The Inspector took the bejewelled disc out of his trousers pocket and inserted it into the slot above the door handle of the BOOTH. It only took a few seconds for the timeship to scan and confirm the crystals set into the disc as belonging to it, releasing the door’s locking mechanism.
As the door swung open, the Space Master pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. After he stepped inside the tight confines of the BOOTH, Constable Wigglesworth followed suit, standing in his usual place next to the Kayaclaschian.
The time-travelling alien that he had befriended several months ago while investigating a horrid slaying in the former Whitechapel district of London was facing what appeared to be a simple telephone. But, once its receiver was lifted, the Inspector pressed his left hand against the top of the device, while he waited for his ship to read his ribonucleic-acid coding to verify his identity. The Space Master had explained that the RNA reader had been an innovation after a number of his kind — including the Inspector himself — had had their timeships hijacked. The Space Master High Chancery had ordered every ship to be outfitted with RNA scanners to prevent anyone from using them to create havoc elsewhen in time.
The Inspector had included the details of the Sergeant’s overpowering him and piloting of the BOOTH to an ocean planet where he’d disappeared into the population, consuming some quarter of the lifeforms there to resolve a metastatic crisis caused by an improperly completed reincarnation process. That hadn’t quite been the last straw for the High Chancery, but it was close. The final event that led to the decree also involved the Sergeant, but the Inspector pleaded ignorance on the incident, saying only that it had happened some three hundred years before and he’d had to use the RNA sequencer since then.
The Space Master replaced the handset onto the top of the telephone device as it slid downward several centimetres. A black line perpendicular to the telephone suddenly appeared in the transparent window in front of him, splitting it open. A display screen emerged from the opening panels and immediately lit up.
The images of the Milky Way galaxy turning on its axis and of Earth that normally filled the screen appeared as small boxes to the left side. A jumble of glyphs similar to that used for Klingon script on Star Trek crawled right to left along the bottom of the screen, while the majority of the screen was blank.
The Inspector retrieved the biro-shaped temporal beacon and pressed the device against the screen. A white-lined square to expand into the blank space on the screen, then the Kayaclaschian pulled the temporal beacon away and pocketed it. A fraction of a second later, a “P”-shaped logo made of circles interconnected by narrow lines appeared for about three seconds, then it was replaced by the image of a very fit European man wearing a grey uniform jacket similar to military garb from the 50th century, not that Constable Wigglesworth would have known.
“Inspector,” the man began in a bland American accent, “a serious situation has developed on Earth in 2012. During the course of the past couple of weeks, a series of strong earthquakes has struck points on the planet.”
The man’s image disappeared and a virtual view of Earth popped up. A series of points of red light spread out across the globe: Central America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, Antarctica, South America and places in the various oceans that covered the world. A series of yellow lines spread out from the red lights, across the surface and through the Earth itself.
“As you can see, the epicentres are nearly equidistant from each other, many occurring where no earthquake activity has ever been recorded,” the American resumed.
The man’s face reappeared on the monitor.
“Governments all over the world are worried about the timing of the incidents. Many people across the planet have started to believe that this is the beginning of the end of the world.”
Wigglesworth’s ears perked up at the statement. “End of the world? What’s going on?”
The Inspector shushed him as the recording continued.
“There’s only so much we at Peacemist can do about this, Inspector, which is why I contacted you. We need your help. I’m including the temporal coordinates for you. Godspeed. Captain James Haggard, out.”
A series of digits appeared on the screen in front of the Space Master once Haggard’s image had disappeared. He swiped two fingers across the numbers, highlighting them, then inputting a series of commands into the BOOTH’s navigation system.
“Who was that, Inspector?” Wigglesworth asked cautiously.
The Kayaclaschian spared him a glance before returning to his task. “Captain James Haggard works for Peacemist, a worldwide agency based in London, that monitors Earth for temporal anomalies and for aliens. It works to mitigate their effects in order to protect the world when I can’t be there.”
