While we wait for another comic, (still not sure when that will be), Francisco, a loyal reader of COTC, has offered to let you all enjoy a piece of fiction he is working on.   I hope you like it.  Take care.
Update: Each segment is “updated” just like it would be in webcomic format.  Sorry for leaving that part out.

Off Course

by Francisco

Update 1:
The scientist felt the breeze and knew that something was wrong. He studied his watch, a mere glance was sufficient for something of this magnitude, and that bad feeling grew. Not only was he off course but he had actually landed!

He looked around and then at his watch again. His surroundings told him that he wasn’t at the United Nations and his watch told him that he was too early and that he was actually here (not a projection as planned).

“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!”

“Sir, that sort of language is uncalled for!”

The woman was a little over 5 feet, she had long brown hair and hazel eyes. She was walking towards him across a green behind a stately manor. The woman wore the formal attaire of a bygone era.

Rayomond hastily pulled a sleeve down over his watch.

When they were level he said, “I’m sorry, I got a little lost.”

“I do not appreciate men who talk to themselves on my property.”

Raymond looked around again. He tried to remember all the Baronesses and Ladies of the period. He quipped, “Which do object to: the fact that a person was talking to themself, the fact that it was on your property or the fact that it was a man who did it?”

Her face broke into a smile. She looked beautiful.

“Well, as you are here, would you like to join me for tea?”

He found himself accepting her offer. A voice in his head warned him that he still had a job to do but he did not see the problem of spending a little while here. After all, he would need to work out why he was off-course before attempting the journey again.

Another thought struck him: From the position of the house and garden, his hostess would have seen him “land”. She didn’t mention it and had taken it in her stride. When the butler brought the tea, he was smiling.

* * *

The technician stared at the empty space. A shout brought him back to consciousness, “What happened? Where is he?”

“We don’t know. We triple checked the settings before transmission – he should have appeared as a projection at the target.”

“I want a full report on it by COP today!” snapped the voice. “Don’t forget to copy the rest of the board in as well!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Helen Browning stormed out of the room. Her mobile bleeped. She stopped walking, groaned and answered. The screen showed a blonde woman wearing something white. She had been expecting this call. Helen knew it was probably the white suit the other always wore to conferences. Helen pressed a button on the phone, put an ear piece in and made her way to her office.

“Helen, what is happening? The media’s going crazy. There’s a lot of chatter about something going wrong.”

“I don’t know, Andrea. All I can say is that Raymond’s gone and he hasn’t been detected at the target.” The other started to talk but Helen continued, “I’ve requested a report from the technicians by COP today. The media will have to wait.”

“Are you crazy, Helen? You do realise the Government is already setting up a committee to investigate what went wrong.”

Helen took a deep breath. She reminded herself that she had persuaded the board that PR should be subordinate to the other departments in light of the Oskex Disaster. She had asked for the responsibility now she had to deal with it. She sighed and gave in, “Meet me in my office in 5 and we’ll prepare a package.”

Update 2:

Helen sighed. The meeting with Andrea had gone better than expected but that still meant that the press were already criticising the project. “And by tomorrow, they’ll want my head on a pike,” she mused.

Her mobile bleeped again. She answered it and a short pudgy man was staring at her.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing ordering one of my technicians around?”

“Brian, the guy was too shocked to think of doing anything at all.”

“Bravo and Charlie teams were already running diagnostics at the time.”

“I’m sorry. I guess I let my personal feelings get the better of me.” She blushed but didn’t let her sadness out.

“It’s OK. When this is all over, I’m sure we’ll drink and laugh about it.” Brian’s face turned to one of concern. Brian and his number two, Marielle, were the only two people who knew how she felt about Raymond. The fact that he’d blown up at her showed just how tense everyone in the organisation was.

Helen smiled a little and asked, “I take it you reassigned the report to those teams?”

“I did and, whilst the report isn’t officially ready, yet, I do have some good news.” His face frowned, “It’s not much, but it’s something. The navigation circuits appear to have been incorrectly calibrated. We should be able to narrow the search area by COP but we do know he’s between 00 and 40.”

Helen forced herself to look positive, “That’s still something. I look forward to reading that report.”


Update 3:

The report was more specific. It stated that he was in Area 31 +/- 2. Furthermore, it stated that the exact geographical location had been worked out. It placed him at Lady Harrington’s home.

Helen mused at the terminology they used but force of habit meant that she was more comfortable thinking in those terms than what it actually meant. It was something that Raymond had drilled into all of them — if something were to go wrong, and they missed the target, speaking in terms that were reasonable for the areas they nay visit would be less likely to draw suspicion. He insisted that everyone use the correct terms so that if a 2nd person needed to be sent, they would not inadvertantly give themselves away.

