Julia is a novice ‘tripper, and yet she has kitted herself out for an extended stay in the Wessex Neolithic. Will Fliss allow it?—considering she’d restricted even her own husband to a slow increase in Destination-Time.
Fliss laughed. “Wow! Captain Cannings. Have you escaped the camp, darling? Ought we to be alert to a military invasion, in search of you?”
“I wanted you to see I’m prepared.” I’d already taken stick from Dave, and I knew Fliss wouldn’t miss the chance to mock.
“Prepared?” She wheeled her chair 360 degrees around me. We were in her ‘den’, there was room. “Prepared for what, darling? Have I missed something relevant on the News?”
She didn’t realise it, but she had just fed me the very line I required. “Prepared for three days Destination-Time.”
That knocked some of the fun from her. She was quiet while she thought.
“She needs the three days,” Ken put in, in support of me, “if she’s to go to Durrington Walls, as well as time to thoroughly check it.”
Fliss swivelled her head and glared. “If she’s to go.”
“It was the bait,” Ken said quietly.
Some folks have the prettiest or handsomest of faces, yet when they scowl they look blatantly ugly. Nor Fliss. Even with a scowl she looked good. And she held that scowl a very long time. “Two ‘trips, Kenneth, she’s made but two. And how many have you? And Dave? Two ‘trips and already she thinks she can survive for three days?”
Fed up with standing and waiting, I plonked down on one of her very expensive long cream sofas. I knew I looked incongruous there, and what I really wanted was to change out of this gear. I’d brought other clothes with me. “But, Fliss,” I said, “where’s the problem in surviving three days? As you say, we’re not really there. Fifteen minutes pod-time, is all.”
“Then you won’t need that hysterical gear. You know, Jules-darling, you are turning out to be an interminable pain.”
“She needs the gear,” Dave cut in. “We’ve already told you, when ‘tripping, we suffer the illusion of believing it’s real. That gear will go a long way to support her.”
“And the reason, you say, I’m not ready is that very same illusion,” I said, doing my best to trip her. “So I say, fine, let’s get around that. As Dave has said, though I’m not really there, this gear will help bolster the illusion of survival. Fifteen minutes Pod-Time; three days Destination. I need those three days, Fliss. I wouldn’t ask otherwise.”
“Need?” she queried, head atilt, eyebrows high.
I could see the argument was about to go circular. And though generally these days I could stand up to her (which as a kid I couldn’t) she was still the project director and I knew no way to cut across her control. I turned to Ken with eyes beseeching.
“Do we want her skedaddled?” he said. “Think, Fliss-babes; sine qua non. And it’s not only at Destination, it’s the whole shebang, she knows her way through—already she’s shoring us up with the research.”
“I need to check on the oven.” Fliss promptly whirred out of the room. Ken followed.
I jumped to my feet. I was already feeling awkward, the survival gear didn’t help. “I’ll be back,” I told Dave. “I need to change into . . . ” I shrugged. He knew what I meant.
“She’ll come round,” he said—I suppose, trying to soothe me. “Ken’s right, she wants you in. And, hey, you’ve pod-tripped now so she can’t out you.”
I pulled a face and started to leave.
“Hey,” he called me back. “Think on it, Captain Commando; what’s in your hands? A rollicking chunk of her knowledge, that’s what.”
“Yea, right,” I said unenthusiastically.
Yet Fliss did come around. She just made me wait achingly-long before she told me.
I had wondered about Ken’s early start on the Saturday. After our chat on the way home last weekend I figured it was something to do with crossing occupied territory before the ‘indies’ were up and about. I was right. He said he wanted to further explore Marlborough Downs. These days we’d cross the Vale without a thought. But, as Dave had told me, in 2,500 BCE that Vale was pasture amid mostly fen—which meant that Ken must skirt around it. I didn’t know how densely scattered the hedge-ringed settlements but clearly Ken had some idea. I tried to catch him alone, away from Fliss, hoping to learn more of his intent, but that didn’t happen. I was still turning the possible answers when Fliss programmed the ‘pod. Ken was taking three days at Destination.
I tried not to frown, not wanting her to ask of my thoughts, but I saw here the same problem as his adventure south to Fussell’s Lodge. Why didn’t Fliss see it? The southern ridge of the Downs drained into the Vale, I’d no problem with that. But beyond those hills the drainage was either to the Kennet or to the Thames. So according to Fliss’s rock-and-water theory Ken should only be able to access the ridge. He certainly shouldn’t be able to prowl as far as West Kennet or Avebury, not if the memories are held in the water. So his three days would be spent among the hills that edged the Downs? But he’d already mapped the central section for long barrows—and, incidentally, discovered five not known to County Records. So was he now to check west, perhaps as far as Roundway, and east to Savernake? But I’d the feeling he’d been thrown off his barrow-mapping by my talk of being a thousand years late. Besides, on our drive home last weekend he had intimated a more thorough survey, deeper (i.e. northwards) into the Downs.
