This story is a sequel to the story Our World. It should be stand alone, but includes spoilers for the original story if you haven’t read it yet. As will happen for the remaining stories, the “behind the scenes” can be found at the end of those post…
The mobile phone clattered into life, vibrating its way across the table while blasting out a phrase from Francisco Tárrega. Victoria swore and picked the phone up.
“Hello. What?” she said into the phone, only half awake.
“It’s Henderson,” the voice said. Why did he always introduce himself like that, she briefly wondered, before dismissing the thought.
“George,” she said. “What is it?”
“We’ve got a situation here,” he said. “What happened to Tom Styles?”
Tom Styles? The name didn’t ring a bell.
“Last Wednesday,” he prompted.
“Oh,” she shook her head, trying to clear the sleep fog. “The usual.”
“You didn’t do anything unexpected like let him leave the facility early, did you, by any chance?”
“No.” She reached a hand up and scratched her head. “As always, I followed protocol.”
“Hmm.” Henderson pondered for a moment. “Then it’s probably best if you get in here as soon as possible.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“As soon as possible,” Henderson repeated. “The sooner the better.”
“But -” he had already hung up.
Blearily she got out of bed, put a capsule in the coffee machine and started it up while she went to the bathroom. It was four am. George could wait for her to have a coffee, if nothing else.
The roads were almost deserted. Blaisewood drove to the rear entrance of the Talgan Central Hospital, to the entrance that said “Research Facility”. The half-asleep guard at the desk waved her in after only a brief look at her pass.
“I could have been anybody,” Victoria muttered to herself. “Idiot would never have noticed.”
Henderson’s office light was on. She knocked, heard a muted “come in” from inside, opened the office door and entered.
Her boss sat at his desk, looking sheepish. A tall, thin man dressed in black stood up as she entered.
“You are Dr Blaisewood?” he asked.
“Yes,” Victoria nodded, and reached down instinctively.
“No weaponry, please,” the man said, watching her hand. Victoria’s hand snapped back, quickly. She hadn’t even realised she was going for the gun.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Cage Williams,” he said. “I’m from the Back team in my universe.”
“What’s the Back team?” she asked.
Sighing, Henderson took over. “They return people back to their parallel.”
“We have a small problem with the barriers between universes thinning,” Williams smiled.
“What does that have to do with us?” Blaisewood asked.
“I’ve come to return Tom Styles back to his rightful place,” Williams replied. “In return, I will give your Tom Styles back to you.”
“I’ve already explained to him that that might be a little bit difficult,” Henderson said.
“And I’ve already explained to your boss that we cannot tolerate any difficulty in this matter whatsoever.”
Blaisewood laughed. “And what do you propose to do about it?”
“Nothing,” Williams said. “We’ll simply seal the barrier, keep your Tom Styles and wait.”
Williams sat down and smiled, a languid, unpleasant smile that chilled Blaisewood.
“You’re aware,” Blaisewood said, “that I could simply shoot you and nobody would know?”
Williams’ grin grew broader. He held up one arm and showed off what appeared to be some kind of watch.
“You have a smartwatch,” Blaisewood said. “Good for you.”
“It’s a communicator, Dr Blaisewood.” Williams leaned back in the chair. “It sends every word said in this room to my people back home. If it detects an incident which causes my blood pressure to drop below a certain level, or my heart rate to spike over a certain level, it will immediately return me to my rightful place.”
“And what if I remove it from you first?” Blaisewood asked.
Williams shook his head. “I wouldn’t try to do that, if I were you.”
“You seem to forget you’re in our universe,” she said. “We hold all the aces.”
“Unfortunately, you don’t.”
“What do you want?” Henderson asked.
“I need Tom Styles delivered here, alive, intact and unharmed, within the next four hours.”
“Otherwise you close the hatch and go away forever?” Blaisewood asked. “I don’t see how you’re threatening us here.”
Williams sighed, leaned back, and closed his eyes.
“Closing the hatch requires a phenomenal amount of energy,” he said. “The only way we can do it is through a magnetic lens. Which means using your magnetic field to do it.”
“And that means?”
“You’d lose most of your magnetic field. Which would mean most of the UV protection, massively accelerating climate change and allowing the sun’s natural wind to remove most of the atmosphere. Within a few years, all life here will be extinct.”
“So if we kill you, we’ve nothing to lose,” she said. “Have we?”
Williams looked across at her and stared, hard.
“The closing process is due to start in five hours, unless I get back there with Styles. It takes about an hour to start up the machinery, so once we go past four hours they’ll have already started and it can’t be stopped without serious damage to your universe.”
“Can I talk with my boss for a while?” Blaisewood asked.
“Of course,” Williams leaned forward and looked at his communicator. “It’s three minutes past five now. I will return at six for a progress report.”
