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By Judith Proctor
Page 3 of 22

Morgan opened the left-hand door and helped Avon into a seat. The slam of the door shot daggers through his skull. Instead of climbing in the driver's side, Morgan first opened the gate to the yard. When he got in and shut his own door, Avon tensed for the slam but it wasn't so bad this time - anticipation helped. As Morgan started the engine and drove the Land Rover through the gate, the main thing Avon was conscious of was the mixture of smells inside. Animal smells, not just the dog: chemicals, all different; nothing he could identify. That bothered him. Smells should be familiar things. Smells were the background of life - the hot smell of solder on a circuit board, the aroma of cooked food, the background scent of old sweat that permeated the domes, the smell of the recycled air on board Liberator - so familiar that the mind forgot it until returning to the ship after planetfall.

Morgan stopped in the road on the other side of the gate and got out. Avon heard the clang of the gate closing before Morgan climbed back in and set them moving again. Inefficient - the gate should have been automatically controlled. The country they passed through was desolate. Straggly trees; low stone walls, looking as though they had been built by hand; enclosed fields where nothing grew except grass. Sheep grazed in some of the fields, greyish white wool as drab as everything else seemed to be here.

Where was here?

"Where are we going?" he asked.


Had he said that before? Avon wished he could remember.

"What planet is this?"

Morgan's eyes flicked away from the road to give him an odd look. "Little green men from Mars is it?"


"From Mars are you?"

This conversation was getting crazier and crazier. All that existed on Mars was a few mines and a traffic control base.

"I'm from Earth," he snapped back, and then wished he hadn't as it made his head hurt.

"England, you mean."

"How did you know?"

"Your accent," Morgan said as though stating the obvious.

"I haven't got an accent." This man might not be Blake, but he was well on the way to being equally irritating.

"Damn English." He snorted. "Think anyone who doesn't speak like the BBC is a bloody foreigner. You're not in England now; you're in Wales."

Wales? Nobody lived in the open in Wales. Not legally anyway. An Outsider? But an Outsider wouldn't have the money to own an automobile or a pet.

Morgan halted the Land Rover at a road junction, then turned onto another, wider road. Another automobile, bright red, shot past them, then another and another. Avon clutched the sides of his seat, struggling with the stuff of nightmare. This place wasn't real, it couldn't be. There was a white dashed line painted down the centre of the road, paint still bright and clean. This road was maintained and intended to carry a heavy traffic load. That in turn implied the resources to fuel all the automobiles, resources that Earth hadn't had for centuries. Something was very, very wrong.

The motion of the Land Rover and the mixture of smells were beginning to make him feel even worse. He hunched his head into his hands, trying to fight the nausea, but it didn't help. Wind whistled through the half closed window beside him and out the open back. He was conscious that there was nothing but a pane of glass between himself and the oncoming traffic. If one of them were to veer by just a few metres... He bit his lip and stared forward, trying not to flinch at cars speeding towards him. Morgan's bulk beside him was a reassuring presence. If Blake thought the road was safe, then it probably was. Just for once, his memory avoided reminding him of all the times when Blake had been wrong.

The road joined another and buildings began to appear, scattered along the way. Individual dwellings, stone, with slate roofs, surrounded by grass and trees. So much space. How could people live like that, so spread out? His mind toyed with the novel concept of living alone. The superiority of the domes was obvious; they gave privacy when needed, with all the advantages of communal living. People to argue with, people to share a meal with, people to discuss ideas with, people - his mind drifted to Anna - to love. He tried to imagine Liberator with no one else on board and the idea was as disturbing as it had been over Horizon when he'd thought them all dead. He didn't need them of course. He didn't need anyone, but even an idiot like Vila helped to make the emptiness of life more bearable.

As the houses began to cluster more closely together and merged into long terraces, Avon felt more comfortable. Alien this world might be, but no more so than any other he'd visited. If he didn't feel so dizzy, he'd be fine. If he didn't feel so dizzy, he'd be trying to work out where this ridiculous world was.

Or when.

Time travel was impossible. Blake being someone else was impossible.

This place wasn't alien; it was old. Archaic. Like history tapes.

There was no way to ask without sounding like a fool.


The tone of the engine changed as Morgan adjusted some controls and took them round a corner. "Say?"

"What year is it?"

"'Eighty four." No surprise, just an even-worded answer that never even caused Morgan to take his eyes off the road.

Eighty four? That gave him no information apart from that he had already feared. He was lost. The year was no longer 258: it wasn't even counted by the same system. The whole situation was impossible.

He gave up trying to work it out and closed his eyes, letting the rumble of the motor soothe him into uneasy sleep. It was silence that eventually woke him: the engine had stopped. They were in a place of automobiles. Rows of them stretched on either side in a bewildering variety of colours and designs. Morgan was opening the door beside him.

"Can you get down?"

Avon climbed out carefully, ignoring the arm held out to him; then clutched hard at it as the world lurched and spun crazily around him. He halted, waiting for the attack to pass, barely aware of Morgan's low-voiced reassurances. When he felt safe to walk, he said as much to Morgan, but Morgan was addressing the dog that had magically appeared by his feet.

"They won't let you in."

The dog appeared unmoved.

"Get back in, you daft bugger."

It jumped obediently back into the Land Rover. Avon had always been led to believe that dogs barked, but this one didn't seem to. Maybe it just obeyed Morgan the way people had always seemed to end up obeying Blake.

They made their way between the rows of automobiles, up a ramp and through a pair of double doors. Morgan seemed to know where he was going and Avon allowed himself to be led down a series of corridors to an area with rows of plastic seats. Drab and uninviting, it had the aura of waiting rooms throughout all time and history. Without waiting to be told, Avon took a seat next to a spider plant with limp, browning leaves which drooped over the sides of an ornamental trough. Opposite him, an enormous woman in a shapeless green coat attempted in vain to calm the squeals of a red-faced baby, while beyond her an elderly man read a glossy magazine, eyes squinting at the text. Morgan was arguing with a woman at a desk, his words inaudible over the baby's screams. Avon wished the noise would stop; it seemed to fill every corner of his brain, reverberating in the corners and bouncing around the empty places where things should be that weren't.

How had he come to be here?

A nurse appeared in front of him, asking questions. He stared vaguely at her, trying to concentrate even while a corner of his mind noted whimsically that nurses were another universal constant - that air of concern coupled with bossiness and the strain of overwork was unmistakable.

"The doctor will see you in cubicle three."

"We've been waiting for over half an hour," complained the woman in the green coat.

The nurse flashed a professional smile. "I'm afraid head injuries have priority."

Green coat lapsed into an offended silence as the baby started to yell once more.

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Judith Proctor

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