This was definitely one of the perks of being a journalist writing for the glossy Sunday Supplements. Rani decided that as she looked around at the glittering room full of equally glittering celebrities, sports heroes and politicians who cheered in unison as a pyramid of champagne glasses was filled from a huge bottle. She still hoped to graduate to hard news, covering wars and disasters and Human Rights outrages, but in the meantime she had just danced with an Oscar winner.
True, he had wandering hands and bad breath, details she wasn’t planning to share with anyone – she didn’t write THAT sort of article. But he WAS a genuine A. List celebrity and this was the most glamorous venue for a charity costume ball in the world – the actual Hall of Mirrors in the actual Palace of Versailles.
The only drawback was the authentic seventeenth century party dress she was wearing. It looked sensational, made of white damask with seed pearls all over the body hugging bodice, but the skirt was a nightmare. It came with a wicker basket arrangement at the waist that made her into a wide load. She had actually stuck in the cubicle door when she dared to go to the loo. Sitting down was impossible, and she and the wife of the French Prime Minister had both had to turn sideways to pass each other in the corridor.
It WAS authentic, though. Sarah Jane had given it to her for the occasion. It was one of many souvenirs of her travels with The Doctor that had spilled over from the house in Bannerman Road and were kept in a storage facility. She had gasped covetously when she saw it and hoped against hope that it would fit.
Sarah Jane had imparted one valuable piece of advice to her.
“Modern corsetry. Don’t even think about being authentic right down to your skin. Modern corsetry, underwear in breathable fabric and you might just make it through the night.”
She had taken the advice, but it was still hard work.
“Hello, gorgeous, are you anyone important?” A slightly inebriated voice of another Hollywood star who was definitely going to remain nameless spoke close to her ear.
“Everyone is important,” she answered. “That’s why the French had a revolution and chucked their Royal family out of this place – for forgetting that everyone is important.”
“You’re pretty enough to be important,” the drunken A lister continued, missing the point completely. “Too pretty to be a plus one….”
She wasn’t a ‘plus one’. Her newspaper had made sure her name was on the invitation. Clyde Langer was HER ‘plus one’ but she couldn’t see him just now. The last time she had spotted him he was having a conversation about cars with Lewis Hamilton while HIS girlfriend wandered off, bored with that subject.
Failing him, she waved to Zac Effron who smiled warmly at her. Zac THOUGHT he knew her, but he had actually met Sky in her body when the two of them had gone through a ‘Freaky Friday’ experience – one of those things that happened when you lived on Bannerman Road.
Anyway, the A lister wandered off and she allowed herself as deep a sigh of relief as the corsetry allowed. She spotted Clyde coming back into the hall with Lewis Hamilton, both of them dressed in the gorgeous and decidedly tight fitting clothes of Louis XV’s court. The champion driver went straight for the champagne pyramid and took a glass with a distracted air. Clyde came straight to her.
“Rani, something really weird just happened to me… well, to me and Lewis. We both went to the loo at the same time…. No, that’s not the weird thing. Stop looking at me like that. When we came out… we were in a different time… still in the Palace, but we accidentally walked in on the Signing of the Treaty of Versailles… you know... at the end of World War One.”
Rani looked at Clyde quizzically, then at Lewis Hamilton, who was staring out through one of the beautiful floor length windows as if making sure it was all where it ought to be.
“I wouldn’t make it up,” Clyde insisted. “The stuff we’ve seen, why would I need to?”
She didn’t disbelieve him. She just wished it hadn’t happened here, now. She had been enjoying the party, wandering hands and pushy A-listers notwithstanding. She didn’t want anything strange, anything that belonged in Sarah Jane’s attic, to be going on here.
“Look… come with me… see for yourself,” Clyde suggested. “If we recreate what we did… it might happen again.”
Rani looked at Lewis Hamilton again. His girlfriend had joined him for a glass of champagne, but he probably wasn’t talking to her about time travel.
“Let’s leave him out of it,” Clyde added. “The Monaco Grand Prix is next week. He needs to keep his head straight.”
“All right,” Rani agreed reluctantly. “Show me.”