“Why is it that I’ve never heard of this Peacemist? Do they work for the government? How do they do what we — I mean, you — do when they’re not you? How did he get such a job? I mean …”
The Inspector held up a hand to slow the torrent of questions coming from the Constable’s mouth. “Reg,” he said patiently. “Nobody’s supposed to know about Peacemist. In fact, I distinctly recall Peacemist being involved in the Jack the Ripper case when we met. It’s a secret organization working beyond the governments of the world. The reason no one knows about them is that they remove people’s memories of their interactions and of the events that brought Peacemist in contact with them.” He paused. “As far as how they perform their duties, even I’m not certain. I have my suspicions, but Captain James is very careful about what he lets on to me. He knows that my brain has a different biochemistry and that Peacemist’s neuraliser has little impact upon me.”
Wigglesworth was agog. “Neuraliser? What’s that?”
The Space Master sighed softly to himself. He knew that Constable Wigglesworth was a little thick sometimes and often didn’t understand what he was talking about. It rarely tested his patience, but the situation was not very conducive to a drawn-out question-and-answer session.
“The device Peacemist uses to remove people’s memories so they can go about their lives without knowing the danger they were in,” he finally said.
“Oh!” Constable Reggie exclaimed, as if he fully comprehended the explanation, but then he frowned. “I … I don’t really understand, Inspector.”
“I’ll have to explain it later, Reg,” the Space Master replied. “In the meantime, we’ll be off to London in 2012 to get a full briefing on the situation that the good Captain has contacted us about.”
He pressed a symbol on the screen and the BOOTH’s door latch locked shut. A deep keening rose from all around them and the timeship shuddered as it slipped into the spacetime continuum. The Inspector made a couple of course corrections as the BOOTH passed through unexpected ripples in time. Wigglesworth watched the changing images on the screen as the Space Master guided the ship to its destination, not uttering a single word during the journey.
A long moment later, the keening quieted and Wigglesworth felt a thud as the timeship re-entered normal spacetime. Once the ship had solidified into its new time frame, the sound of the BOOTH’s engines died away completely and the door lock clicked open. The Space Master lifted the telephone receiver and pressed the “Operator” key, setting off a chain reaction that shut off the screen, retracted it into the BOOTH’s wall and closed the panels that concealed the operations centre.
“Welcome to the 19th of December of the Earth year 2012, Reg,” the Inspector said with a grin.
He pushed open the BOOTH’s single door, as Wigglesworth glanced out through the transparent windows to see soaring steel beams interspersed with tinted windows and railings on one side of the timeship. On the other, he stared in awe at the ocean, where quite a few sailing ships and ocean liners sat in the harbour. The Space Master looked a little puzzled by where they had landed, but just for a moment.
“Blimey, Inspector! It’s Syndey Bay!” the Constable exclaimed in surprise, then turned around. “The Syndey Opera House! My word! I’ve always wanted to see this!”
The Kayaclaschian smoothed his black cravat down as a warm breeze had risen and tried snatching it away from his body. He took a moment to soak in the atmosphere, the slight humidity from the ocean, the sounds of people in conversation mingled with the squeals of bicycle wheels and horns from a couple of large ships in the harbour.
“It’s quite a sight, indeed, Reg.”
Wigglesworth stopped suddenly and faced the Space Master. “But, I thought you said we were going to London? Why are we in Sydney?”
The Inspector looked bemused. “I’m not exactly sure. I simply input the temporal coordinates that James gave me. I’m sure he’ll explain why he sent us here.”
Before either of them could speak another word, they simultaneously became aware of a tall, grey-garbed man standing behind them. Both the Inspector and Wigglesworth spun on their heels to face the newcomer. The Space Master immediately broke into a wide smile.
“James!” he said delightfully, reaching out to shake the man’s hand. “Good to see you again.”
“Inspector,” the Captain replied with a frown, accepting the man’s proffered hand. “What you doing here?”
“I received your message via the transtemporal receiver and came as quickly as I could.”
“But,” James began, then stopped to consider how the Inspector could have received a message from him. “I didn’t send you a message … yet.”
The Space Master raised an eyebrow and looked knowingly at his former Associate. “Right. That means you’ll be sending one soon. Wouldn’t do either of us any good to cause a time paradox,” he responded.
“No matter how minor it may be,” Captain James retorted.
After a momentary pause, he looked past the Inspector and looked questioningly at Reggie, prompting the Kayaclaschian to introduce his Associate.
“Captain James Haggard, allow me to introduce Constable Reginald Wigglesworth, Metropolitan Police, London.” He turned to Wigglesworth. “Reg, this is Captain James Haggard with Peacemist.”
