well wrapped in coats and scarves.
It had been a good evening, a few drinks with some friends. Angie had suggested the walk up and down the banks of the Isis. Mike had thought it an odd idea. In the back of his mind had been some indefinable warning against doing it. But he had gone along with her, and they had been given a time together to talk and decide where their relationship was going.
He hadn't intended to ask Angie to marry him. It had just come out. Mike was still a little surprised, even more so that she had accepted. Now they were heading back to his rooms for coffee. To start with, anyway.
Mike was suddenly jerked to a halt when Angie stopped dead. He turned to look at her in the moonlight. She seemed to be frightened, peering about her. Mike didn't know what she was looking for. To the right was the river, to the left some bushes. "What is it?" he asked.
Angie shook her head. "What was that?" she said.
Mike didn't know what she was talking about, but some nagging doubt resurfaced in his mind. Something he'd heard someone say in the pub. He wished he could put his finger on it.
"There it is again," said Angie.
Mike strained his ears. "I can't hear anything," he said.
He felt Angie shudder. She was terrified. Slowly, she managed to get her next sentence out. "I think there's someone watching us."
Mike could sense nothing, but she was getting him worried now. He tried to put a brave face on it all, by gruffly dismissing her fears. "Don't be ridiculous."
"You've seen the newspapers," said Angie. "There's a madman wandering around Oxford."
Mike's worry suddenly took shape. He didn't in fact read the newspapers very often, but he recalled someone discussing the matter in the pub. Three girls had been murdered in the past fortnight, and the police didn't have a clue. Perhaps they shouldn't have come for this quiet walk after all.
The police had warned that no woman should go around unescorted at night. Mike started to feel a bit better. Surely they wouldn't be attacked whilst there were two of them?
"We'll be all right," he said. He decided there couldn't be any danger. Angie was just a bit jumpy. She read the papers too much. Mike resolved to get her back to the road and into a taxi as quickly as possible. He tried rational argument to reassure her. "If there was someone there, they'd hardly advertise their presence..."
He found his voice breaking off as his ears detected a strange sound.
Clearly it was what Angie had already heard. At first he thought it was the
running water of the river, but above the gurgling there was something
else, a sound like an animal, but it came from no animal he was familiar
with. A sort of snuffling sound. No, more like a drool, as if something was
hungry. And that was followed by a low and cunning snarl.
Even through the heavy metal shielding, there could now be heard a tremendous noise from the particle accelerator. The three scientists were having to shout to make themselves heard. Sonia watched their frenzied activity, and listened to the stream of numbers they called to each other, though little of it made sense to her.
"Particle velocity now at point nine five c," said Colin.
Saunders was getting very excited. "If we can reach the speed of light," he said, "there'll be no going back."
Wells was the voice of gloom, speaking calmly of their failure. "The power output is too low for this velocity. It does not match our theoretical calculations."
"But we're nearly there," protested Saunders. "Once we reach c, everything will work out as predicted."
Wells shook his head. Saunders had said the same during every previous test run. He simply could not accept his failure, no matter what Wells did to discourage him.
"Particle velocity now at point nine nine c," said Colin.
Wells could let it go no further. "The power output is dropping off completely," he said.
Saunders looked for a moment as if he was going to give up. But his energy refused to desert him for more than an instant. He suddenly leapt up, as if seized by a new idea. "We should fire the second injector," he cried.
Wells looked at him in amazement. What Saunders was suggesting was incredibly dangerous. It was as if his desire to succeed was blinding him to the dangers.
Before Wells could say anything, Colin made a protest. "That is a back up system only. The two were never designed to fire in tandem. We don't know what the effect would be inside there."
Saunders took a step towards the secondary controls. "We can't turn back now," he said.
Colin looked around at Wells. He didn't know what to do. He was only the junior member of the team after all. Wells had to say something.
Responding to Colin's beseeching look, Wells nodded. He stood up. "Professor," he said. "I must protest."
Saunders was at the controls by now. "I won't be argued with," he snapped. "This project is too important to waste our opportunities."
Colin wished he had moved more quickly. He might have been able to interpose himself between Saunders and the controls. He could understand the Professor's frenzy of course. It was so frustrating to be defeated at this late stage. Their theoretical work showed that they could push particles beyond the Winser Limit, but they had calculated everything using small controlled quantities. Now Saunders was proposing to flood the accelerator with a second stream of chronons.
"This project," Colin said, "is too dangerous to take chances with." He looked around the control room for someone to help him. His eyes fell upon Sonia, but he didn't see what she could do. Shoot Saunders? If she did leap into this argument, it would doubtless be on Saunders's side. She was a soldier and they recognized authority.
Wells was his best hope. He was a creepy guy, but he was a scientist. Wells spoke again, quietly. "We have a licence to operate the accelerator only within very specific prescribed limits."