Raymond had argued, “If you get used to using the terms every day then it would be easier to maintain your cover if you need to follow me.”

The rest of the report was not so comforting. The reason that the machine did not perform as expected as that the machine was not calibrated to work with Raymond’s current watch. A month ago the watch Raymond was using broke down so he replaced it with one of the spares. Whilst he was a brilliant inventor, he had not appreciated just how much the machine depended on the individual configuration of the navigation watches. He had matched the sensors on the watch to the machine but he had not matched the transmission circuits.

Helen sipped her drink. She could not help but feel that the report was about to get worse. She carried on reading.

Recalibrating the machine to the watch would take months without the watch. Recalibrating the watch to the machine would be easier in this location but, in the area he was in, it was virtually impossible. The report went on to suggest that someone from the organisation travel to an area in front of Raymond so that they could meet him when he got there and advise him to wait to be picked up.

Helen smiled at the proposal — Raymond, the workaholic that had spent the past ten years of his life building the machine, wait?

She read more and received a shock.


Update 4:

Most of the report had been written by the two teams of technicians (with a bit of help from their superiors) but it had an additional section added by Marielle and Brian. Their proposal was that she, Helen Browning, be sent to meet Raymond! Their argument was backed up by research.

Helen thought it was odd that Marielle and Brian did the research as they had dedicated teams of researchers for that sort of thing but further reading explained it a little more:

Marielle had attached pictures to the file of Lady Harrington at various ages. Helen got goosebumps looking at the pictures — they could have been of her! Furthermore, a quick check of records showed that Lord Harrington had met his wife whilst travelling through Africa. After a whirlwind romance (3 months) they got married and a month later he died whilst hunting game. There were no records of the woman until two weeks before she met Lord Harrington. All of the above were generated by simple searches through the publicly records system.

There was a note, added by Brian, stating that he had requested that Research cross check blood samples to see if there was a familial match with the proposed traveller.

Helen felt dizzy. She tried to process it all.

“Get a grip.” She told her herself, “What would I do if I was arranging this?”

That was the thing about time travel: you sometimes got the answer before you knew what the question was and sometimes you had to limit your plans to the observed facts.

The bit of her that was in love with Raymond cried out in glee. She would get to spend several months with him and he would not have work to take him away from her. It was like going on an extended holiday together. Of course, the holiday would have to end when the adjustments were done and, by the look of the research material, she would be taking a one way trip herself.

The business side of her personality took over. She made a mental “To Do” list. She would have to:

  • Travel back to the correct moment in time,
  • Meet up with Lord Harrington and persuade him to marry her,
  • Let him die in a hunting accident…

She stopped there and held back the tears. She started again:

  • Travel back to the correct moment in time,
  • Meet Lord Harrington,
  • Spend time with Lord Harrington,
  • Get to know Lord Harrington,
  • Spend intimate moments…
She cried. She couldn’t callously sleep with someone then let them die! Raymond wasn’t worth that! The mission wasn’t worth that!

But she had, or was going to. The documents stated that she had. The marriage certificate had listed her full name, “Helen Annabelle Browning”. Was she that much of a b***h?

She thought about changing things, letting Lord Harrington live but remembered what the ethics courses had taught her at start of every job she had within the organisation: just changing one thing (that is not within the plan), especially if it’s earlier than the planned time, could have disastrious consequences. Everybody knew they were taking a risk with Raymond’s mission but other changes could be worse (especially if they occurred before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

She realised that she was not going to get any further forward by arguing with herself so she forced herself to read the rest of the report. It only made her feel worse. The Research Section had tracked down the surviving hiers to Lady Harrington. All of them showed a familial match to her.

At bottom of her copy was a message:

“Check your comm when you get home, tonight. Call me securely and I’ll give you the decryption key. Marielle”

Update 5:

Helen started to wonder what Marielle had sent her and, consequently, she felt lighter. Nevertheless, it had been a long day that was both emotionally and physically draining. She dreaded what the morning would bring her but knew that, whether she felt better or worse tomorrow, sleep would help. She was just about to leave her office when a thought struck her…

“Establish two-way comms with Brian Redgrave.”

The call went straight to voicemail. She chided herself for forgetting that Brian did not take work calls out of work hours (unless it was an emergency).

“Brian, if it’s going to take months to recalibrate the machine to individual watches, how long before I launch?”

After she hung up she had another thought: How come Technical seemed to be in charge of Research? She made a mental note to ask Marielle tonight.

* * *

She had contacted Marielle when she got home. Marielle’s voice was light and conspiratorial. Helen didn’t have the heart to tell her the shocking insights she had that evening — that day would come and it was lovely to have something else to think about. Marielle would not be drawn on what was in the encrypted data but she did give Helen the key.