Dave and Ken had been less that five minutes sealed into their ‘pods when Fliss startled me out of my cogitations. “Don’t ever forget he’s my legal-bound spouse. I ever have need to doubt his fidelity, I’ll cut-out your eyes.”
Wow, where’d that come from? Talk about sub-radar missiles. And how to respond? I wanted to laugh. The very thought of me and Ken was, well, ludicrous. Then again, I wanted to attack, to slap the bitch for even thinking it. I was flabbered, shaking my head.
“Fliss . . .” but that first attempt, words failed me. “Look . . . no, Ken just isn’t me.”
“Oh, and what is you, darling? No, don’t answer, I’m obviously jumping. Now I think of it, I haven’t heard your name coupled with that of a man since . . .” She waved her hand airily. She couldn’t say Dave. That would break her pretence that she didn’t remember. “Sorry, Jules-darling, I should have thought. Small village, no one says when someone is gay.”
This time I did laugh. “No, Fliss, I’m totally hetro. It’s just my love-life tends to echo my contracts and till now there’s been no point in getting involved. Though now I’ve a permanent position . . . who knows, maybe someone, somewhere . . . But don’t worry, Fliss, it won’t be Kenneth. As I said, he’s not my type.”
I couldn’t say what it was about Ken but sexually he did to me the female equivalent of emasculation. But I couldn’t say that to Fliss.
“So what is your ‘type’?” she demanded.
I shrugged. I couldn’t say that either, I’d never given it thought. But she was waiting. She wanted to know her marriage was safe from this single, predatory, friend. “That guy I saw last week on the pod-trip. Mr Davy-Indigenous-Crockett.” I laughed, and shivered both at the same time. I’d suddenly realised, “Yea, if I met him in a pub, I wouldn’t say no.”
Fliss nodded, lips pouted, thoughtful-looking. “He was just supporting you, then—from a professional stance?”
It took me a moment to realise she was back onto Ken. “We’re both investigating the same thing,” I said. “But he hasn’t the knowledge, and he’s not too proud to admit it. So, though we clashed to begin with, as far as the Neolithic is concerned we’re now on the same path.”
She nodded, hands clasped, mouth resting upon her knuckles. “It’s your ‘trip tomorrow,” she said, scarcely lifting her head. “Can you manage three days?”
I was still trying to contain my grin when the ‘pod-seals hissed and, with a gasp, the lids slowly lifted. Before Ken was even out of the contraption I wanted to ask where he’d been, what he’d seen. Sad for Dave, but a fact, his explorations never were greeted with the same enthusiasm. (‘And what did you find?’ ‘Another pool overhung with rare/scarce/extinct exotica exotica.’) He regularly clambered out of his ‘pod to our repetitive greetings of ‘good trip?’ and set straight to mapping his finds. It didn’t seem to bother him that Ken and I got all the attention.
“Well?” Fliss started the interrogation of Ken.
“Confined to central section, from Allington Down to Huish Hill,” he reported. “Five clusters between ridge and the Kennet. Might be more north of the river but . . . Units sub-rectangular. Walls lengths average 20-30 feet. Variable number of units to cluster—between three and ten. Paved central courtyard. Close resemblance to Skara Brae, except here the dry-stone walling reaches only to circa three feet. Upper walls white-plastered, wattle-and-daub. Pitched thatched roof.”
“You’ve found settlements!” I almost jumped upon him, then remembered Fliss’s accusation. But they must have discussed the possibility of settlements before his ‘trip. And he must have convinced her of their validity in the study. I could see why these northern settlements would qualify while the southern ones would not. Dry-stone walling meant stone footings, and stone footings stood a good chance of surviving through to this day. But, like Skara Brae? Then these conformed to those at Durrington Walls? Yet the one’s I’d seen were jarringly anachronistic. Why?
“I’ll code and map them,” he said. “Then see what I can do by way of floor plans. But don’t promise; too obscured by superstructure.”
“What about the people?” I asked. “Did you not see people?”
But he shot me a look as if to say, Don’t say more. But, um, too late.
“Kenneth knows better than to muddy the findings with the fantasies of his subconscious. And I expect the same discipline from you, tomorrow. We’ve had our flurry of excitement, re the ghost. It was fun. But now our interest is totally those features that leave sufficient trace in the soil for an archaeologist to find. Your Durrington Walls has a bank and ditch, your Stonehenge—”
“Durrington’s more than that! What of the circular settings? Their post-holes remain.” I kept quiet, generally, of the Riverside Project, the findings of which largely negated the need for my exploration (what she didn’t know . . . ). I wanted to go there because I wanted to see it, not to contribute verifiable data for her sales-pitch.
“Criterion for investigation, Jules-darling: no trace, no bother. Do try to remember that tomorrow.”