Dannyn believes the ancients’ Tumun Alsaldhelm is Julia’s visa for her return. And now that she’s seen it, Julia agrees. But first she must build a report and present it to Fliss.
Episode 33 PRIORY PROJECT A Sci-fi Fantasy
I had never seen Fliss look so astounded. Had her mouth opened wider it could have been used to bypass the Vale.
“But, Jules-Darling, you must fully investigate. Did you go inside it? I suppose you did not. Too afraid.”
Her taunt fetched an answer I shouldn’t have given. I immediately regretted it. “It’s a sacred place, for the eblann—the shamans. And it’s on eblann land. I would have been killed, no questions asked, to be found there.”
“Darling, how many times? It might feel to you that it’s real. But really it’s all in your pretty noggin. Nothing will happen to you. Dave,” she swung her chair round to face him. “tell little-Jules, here, how long she was ‘gone’. Gone, that is, from our sight, yet gone no farther than our little ‘pods.”
I cringed at her sarcasm; I could see Ken squirming too. But Dave duly delivered—like a good little boy. “Fifteen minutes, Fliss. As uze’.”
“Really? So is it plausible, Jules-Darling, in those fifteen tinzy minutes, you travelled back four thousand, five hundred years, and lived three days and three nights in this Neolithic culture of yours? Do say, how many times did you go to the Wee Room? And what did you eat?”
“Venison, mostly,” I answered, appalled at how bitchy my voice. “And three times a day, though I wasn’t actually counting.” I just remember being embarrassed at having to ask Dannyn if there were ‘rules’ of where I could or couldn’t go. Even worse was having to say if it was a ‘large’ or a ‘small’ go. At Hegrea’s Isle is wasn’t so bad, with a screened off latrine at the back of the ‘roof. I went several times there, hoping to sneak into Hegrea’s granary. Fat chance.
“Where’d you scoop the words,” Ken asked with no mock in his voice: “Eblan? And tumun?”
“I had a guide,” I said, and waited for Fliss to make fun of that too.
“Ogh,” she said deep in her throat, and rolled her eyes. “Our Little Miss Indige now has a spirit-guide.”
“Felicity!” Ken barked at her. “Chill! Julia has brought us back a peachy report—this tomb isn’t even marked on our maps. And you dead-duck her?”
“It isn’t a tomb, it’s a temple,” I said, quite savagely. Unfair to Ken, when he was trying to help me.
“And you can draw it?” Fliss asked, minorly quelled.
“In general outline, sure. And some detailed studies of the motifs used.”
By now Dave was tapping his pen on the arm of his chair. “The question that’s shrieking at me,” he said when I turned to look at him, “is what the botherations a Boyne tomb is doing in Wessex.”
“It’s not Boyne,” I said. “It’s more akin to the Breton.”
“Question remains,” he said.
I shrugged. “Don’t know. I’ve asked myself the same question.”
“Oh? Did your spirit-guide did elucidate?” Fliss delicately jeered.
I could feel the heat in my face—I must have resembled a hob-ring on full. The anger building inside me, and all aimed at Fliss. I could have strangled her. As Ken had said, this was an excellent report, the best yet, and she had to diss me. But I was determined not to weaken before her.
I answered—though everyone heard the grind of my teeth. “He said it belonged to the Ancients—and before you ask, the Ancients were their Mesolithic ancestors. Same people, but before they had grain.”
“But that’s . . . you’re not razzing me?” Ken said. “But that dates it earlier than both the Boyne and the Breton. What, five to six thousand BCE?”
I shook my head. “No. You’re forgetting the multiple peoples here. I doubt it was built by the Alsime, but—”
“The what!?” Fliss exploded. Eyes wide, mouth almost frothing, I half-expected a heart attack. “Where the frigg are you getting these names? Oh, yes, your specious spirit-guide.”
“Fliss . . .” Ken warned her. But whether to calm down, or to lay off me . . . He turned to me. “Look, Julia, just . . . go to the office and make your report. Pro tempore, hey?”
I shrugged and left, glad to be away from her.
I had just finished the reports (two versions: a full one for me; one doctored for Fliss) and added a sketch of Alsaldhelm Tumun, along with the promised studies of the rock-art motifs (not exactly difficult: chevrons and nested arcs) when Dave quietly slipped in.
“Ken’s fixing lunch,” he said. “But, pros and cons, we agreed it’s best I take you home.”