Marielle was postitively impish when she was asked why Research were reporting to Technical, “Oh, that’s your fault.” She waited for Helen’s shocked protestations to subside, “When you ordered that tech to write the report, you implied that everybody was to report to Technical on the matter. After all, you were the first director-level person to take charge of the situation so your orders stand.”

Helen did not know whether to laugh or cry — she felt proud and accomplished for taking charge of the situation but also realised that, in the coming weeks, her more ambitious colleagues would probably try to undermine her out of spite. She decided that, of all the things she had to worry about, this one was not worth it. She acted because she cared about the project so it did not matter what the others thought of her. If they wanted the responsibility, they should have acted. However, they had not been there, and they were probably caught between wanting to act and wanting to avoid the blame.

The conversation had put Helen into better spirits. Not only that but all the hints Marielle had dropped fed Helen’s curiousity. Marielle had warned that the information would be deleted once she had cleared the screen. The information that Marielle had put together was dramatic in itself: Marielle had persuaded one of the DNA testers to test the samples from the hiers against samples that Marille called “RS” and “JH”.

It took Helen over an hour to absorb the information.


Update 6:

The next morning Helen felt as though she had been kicked in the head. Helen hated hangovers but she did not think she had been drinking. She couldn’t recall Marielle or Brian coming round so she probably had not drunk anything. She couldn’t make up her mind whether that made it better or worse.

Her mobile was beside her bed and it was reminding her to get up.

“Messages?”

“You have one data message from Brian Redgrave.”

Her mind went back to yesterday and she was hit by an avalanche of emotion. She felt like burying her head in her hands and never leaving her bed again. She mentally corrected herself, she could cope with what had happened, she couldn’t cope with what she was about to do.

She started to have the argument again about the rights and wrongs of letting someone die. Someone, who she would have to marry and get intimate with, would die and she would do nothing to stop it. Another thought struck her, could she be intimate with someone she didn’t like? Could she be that cold and calculating?

“Oh God, I’m a b***h and a w***e!” She announced to her bedroom.

The sensible part of her spoke and reminded her that she did not know that. The records showed that she had married but there was no document that stated when, or if, the marriage was consumated. She imagined an official sitting next to the bed of a couple with a clipboard and smiled for a second or so.

“Project message.”

The mobile complied and the message was projected into the space in front of Helen’s face. The message read, “We only need to re-calibrate the sensor circuits as the original watch should be fixed by the time we transmit. Expect to launch in 5 weeks.”

The way Helen felt she did not want to go into the office. She thought of working from home but she knew she would feel worse if she was alone. If it got too bad she could seek out Marielle or Brian. She wondered what she would do if they weren’t available and she realised even the colleagues who she didn’t get on well with would take her mind off how she felt.

She accepted that she was covering up her emotions with activity but, until she found a solution to her problems, it was going to have to do.


Update 7:

The first thing that she did when she got in was to schedule a meeting with Brian and Marielle. She screamed at herself for confining herself to her friends but, in her head, she argued that, as Brian and Marielle were leading the organisation’s effort (and wrote the report), they had vital knowledge about what was going on. In any case, she reminded herself, the media storm was going to hit soon so background knowledge was necessary.

In the meeting she found it hard to focus on details and was constantly asking questions. She could see Brian getting impaitient with her and she knew that, had it been anybody else, he would have already taken her to task. She could see Brian getting ready to lecture her but Marielle held up a hand.

“Helen, are you OK?”

The concerned look on Marielle’s face made her realise just how bad she must look. The floodgates burst! Before she knew it she was hugging Marielle, crying on her shoulder and telling her everything. She felt stupid: for breaking down at work, for wanting to keep it all bottled up inside, for thinking that ignoring the problem was going to solve it. She couldn’t believe that Marielle and Brian put up with her.

Marielle listened to her and, when she had finished, she countered each of Helen’s self-critical arguments. Marielle’s calm and friendly voice reminded her of the fights that she had won. Marielle also reminded Helen that stress was likely to make one very self-critical.

“So any thoughts of what I should do about Lord Harrington?”

“You could just level with him.” The cheekiness returned to Marielle’s voice, “You could tell him that you’re from the future, show him some cool tech and, maybe, a copy of that marriage certificate. You don’t have to ‘be intimate’ with him if it’s too much for you.” Marielle found it amusing that Helen still used euphemisms when talking about love and sex.

Helen was both enthralled and shocked by the suggestion, “But we have strict rules on that sort of thing…. And we have those rules for a reason!”

“If they were that strict, this machine wouldn’t even exist! In any case, I have some ideas to help you underline the fact that he shouldn’t talk about it. It’s only a problem if the secret gets out and, the records show you went anyway, so we’ve already altered time.”

