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(Chrondisp 4)


Chapter 1


       I  sat shivering  in the  Inserter cage, in  what seemed the first quiet moment since I had arrived at the Chrondisp Institute a week ago. I stretched my neck  and looked around. There had been a few changes. The cage surrounding my heavily insulated seat was now  spherical instead of oval and instead of being hoisted up  between two slowly rotating discharge spheres I was inside a one-meter high vertical cylinder which was divided  up  into  many thin segments.

       The biggest difference was the heavy suit  I  was wearing - heavy because of the  thin  lead  plates  that lined  it.  This  was  going  to be the  most  distant Insertion ever, to more than 2 500 years in the past and a lot of X-ray radiation from the flash was expected.

       But the echoing  Inserter hall  seemed unchanged, there was the same familiar faint smell of ozone and still no one had thought  of installing a heater in  the cage.

       Glancing  down I  could see moving figures in the brightly lit window of the control room and once Jim had come to the glass  and peered upwards, his hands shading his eyes from the back-glare. I  shifted impatiently and fiddled  with the  headset volume  control but there was just  a faint hissing.  The countdown panel on the wall in front of me remained impassively blank.

       Jim was now the head of Mission Control Computing and I had been  told that Dr Duluth,  now head of Target Selection, would himself be watching my Insertion.

       There was a click  and the  headset suddenly came alive.

       `We're  having some  trouble untangling your Time Line.' I recognised  Jim's voice. `But  it shouldn't  be long now.'

       I grunted acknowledgement.


       I  thought back  over the  hectic last week. I am what you would call a "Freelance Traveller", I  suppose, and my call from Chrondisp had arrived while I was  air-surfing over the  Bavarian Alps. Which  perhaps  explains why I prefer to remain freelance. I would certainly earn more as a Chrondisp staffer, but living  permanently in the Chrondisp complex in the middle  of  the  Sahara desert? No, no.

       The  triple  "urgent"  beeps  from  my  phone had actually arrived while I was looking for lift  over  the steep southern face of the Zugspitze so I had glided to a nearby crag (only exhibitionists use  the  phone  when airsurfing), hissing  in  to  a  landing  on  the  snow, unzipped my gloves and pushed up my sun-goggles.

       I  had  immediately  recognised Jim's Californian accent.

       Without any preliminary chat he had gone straight to the point.

       `Dig?  We gotta  problem. How  quick can you get your ass over here?'

       Bloody  hell. I had  just started my holiday and far above me I could  see  Helga  circling,  the  early-morning sun glinting off  her surf-board as she banked.

       `You there, fella?'

       `Yes, yes.' I  had answered  irritably, `I've just started a  holiday and ...'

       `With Helga I bet, - the one with the fantastic-?'

       `Yes,' I had interrupted him.

       Jim had spent a short holiday  with me last month and had been very  impressed  with the fräuleins. "Sweet and sexy" had been his verdict.

       His voice softened.

       `Well, tough. But  this is a big one. Direct from Dr D.'

       `Can't  you tell  me  something  about it?' I had asked.

       There  was  a  pause, broken  only  by  the  soft hissing of static.

       `It's connected with your Mission in Victorian England. OK?'


       `Really?' I had said stupidly.

       `Yes, reely,'  he  had said, mimicking  an English accent,  and the phone had gone dead.

       I  had  looked  around  the isolated snow-covered rocky outcrop on which I had just landed. The low early-morning sun in a  cloudless  deep-blue  sky  made  black shadows in the disturbed snow of my landing track. Three thousand meters down below the ground was a misty blur. A  nearby  glint made me look up to see Helga coming in for a landing, no doubt wondering what was wrong. Fortunately  I  had  not snapped the phone shut so  the  red  "urgent"  lamp  was still visible. I had held it up to her and sadly related my already prepared story of having to return to  London on "Official Business".

       All in all, Helga  had taken it very well. It had not  been  the  first  time I had  had  to disappear mysteriously for a while - she believed I was a  "Secret Agent". She thought it romantic and would even cover  up for me.

       After the initial disappointment had worn off she had said:

       `Last time it was your mother's funeral.'

       `My uncle Fred,' I said sadly.

       `Uncle  Fred,  then,' she  said practically. `His heart was always weak.'

       There was a reflective pause.

       `But  now as I suppose you have to leave immediately, I must tell you that the bright sun has a strong, how you say?, "effect", on me.'

       She had looked around the isolated sunny crag and began to peel off her jump-suit in a business-like manner. And as she had nothing on underneath it, I too had suddenly begun to feel, how you say?, an "effect".

       And so I had finally taken my departure after a rather  shaky  glide back to ground. In excuse, I should point out to anyone who has not tried it, that when "the big bird flies out of the window" at three thousand meters, it can leave you feeling surprisingly breathless.


       I  made  a short  stopover at my apartment in the  Schwabing  district of Munich in order to repack my bag. Clothes chosen for a holiday in the Alps would not be of  much use at the Chrondisp Institute in the middle of the Sahara desert. As I  folded in the last shirt, the phone rang.  I picked it  up, wondering  how anyone knew I was back. A woman's voice:

       `Captain  Digby?  Here is  Polizeiinspektion  Ett Str. I have Inspector Braut for you.'

       There was a click and before I could say anything the voice changed.

       `Captain  Digby,  I have  recently come into possession of an unusual English firearm and I would be pleased if you  could evaluate  it for me.' A deep voice with an indefinable accent, certainly not Bavarian.

       I  looked  at  my  watch.  My  flight to Tangiers wouldn't leave for another six hours. I didn't recognise the voice but it paid to keep in with the local police - our  "Waffen" shop  had a  small contract  for supplying them with practice ammunition and we also let them use out underground range from time to time.

       `Yes,  of course. But  you have  caught me at my apartment.  I  suggest  we meet  at our shop. In an hour perhaps?'

       `Yes, very well. In one hour at your shop.'

       Odd.  Why ring here? But I supposed he had called the  shop  first and  finding  I was out had hung up immediately and tried my home number. He would  think that being a part-owner I wouldn't  always  keep  office hours.





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