“Afraid I might kill her?” The anger, dissipated while I’d been typing, returned full force.
“Yea,” Dave said, and I wasn’t sure if he was teasing. “We’ll talk on the way, huh?”
The look that accompanied that ‘huh’ intrigued me. What exactly did he want us to talk of? Which weapon would cause Fliss the most pain as I slowly executed her?
I took a breath. I had to calm it. Anger isn’t the way to good health. And getting angry with Fliss would risk my return to the Neolithic, and Dannyn. I’d also been thinking while writing those reports: Next Saturday would be that previous time he remembered. Next Saturday I’d be using Ken’s ‘pod. The thought of it . . . I’d more of an idea of what I’d return to, not having slept much the previous night. The memory of that . . . no one has ever, ever, had such an affect on me.
“You’re good for it then?” Dave brought me back with a clunk to the moment.
“Yea, I’m . . . ready,” I said. “Just let me save this.” I pocketed the flash-stick.
“Ken’s joining us at the boat,” Dave said once we were cutting cross-country. “You cool with that? He’ll hang with Fliss till she’s in therapy.”
I ouched. “I’d best get something quick to eat. I’m starving.” I searched my pockets and found a muesli bar. I stripped it and munched it.
“We could stop and get Chinky,” he said. “I haven’t eaten much either.”
“But I thought you were going back for lunch?” I’d assumed that was the plan.
He made a jokey noise and shook his body—as best he could in the cramped space of his patched-up Mini van. His gardening gear was in the back, a rake handle protruding and brushing my neck.
“Your best buddy is jealous as fuck,” he said. “Being confined to that chair . . . You know.”
Yea, I nodded. “It can’t be easy for her—frustrating. Those ‘pods were her invention yet she hears our reports and can’t experience it herself.”
“She hears your reports,” Dave said. “Mine are zilch. I’m allowed the trip just to keep me on board, cos she doesn’t like being there on her own.”
“In case things go wrong. But how likely is that?” (Though if it was likely I didn’t want to know.)
“No idea,” he admitted. “Ken’s department. I’m only the gardener.”
“I suppose I shouldn’t have snapped. I keep forgetting her disability.”
“How . . . ?” Dave turned to stare at me.
“Eyes on the road,” I said. “You’re coming-on the windy-bit.”
“Windy-bit.” He laughed. “Can tell you don’t drive. But how, Julie-poos, can you forget she’s disabled when she sits in that huffing great theatrical wheelchair. Bloody Goth gone wrong, our Fliss.”
“Don’t call me that,” I said, referring back to the ‘Julia-poos’.
“Prefer I call you Jules-Darling?”
“Don’t,” I spat like a proper viper. “And it’s not easy to remember she’s stuck in that wheelchair. We were kids together, Fliss and me, scampering around, camping out in the woods. How do we know how she feels in that chair?”
“I can fix that. I can saw off your legs,” Dave said. “Howzat?”
“Are you never serious?”
“Was once. Got kicked in the goolies.”
“Oh, so you got the reference?” His head turned enough to look at me.
“It hurt me too, you know.”
“Could get back together,” he said. “You haven’t a fella, I haven’t a girl.”
“Yea, sure. And how many years ago was it? Twenty?”
“Twenty-one,” he said. “You want to know how many months and days?”
“You’re kidding me?” I didn’t know whether to laugh. “You’ve been counting? I thought only girls did that.”
“Na-nah na-nah nah, fooled you. Cos I haven’t been counting. But I do mean it, we could get back.”
“With you at Exeter, and me here? Long distance relationships don’t work, haven’t you heard.” 4500 years, was that distant enough?
“I’m not totally stuck there,” he said. “I do return—to see Fliss and Ken. To ‘trip.”
I shrugged. “Maybe later. There’s a lot going on, Dave. My work, this Project, the things I’m discovering at Destination. And I’m doing up the Lady.”
“Yea, well, if you don’t want my able body to help you with that . . . “
He set his eyes on the road ahead. Though he’d taken the short-cut, he then had to veer off and double back to get to his takeaway.
We finished our lunch just in time. The labouring roar of Ken’s 4×4 announced his arrival.
“He’s leaning on gas. And he’s in the wrong gear,” Dave said. But he was out there in a flash, gone to meet him.