She had severe misgivings about the exercise. These deepened when she realised that recreating the circumstances would mean going into the gents toilets.
“No way,” she protested.
“If it is some kind of temporal slip, it would only work in certain places. We have to be exact.”
“Look… check that there’s nobody else in there, first,” she conceded. Clyde put his head around the door and called out. There was no answer. “All right….”
She had to admit, in her limited experience of men’s toilets, this one was impressive. The fittings were all made of gilded porcelain, even the urinal bowls that she glanced at briefly before looking away. Clyde was going through a sort of mime of using the facilities, including pretending to wash his hands at the gilded basin and drying them on a hand embroidered towel.
Rani just hoped nobody would come in before he was done. She had never felt more out of place.
“Come on, then,” Clyde said in perfectly matter of fact tones as he turned towards the door. “Hold on… we stopped the last time… to check if the coat hooks in that alcove were real gold.”
“You and Lewis Hamilton checked out the coat hooks in the bathroom at Versailles?” Rani laughed at the absurdity of the idea while Clyde again went through a repetition of earlier actions.
“What else do you talk to a Formula One champion about?” he asked with a shrug before opening the door and heading out into the corridor. Rani followed.
“Everything looks the same. I can even hear the same period music that we’ve had all evening,” Rani pointed out. “I don’t think it worked.”
“You could be right,” Clyde admitted with disappointment evident in his tone. “Come on. Let’s get back to the party.”
To call the wide, gilded, tapestry covered and plush carpeted space outside a mere corridor was to do it an injustice. It was luxury on a grand scale. At the gilded double doors to the Hall of Mirrors two long suffering event stewards were dressed in period costume as Louis XV’s palace guards. They nodded politely to Rani and Clyde and one of them reached to open the doors for them, letting the muted sound of seventeenth century chamber music spill out loudly.
Only as the doors closed behind them and people turned to look curiously did it strike Rani that something wasn’t right.
“Clyde… this isn’t the same party,” she said in worried tones. “I think this… actually IS a party thrown by Louis XV.”
“I think you could be right,” Clyde admitted. The first thing that occurred to him in the sudden hush of conversation around them was that the only other non-white people here were servants looking uncomfortable in court livery. They were getting a lot of the wrong sort of attention.
When the king, himself, in clothes of crimson silk embroidered with gold thread, stepped towards them, Rani felt weak at the knees. When he reached out and took her hand before asking her to dance she was reeling in shock.
“I’m… not sure...” she began. But nobody refused Louis. She was led into the centre of a widening space on the beautifully polished floor as the music started up afresh. Only several evenings on the sofa with her mum, watching films like the Three Musketeers and Man in the Iron Mask, gave her the vaguest idea how to dance in the style everyone else understood, but she seemed to be managing all right, and for a man with an array of mistresses at least Louis kept his hands to himself.
Louis XV. That was the one who had Madame de Pompadour as his lover. Her portrait was in the gallery here at the Palace. Among the few things Rani knew about her was that she died relatively young of the sort of disease that all her lovers must have had, too.
She made sure, when the dance ended, that the King only kissed her on the cheek.
“Don’t go away, my chocolate chéri,” he said as he turned from her. “I should like to dance with you again, later… privately.”
Rani had a feeling she was meant to curtsy at that point, but she didn’t. She hadn’t learnt to do that in this dress, and besides, after what he had just said, she didn’t feel inclined to pay him any respect. Chocolate cherry was bad enough, but she really didn’t want to ‘dance’ with him ‘privately’.
She turned to find Clyde surrounded by women of indeterminate age wearing far too much make up considering the lead content of the products in this time. She pushed several of them aside to reach him.
“Let’s get out of here,” she told him. “NOW.”
There were disappointed murmurings from the bevy of ladies, but Clyde readily agreed that they should leave the ball. Rani forgave him for attracting so much female attention on that basis.
“Wow, that was surreal,” Clyde remarked as they stepped out into the relative peace of the corridor. “Those women had really terrible breath. They kept putting their faces up to me, but the smell made me gag. Their teeth were absolutely awful, too.”