The Inspector turned away from Haggard and lowered his voice a bit, but not so much that his words would be lost of the sounds of the surrounding environment. “Whatever you do, don’t ask about his sexuality,” he said knowingly.
The Constable looked sidelong at the Captain. “Why not?” he asked his friend.
Haggard rolled his eyes and raised his voice a bit to let them know that he had heard their dialogue. “There’ll be plenty of time for that later, Inspector. Perhaps we should head into the Core and sort out why you’ve come.”
The Inspector waited as the Captain walked towards the Opera House, then leaned close to Wigglesworth’s ear to whisper conspiratorially: “He’s what you might call ‘sexually repressed,’ though in truth, he just doesn’t understand his sex role … yet. That’s all I can say.”
He pressed his index finger and thumb together and drew them across his lips, as if zipping them shut. He’d done that a few times before, and Reggie had learned enough not to say anything related to that subject again, though questions exploded in his mind about a man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties who did not know his role in sexual relations with other people. He reluctantly put the thoughts out of his mind and hurried to catch up with the Inspector, who was only a couple paces behind Captain Haggard.
The Peacemist leader came to a halt in front of a blank stone wall, looked at his two visitors who stood in front of him. From his trouser pocket, he withdrew an item that resembled a old pocket watch and clicked it open. He thrust his index finger against the glowing-green face and the world around them suddenly fluttered, as if the three of them were surrounded by vortex of heat, but they felt nothing but a slight tingling on their exposed skin.
“Oh, I probably should’ve warned you about that,” Captain James said, awkwardly apologetic. “Nobody’s supposed to know about the entrance to the Core, so we’ve developed this device to blur people’s senses, effectively making us invisible to them. That way, our secrecy remains intact.”
The stone wall split open into two panels. Haggard hesitated a fraction of a second before walking between the gap in the wall; the Inspector followed him without waiting. Wigglesworth stared in amazement as the stone wall slid together without a sign that the door had even been there.
“Constable?” prompted Haggard. “Coming with us?”
Reggie seemed to wake up from a trance, looking surprised to see the Captain and the Inspector standing in a standard lift. “Right, Captain,” he blurted out, ambling quickly into the car.
The silvery stainless-steel doors closed with the barest of whispers and started descending, though Captain James hadn’t done anything to activate it. Wigglesworth glanced around the car, noticing that there were no buttons or markings of any sort anywhere in the lift.
“How does this …?”
Haggard gave the Inspector a knowing look before looking at the Constable. “Only one place this goes. Down.”
The corners of Reggie’s mouth turned down and his eyebrows lifted slightly. It made sense that if there was only one destination, there would be no need for a button to signal where to go. Probably some sensors in the ceiling that sensed their occupation of the car and a computer that activated the gears that made the lift rise or descend, he decided.
“Captain, the last I knew, you were with Peacemist London,” the Inspector said casually. “How is it that you found yourself in Sydney?”
Haggard hugged himself briefly before stretching out his arms, then swinging them lazily by his side. “Not a very long, involved story, Inspector. The team that staffed the Core here in Sydney went into a time bubble that appeared in the middle of the shopping district in Cherrybrook, trying to find out its origin and pull the plug. Only thing was, the bubble collapsed before they were able to get out. Poof! Gone. Seven people lost in time, probably forever.”
The Inspector removed his spectacles and gently cleaned them with his cravat. “The time bubble collapsed while they were in it?” he reiterated, while replacing the spectacles on his nose. “Not a pleasant way to perish.”
Captain James grinned self-consciously. “Not that I would know, but I’ve read the reports that Peacemist Beijing compiled in the aftermath. A few hundred residents disappeared with the time bubble, along with the buildings they were in. Some dust was about all they found, rock and organic materials. I rather wouldn’t want to go out that way myself.”
“Not that you’re likely to ‘go out’ anyhow, Captain,” the Kayaclaschian agreed.