I left them to it and filled the kettle ready for coffee (wine would have been nicer but both men were driving). While I waited for the kettle to boil, and Dave and Ken were still outside, I allowed myself a mellow memory . . . and found myself sighing, so wanting to return. But how long would Fliss allow me next time? Another three days? Yet that’s not what Dannyn said. He said I’d stayed for just the one night. Twenty-four hours. I suppose that might appease the Gorgon. I chuckled. Goth gone wrong, I liked that.
“Oh, and what amuses?” Ken asked as he bobbed his head to squeeze into my kitchen.
“Out, if you don’t mind,” I said. “Weather’s good, we’ll sit out on deck. Coffee or tea?”
“Any Roiboos?” he asked before he retreated.
“With lemon? Or are you a Philistine and want it with milk?”
“Lemon. Have you any root ginger?”
“Health food freaks.” Dave acted up like he was vomiting.
“I’ve got ginger,” I said. “But I’m not sure how fresh. The fridge’s on the blink.”
Ken poked his head back into the kitchen. “What’s the prob?”
I shrugged. “It won’t hold its chill.”
“Not much of a fridge.” But Ken offered to fix it. “Later, yeah, in the week?”
“Yea. Good. Cool. So Dave . . .” I was going to ask him, tea or coffee, but . . . “No, no need to ask you want you want.”
“Keep telling you what I want, but you don’t listen. For now, I suppose, coffee will do. White. Two sugars.”
I’d bought a small bag of sugar when I first moved in, knowing sooner or later I’d have a sweet-toothed visitor. I never expected it to be Dave. I brought out the teas and coffee on a tray, and returned for my laptop. I set it up on a small foldable table.
“Before you ask why it took me three days to find just one monument—”
“What, you weren’t pooped by that maze of fenced tracks?” Ken said, head cocked, grin badly suppressed.
“—read this,” I said.
I brought the report to screen. Ken and Dave shared it—after angling the screen away from the sun. Meanwhile, I played back the Dictaphone tape; the first time I’d heard it. Wow. I mean Wow! What language was it? Something strange, and yet somehow familiar. It wasn’t Dannyn talking, but I’d already figured it: though it sounded external, his voice had been telepathically cast to me, inside my head. Freaky. Yet it fitted with everything else.
The men were quick in their reading, helped by the fact I hadn’t included the stories. I intended to write those up later that day, before I forgot them. I had plans for both the typescript translation and the original tape. Fliss might mock me, but I was doing my damnedest to ensure the success of her project.
“No Durrington Walls,” Ken remarked. Dave said nothing.
“No Stonehenge,” I said.
“You know what we have here?” Ken said with a tap of the screen.
“Yea. Either it’s all in my head. Or, wherever the ‘pods are taking us, it’s not in this world.”
“It’s dainty—hell, it’s mega!” Ken said with a mixture of awe and excitement. “Proof, implicit, of the Multiverse.”
“Unless she’s fantasizing it,” Dave said and looked accusingly at me. “Chickened out of the walk. Found nothing. So this she produces.”
“Do you mind not talking as if I’m not here.” I slapped the tape-player into his hand and fixed the earphones into his ears. I hit PLAY and watched the changes flit over his face.
“What is it?” Ken mouthed.
“You’ll see. Your turn next.”
He waited patiently. Dave cut the tape after only five minutes and gave it to Ken. While Ken listened, Dave said nothing, just sat there looking puzzled. When Ken finally stopped the tape, Dave said, “I’m no linguist, but that’s never a European language.”
“It’s Alisime,” I said. “And you mayn’t be a linguist, but I know someone who knows someone who is.” The sister-on-law of Maggie, ‘Everyone’s P.A’. at the museum.
“I’m dumbed,”Ken confessed.”Totally noused-out. But at least it addresses the disappeared cursus.”
“It’s not a cursus,” I said. “It’s a ‘House of Heaven’—or was. It was constructed three years after the Destination-Date of your ‘pod. The ‘pods are differently calibrated, twenty-six years apart.”
“But what of my study?” Dave suddenly said. “If Destination’s not —what are you saying: not of this world, like, outside-of-Earth? Then what’s the point in my continuing?”
“You’re rushing hedges,” Ken said, a hand rested light on his arm. “It mightn’t be Durrington Walls, yet there is something there, where the site ought to be.”
“Hegrea’s Isle,” I said.
“Which, says your report, is centesimally similar,” he said.
“Ditch and bank, yea, but not the internal settings.”
I nodded, omitting of the lack of sarsen-stones.
“So what’re you saying?” asked Dave.