“Probably not the worst problem they have,” Rani pointed out. “I was just at a Renaissance ball, dancing with a king. It’s the sort of thing girls dream about. But I just feel a little… dirty.”
“Like the glamour is just on the surface. Scrape it off and underneath things are rotten?”
“I really didn’t like the way we were a sort of ‘novelty’ because of our colour,” Clyde added. “I think I prefer racism to patronisation. At least I know where I am with that.”
Rani agreed wholeheartedly. She had often been in situations where people had looked at her suspiciously because of her colour. It was uncomfortable, but she had learnt how to deal with it. Being looked at because her colour was a source of curiosity, by people who wanted to touch her to see if it ‘rubbed off’, not to mention a King who thought she would be an exotic addition to his collection of mistresses, was far worse.
Yes, a little dirty was the overwhelming feeling.
“How do we get out of this time before the King comes looking for me?” Rani asked. The livered servants going back and forward with the sort of food that definitely wasn’t on the menu at the charity do… roasted swan and whole suckling pig… proved that they were still in the seventeenth century. The servants didn’t look at them at all, at least not as individuals. They saw the rich clothes and averted their eyes. That had the twofold advantage of feeling less of an object of curiosity and being able to walk the corridors of the Palace unchallenged.
“Back to the gents?” Clyde suggested. “It’s around here somewhere.”
It wasn’t a ‘gents’ in this time, at least not in the modern sense. It smelt like a lady’s dressing room with all sorts of scented preparations lined up on a shelf and a full length mirror for all-over preening. But the clothes hung up and the row of powdered wigs were for a man.
“The king’s quick change boudoir?” Clyde suggested.
“Can a man have a boudoir?” Rani wondered aloud. “It’s the only word I can think of to describe this, but I always thought a ‘boudoir’ was a female thing.”
“With this lot, who can tell?” Clyde shrugged. “Let’s go back outside and see if we’ve changed time, yet.”
“Before we do… hold on….” Rani had caught sight of herself in the mirror and knew what her main problem was. “Turn around. I’m going to lift this skirt up.”
Clyde turned and looked at the back of the door, noting that the gold coat hooks were in place at this time. Behind him was a rustling he didn’t want to know about that continued for several minutes. There were some agitated exclamations and a mild sotto voce swear word before a dull thump.
“You’re ok, now,” Rani called out. Clyde turned. She was smoothing down the skirt over her natural hips. The wicker and metal ‘pannier’ arrangement that made it stick out either side were on the floor at her feet. The skirt hung a little oddly without them, but it was far less cumbersome. “Of all the stupid fashions. I’d rather a Victorian bustle or a Gone With The Wind hoop skirt than that.”
“These authentic trousers are not exactly comfortable,” Clyde mentioned. “When was the zip invented?”
“Around the start of the twentieth century in America,” Rani answered. “But it really didn’t catch on as a trouser fastening for another twenty years or so. But... do you mean we might not get straight back to 2017?”
“It’s… a possibility. I expected to go back to 1919 again. I wasn’t expecting that lot. It… could be that the time shift is… fluid.”
“Come on. Let’s see what’s out there.”
They stepped out into the corridor and faced a pair of World War Two German soldierswith their rifles slung over their shoulders. The two men stared at Clyde and Rani for several stunned seconds before reacting in a way neither of them expected.
“Geister, gespenstern….” They cried, making signs for warding off evil spirits before turning and running away.
“Geister?” Rani queried.
“Ghosts, spectres,” Clyde translated. Not that it was needed. They both understood languages automatically due to several contacts with The Doctor and his TARDIS. It just struck them both as an odd reaction to their presence.
“They think we’re ghosts. I suppose our clothes are a bit… but… really? Ghosts?”
“Not all German soldiers were hard bitten Nazis,” Clyde noted. “Probably a couple of rural types from the far north where they still believe in old legends. Anyway, that’s better than them trying to shoot us.”
“This isn’t a good time to hang around, either way,” Rani decided. “Let’s go back into… Oh….”