Haggard blushed at the mention of his immortality. Not that it was a secret among those who knew him, but not exactly something that he enjoyed discussing. After all, his body had essentially been frozen at thirty-eight years old for more than a century, after the Good Lamb Entity resurrected him from beyond death at the hands of the Blorgons about half a billion years in the future and he traveled back to the early 20th century. Although he and Lily Weaver had met a few times since his resurrection, he had found it too difficult to ask her what had happened while the Entity had possessed her body and whether she had influenced it to bring him back. Haggard was uncertain as to whether the Inspector knew how it had happened, but believed he didn’t, so he’d never put the question to the Space Master.
“James has been granted eternal life, Reggie,” the Inspector informed his newer Associate. “Rather an unusual situation for a human, at any point in your development. But, it’s good to have one person you can count on to be there, no matter when I visit Earth.”
Captain James looked away, not wanting to be a part of the conversation. Fortunately, further discussion of his unusual lifespan ended as the lift came to a gentle stop and the silver doors parted to reveal a dark, cavernous room lighted at intervals by energy-efficient light-emitting diodes. The space immediately in front of the lift was barren except for a pool of light from above. Haggard strode in confidently, turning off to his right, where a elbow-high counter stood and a young red-headed woman smiled in greeting as she lifted a large mug of steaming coffee and held it out for him. He took it by the handle and looked at her.
“Enya Hancock, our office manager,” Haggard introduced her to his companions. “Keeps track of everything going on around here, files, furniture, food, whatever we need to keep this place running. Makes an awesome cup of joe.”
Enya laughed in response. “You Americans and your ‘cup of joe.’ It’s coffee, James! And, not a substitute for a good meal, either,” she admonished him with a slight Irish brogue.
“I know. I know,” the Captain replied. “As I said, always keeping track of everything!”
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Hancock,” the Inspector said brightly, his Cockney accent stronger than before.
“And, you are?” she asked pleasantly.
“The Inspector and his Associate, Constable Wigglesworth,” Haggard supplied.
“A pleasure to meet you, Inspector,” said Enya. “I’ve looked forward to making your acquaintance. Constable, pleased to meet you.”
Wigglesworth grinned and offer his hand, which Enya shook with a crushing grip, then massaged his hand. “My word, Miss Hancock! That’s quite a grip you have there!”
“The better to be remembered by,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
“And, Enya, could you remind me to send a transtemporal message to the Inspector shortly,” Haggard said, then quietly offered this explanation that Hancock didn’t bother to question: “Trying to stop a time paradox from happening.”
“Make sure he includes the temporal coordinates for this location,” the Inspector added blandly. “Otherwise, I might land in London and completely mess things up.”
“Indeed,” Enya replied sarcastically. “No sense in that happening.”
“Moving along.” The Captain turned to his left, where a bank of monitors and computer displays stood. A young Asian man clicked away with both hands at one keyboard before reaching to his right and utilising a second keyboard to bring up schematics on the primary monitor. Haggard came to a stop on the man’s left, prompting him to look up.
“James! I just got a new report of an earthquake in Cambodia. I’m compiling the data right now,” the young man said fluidly.
“Good,” the Captain replied, then reassessed his statement. “No, another earthquake wouldn’t be good; it’d be bad. But more data is great.” He paused, twisting his body to one side, then the other, trying to segue to his next topic.
“Probably what prompted you to contact me in the first place,” the Space Master offered to Haggard.
The Captain nodded in agreement and turned back to the Asian man.
“Wei, we have visitors. The Inspector and his Associate, Constable Wigglesworth.”
Wei spun his work chair around to face the newcomers, smiling upon seeing them. “Pleased to meet you both! Inspector, James has told me many stories about you. It’s an honour to work with you.”
“Inspector, Constable, this is Wei Kwok, master technologist here,” Haggard introduced him almost belatedly.
“Mister Kwok, the honour is mine,” the Space Master said gravely, tilting his head ever so slightly toward the man.
Wigglesworth quickly followed the Inspector’s lead. “An honour to work with you, sir.”
“Wei came from Peacemist Beijing as part of the team that cleaned up after the time-bubble incident. When I got posted here, I saw how good he was with the technology the former team had here, I asked him to stay on,” the Captain explained. “I needed a technologist, considering the events that Peacemist deals with on a regular basis. I had to leave Toru Nagasaki back in London, but I was able to bring Brennan Foster and Enya Hancock in. Our medical officer, Isolde Singer, transferred from Peacemist Berlin. Rumour is, there were changes coming that the Berlin team didn’t like; Isolde was fortunate to get the opportunity to transfer,” he said. After an awkward pause, he stepped away from the computer bank and led the Inspector and the Constable further into the Core, then leaned toward them and whispered, “Someone high up must’ve owed her a favour. Though for what, I’m a little clueless.” He tapped the side of his nose and looked at both of his visitors to make sure the message of “keep it quiet time” was clear.