This was something Sonia could understand. Saunders was exceeding his authority. The other two were clearly concerned. Perhaps she should order him in the name of the King to stand away from the controls.
Saunders was becoming pig headed. "The limits are too narrow," he shouted. "I think I can see the answer now. You must trust me."
Colin said, "We don't know if the electromagnets can contain such an enlarged stream. This is still uncharted territory."
Wells added, "It would be unfortunate if the field ruptured."
Saunders hesitated, but still did not seem fully convinced. Colin offered one last argument. "You may wish to become a martyr to science, but you have no right to endanger the lives of everyone in this city." It was a cheap comment, and he regretted it immediately. But he had seen it sting Saunders like a blow to the face. It seemed to calm the Professor.
Whatever Saunders decided, the worst was over. Whilst they had argued, the power output from the accelerator had died away completely. It was too late to do anything more now. Wells sat down at his computer terminal in relief.
He looked at Saunders and Colin. After a long pause, the Professor nodded. He then clapped Colin on the shoulder to show his lack of resentment. "There's nothing we can do now," he said. "Begin the shut down procedure."
He resumed his seat. "Tomorrow," he added, "we will go over every
system, every stage of our calculations, until we find the error." He still
was not giving up.
Fighting the wave of panic that was rising within him, Mike Carswell forced himself to think logically. Clearly whoever had been doing the murders was some kind of madman, but unless he was also an animal impersonator, he wasn't their problem now.
Mike looked around for the source of the sound, which appeared to be a clump of bushes a little way further along the path. He heard the snarling again. It was clearly an animal of some kind. No person could make a sound like that.
Mike was gripped by a sudden fear that it might be something dangerous, escaped from a zoo. But surely he would have heard. It would have been on the news.
He felt a tightening of Angie's grip on his hand, and turned to look at her. She was clearly frightened. He needed to say something to reassure her.
He gave her hand a squeeze. "I think it's a dog or something," he said. But that instantly brought images into his head of a Rottweiller or even a Pit Bull. It was probably not the best thing to say.
Angie was terrified, and although he just wanted to get away from there, something told Mike that he ought to make some effort to destroy her fears. An heroic, gallant act. "It's all right," he told Angie. "I'll go and take a look. You wait here."
He made his way over to the bushes. If it was some savage dog, well, he would deal with that problem when he came to it. He carefully drew the bushes apart. There was nothing there. Whatever it had been, his approach must have frightened it away. He breathed a sigh of relief.
There was a sudden cry from Angie, and he turned back towards her. She was standing as if fixed to the spot, and he could see absolute terror in her expression. "Mike, it's right behind me," she said. "I can feel it."
But there was nothing there. The clouds parted and in that instant the moon shone brightly, illuminating the whole scene. Angie was standing alone on the path, quite alone. But Mike could hear the sound again, louder now, and it was coming from right behind her.
It was snarling and sniffing, like something seeking its prey. "I can feel it breathing down my neck," Angie said, her voice barely more than a whisper in her fright.
Mike wanted to do something to help her, but he had no idea what. How could he fight a terror he couldn't see? He had to get Angie away from it, whatever it was. "All right," he said. "Just come towards me. Slowly."
"I can't," said Angie. "I can't move a muscle."
She was frozen with fear. The answer was to go over there and get her. But if he did that, it would take him nearer to the invisible monster. Perhaps he didn't love her enough to make that sacrifice.
"I can't move, Mike," Angie screamed. "Help me!"
That note of terror moved something inside him, and he took a step towards her. At least, he would have done, had he not found that he too was fixed to the spot.
This couldn't be happening. All right, so he was terrified, but under such circumstances he was the sort to run like hell, not to freeze. He tried to strain, to get himself to move, but it was no use. His legs were like lead, as if something was draining all the energy from his body.
It was impossible to accept. There could be no such thing as an invisible creature, still less one that could paralyse its victims in this way. Of course, it was all a nightmare. Any minute now he would wake up, and Angie would cradle him in her arms, and everything would be all right.
As he watched her, Angie suddenly screamed, and it was as if all the life just went out of her. The colour drained from her face, her eyes became glazed and lifeless, her hair lost its lustre. And then she just crumpled to the ground, like an old discarded sack.
The nightmare did not end there. Mike heard the terrible animal sounds coming closer and closer towards him. Once more he tried to make a supreme effort to get his legs to move. But it was no good, he simply had no energy left in his body.
The sounds came from right in front of him. And he could feel a physical
presence standing before him. But there was nothing there, nothing that he
could see. Suddenly, it pounced. He could feel himself slipping into a dark
pit of emptiness. This, he told himself, would be an ideal moment to wake
up. But, of course, he didn't wake up.
The shut down was complete. The last of the electromagnets had been switched off, and the hum of power had died away. Saunders got wearily to his feet. He was like a changed man. It was as if all the energy had gone out of him, as it had the accelerator.
