Here is the second chapter of the re-written novella…
The search begins
When Nick returned home to his sixteenth century thatched cottage in the ancient Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire from the Stonehenge event, he immediately began re-reading all of his extensive notes on the various legends he had gathered about time. His black cat who grudgingly allowed Nick to cohabit with him, came in through the cat flap with another gift for the cottage’s larder in the form of a half dead mouse. “Cheers Dragon, just what I need,” Nick chuckled as he warily stroked the half wild cat’s head. With the mouse forgotten for the moment, Dragon leapt up to his favourite place on the window sill where he could watch the world outside in comfort and began to meticulously groom himself.
Nick fired up his laptop and looked at the blog the three hippies had mentioned – Time Reversed. The author had gathered together a vast raft of information, gleaned from the countless thousands of internet sites on the subject of time. Some were recognized scientific sites, but the vast majority fell into the crank category. These were the ones Nick and the blog’s author, who went by the internet handle ‘Clocked’, were most interested in. After bookmarking the blog for future reference, Nick checked his emails hoping for one from his long-time girlfriend Sophie. But she was still working deep in the highlands of Uganda as a volunteer animal behaviour research assistant for the World Wildlife project, created to protect the endangered mountain gorilla groups living there. Typing in the pass-worded URL for the British Museum’s archaeology department, he began his search.
At least for the moment he could still get access. Randle had not been able to close him down just yet. “Where do I begin to look eh Dragon?” Nick asked the wily old cat. Dragon flicked his thick tail in reply and looked at his human companion with those piercing eyes that mesmerize his prey, purring loudly as he settled down to doze with one eye open, carefully watching out for another possible addition to the larder. After an hour or so perusing the titles of the many papers on file, one in particular caught Nick’s eye, concerning an unusual find made in the mid nineteen twenties on an island at the Bolivian end of Lake Titicaca. Copying the paper onto his hard drive and backing it up on his memory stick for good measure; he looked at Dragon and said, “looks like you’ll be on your own for a while old mate.” Dragon just yawned and stretched out on his back for his human companion to stroke his belly.
Nick checked the available flights to South America via an internet booking agency. Finding what he wanted, he made his reservation on Virgin flight 92 bound for Miami, where he would catch his connection to Lima in Peru. Throwing some old clothes, his laptop and a few other things he knew he would need into his old backpack, he finally found his passport, grabbed his wallet and checked that his credit card was there and still up to date, before stuffing them along with his computer memory stick into the front pocket of his bum bag. With luck and no major traffic jams or accidents, Nick hoped to arrive at Heathrow Airport in approximately five hours’ time.
The departure lounge was packed solid with hundreds of people off to other parts of the world. Nick pushed his way through crowds of people, bewildered by the hundreds of signs pointing here and there to the various departure gates, check in counters, waiting lounges and duty free shopping areas, and the Virgin booking office, where he made good his purchase of the precious ticket on Virgin flight 92. After parting with his backpack for the flight at the departure counter, he made his way to the bar nearest to his departure gate where he paid an outrageous price for a beer and relaxed for a while, armed with his ticket and boarding pass also securely stashed in his bum bag’s front pocket. The call he had been waiting for was finally made over the busy airport’s announcement system. “All passengers for Virgin flight 92 to Miami please go to departure gate 7 immediately.”
Nick made himself comfortable in the coach class seat allocated to him next to a window. From where he sat, he looked out at the leading edge of the starboard wing of the red and white liveried Virgin 747 Jumbo Jet with the two massive gaping mouths of the powerful Rolls-Royce engines slung beneath it, and settled back for the long flight to Miami on his first step towards the truth to the puzzle. Unbeknown to him, two passengers seated three rows behind him were also headed for Lake Titicaca, posing as tourists. On the forearm of one of the passengers was a distinctive tattoo of a shield with a pierced heart at its centre. Several hours later after an uneventful flight across the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, Miami’s heat hit Nick like a blast furnace, giving him a taste of what was to come as he sat down on a seat in the roof observation area, with an ice-cold bottle of weak Budweiser. How he longed for a proper pint of room temperature English bitter. The two tourists sat a few yards away observing his every move. He had a couple of hours to kill before the connecting flight to Lima and he was not looking forward to enduring it in an ancient DC3 for two very good reasons. The first being the radial-engined plane’s great age combined with its lack of modern comfort and heat. The other was the bumpy flight that lay ahead down the mountainous South American continent’s spine – the Andes. But needs must. The old Dakota was the only available flight, unless he wanted to wait on standby for a more comfortable flight at a later date.
After what seemed like an eternity, the tired Dakota’s wheels screeched under braking as the plane at long last landed and taxied off the runway and over to the airport complex that housed the building containing the airport’s departure and arrival areas. After completing the border control checks, Nick relaxed while surveying the streets of rain-soaked Lima by night, through the windows of the taxi as he was driven to his hotel. He laid on top of the bed, exhausted by the seemingly endless hours of his flight halfway across the world. He sweated profusely in the high humidity of the night. His eyes began to close as he watched the nineteen twenties style ceiling fan’s massive blades, mesmerized by their slow spinning attempt to move the thick air in the hotel room above his bed. Tomorrow he would begin the long journey to the shores of Lake Titicaca and the first of his clues, he hoped. His eyes finally began to close as a combination of exhaustion and the strength sapping heat gradually made him succumb. For a brief moment as he drifted between being awake and asleep, he had one of those corner of the eye moments, where you think you see something, only to find out a split second later that you were mistaken, as his tired eyes finally closed and he thankfully drifted off to sleep.
Ithis opened her eyes and smiled to herself once more from her hiding place in the hotel’s wall and looked at the now sleeping man, satisfied with his progress. She was now certain she had chosen the right one for the task ahead. She would follow him wherever he went, do whatever she could to help and protect him. Finding the ‘key’ was entirely up to him. She could not simply take him by the hand and lead him to its location. It had to be found by someone like Nick, after following all the vague clues she had put in place. For her to actively interfere would lead to disaster. Her DNA was enough to trigger the device’s instant self-destruct system, which would be catastrophic not only for the Earth, but the whole solar system. That instruction had been clearly set in place within its programmed system countless millennia ago, when her people were driven underground by the original surface-occupiers. They had activated its slow countdown which was set to occur by the end of 2012, purely out of revenge. She had been left behind at her own request when her people left Earth forever. Unlike them, she loved the primitive surface-dwellers and had watched their development for thousands of years.
Next time, if you’re lucky, the third chapter.