He pressed a button on his communicator and appeared to shimmer, like a heat haze, then was gone.
Blaisewood staggered backwards and sat down. She turned and looked at Henderson, bewildered.
“He was real?” she looked puzzled. “Now I don’t know whether he’s bluffing or not.”
“I don’t know either,” Henderson said. “But I think we have to take him seriously.”
“He’s cutting it fine,” Blaisewood paced up and down, biting her nails.
“Keep calm,” Henderson sipped at his tea. “He’ll be here.”
Someone knocked at the door.
“Come in,” Henderson said.
“Speak of the devil,” Blaisewood muttered to herself.
“Um… this is what you wanted, I think?” the mortician asked.
“Thank you,” Henderson nodded.
The mortician came over to the desk and handed the urn to Henderson, who glanced at the plaque. “Tom Styles” it read, complete with dates of birth and death.
“It’s about the right weight,” the mortician said. “Just about. Well, close enough for most purposes anyway. I mean, there’s not really an exact weight for this, it’s more of … more of a range really, I suppose.
“It’ll be fine,” Blaisewood smiled, ushering him out of the room. “Thank you.”
She closed the door behind him and gestured to Henderson, who hid the urn under the desk.
“Are you sure this will work?” he asked her.
“If my suspicion is right, we’re home and clear. If not…” she shrugged. “Have you got any better ideas?”
Henderson thought for a moment, and then shook his head.
Victoria looked at the clock over Henderson’s desk. The second hand ticked away, past the hour. Williams was late, she wanted to scream, as though a delay of one second, two seconds, three seconds was an eternity. Her nerves seemed ready to snap before a heat haze appeared in front of one of the chairs, and the long, thin black-clad form reappeared in the same seat he had left almost an hour before.
“Hello again,” Williams’ voice sounded like a hungry tiger on the prowl.
“Hello,” Blaisewood said.
“Do you have good news for me?” he purred.
Williams raised an eyebrow.
“We need to verify you’re from the same universe as the Tom Styles that came here,” she said.
“I don’t think that’s really necessary,” Williams smiled.
“You don’t?” Henderson cut in. “What happens if you’re in the wrong universe here. Things only get more complicated than, don’t they?”
“Go on.” The thin man’s eyes narrowed and brows tightened. “I’m listening.”
“Who was elected president of the USA in 2016?”
“Rachelda Greenwood, of course,” Williams replied. “I’m sure that’s different in your universe.”
“It is.” Henderson said.
“Who was elected UK prime minister in 1992?” Blaisewood continued.
“John Major,” Williams replied.
“And who played the title role in the 2005 Doctor Who reboot?”
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“They’re the same questions we asked Tom,” Blaisewood explained. “We’ve got a video of his answers ready to play.”
“All right,” Williams replied. “I don’t know the answer to that one – I don’t watch much television. What were the others?”
“Who did Lee Harvey Oswald shoot?”
“Jack Ruby, of course.”
“Who was the Terminator in the film of the same name?”
“Steven Seagal, I think.”
Henderson and Blaisewood looked at each other. Henderson reached for a remote control and pressed a button. Tom Styles appeared on screen. They watched for a few moments, and turned off after Styles answered the Terminator question.
“I see,” Williams said. “You’ve had him here in the last hour, haven’t you? He’s been answerint the same questions with different answers, hasn’t he?”
Blaisewood shook her head. Henderson reached under the desk and pulled the urn out from underneath.
“There was a car accident,” she replied. “The taxi that came to take him to the home the other Tom Styles had here was sideswiped by a lorry. Both he and the driver were killed instantly.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Williams asked.
“We had to get the funeral director out of bed,” Henderson pointed at the plaque on the urn and the thin man leant over to read it.
“Whether you believe it or not,” Blaisewood said, “the fact remains that there must be a third parallel involved here. Perhaps it was a three way, or even a four-way swap?”
Williams stood up, pressed the button on his communicator and disappeared.
Henderson looked across to Blaisewood.
“What now?” he asked.
She raised one hand to her cheek and scratched at her temple.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “But I think we have to start with a new protocol.”
The idea of a sequel to “Our World” had been in my head all week, and I had the idea of someone coming to pick him up stuck in my head. So when I came to write it, the first part went well. And then suddenly, I dried up. It took going for dinner to be able to come back with a new idea – what if the guy was in the wrong place? Or a fake? (I’ll leave which up to you).
In all, it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, but I think a good deal of that perception was because of how hard it was to get over the block in the middle. That said, sometimes you get to the end, you don’t like the story and then later when you come back, it’s great. And vice versa. Time will tell what I really think of this one…
The post “Nicola’s Neighbour” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.