“What are those ideas?”

“No, no, Helen. I’m not telling you until *you* agree to consider going.”

Helen found herself grinning at that.


Update 8:

Helen was glad that she had seen Brian and Marielle — they had not only helped her cope with her doubts but they had given her the briefing she was officially there for.

“I guess it’s time to face the media.” She half-heartedly announced to her office.

She activated her mobile and made a call, “Andrea, I need to know what’s happening out there.”

“Where and when?”

“My office. ASAP.”

Helen found the media’s take on the incident depressingly predictable:

IPM[1] stated that the Raymond Smith had been lost but the organisation was working on a solution, a profile on Helen, how the media and parliament was reacting, blah blah blah

News International was “trying to breach” the “possible cover up”. They had tracked down and interviewed Helen’s ex’s…Helen asked for the next report.

WorldNet were saying that Helen had taken charge of the situation (much to the other directors’ surprise)…

The report droned on. Andrea was in her element and Helen felt that the media was so predictable that she could almost write the stories herself. Then again, as Head of Administration, Helen couldn’t say that she had a job that one would expect daily excitement in.

Helen did try to pay attention but there wasn’t very much that she could do to change those reports. She almost felt as though she was wasting both her time and Andrea’s. She was about to dismiss Andrea when she had an idea. It would help the organisation on the PR front and, if managed correctly, shouldn’t cause too much disruption to their efforts. However, it did mean upsetting a friend. She bit her lip.

Andrea stopped talking and looked at Helen expectantly. Helen came to a decision and suggested they invite a reporter to shadow someone to see that there was no cover up. Andrea suggested News International and Helen dismissed that on the grounds that “the only way to get good press in a NI publication is to worship at the temple of Murdoch”.

“It’ll have to be someone high enough for the reporter to see that he does have access,” Andrea reminded Helen.

“I don’t want them under my feet! Make it Brian.”

“I’ll get it set up.”

“Before you go, I’ll be stepping down from my current duties in a week. Make sure the reporter is away by that time.”

“As you wish.”

* * *

Andrea didn’t allow herself to smile until she was in her office. Her number two, Clive, sent her a questioning glance.

“She’s agreed.”

“How do you manage that?”

“Helen’s easy to manipulate when she bored out of her wits.” She, mentally, noted that it had been a good idea of them to write a report, months ago, of possible media scenarios in the event of a disaster. It’ll take Helen a few hours (if not days) to realise that the solution she proposed was in that report. The report also listed the likely stances of the different media organisations. Out loud she added, “I just let her think it was her idea.”

“Who did she want?”

“We didn’t discuss that. Call Simon and tell him that he shadows Brian from tomorrow.”

[1] International Public Media: the merged entities of what were most of the world’s public broadcasters.


Update 9:

It seemed, to Helen, that Andrea had barely left the office before she called back with the details. Simon Tea from WorldNet would be joining Brian tomorrow, Friday. He would shadow Brian until the following Friday. Even though Helen’s mind was struggling with too little sleep she realised that Andrea probably had already prepared for such an eventuality. She couldn’t work how Andrea knew in advance what she would decide but she wasn’t going to worry about that now.

She called Brian to tell him the news. Brian wasn’t too happy but he could see the advantage for the organisation. After all it had been seen time and time again that an organisation that is perceived as “covering up” was always perceived as not trying their best to deal with a situation (whether or not either were the case). Brian did make one observation, as they were closing the call, “If you can make this decision, Helen, I’m sure you’ll do fine when you make the jump.” Helen wasn’t sure whether she wanted him to be right or not.

She did, however, have to meet the rest of the board. She went through the various mechanisms available to her and settled on meeting each director indiviually and in person. The advantages were:

  • It would cause even more disruption to arrange an emergency meeting for all the directors,
  • There would be less chance of factions developing (which meant that proceedings wouldn’t get bogged down and, she had to admit to herself, there would be less chance of a coup) and,
  • In a private setting, people were less likely to be defensive as they would be if their views were publicised in advance.
She realised that it would take longer to get around to everyone and some people may read slights into the order she saw people. However, the organisation couldn’t be left rudderless for the time being (which it would be if all the directors were tied up in a meeting for two hours).

“At least I’m not going to make the same mistake as Raymond,” she muttered under her breath. It would have been easier if the CEO had been there but the CEO was Raymond. It frustrated everyone that, when asked what to do in case of an accident Raymond had just said, “Whichever director is the first to take reasonable steps in the light of the accident would be in charge.”

She consulted everybodies’ diaries and sent a data message out:

“I’m going to be seeing you individually to discuss our future actions. We need at least one director available at all times. Discuss who that would be among yourselves.