“That the plants are the same. Well they are, aren’t they? And the rivers run ditto. Don’t they? So why won’t your pollen studies show up as true?”
“Point,” Dave said. “Yea, you do have a point.”
“Besides, we won’t use your plant study to fact the technology.”
“But who tells Fliss?” I asked. To me that was all-important.
“Shit, yeah,” Ken groaned. “I’m excited about it, but . . . Fliss? For her, this could be deadly. It’s her baby, and now it’s ‘morphized into . . . I don’t know what. I mean . . .” He spluttered into a what turned into an unstoppable laugh.
“Well that’s one person pleased,” Dave said while we waited for him to recover. “He could have shared whatever he’s taking.”
I ignored him. “Any ideas on what we tell Fliss?” I said.
Ken took one last gulp of breath and did his best to straighten his cheeks. He shook his head and said no. “It needs . . . nousing. It’s a mega discovery—legendary! But, pro tem, it’s best Boudicca’s kept in the dark.”
“Fine, but that’s not so easy,” I said. “I have to make my reports. If it weren’t for that tumun, I don’t know what I’d have told her. And I can’t expect to find more of them.”
“Dump it all on my nous; I’ll produce something,” Ken said. “When’s your next ‘trip? Saturday? So we have till then.”
“Trip,” Dave said, not quite sotto voce. “But what kind of trip?” He looked at us as if we were looking at him accusingly. “Well you’ve got to admit, it’s all a bit trippy. Parallel universes and . . . Did you see the white rabbit?”
We ignored him. In the months Ken had worked with him, he’d obviously become as inured to his childish quips as had I, now he wasn’t my numero-ono.
“But it does explain the anachronisms,” Ken said. “Communal granaries, traders, no stones where there ought to be.”
“Explains it for us,” I said, “but what about Fliss? She has to be told. Yet I don’t want her cutting my ‘trips, especially not this Saturday. This Saturday I get your ‘pod, don’t I, Ken? Pod One?”
He shrugged. “Whatever. It’s you turn. And you can report on the temple’s internals; Her Ladyship asked you for that. Keeps the lid on for one more week, huh.”
“Ken, don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I want to see inside that place more than anything else. But it’s dangerous. I wasn’t kidding when I said of those shamans killing me.”
“Oh? And here’s me thinking your Alsime guide eats out of your hand,” he said.
“Tuätin,” I said. “He’s not Alisime.”
“Twat?” Dave picked up on it. “Is that what he is?”
I groaned, hand holding head. Our Mr Dave Eastman was becoming a bore, and the reason wasn’t hard to see. He was jealous. I held my crisp retorts and tried to forgive him.
“Actually, I should have said Tuädik,” I corrected myself. “It’s his people, the Tuätin—and cut it, Dave, before you start. You’ve joked enough. And it’s not him I’m worried about. There’s another. A real psychotic. He killed his mother. So what the hell do you think he’d do to me if he catches me there? And according to Dannyn, he was in and out of the place a lot.”
“Oh, Dannyn is it?” Dave persisted. “Tall is he? Blue eyed is he? Sexy?”
“Actually, Dave, yes,” I snapped. “He’s all of those things.”
He grumped, “No wonder I don’t stand a chance.”
I looked at him, disapproval loud in my glare. But he ignored it.
“Say, where’d you spend the nights away then? Ah! See that blush, Kenny-Boy? So that’s how you know of his—what was it? A winter-roof? Bet it weren’t chilly in there.”
Ken swung on him. “Dave, cut it! We’re trying to bridge a problem here.”
That seemed to work. Though Dave was now in a sulk. And he thought he stood a chance of getting back with me? Not a snowball’s hope.
“If you can’t get in the . . .tumun, is it? Then, Jules, you’ll just have to wing it,” Ken said. “You know your beans; you can deliver a credible script. Come to that, you can scribble the same for Durrington and Stonehenge. And what are those other two monuments? Bluestone-something . . . And then there’s the Avenue. Hells, there’s loads you can bull her on. Pro tempore, heh?”
“Yea, but eventually we’ll have to tell her the truth,” I said. “Then what of my reports when she sees they’re all lies?”
“Let me fret on it.” Ken waved my worries aside. “You—you garner the data. All you can from this Other place. Then together we’ll prep a roaring report—peachy, like full-comprehensive—before we go public. Then, Babe, we’ll blow a fucking great hole in the universe.”
Yea, I thought, but Fliss is gonna go ape.