After Mr Curle had parked his car by the roadside, he led Connor O'Hare across a field to a series of ditches, where several young men – who Curle introduced as Archaeology students from Edinburgh University – then showed Connor the wall which had been discovered and identified as a section of the Roman Bath-House, and clambering into the ditch, took Connor by the hand and pointed out the place where the words of Tam and Boabie had been found; where the black and white photograph had been dramatic and meaningful, the actual brick with it's lettering cut into the red sandstone, seemed sad and poignant; Connor O’Hare knelt and looked closely at the uneven words and numbers, after checking with Alexander if he could, he reached out and touched the inscription, inscribed so long ago: "why wud they dae it here, sae low doon, man it's jist above the grund, wud they hae tae lie doon tae dae it?" and Alexander joined him, then pointed to some of what looked like bore-holes: "the floor level is about three feet further down, so they would be able to do that standing up; this was likely a store-room, but we wont know for sure till we have identified the full ground plan," then Connor asked: "why did they pit their buildings sae low doon, like a semi-basement?" and Alexander explained that the ground level, indicating the field, had risen over the centuries since the Romans had been here: "it happens everywhere, nature keeps adding a fresh surface – leaves, dry soil blown by the wind, cultivation, even flooding – although we are well above river level here, heavy rains wash soil and other debris down from the hills, there were no walls or hedges to hold it back, and it could easily turn this area into a temporary lake, or a quagmire, before the water soaked down and eventually reached the river, but the surface level up here could certainly rise by an inch or two after such an event and it was a long time before proper farming reached this place," he put a hand on Connor's shoulder; and then the tram-driver asked it: "so are oor bhoys buried here, wull ye be able tae find them, Mr Curle?" but Alexander shook his head: "we haven't found the Roman Cemetery yet – it would be somewhere outside the boundary of the Camp but near enough for friends or relatives to visit and pay their respects; the Romans had two ways o dealing with their dead: burial or cremation, after which the ashes would be placed in an urn, and either given to the family, or buried, and as this Camp existed for several hundred years, there would be, in the natural course of things, many funerals so, wherever the cemetery was, or still is, it would be of a reasonable size; we just don't have the techniques or the equipment, or, to be honest, the time and money, to go all over the valley in search of it, well, not in my lifetime, Mr O'Hare," but Connor seemed to have prescinded himself, and was lost in his private thoughts, but then he turned to Alexander: "but can I ask you one thing, Mr Curle, the laddies wis blown up in a gas explosion in Milngavie, so hoo the heck did they turn up here thoosans o years ago? and Curle stared across the level field, towards the hills, but his unseeing, then: "as an historian and archaeologist, I deal in realia, real things, facts, evidence, from which I draw conclusions which, I hope are objective and as accurate as the evidence permits me to go . . . . . but I have heard of what are called Worm Holes in the fabric of the Space/Time Continuum; now, I don't want to be a gas-bag and expound you to death, Mr O'Hare, but in short, it's as if God dropped a few stitches while he has knitting the Universe; some physicists believe that it is theoretically possible to use these Worm Holes to move around the Universe, or to go forwards and backwards in Time, which they claim is non-linear, meaning that Past, Present and Future are all around us, simultaneously, do you see?" and Tam nodded, thoughtfully, ideas being born in his mind, some vague and only partial, others nidifugous, almost as if they had a life of their own and could strike out any time: "so it might have been possible for my bhoys tae huv goat intae ane o thae Worm Holes in Milngavie, then pop oot here, thoosans o years ago?" and Curle nodded: "yes, in theory, but I don't know if it could ever work!" but Connor jumped to his feet: "if ye're tellin me yon stane wi its scratchin's real, no faked by sumdy, then it looks like yer theory's proved, but, in't it!"