Wigglesworth frowned, not being accustomed to the gesture. The Inspector expected as much, immediately whispering to him, “On the Q.T., I believe is the phrase. Say nothing about this, Reg.”
The Constable grinned stupidly. “Oh, of course, Inspector. I wouldn’t dream of it!”
That caused Haggard to frown oddly at the young black man for just a few seconds, then he schooled his face to make it seem as if he hadn’t worried that the Constable would slip up and tell Isolde the secret.
“Medical bay is through there,” the Captain said, pointing through an archway to his right as he continued walking. “You’ll meet Isolde shortly, when we start the briefing.”
The two time travellers glanced through the archway to see the middle-aged German doctor organising her equipment in a state-of-the-art medical centre, complete with bio-scanners and surgical-laser tools. The Inspector took in the entirety of the facility in the few seconds he looked; the Constable barely saw the medical worker herself before he was being hurried on to the next stop on their tour: Captain James’ office.
“And, in back, we have living quarters,” he explained. “Part of Peacemist’s secrecy lies in our team members not being seen in the communities we serve, so we all live down here in the Core.”
“Must be a little difficult on family life,” Wigglesworth said absent-absent-mindedly.
Captain James stopped and stood awkwardly, trying to put the words together to explain their situation. “Actually, none of us has a family life,” he admitted. “Well, not outside of Peacemist, that is.”
“Oh,” Reggie said softly, registering his surprise, but not completely understanding the situation.
“We’re just one big happy family here,” the Captain said with finality, then turned to enter his office.
The glass doors slid apart upon his approach and he stood there as the Inspector and Wigglesworth walked inside. The room as moderately well-lit with diffuse lighting from the walls. Haggard’s desk was nearly empty but for a few computer tablets stacked neatly on one side, a Rubik’s dodecahedron on the near corner and a Bushwacker’s hat on the other. To one side of his desk, a large safe door with a magnetic lock was set into the wall, hardly noticeable unless you were looking directly at it. There were two modern-style chairs set before the desk and an older executive-style black-leather chair behind it. Captain James rounded the desk and settled into his favourite chair, lifting his open palm toward the two chairs opposite his.
“Please, have a seat,” he offered. “It’ll be about fifteen minutes before the Brennan returns. Brennan Foster, my second in command,” he added sheepishly.
“I appreciate the introductions and the brief tour of your ‘Core,’ Captain James,” the Inspector preambled. “But, you indicated that this matter is urgent and, judging by the diagram you included with your message, the entire planet appears to be in jeopardy. Perhaps you could begin explaining the situation now?”
Haggard’s face fell. “Inspector, I would love to begin briefing you, but I only know so much about this myself. I’ve tasked Brennan to head up the case, using all our resources. I’ve been in touch with the heads of Peacemist from around the world, but most of their reports have gone straight to him. Wei’s compiling real-time data on the quakes: epicentres, magnitudes, damage, deaths, et cetera. And, I’ve been reading up on seismology myself, since that usually isn’t something that I deal with.”
The Inspector cleared his throat. “I understand what you’re saying, Captain James. Waiting a few minutes shouldn’t be an issue. I apologise for having asked.”
Haggard came up short, not having expected that reaction. “Um, perhaps I can show you to the conference room? Let you get settled in there?”
The Kayaclaschian smiled mildly and nodded. “That would be good. Thank you.”
“Then I’ve got a transtemporal message to send to you,” Captain James added.
“Indeed,” the Inspector agreed. “Please make sure you include a diagram of all the earthquake epicentres in your message. And, a brief explanation of what’s going on.”
“If that’s what I did in the message you received, I’ll make sure to include that.”
“Thank you, Captain James.”
The leader of Peacemist practically vaulted out of his chair, came round the desk and headed toward the parting plate-glass doors, not looking over his shoulder. “If you gentlemen will follow me.”
The three men exited the spacious office and disappeared into the main room of the Core.