“Where is the institute?” Luke asked. “It should be here. The Institute is gone.”
For a long moment, the other two looked around in disbelief. Then they, too, began to see what he meant. Maria ran across the scrubby field to a wooden signpost erected by the roadside. The boys followed her. The expression on all of their faces as they looked at the sign was not one they would have liked to see photographed. Each of them was open mouthed and wide eyed in astonishment.
“Space acquired for Travers Institute.” Below those words was an artist’s impression of what the new building was going to look like, all plate glass and lots of potted plants in the open plan foyer. The completion date was September 1974.
“They haven’t built it yet,” Clyde noted. “And those chestnut trees over there are flowering. If it takes them about a year to built it, then this must be spring, 1973.
“It can’t be!” Maria protested.
“We can go search for a newsagents if you like, and look at today’s paper. But that would be a bit corny. Face it, it’s 1973. We’ve gone back in time.”
“No wonder the mobiles don’t work,” Luke noted.
Then it hit them. They had gone back in time. Again their expressions were not ones they would like to see reproduced in a photograph.
“Ok, let’s calm down and think about this logically,” Maria said. “The transmat must have gone wrong? It sent us back in time instead of across the room.”
“How could it do that?” Clyde asked. “Surely a transmat and a time machine are different things.”
“Perhaps…” Luke began, then stopped. He couldn’t explain it, either. Even his advanced brain, chock full of maths and science had no answer.
“So what do we do? Stand around waiting for them to push the right button and bring us back or…” Clyde kicked at the signpost in frustration. That just made his foot ache.
“Liz!” Maria exclaimed. “She was around here in 1973. Let’s find her and explain.”
“She won’t believe us. She doesn’t know us then… I mean now.”
“We’ll have to make her believe us. Come on…”
What do you mean, ‘when’,” Sarah Jane demanded. “Liz, what have you done to my son and his friends?”
“They’re all right,” Liz assured her. “They’re perfectly all right. Believe me.” She sighed. “It would be so much easier if you could remember. Unfortunately, he insisted.”
“Who insisted?” Sarah Jane was getting more angry and frustrated by the minute. “What is going on here?”
“Sarah Jane, I am sorry I had to deceive you, and them,” Liz continued. “But it was important. Very important. Please come to my office and sit down. I will explain as much of this as I can.”
“I'm not going anywhere until you explain what happened here. I want to know where my son is. And I want him and his friends BACK.”
“I told you she wouldn’t take this lying down,” Liz said, not to Sarah Jane, but to the technician who had operated the ‘transmat’. He stood and stepped towards them. He took from his pocket something that looked like a perfume atomiser and sprayed it in Sarah Jane’s face. She coughed and gave one annoyed gasp before collapsing. The technician grabbed her as she fell and lifted her into his arms.
“My office,” Liz told him. “And then get out of the way. She’ll be very annoyed with you when she wakes up.”
“Usually, they’re grateful,” replied the technician. Liz rolled her eyes. She had her fill of that sort of thing the last time they met. The innuendo laden morning so far had proved just as irritating.
“Just try to remember, we’re not under your orders. We’re just co-operating with your organisation on this.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he drawled, flashing a smile that he probably expected to send her weak at the knees. Liz just rolled her eyes again.
Maria, Luke and Clyde were getting frustrated. Cambridge University was a big place, and they simply couldn’t find the science department.
“Surely it has one?” Clyde complained as they collapsed, footsore and hot, onto a bench by a neatly cut lawn. One of the colleges, they had lost track of which one, flanked the lawn. It was a grand looking building, all buttresses and fancy windows and an elaborate roof, but they didn’t care. They just wanted a sign that said ‘Science department’. And they had completely failed to find one.
“It doesn’t seem to work that way,” Maria sighed. “The university is split into all these colleges founded by Edward the whatever and Henry some other number in whatever century. And I’m just glad we didn’t get sent back in time to then!”
“I’m hungry,” Clyde complained. “Do you think they’ve invented pizza yet.”
“I think this place is too posh for pizza,” Maria commented.
“I don’t suppose there’s any food in that satchel?” Luke asked. “What is in it, anyway?”
“She said it was something to do with the experiment,” Maria answered. She opened it up and gave a cry of surprise as she pulled out a picnic for three in a plastic tub. “Well, that’s better.”
There were sandwiches in tin foil, and mini-eggs, slices of pork pie, and apples and cartons of fruit juice. They ate hungrily and began to feel a little bit better.
“You know what,” Clyde said as he sucked his juice noisily through the straw. “This proves one thing.”
“She knew. She gave you the satchel, knowing this would happen.”
“I think you’re right,” Maria said, holding up an envelope that was in the bottom of the plastic tub. Their names were on it. She opened it and read the note inside.