When she first opened her eyes, Kathleen O'Hare had no idea where she was, but after catching sight of Connor's and Mr Curle's faces it all came crashing back at her and she howled and curled up as a baby and sucked her thumb, while Connor sat beside her and stroked her shoulder tentatively: "ye ken whit it means, Con?" she whimpered, "they've gone fur ever, buried under the grund like wurms an moles, they'll never come hame . . . . ." and Connor could only nod – he had never shared his wife's dogged devotion to a belief that somehow their sons had not died, that they had lost their memories and were somewhere waiting for her; Connor was interested in nature and he knew there were varieties of birds and animals that were nidifugous, and able to leave the nest soon after hatching and make their life apart from their parents – he'd seen a film at Green's Picturedrome in Ballater Street, that showed tiny fish hatching out in a disused pipe, and swimming away as soon as they were free of their transparent eggs, but the O'Hare weans were bound by invisible cords of family and home and he could never imagine Tam and Boabie, 8 year olds, surviving for more than a day on their own; so the news that they had been here, had scratched a message on a brick then got buried under tons of dirt in a field, was to much to hear, to bear, to accept! now he was no wiseacre, no smart Alec or, as they would say at the Tram Depot: smart-arse – it wasn't that he was cowed in the presence Mr Curle, a lawyer, a historian and some kind of bigwig to do with ancient monuments, but neither was he a big-mouth himself, he treated all his passengers equally, whether they paid their fares with farthings or those big, white five-pound notes (he'd only ever had one of those twice in all his years on the job), he was courteous and pleasant to all, neither kicking a drunk, or beggar, nor doffing his cap to 'Gentry' although he did call a priest Father, but that was the habit of a lifetime, so he asked Mr Alexander, quietly, out of Kathleen's hearing, although it was unlikely that she could hear anything, so distressed was she, if there were any remains of his sons, and the older man said: "I'll take you to the site, Mr O'Hare, show you the stone – it might be best if just you an I for now, perhaps Mrs O'Hare will be up to it tomorrow," and Connor agreed, so Mrs Turnbull took over sitting with Kathleen and simply being a reassuring presence, and Kathleen took hold of her hand and held it tight to her own face; in the car, Connor felt obliged to apologise for Kathleen's hysteria: "my wife’s no Moaning Minnie," he began, but was cut off: "no need to try to explain her grief, Son, to learn of the death of one child, let alone two, must be almost impossible to take in, when my brother James died a few years ago I was shocked, despite our advanced ages, he had always been here, by my side, for my whole life, even when we worked apart, I could write or telephone him, for advice, or just to reminisce, and came the day when I realised I would never see him again – I wandered around in a daze; I was seen up Arthur's Seat, in Waverley Station, down at Leith Docks and even on Cramond Island, but I have no memory at all of that or the next few days, no conversations, meals, anything, just a blank; our minds respond to our feelings of grief and other supreme emotions, in a survival mode, they shut down everything that is unimportant and carry us almost as automatons until we are able to function again; so don't say anything, Lad, she is a Mother and she will survive, for you and the other children."
The journey took most of the day – of course it would have been quicker by train, from Queen Street or Central Station to Waverley in Edinburgh and then on the Waverley: Line to Melrose, but to the O'Hares the cost was prohibitive, whereas as a Tram Driver, albeit for Glasgow Corporation, reciprocal arrangements with other areas meant that the couple could get ha'penny tickets everywhere on trams or buses; so they set off early, before the weans had wakened, leaving Kathleen's Mammy in charge, which was no problem to Mrs Rafferty, for hadn't she raised twelve bairns of her own, largely single-handed since Brendan Rafferty had spent much of his working life in America, nine months of each year, and three at home with his ever-growing family; at all events, it was three in the afternoon before they arrived in Melrose, with Kathleen almost throwing herself off the bus at the foot of the High Street, when she saw a solicitor's office across the road with the name Curle, in gold on an upstairs window above a branch of the British Linen Bank; Connor caught up with Kathleen as she reached the top of a flight of stairs and presented herself to a rather severe-looking receptionist: "ah'm sorry tae burst in here, hen, but it's aboot the find at the Roman Camp, Tam an Boabie O'Hare, them's ma twa eldest bhoys an a thocht they wis deid, but they canna be, kin they? canna see Mr Alexander Curle? his name wis in the Evenin Times yestre'en, thon's whaur a see'd it!" and when she paused for breath, the woman smiled, kindly: "take a seat Mrs O'Hare, is this you husband, Mr O'Hare, take a seat; Mr Alexander doesn't work here, but he's at the site today, and I'm sure he'll be delighted to meet you; please wait and I'll send the Office Boy with a note," and she rang a bell, which brought a boy in short trousers and a cap, who eyed the visitors with some disdain, but took the note from the receptionist and trotted down the stairs; the Receptionist said: "I'm Mrs Turnbull, would you like a cup of tea after your long journey, you look fair fashed!" and