She turned to the bathroom door and found there was no door. It had been boarded up and a ‘verboten’ sign tacked on for good measure.
“No wonder we looked like ghosts coming out of a non-existent door. But we can’t hang around here. Let’s try another door.”
There was one just a few paces along the corridor, facing a window. Outside, German soldiers were parading with an officer shouting commands at them. The Occupation of France in the early 1940s was well advanced. Rani desperately hoped there was another way out of this time. Nazis really didn’t like people of their colour, and trying to get help from the French Resistance probably wasn’t an option.
This room may have been something else in the seventeenth century – the king’s mistress’s powder room, perhaps. Right now it was an office with a woman in SS uniform busily audio typing. With large headphones attached to a portable reel to reel tape recorder she didn’t notice the strangely dressed p pair come in until they were level with her desk.
“We’re just a pair of geister,” Clyde told her, grabbing Rani’s hand before dashing towards an internal door that ought to lead to….
The king’s boudoir was now a sort of laboratory or workshop. A wide polished table probably meant for fine dining was loaded with electronic equipment from some twenty years before the transistor came into its own. Clyde decided it was an impressive piece of ‘kit’ in the few moments he had before the secretary burst in and drew the attention of the two men bent over the machine. They looked up and viewed the two accidental visitors keenly.
“It works both ways!” one of them said, in German. “We have corporeal manifestation from the past.”
“The Fuhrer will want to know of this,” the other said.
“Yeah, I bet,” Clyde retorted with the distaste of anyone who disliked any form of fascism. “Tell him from us… goodbye and good luck with the bunker.”
He darted past the still surprised Nazis towards a closed door that ought to have boards and a ‘verboten’ sign on the other side. He was hoping, first, that it was unlocked on this side, and second, that when he opened the door, it might reveal another time shift.
It was a very long shot, but as it turned out the door wasn’t locked and it DID bring them into a different time.
“The Nazis have found out about the time shifts,” Clyde said as they looked around at the quieter but identical corridor near the Hall of Mirrors. “That’s why they blocked the main door and used the side room as a reception. They didn’t want the time shift used by just anyone.”
“I hope it doesn’t work for them,” Rani answered. “Imagine what Hitler could do with time travel.”
“I’m imagining. But I’m presuming it didn’t work for him. When we did the rise of Napoleon in o’level history, I don’t remember any legions of jackboots or a short bloke with a stupid moustache trying to oust Bonaparte from the Emperorship.”
“Unless there are alternative timelines,” Rani suggested. “Perhaps we’ll find our own time completely different.”
“Oh, I hope not,” Clyde groaned. “I hadn’t thought of that. But me and Lewis got back okay. We didn’t find that Sebastian Vettel had been F1 champion for the last decade.”
“Ok, maybe we’re ok, then. In the long run. But we’re not home and dry, yet. This is later. There are electric light fittings of the sort we recognise. The Nazis had really old-fashioned ones. But I don’t think we’re in our own time.”
“Those plug points in the skirting boards look like the ones in my gran’s old house,” Clyde confirmed. “Before she got a grant for rewiring. I’m thinking fifties or sixties.”
“Hey… who the heck are you two?” drawled a distinctly American voice as a soldier in a smart dress uniform approached. “Who let you into this area? You’re not catering…. What are you, the entertainment or something?”
“Yeah,” Clyde responded, pinning the accent down to the part of America known as the ‘Deep South’ and not liking it much. “We’re with the black and white minstrels. We’re playing the white minstrels.”
“Yeah, real funny. Let’s see some passes. I want to find out who you really are….”
A noise in the near distance halted the demand. The southern soldier turned, placing himself bodily in front of the two intruders as the corridor was filled with historically significant VIP’s and their entourages. The soldier snapped to attention and saluted smartly.
When the corridor was clear he turned to deal with the mystery guests but they were gone. He went into the bathroom and searched but there was no sign of them. He began to reach for his radio then thought of several awkward questions his superiors might ask about his handling of the matter and decided they weren’t his problem any more.
In another time shift Rani and Clyde caught their breath and reflected on what they had just witnessed.