“Just to say I’m really sorry for having to trick you. I hope the sandwiches are all right. We’ve never tried to send food back in time before. Anyway, this is important. Don’t try to waste time looking for the science department or trying to find my phone number. Just go to the junction of Trinity Street and Green Street at just after one o’clock. There will be somebody there who will help you.
All the best
“What time is it?” Maria asked. “The time here, I mean. Our watches are useless. They still tell the time where we WERE.”
“Quarter to twelve,” Clyde answered looking up at a big clock tower.
“And where’s Trinity Street?”
“That’s over there,” Luke answered. “We passed it twice, before we sat down here.”
Sarah Jane woke groggily. She could smell coffee. She opened her eyes and saw the ‘technician’ who had used some kind of knock out mist on her. He was holding a cup of coffee under her nose. She pushed his hand away and pulled herself up into a sitting position on the sofa in Liz’s office.
“Take the coffee,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with it, honestly. We need you awake now. Good old fashioned coffee…”
“You drugged me!” She took the coffee because he had a point about that. Her mouth was dry and her head fuzzy. She drank some of it and started to feel better. She looked at the mug and wondered about the logo on it. A big capital ‘T’ made up of hexagons. It wasn’t the Travers Institute logo, even though that also began with a T.
“Liz, what is this all about?” she demanded, looking past the stranger who obviously wasn’t a technician. Liz stood by the window looking contrite. “If I don’t get an explanation then I'm going to the police. And don’t you dare try to stop me, either of you.”
“What would you tell the police?” Liz asked. “This is not something they could comprehend.”
“The machine,” Sarah Jane said, as the pieces came together in her coffee-soothed head. “It wasn’t a transmat. It was… you said ‘when’… it was a time machine. So WHEN are they?”
“1973,” Liz answered. “And they’re just fine. I gave them a picnic.”
“Took you long enough to work it out,” said the mystery man. “You’re usually much faster on the uptake.”
“What do you mean, usually?” she snapped, turning back to him. “I’ve never met you in my life. How do you know me?”
“Oh, I’ve been keeping tabs on you for a long time, Sarah Jane Smith. You and I actually have a few things in common. Three mutual friends for a start. At least if Liz considers me a friend. The other two… Martha definitely does consider me as a friend. Nice lady. And then there’s the man who changed all of our lives…”
“Martha?” This time she wasn’t quite so slow. The coffee was definitely working. She looked at the logo on the mug again. “Oh, my GOD! I thought she was exaggerating when she told me about you. Captain Jack Harkness!” She waved the mug in a way that might have been construed as threatening. “So what’s THIS? A souvenir from Torchwood?”
“If you really like it that much,” he answered.
“I don’t.” She put the mug down.
“I really am sorry for having to do that,” Captain Jack Harkness added. “Honestly, I wish we could have met some other way. I am thrilled to meet you, Sarah Jane.”
He looked as if he was, too. But she wasn’t having any of it.
“What is going on, for the last time of asking before I get REALLY angry.” She demanded.
“Look at this,” Liz told her, handing her a folder. It explains everything. Including why HE is involved. Which wasn’t my first choice, I have to add.”
Clyde, Luke and Maria stood on the corner of Trinity Street and Green Street. They were both really narrow streets and traffic really had no business being on them. The whole area was crying out for pedestrianisation. Meanwhile, traffic crawled along, helped, or hindered, depending on your point of view, by the traffic lights.
“Maybe we missed whoever it was,” Maria suggested. “Perhaps we should try to phone Liz after all. There’s a phone box…”
They all looked at the red phone box. The sort that Americans always associated with England, but were rarely ever seen in their time.
“We don’t have the right sort of money to fit in the slot. And I’m not even sure I know how to work that sort of phone,” Clyde admitted. “We’d better…”
Just then a car stopped in front of them as the lights turned red again. An open topped two seater sports model. The driver sighed in frustration and reached to pick up a chunky microphone attached to a reel to reel recorder on the passenger seat. She spoke into it while she waited for the lights to change. She was a pretty young woman with dark hair tied back in a headscarf. And they all knew her at once.
“Mum!” Luke exclaimed.
“It is!” Maria confirmed. “It’s Sarah Jane! But…”
The lights changed. She put down the microphone and stepped on the accelerator. The car stalled. She tried again. Behind her other drives hooted in annoyance and somebody shouted a rude phrase about women drivers.
Clyde stepped forward and began to push the car. The other two looked at him then joined in. Sarah Jane steered as they pushed it around the corner where the road was wider and part of it was marked out for short term parking.
“Thank you,” Sarah Jane said to the three of them. “I’m going to have to get that looked at. Did I see a phone box back there? I’d better call the AA.”
“Yes,” Clyde told her. “But… Sarah Jane… Can you help us now?”
Sarah Jane Smith looked at the boy she had never seen before in her life, then the boy and girl with him. She had never met any of them before. But they seemed to know her.
“Please help,” said the other boy. “We need you.”
To Be Continued...