“This is the running order that I will see you:”

She wasn’t looking forward to the second appointment but she had a plan to deal with that potential source of trouble. Her first appointment, Tom (Director of the Historical Department), should be along any moment.

Update 10:

Tom had left the office. Helen took a deep breath before allowing David, the Director of Finance, in. David had always opposed her appointment and had resented the way she had got Administration to be seen as an equal to Finance. She had almost managed to bring Finance into her domain but he had successfully fought her off on that occasion. However,

“You sent for me?” His voice dripped with malice and sarcasm.

“Yes, I did.” She stated it almost like a teacher dealing with an unruly pupil. She continued in a professional voice, “Now, I believe Technical’s plan would have some Financial implications?”

For the next half half hour they sparred. He used his voice and body language to convey that she should already know everything he was telling her if she had been any good and she conveyed to him that she was a professional who wasn’t going to rise to the bait of someone who couldn’t get their emotions under control. After the departmental briefing was over, she asked him how he would feel about spending more time with her.

David was instantly alert — he couldn’t stand the sight of Helen and he knew that she reciprocated. He knew that she would not offer to spend more time with him unless there was a pressing reason. He figured that he was better off being open to it. He answered her question, “If it would mean the mission is better served, then, yes, I would do that.” The look on Helen’s face told him that he had just passed a test.

Helen relaxed. If David was going to put their war on hold for the sake of the organisation then things may work out after all.

“We both know that one of Raymond’s mistakes was not stepping down from running the organisation when he decided that he was going to be the traveller. I am not going to make that mistake…”

David’s heart skipped a beat. Was she suggesting what he thought she was?

Helen didn’t seem to have noticed his reaction, “…I’ve had a mission thrust upon me and I’m not going to be able to concentrate on that if I’m distracted by running this.

“I know we’ve had our differences but you’re the best person to be my replacement.” From Helen’s point of view: he was one of the few directors that had a good handle on how the other departments operated, Finance wasn’t directly involved the rescue so he stood more chance of being seen as neutral in any disputes and, as the leader of the faction against her, he stood more chance of keeping the different factions in line.

“When?”

“I formally step down next Friday (after the reporter from WorldNet has gone). However, I will keep you in the loop until that time and I need something from you today.”

“Anything,” he could afford to relax now that his prize was in sight.

“Get your number 2 to take over Finance for the rest of the day because you’re sitting in on the briefings I’m having with the other departments.”

Update 11:

The week had gone quickly. The person from WorldNet, Simon, seemed nice enough but Helen was going to withhold judgement until she read the article. The handover had gone smoothly. By Friday afternoon she was being briefed by Historical and Technical.

“It was odd,” she mused to herself, “this morning I was in charge of a multi-million pound organisation and now I’m just a passenger.”

It felt weird — or more to the point, she felt mixed. She felt relieved that she did not have the responsibility any more but still found herself thinking of how to react. She missed it a bit (even the turf wars with David). The thought of going into the past and seeing history for herself excited her but the thought of being away from modern medicine and communication both interested her and worried her. The doubts that she had about what she had to do, what history was going to force her to do, had never completely disappeared and now they were there again.

She had worked out that Angela had manipulated her but she realised that Angela had the best interests of the organisation in mind. Whatever the tone of the article, the media would find it hard to make the charge of “cover up” stick. Helen wouldn’t miss that aspect of running an organisation.

Then again, if she was destined to become the Lady of a manor, and there was no Lord there to running things (she hated the sexism of the past), then she would have to manage the affairs of the manor as if it were a small corporation. She would probably have to make some investments to generate income for the estate…

“Ms Browning, please pay attention!”

Helen brought herself out of her thoughts and did pay attention. She made the notes she needed and felt a little embarrassed that the incident had happened.

* * *

In bed, she realised that she was so used to rushing around that it was odd not to have her blood filled with adrenaline. She wanted to examine the thought more but her body disagreed. She yawned, turned over and went to sleep.


Update 12:

Helen stared at screen. She was beginning to regret her deal with the examiner from Historical. All personnel, especially travellers, had to pass a set of exams to show they understand the moral, social, ethical and practical aspects of time travel. The first part of the course normally took a week (with an exam every day). Helen had assured the examiner that she could pass the tests with a half day session on Friday to be reminded of the general points and a weekend to revise the tests. “After all,” she had reminded the examiner, “It’s compulsory for all employees to pass the examines to remain in employment.”

The examiner had had his doubts so she made a deal. If she failed just one of her tests, she would do things his way.

She was, at that precise moment, going over the checks that needed to be carried out before making a jump. There were two columns on the screen — one showing the checks that needed to be made when projecting into the past and the other if travelling in person. In the right-hand column, the “Medical” checks were more detailed.