“That was President and Mrs Kennedy with the De Gaulles of France,” Rani said. “In my press kit it mentioned the visit in 1961… two years before… you know….”
“Fixed points in time,” Clyde responded. “We can’t tell him to duck or anything, even if he was likely to listen to us dressed like this.”
“The bathroom is more of a junk room this time,” Rani noted, looking around. “All this furniture piled up.”
“This looks familiar,” Clyde admitted. “When me and Lewis got back from the Treaty of Versailles it looked like this.”
“So we might be close to getting home?” Rani looked hopeful, but when they stepped out again it was to a corridor lit by candles – or it would have been if the candles had been attended to. Only a few dribble stubs remained in the wall mounted candelabras.
“Where is everyone?” There was a quietness about the place that was immediately worrying. Even with the Nazis around there had been a background noise of typewriters. The other occasions had been accompanied by music.
This was an ominous silence that was even more disturbingly broken by a character in mismatched clothing who might have come straight from the chorus of Les Miserables. He glared at their clothes and lowered a handmade pike at them.
“French Revolution,” Clyde noted as they retreated back into the room that served as a hub for their time travelling. “I think we should leave that well alone.”
“Agreed. Except… Clyde… are you sure we can get back? I’m starting to worry. How long are we going to be wandering in and out of this room?”
“I don’t know. I really didn’t expect this. Before… with Lewis… we came straight back to the party first time. I’ve got a theory, but it’s not a happy one.”
“Well, I was thinking, this can’t happen all the time, to everyone, or there would be tourists and politicians and celebrities lost all over history. It must only be people who are somehow ‘tuned’ to time rifts or faults or whatever it is. That would be us, because we’ve travelled in the TARDIS and hung out with The Doctor, and all the other weird stuff we’ve done with Sarah-Jane. I suppose Lewis was caught up in it because he was with me and it kind of temporarily rubbed off on him. But both of us together, two ‘time-tuned’ people….”
He paused and looked around at a new version of the corridor that they stepped out into. It was, judging by the style of candles lighting the way, another pre-revolutionary setting, but this time there were no balls going on.
The two reluctant time travellers listened for a while to the gossip between two servants mopping the floor and put what they heard with what they knew about Versailles history.
“The queen, Marie-Therese, wife of Louis IV, the one who had Versailles built in the first place, just had a baby,” Clyde surmised. “But there’s something wrong with it and nobody is even supposed to know it was born at all, but the servants are talking about it, so it’s one of those secrets that isn’t a secret, really.”
“Yes, I read about that,” Rani confirmed. “The baby was black. Which is not a good thing when you’re a Spanish born wife of a French queen. The article went on about the chances of a genetic throwback to when the Moors ruled Spain in Maria-Therese’s DNA….”
“More like she was a naughty queen with one of the servants,” Clyde surmised. “And if he has any sense he’ll be borrowing a horse and getting the hell out of Versailles right now. Not sure about her, either. Henry VIII had two of his wives beheaded for this sort of thing.”
“Louis seems to have been kinder,” Rani continued. “Marie-Therese kept her head and her crown, and according to some historians the baby girl was brought up in a convent and became a nun. But… I’ve no intention of wearing a wimple for the rest of my life, so getting back to OUR problem.…”
“Yeah… my theory… and like I said, you’re not going to like it… but I think it is possible our very presence here is actually making the problem worse. Like… when you split wood by sticking a wedge in and whacking it with a sledge hammer… and the wedge makes the split wider and longer each time…. We’re the wedge… possibly also the hammer. It’s a rubbish metaphor since neither of us are into woodwork, but it’s the best I can do.”
“I get the metaphor,” Rani assured him. “I’m a bit worried about the implications. Really the best thing we could do is stop wandering about in time. But we have no choice. We have to keep trying to get back to our own time.”
“Yes, exactly. I… don’t know if I feel better about it because you know the risk, too. I didn’t want to worry you, but you should know the whole facts. Otherwise I’m bringing you along under false pretences.”
“I understand. Come on. We’d better try again.”