Kathleen nodded, but added: "kin ye direct me tae the Ladies, hen, Mrs Turnbull, ah'm needin tae gaun afore ah kin tak a drap o tea," and Mrs Turnbull laughed, then took Kathleen through a door to what were obviouslt Staff Only quarters, leaving Connor to pick up a copy of Farmers' Weekly and try to read about sheep and pigs and cows; when they returned, Mrs Turnbull - "call me Jinty," - explained that while this wis the family firm, Mr Alexander hasn't practised Law for many years, he was the first Secretary and then a Commissioner of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland; he's 81 and supposed to be retired, but men like him never really retire," and she walked over to a window and looked out at the street: "ah, here's Oliver coming back, he's carrying some equipment, Mr Curle shouldn't be long now," and soon enough, they heard the boy panting as he came up the stairs: "oh, Mrs Turnbull, ah'm fair peched oot!" but he went into one of the offices and carefully deposited his burden, then gratefully accepted a glass of water from Jinty and shortly another pair of feet could be heard climbing steadily; Alexander Curle was a large, florid gentleman, with snow-white hair and whiskers; he shook hands enthusiastically with the O'Hares and invited them into his office and, when they were seated, he pointed to a kind of box, explaining: "this is my sciopticon, it's a kind of mobile magic lantern, I've got some slides here to show you, and I'll explain what we found and where and how, and what it tells us about the Roman Camp," and all the while he was setting it up: "firstly, let me tell you about the site – it's quite extensive and the first excavations were carried out by my late brother, James; most of his finds are now in the National Museum of Scotland, but things keep turning up and every few years some of us spend some time digging systematically; look, here's an artist's impression of what the Camp may have looked like, with the Eildons in the background, so this view is looking south, and now east, now north, now west; pretty extensive, wasn't it?" and Kathleen asked: "so it's no therr noo?" and Mr Alexander shook his head, "not for over a thousand years, we don't have an actual date for the Roman withdrawal but the stone we found dates from at least 164AD and we know that because of the Roman Date scratched into it, and it's depth beneath not just the surface, but other, later, brickwork which was above it, and epigeal plants which grow on the surface and which form layers as the surface rises; oh, there's no doubt of that – look, I don't want to be abstruse, but every indication of the accuracy of the dating is based on objective physical evidence which supports the genuineness of the message scratched onto the brick, and I am satisfied that no hoaxer could have finessed the stone into it's position, it matches the surrounding stones and is certainly older than the date written on it, and the date of the graffiti tells us that it was put there one thousand, seven hundred, and eighty-three years ago!" and Kathleen fainted!
And while all that was going on in Nova Scotia in 2084, just round the corner and through a little alleyway in the fabric of Time, back in Gorbals in 1948 Kathleen O'Hare was grieving for her two eldest boys, Snooker Tam and Fat Boabie, believed to have died in the gas explosion in Milngavie; some people couldn't understand her loss, because she still had her husband, Connor and their other children, Concepta, Rose of Sharon, Guggles, Marianina, Angelina, Humphrey John-Jo, Ludovic and Babbette, but those people didn't understand a Mother's love and it's counter, grief, for they don't know what an involuntary and insidious thing grief is; and even if she had known that they were alive and well and living in Trimontium Roman Camp in the wild Borderlands in 163 AD she would still have felt the agony of losing them, of being unable to see them, hold them, love them; but one evening, on his return from his shift as a Tram Driver for Glasgow Corporation, on a network that made easy meat of the orogeny which had created Glasgow with it's wrinkled crust and gave some routes the nickname of switchbacks, for the steep climbs and swooping descents the reason why his own weans loved to ride upstairs at the front, Connor brought in his usual Evening Times and, after supper and putting the children to bed and laying out their school clothes for the older ones, Kathleen read the paper by gaslight in the living room, which was when she discovered that a prominent Melrose-born archaeologist, Alexander Curle, had recently discovered a section of brickwork from the Trimontium Bath-house which had a strange piece of graffiti scratched into it: 'Tam and Boabie O'Hare born Glesca 1938 wiz hear on v FEB. CMXVI AB URBE CONDITA'! and Kathleen stared at it, read the whole story over three times, then roused Connor from the doze he was having on the other side of the fireplace and showed it to him: "we're gaunie gaun doon therr ramorra," said Kathleen, "whit furr?" grunted Connor: "tae see it," replied Kathleen: "it must be the bhoys, it must be, hoo mony O'Hares wis born in Rottenrow in 1938 named Tam an Boabie? gey few, it muss be them!" and Connor looked at his wife with a rare intensity, for behind the façade of impetuosity, Kathleen was capable of sound rationation: "bit hoo could we tell, Hen, it micht no be," but Kathleen could not be mollified: "we'd recconise their wrichtin, ah wud, a mile aff!" and Connor agreed: "av goat twa days aff, ye'd better leave sumthin fer the weans," and Kathleen, business-like, stood and tied on her pinny: "ah'll mak them a Plum Duff, ye'll find some siller thrupp'nies in the wee boax nex door, ane fer each o them, an a shillin so ma mammie kin get fish suppers fer their tea, ah'll get Aggie tae help her pit them tae bed, so a wudden thrupp'nie bit'll be fair koha, she'll likely stey ower tae get them oot fur the schill – ah wonder whaur we'll be able tae stey ower," and Connor was able to re-assure her: "sure, isn't there a Youth Hostel therr? it opened last year an Sammy Souter wis doon there wi the Cyclin' Club, said it's a fine big place, we'll stey therr," and received a hug from his wife