“Oh sh*t!” She immediately directed her attention to her mobile. “Establish two-way comms with the Medical Department at the Project.”

She smiled at what she said. She had only stepped down from being a director two days ago and already she was calling “the Medical Department” and not “Professor Yates” (its director). Of course, studying the introductory material again made her feel like a trainee.

“Medical, Ruth speaking.”

“Ruth, could you put through to the highest ranking person on duty from Transmission, please?”

“Transferring you now Ms Browning.”

“Dr. Kohl speaking. How can I help you, Ms Browning?”

Helen’s drop in rank hit her. She realised that she didn’t know the proper protocol to follow. Had she been in her old job, it would have been simple. Had she really been a trainee, then it would have been even simpler because she would not be allowed to make this call.

“I was going through the transmission protocols and I realised…”

“…that Raymond Smith does not have immunity to the infections present in Area 30 nor did he take any precautions to make sure that none of the germs from this area were transferred to Area 30? Don’t worry, we’d already realised and were working on it. If you pass the tests tomorrow, I’ll be giving you a briefing on Tuesday.”

“That’s good to know.” Helen stated. She couldn’t hide the embarrassment from her voice.

“Don’t worry about it. I’d rather have had this call than have someone who didn’t care.”

Update 13:

Helen had passed the exams. However, she had just scraped through. The examiner looked undecided as he gave her the results. His exact words were, “I would have felt more comfortable with more time to improve your understanding to the point where you would be able to score significantly higher but the timetable is fixed so your way is going to have to do.”

The words played out in her mind again: “the timetable is fixed”. That didn’t make any sense, they had a time machine at their service! Would David have ordered that? No, that wasn’t his style — fixed timetables lead to higher costs and David’s instincts had always been to keep costs at reasonable levels. It was one of the things they agreed on.

“How firm is the deadline?”

“I was informed that it was fixed but I wasn’t given any details.

“Now, you are familiar with the operation of the Traveller’s Watch?”

* * *

The meeting with Medical went on for a while: The first part was a briefing that all travellers were expected to take part in, the second (and longer) part was a disucussion, by experts, of the possible solutions to issues raised by Raymond’s arrival in Area 30.

Update 14:

Tom met Dr Kohl in her office late on Monday night. Considering the meeting had been requested via an encrypted data transmission and it was timed for when most people on the Project were home, Dr Kohl had her suspicions what the meeting may contain.

“Why the cloak and dagger?” Although, she was sure she knew the answer.

“Protocol 80.”

“You have the document?”

He showed it to her. Dr Kohl knew enough about technological development process to know that her department’s job just got a lot harder.

“The deadline is fixed?”

He didn’t answer.

“Protocol 82?”

“You know that I can neither confirm or deny that, Justine.”

“She’s not going to like this.”

“You’re not going to tell her.”

“But…”

“Protocol 80 — strictly need to know.” He realised that the doctor may have had a legitimate reason for objecting. He added, “You can tell the course but not the why.”


Update 15:

Helen didn’t know how they did it but Brian and Marielle had managed to fix things so that they would be giving her the briefing from Technical this morning. Not only that but Marielle had promised to tell her the idea she had had to help Helen convince Lord Harrington not to tell anyone. For the first time since the accident, Helen was looking forward to going into work.

* * *

The Technical briefing, like the others, was light on details but great on breadth. She had less than 4 weeks before “Transmission” when the normal timescale for a traveller to be briefed on everything was normally a year. Luckily, the organisation insisted that everybody studied the basic information a traveller would need in case of the need for an emergency transmission. The nightmare scenario for the organisation was that of a rogue operative rather than an accidental transmission. In the case of a rogue, it was possible that they would need to send a friend of the target to help advise the cleanup team. This meant that everybody in the organisation, whilst they would not be able to do a traveller’s job as well as the traveller, could step in and not make a total hash of it.

However, sending a lone operative without enough training to blend in with that the culture in another area, be able to follow the proper protocols at all times, etc seemed strange to Helen (and a few others). Everybody had their theories but, unknown to Helen, everybody who was going to interact with her had been given a firm directive by Historical not to discuss the matter.

After the briefing, Helen approached Marielle. Marielle grinned.

“Helen, our plan is simple. It’s going to be a few months before Raymond turns up?”

“Yes?”

“That means that we don’t have to recalibrate the transmission circuits straight away?”

“Yes?” Helen was starting to suspect Marielle’s plan. Or was it Marielle and Brian’s plan?