It had been interesting and exciting before, but now that they had both considered the prospect of being lost in’ time indefinitely, it started to feel wearisome each time they emerged from the bathroom/dressing room/storeroom/walk-in-stationery-cupboard into another time in the history of the Palace of Versailles.
The earliest time they arrived at was the mid-eighteenth century when Louis XIV was renovating the old country lodge and turning it into his grand palace. The latest was a conference that seemed to have something to do with ‘Brexit’ and involved a lot of familiar faces from European politics.
“This is AFTER the party we were at,” Clyde guessed. “Maybe a few months. The Irish Prime Minister is that half-Indian guy that the papers made a big deal about. He looks well settled into the job. Plus, the gardens are covered in snow. It might be January 2018 or so.”
“Which would mean we’d have been missing for about six or seven months,” Rani concluded. “Mum would be out of her mind by now.”
“Mine, too,” Clyde agreed. “We can’t step off the ride here. We’ve got to try again.”
But that was the closest they came to getting back to their normal life for the next dozen attempts.
Then something happened that Clyde had considered but hadn’t shared with Rani for fear of really scaring her.
They had stepped out into a slightly neglected garden instead of the corridor they had become accustomed to. When they turned around, there was no building to go back into, no room, no door to go through to get to another time.
“The palace hasn’t been built, yet. We’re trapped.”
Rani’s voice was shrill as their predicament overwhelmed her. Tears pricked her eyes as she thought, not only about surviving in a time and place where they were unlikely to be treated kindly, but also about the misery their disappearance would cause their families.
The six months to January of 2018 didn’t seem so bad now.
“I’m sorry,” Clyde told her, his own voice trembling a little. “I got us into this. I was just showing off… I didn’t have to bring you into this, and now….”
“I came along willingly. I don’t blame you,” Rani promised him. “Don’t keep blaming yourself.”
Instinctively, they grasped hands with each other. There was a small comfort in that. But neither of them was going to say, or even think, anything as trite as ‘as long as we’re together we’ll be all right’. They both knew that it wasn’t all right.
“Should we try to get to Paris?” Rani suggested. “Or would we be safer in the countryside. We have no money. Would it be easier to earn some around farms or….”
The sort of jobs available to women in the eighteenth century didn’t seem too palatable to her. The immediate future seemed dark.
Then the immediate future took a really strange turn. Two figures wearing tight fitting white neopren materialised in front of them exactly as if they had beamed down from the Starship Enterprise. They raised weapons straight out of even more fanciful science fiction and a beam of paralysing light enveloped them both. The last thing they heard before the blackness of an induced coma closed down their brains was something about ‘temporal anomalies neutralised’.
Rani wasn’t sure how long she had been unconscious. She felt it had been a few hours. She woke slowly, as if coming round from surgery under anaesthetic. She was aware of voices around her talking in the brisk, matter of fact way of hospital personnel. But they weren’t concerned with her pulse.
“Establishing their proper temporal location for these subjects is proving difficult,” said a voice. “The gown corresponds to mid-eighteenth century, but the underwear is twenty-first century.”
“Get your hands off my underwear!” Rani exclaimed, sitting up at once and looking around at a strangely appointed room. She was sure it was in Versailles, still. The mouldings on the ceiling seemed familiar. But everything was painted a clinical white that was near blinding, and complicated computerised monitors blinked and beeped all around the hospital style bed she had been lying on.
She noticed that she wasn’t wearing the underwear in question, or anything else that belonged to her. She was in a kind of disposable paper gown that added to the ‘hospital’ feel to it all.
Nearby, on a second bed, Clyde, also wearing paper clothes, was talking in his sleep about ‘black babies’, perhaps harking back to Marie-Therese and her unexpected daughter.
“Where… and when am I?” Rani demanded. “And who are you lot?”
“You’re in Versailles Palace,” answered a woman wearing the white neoprene that had the effect of making her blend into the white walled background except for her head and a name tag identifying her as ‘Tech-Professor Norma Addison’. “The year is Forty-Seven-Ninety-Eight. We’re Time controllers. Don’t worry. There is nothing to worry about. You’re in safe hands. You probably need nutrients. I’ll have some brought.”