"I think I'll call it a night," he said. "Charles, do you mind finishing off here? I'll need to get an early start in the morning if I'm to check everything."
Wells nodded. For one moment, he thought that Saunders meant he was going to check every component personally. That might cause a few problems.
Saunders started towards the door, but stopped after a couple of steps. "Do you know," he said slowly, "there may be an explanation we've overlooked." He was thinking it up as he went along. "What if the power is being drained off by some external mechanism?"
Wells set his face into an impassive mask. "It seems unlikely," he replied.
"But if we've checked everything else, and there's no indication of any fault, what other explanation is there?"
Colin shook his head at this. "It would require someone with knowledge of this project," he said, "and possessing the ability to tap energy released from the chronons without any physical contact to the accelerator. I mean, I think we'd have noticed if someone had attached another cable to the output."
Saunders shrugged. Colin was right, of course. "Still, I think we could bear it in mind as a vague possibility when we make our checks tomorrow."
He turned back to the door, but he didn't take another step. Sonia McIntyre stood in the doorway, with Sergeant Starling a little way behind her. "Just a minute," she said, with enough authority to stop them all in their tracks. She was used to giving orders.
Sonia took a couple of steps into the room. "I have now reviewed the security arrangements around this project," she began, "and I am far from satisfied."
Saunders tried to protest. "But the outer door to the corridor is locked whenever we're not here. We don't even let the cleaners in. We have to sweep the floors ourselves."
Sonia glanced at the large number of used coffee cups around the control room, and could well believe him. "Nevertheless," she said, "I don't want the accelerator unattended at any time when there are other people in the building."
"We're in here working on the equipment most of the day," said Saunders.
"Then as an added precaution, one person will remain in the ante-chamber at all the times you're not here - early mornings, meal breaks and so forth. Sergeant Starling and I will take turns at this duty."
"Well, if you think it necessary," muttered Saunders.
"Furthermore, I understand that the caretaker hands you the keys of this building on every evening you are here. And that when the building has been emptied of everyone except the research team, you lock all the doors while the accelerator tests are going on."
"Well, actually, I send Colin round to lock up," said Saunders.
"Then perhaps he can explain why there is an unauthorized person sitting upstairs in the lobby now?"
All attention was turned to Colin, who looked momentarily confused. Sergeant Starling helped him out with an explanation. "A young lady who claims to be a friend of yours."
"Oh, is that all?" said Colin. "Thomasine, my girlfriend. She's a librarian at the Science Faculty Library. She's been doing a lot of late nights. The rest of the staff are off with a flu bug. She stops by to wait for me, and we go to have dinner."
"You leave a door unlocked for her?" asked Sonia.
"Look, this isn't Fort Knox," said Colin. "I really think you're making too much out of this. The caretaker locks all the other doors. Only the door from the lobby to the stairwell is left open. And the stairwell doors are locked on every other floor. If anyone unauthorized did come in, the only place they could go is down here, and you'd soon spot them then."
Sonia was about to say something in reply, but Saunders cut in. "I think you should stop harassing my colleagues and I, Major. I don't see that as the purpose of your mission here."
"Frankly, Professor," said Sonia, "my mission is to proceed as I see fit." She turned and went out.
"I can see she's going to be a problem," said Colin. "I'd better get
upstairs before she starts wiring Thomasine up to a lie detector."
Crabtree brought the Wolseley to a halt by the side of the road. He looked out of the window. In the centre of the road, on a raised plinth, was a tall stone structure that appeared to serve no purpose. It had no doors or windows. There were inscriptions carved into it. Around the base of the structure had been placed a number of artifacts. They consisted of red flowers, fashioned together into large rings. There were several of these. There was a lot about this era he did not understand.
He looked at Gates, who was tampering with the monitoring equipment packed in the glove compartment.
"Why has the signal been lost?" Crabtree asked.
"There is no fault in the equipment," Gates said. "The temporal disturbance has ceased."
Crabtree thought for a moment. "This signal," he said, "does not conform to those we usually observe."
Gates nodded. "Normally a lengthy power build up precedes the injection of a transfer capsule into the time vortex. This provides us with a chance to track the power to its source, where we can apprehend the anachronaut before he escapes. But these power surges are of a different nature. And there have been several of them."
"Why should that be?" asked Crabtree.
"I do not know," said Gates. "Perhaps the transfer capsule is not being used in the usual manner. The power build up is not great enough to allow injection into the time vortex."
"And what can we deduce from that?"
Gates was at a loss to explain any of it. All he knew was that if they monitored enough of these signals, then by a process of elimination they ought eventually to track down their source. But why would the anachronaut do such a thing? He was creating a clearly detectable temporal disturbance, yet he had not tried to escape from this time. He must know that he would be tracked down eventually. It was not a rational behaviour pattern, more the action of a desperate man.