“Well, given that most of the time there will be no one else around, you can simply threaten to return here if they tell anyone. We can arrange use the sensors here to tell when you’re in danger and pull you out if anything goes wrong. Lord Harrington and his valet would look like liars and, if we pull the evidence that you was there out as well, mentally ill.”

“But…”

“…If you’re worried about privacy, you know the watches can work in a privacy mode where it’ll activated if you specifically address it.” That was not what Helen was thinking. She was shocked at the suggestion. Marielle took in Helen’s shock and continued, “Look, you’ve had one hell of a dry spell. I know how you feel now but I’ve looked up pictures of Lord Harrington and he’s dishy. You’ll be alone with him in Africa (where it gets very hot). However you feel now, your feelings may change. I think a little embarrassment now is worth it if it saves you a lot later.”

Marille’s cheeky smile returned, “Anyway, this is for you. It’s up to you if you use it but I think it’s better than not giving you the option. I would advise you to use it because, if you’re wrong, not using it could have bigger implications.”

Marielle handed over the patch. The patch was one of the triumphs of medicine. The patch contained a substance, in this case a contraceptive, that was encased in another substance that slowly decayed when in a human body. Both substances were designed not to attract the attention of the body’s immune system. The patch would be put on the person’s body and the mix be slowly absorbed by the skin. The practical upshot was that, for each hour the patch was in contact with a patient’s body, the patient would get one month’s dose of the drug (it would be released slowly so the person got the right dose at the right time).


Update 16:

Due to the sensitive nature of the information that Historical had to keep, the people in Historical had equipment to make sure that only they could read it. In Tom’s case, the information was displayed by his glasses. To make it even harder to read, the information was displayed with a particular polarisation and scan rate (both of which kept changing in an apparantly random manner). In order to read the information a filter needed to match the polarisation and scan rate exactly. That filter was implanted in Tom’s right eye.

Another security precaution was that his glasses had the ability to project a false image of his eyes on the outside so that people could not infer secrets by observing his eye movements/shape.

Historical had another of Raymond’s inventions installed — they were semi-detached from the timeline. It was another of Raymond’s backup plans. Whatever happened to the timeline the Historical Department would still exist. If the changes to the timeline caused the organisation to cease to exist, the Historical Department would exist. Whatever happened, Historical would have access to full information and memories of both timelines. They had 3 missions:

  • Make sure that any unauthorised transmissions (including transmissions that went wrong and the effects of any following individuals/teams) have minimal impact on the timeline.
  • Minimise the negative effects on the timeline caused by that any authorised transmissions.
  • Advised and inform other individuals/groups as necessary to support the aims of the other points.
Another capability that Historical had was the ability to run simulations to work out what the best course of action would be.

In Tom’s vision a square changed from amber to green. Tom noted that Helen now had the patch and was satisfied. He could not believe how lucky they had been — Helen was on course to succeed in her mission.

The moment Raymond had left, everybody in the department could feel that the system had kicked in. However, only those who had detailed knowledge of particular bit of British history noticed any differences. The big events of history, the changes in social attitudes and the cultural touchstones of each period had not changed. The Red Book, however, was now full of documents.

Then again, Tom mused to himself, in time travel, where does good planning end and luck begin?

Update 17:

Helen was now in a meeting with Dr Kohl from Medical and one of the senior technicians from Technical. They were discussing the principles from which a mobile disinfecting device and the procedure for picking up Raymond could be designed.

Dr Kohl was speaking, “A prudent course would be to assume that it could take up to 5 minutes for interception so disinfection would need to operate over a wider area. This also means that we would have more chance of discovery so we are going to have to adjust the priorities: 1st priority: protect the native population, 2nd priority: make sure the landing isn’t discovered and 3rd priority: ensure that Traveller 1 does not fall ill (if possible).”

Helen was shocked. It was not that she did not know the compromises that one has to make when time-travelling, Dr Kohl’s ordering of priorities was necessary with the assumption that it could take up to 5 minutes to make the interception. Helen was shocked because, with the data from Technical and Historical, she could make the intercept within 45 seconds (allowing her to re-arrange the standard priorities because there was less chance of being discovered) and because David had given his word that she could arrange the pick up the way she saw fit. Helen smiled at that as she knew it was David’s way of saying that it was her fault if it went wrong.

A 5 minute interception time meant that a new device would need to be designed and built in less than 4 weeks as it was beyond the limitations of the current disinfection devices.

Dr Kohl saw the mix of emotions play out on Helen’s face and simply stated, “David doesn’t have the final word on everything.”


Update 18:

Brian and Marielle had had a meeting with Medical. The design specifications for the new device would be challenging to achieve. As senior managers they both spotted another problem: the would be able to build the device if they could find the resources from somewhere.