Whether it was the promise of ‘nutrients’ or just the knockout force wearing off, Clyde woke up fully. They both ate the surprisingly normal egg salad sandwiches and orange juice at a white plastic table before Tech-Professor Addison and a colleague, Tech-Supervisor Stanley Bond, came to sit with them.
“We’re not going to tell you anything,” Clyde told them. “And don’t even think of blaming us for anything. We’re innocent bystanders.”
“Of course you are,” Tech-Professor Addison assured him. “You’re not the first. That’s why we have facilities here, to monitor new time fractures and rescue anyone caught up in them.”
“We had trouble with you two,” Tech-Supervisor Bond added. “Most accidental time travellers stay put in one temporal location, but you were all over.”
“We just wanted to go home,” Rani said. “If there’s some law against it in your time, then, tough. We’re not a part of that. We just want to get back where and when we came from.”
“We understand,” Addison promised her. “It happens frequently. I’m sorry we had to be more direct with you two. There are no lasting effects from the stun beams, I can assure you.”
“If there were, it’s not like we can sue,” Clyde pointed out. “Injury Lawyers 4U are not going to be up for this.” He glanced around at all the future technology. “Did you lot cause the time rifts? Is it all down to you messing with history?
“Not at all,” Tech-Supervisor Bond assured them.
“There are multiple time fractures all over the Palace of Versailles,” Agent Bond explained. “The worst of them was traced to an incident at Louis XV’s Yew Tree Ball. We keep mending them but they split again. We think the Nazis might have tried to control them during the Occupation.”
“Yes,” Rani confirmed. “We saw them doing that. Did they succeed?”
“No. They didn’t have the technology to control the fractures. They may have sent several unfortunate volunteers into the past, but they couldn’t get them back again. We have some evidence that at least three of them were guillotined by Robespierre.”
“Good way to deal with Nazis,” Clyde observed. “So, you fix the fractures when you find them. But what about us? If you fix the one in the men’s room, how do we get home? I for one don’t want to stay here any more than I want to stay in Louis IV’s time.”
“We can get you back to your proper time once your clothing has been time-desensitised. We’ve already done that for you, but non-organic material takes longer.”
“Not sure I like the inference that we’re just ‘organic material’,” Rani said. “But ok.”
“There’s just one problem,” Tech-Supervisor Bond said. “We usually use memory modification to ensure the people we send back are unaware of what happened to them. Usually they don’t even remember being here in their future. But when we tried that on you two your brains rejected the attempt. You have been exposed to something extra-terrestrial that rebuffs the modification.”
Despite his earlier assertion that he wasn’t going to say anything, Clyde solved that puzzle for them.
“It’s called Artron energy. Google it, or whatever you do in your time. We have a mate called The Doctor who knows about that sort of thing. He probably knows about you lot. If you do anything other than close these rifts he’ll be on you like a ton of bricks.”
From their expressions, it was clear that they had done more than Google The Doctor. They knew exactly who he was. The fact that he was a ‘mate’ of theirs settled the question of ‘memory modification.’ When their clothes were ‘time-desensitised’, and possibly dry cleaned as well, they dressed and prepared to go back to the party in the summer of 2017.
That simply meant returning to the corridor outside the bathroom where it all started. Tech-Supervisor Bond operated a hand held device that looked like a Star Trek prop and the light around them shimmered.
They emerged into a corridor with the sort of electric lighting they recognised, narrowly avoiding a collision with a man dressed in seventeenth century livery but carrying a twenty-first century crate of Stella Artois for those party goers who didn’t fancy champagne.
They followed him back to the Hall of Mirrors where everything was exactly as they remembered. Lewis Hamilton was still getting some air by one of the floor length windows. The Oscar Winner with the wandering hands and bad breath was dancing with his co-star from his last film. The inebriated A-lister Rani had rejected earlier was heading towards her again when Zac Effron beat him to it. She accepted his offer and went to dance while Clyde went to the bar and got one of those Stella Artois bottles to refresh himself.
Aside from the fact that she was dancing with a film star, blissful normality settled around Rani.