Suddenly the meaning became clear to Gates. He said, "The transfer capsule must be faulty or damaged. The anachronaut tries to build up power to achieve injection into the time vortex, but each time he fails."
"It is a possible explanation," Crabtree conceded.
"This means," said Gates, "he will continue to persevere, but will not
be able to escape. Eventually we must track the signal and find him. It
does not matter how long it takes. He will not be able to evade us."
Thomasine felt better now. She was not rid of the headache, but at least it had abated somewhat. She glanced at her watch. It was about ten thirty. She somehow knew that Colin was about to appear, simply because her condition was starting to improve. The two usually went hand in hand.
Sure enough, Colin emerged from the stairwell at that moment, and came over to where she sat. He bent down to kiss her. He looked into her face for a moment. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Thomasine nodded. "Fine," she said.
"You look a bit off colour," Colin persisted.
"It's just a headache."
"Another headache?" said Colin, his voice full of concern. "You've been getting a lot of those lately, sweetheart. Don't you think you ought to go to the doctor?"
Thomasine shook her head. That was the last thing she wanted to do. She was afraid of visiting the doctor in case he gave her bad news. That was something she couldn't face.
On the other hand, she had this terrible suspicion that there was nothing wrong with her. The way her ailment came and went didn't seem right somehow. What if the doctor told her it was all in her mind? What was she supposed to think then? That she was going mad?
"I'm all right," she said. "I've just been working too hard lately."
"If you're sure," said Colin. "You know I worry about you."
She stood up, a little shakily, and Colin put his arm around her. "Let's
go and have some dinner," he said.
After ensuring that the Nuclear Physics building was properly locked up, Sonia returned to the small office she had been provided with, Sergeant Starling in tow. She poured herself a cup of coffee, and sat behind her desk inhaling the steam.
She looked up at Starling. She could see what he was thinking. "Go on," she said. "Off the record."
"I think you went too far, sir."
Sonia nodded. She thought so too. "It's in my nature to be suspicious," she said. "I can't help this project because the problem seems to be scientific, not military. I think I'm the wrong person for this job."
She looked towards the baffling piece of apparatus sitting on a side table. A couple of lights were flashing. She hoped the message was being received somewhere.
"Do you think this is a job for UNIT at all, sir?" asked Starling.
"Maybe," said Sonia. "Let's hope the Doctor gets here soon. I need his
When the sun finally crawled up over the Isis, its feeble rays shone down upon two crumpled bodies. They lay in an area that had been sealed off with a cordon of orange tape, that served to hold back the small and morbid crowd of bystanders.
Detective Chief Inspector George Keane was let through the cordon by a uniformed constable. He had received the call the moment he'd arrived at the police station that morning. The bodies had been found by a man walking his dog.
Keane was a grizzled man, wrapped up in an overcoat. He approached his assistant, Detective Constable Brennan, who was already on the scene. "What have we got?" he asked.
"Almost the same as before, sir," said Brennan. "Two bodies, male and female."
"Two of them this time?" said Keane. This was the worst case he had ever investigated.
Brennan referred to his notebook. "We've got an identification on the man. Michael Carswell. He was a post grad at the University."
"Don't know, sir," said Brennan. "Possibly his girlfriend. Or maybe just a friend. He could have been walking her home."
"At least they listened to the warnings," Keane said. "There are still women wandering around on their own at night."
Brennan shrugged. "You can't tell students anything."
Keane grunted. "A fat lot of good it did these two. I supposed there's nothing to indicate a motive?"
Keane took a deep breath, and then exhaled. It was cold air, bracing. "So," he said flippantly, "we're back to looking for a psychopath." It was the story they were putting out. Hopefully it would keep people indoors until they could find out what was really happening.
"Have forensic finished?" Keane asked.
Keane wondered whether there was any forensic evidence worth finding. There had been none in any of the three previous cases. When the first body had been discovered, two weeks ago in Christchurch Meadow, forensic had gone over the scene with their usual efficiency. They had discovered nothing, not the slightest trace of any killer. It was as though he had never been there.
"All right," said Keane, "you'd better get them to the mortuary."
Brennan signalled to one of the uniformed policemen. "I doubt the post mortem will reveal anything," he said. "Not judging by the results of all the others."
Keane nodded. He had seen the bodies, and they had been so pale, their hair coarse and brittle. Initially, he had suspected some chemical agent might have been used, but forensic had tested for everything and found nothing. Blood cell count and sebum secretion had all been normal too, so there was nothing to account for the condition of the bodies.
"It would be a start if we knew the cause of death," he said. The first post mortem had indicated natural causes, but he couldn't believe that. Two subsequent bodies had turned up over the past fortnight, and they were exactly the same. Keane watched the two fresh corpses being taken away. He didn't hold out much hope of the autopsy finding anything.