“Every second spent in planning a project can save you two in the building of it,” played in Marielle’s head. It was one of the phrases her engineering tutor was fond of. In an ideal world they would allocate more than the time available just to plan. However, the timetable was fixed so they had to work with what they had.

The first thing they did when they got back was to assemble the heads of the groups in the Department and asked them the likely needs for the poject. Marielle got the computer to record the requirements then, after the meeting, she asked the computer to multiply the expected resources by 5. After all, another favourite of her old tutor was, “Lack of planning leads to cost and/or time overruns.” They didn’t have the luxury of time overruns so any hit had to be made financially.

Brian and Marielle examined their department’s budget to see if there were any areas that could be put on hold for a month without causing too much damage. Marielle pointed out that Finance could tolerate a catastrophic failure of its systems because outside bodies could provide the information Finance needed (even if they were not that convenient to use) and that programs PR ran could quite easily run on the systems of the other departments without too much trouble, so the money set aside for maintaining those systems over the next few weeks could be transferred to this design project. If they diverted money from existing design projects, etc. Similarly the looked at where they could get manpower and materials.

It took them a couple of hours but they were able to come up with approximately twice the resources estimated by their group heads. They both knew that it was prudent to have more assigned to the project but they had enough to start it. Brian called Dr Kohl to arrange a meeting between Design in Technical and Transmission in Medical.

Update 19:

If my calculations are right it’s now Wednesday and it’s 3 weeks and 1 day to transmission. Let’s get on with the story:

The alarm woke Helen. “Why did it have to go off?” she thought as she dragged herself out of bed. She brightened up a little when she remembered that she would be studying Economic History today. Her degree was in Business and Management Studies so she felt closer to Economists than most disciplines.

The formal title of today’s course was “Economic History 1910-29 Boom, War and Crash”. She didn’t know why she was being told about the Crash as wasn’t due to happen until after Lord Harrington died. Yes, that’s why she felt so bad this morning, she didn’t want to face Lord Harrington’s death. She imagined what would happen if she asked Historical but knew that they would probably say something like: “If you drive down a street a person steps out in front of you, are you guilty for driving down the street or is the other one for stepping out in front of you?” or “How do you do know he wouldn’t have died, anyway?”

She imagined bringing her concerns to Marielle. She imagined Marielle’s cheeky smile asking, almost innocently, if it would annoy Historical that she was telling someone from a different Area, yes Marielle would have emphasized that word, where (i.e. when) she truly came from. Helen smiled at the thought and transferred the egg to her plate.

Update 20:

Marielle was the first one to arrive at the meeting. Her usual smile had been replaced by a serious face. She didn’t know Dr Kohl and nobody wanted to run a major project this way. She knew that she would have to convince Medical to devote a lot of resources to the problem.

“Good morning, Ms Gallo.”

“Good morning, Dr Kohl.” Marielle checked the time and added,”Brian won’t be long.”

Brian arrived shortly afterwards. In similar rooms Technical’s Design Team and the senior members of Medical’s Transmission Team were waiting.

The first item on the agenda was resources. Once the resources had been guaranteed, they set up a rota of meetings to make sure that the two teams had the time and space to work together on the project. Throughout the meeting they called upon the two teams when they needed their input but closed the connection when they didn’t.

Given the time they had, it was agreed that this was the first priority for both teams (although the Transmission Team would be needed when Helen was about to depart). It was also agreed that Marielle would lead the project, calling upon Brain and Dr Kohl when needed.

The project was to start as soon as practicable.

After the meeting Brian had asked her what she needed and Marielle had requested a large room, projection equipment and a powerful computer to run simulations on.

* * *

Everybody had already knew what the aim was but, as Team Leader, Marielle was expected to give a briefing.

“As you know Russell has calculated that, using our current method of disinfection, there is a theoretical limit of about 150-200 seconds. Li has calculated that the theoretical limit on disinfection using any method is about 600-800 seconds.” Her lips turned up in a slight smile, “Our task is to prove Li correct.”

Somebody from Technical asked a question, “And if we fail?”

“A strong likelihood that Raymond Smith infects Area 30 with a modern form of a disease that those in Area 30 have little or no resistance to, possible wide-spread death from disease. In the worse-case scenario Helen and Raymond may have to take over Adam and Eve’s job.”

This time the question came from Medical, “Why do we need to build this? We already have a 45-second device.”

Marielle thought about the question before answering, “Historical seem to think that a longer time is needed. If we were to ask why, I doubt they would not tell us. However, I suspect that Historical have reason to believe the prospect of discovery, in this case, is just as dangerous as the prospect of failure.”

That sent a shudder through everyone.

“Let’s assume that Li is correct so I want you to think up other ways that we can generate a disinfection field.

“We have a computer to run simulations on connected to the projector.”