"Who'da thunk it?" gasped Hyman Kaplan, retrieving his cigarette from the dirt, and once the others had recovered from their surprise and been introduced to Luc Action Man and Columbine Action Woman, Hyman explained that he and the other four had been staying at the MacFarlane Castle Hotel, incognito, because they were trying to find the two women who had been trafficked from New York – one of whom was the DA in the Bronx and was prosecuting Sir Parlane MacFarlane and his sidekick, Dominic Doubleday as part of a massive people-trafficking operation,; they had followed them here, along with two heavies from the Hotel, handed over to Doubleday and then forced into the caves; they, Hyman and the others, had left their Town Car outside but it has gone – they have no idea if we are even in the same century! then Milly suggested that they try their cell-phones, to see if they can establish the date – if the phones still work; it was actually Milly's, using a sim-card she had bought at the Hotel, who managed to get the answer: we are in 2084 – the others having left 2038, which is why Milly and Isa look 20 years older that they were at home though still, obviously mettlesome and I had to remind mysel that in February 2019 the still were at home, in Aunty May's and that the two women here and now were my cousins in twenty years time; in the absence of any transport, Hyman suggested than we should walk back to the Hotel – if it's still there, but whether any of their cash or credit cards are still valid we will only discover when they try to use them; it didn't actually take too long, but the Hotel had changed dramatically from when our cousins and their friends had left it: it was a vast, sprawling Campus, with billboards advertising it's attractions, such as Canada's biggest year-round Funfair, travels in a Time Machine – a tiny Worm Hole that only wen an hour into the future, which meant those in a family or group of friends who didn't want to enter, had to hang around for an hour till the others showed up – a circus for ailurophiles, featuring every kind of cat, from domestic Moggies to Lions, Tigers, Cheetahs and Leopards but the most dramatic announced the imminent opening of MacFarlane Neanderthal World and Country Club! and surprise surprise, the cards still worked, fifty years after they had last been used, although evidently no interest had accrued on the debit cards: "well, we obviously haven't earned anything in that time – and I guess my books are probably out of print by now, so no royalties," said Kaplan, with a rueful laugh, "it looks like we never get back to our own time, makes you wonder, if we kick it here, what'll be put on our tombstones, eh?" but Miss Mitnick rolled her eyes and said: "we're not wondering, already, from fortyfive years ago we've only aged a few weeks, is that at miracle of modern science or what? if we have to fill in any forms add fortyfive years to get your birth date or the local Tourist Board will be hot on our trail for a piece about the anti-aging qualities of Nova Scotia or PEI – probably the bracing winds and the tang of the sea, gimme a bowl of borscht and I'll die a happy woman! ha!" and Mrs Moskowitz said she was dying to send postcards to her son Marvin in Seattle and daughter Gerda in San Francisco: "literally dying, but who knows where they are now? if Hyman's right and we maybe don''t get back I'd lay myself down and weep for my grandchildren, I may never see them again and that breaks a mother's heart," by which time the rest of us were on the brink of tears, apart from Lulu – the least addulcive person I know, so hard-boiled you'd need a sledgehammer to crack her shell – and the Action figures, who didn't look out of place with so many holidaymakers and day-trippers wearing an assortment of incongruous costumery, so she'd taken them for a walk around the place, try to get a map and find out what the Neanderthal World set-up was, and where MacFarlane and Doubleday had their Control Room!
"Hoots Mon!" cried Lulu, as we slid out of the crevice into a dusty place to a reception party which included my cousins Isa and Milly, or at least their somewhat older selves and a pair of even older women and a man who looked very like Jimmy Durante, right down to his schnozzle: "where are we?" asked Jasmine, embracing Isa and Milly, while "who are you?" asked the man; our journey hadn't lasted very long, although we all felt squashed and stretched, a bit like cachexia patients whose muscles had wasted – my feet felt too heavy, my head too light, if I didn't know a bit about mycology, I'd have suspected magic mushrooms, and that thought filled my head with the Tenniel image of the caterpillar in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland puffing on his hookah; is this Wonderland? I wondered; in truth we had travelled faster than the Alberta Clipper and once Lulu, Jasmine and I had rested our backs against the rocks, while Isa and Milly told the other three – Hyman, Sadie and Rose – who we were, I suddenly remembered what – or who – we had in our backpacks: I whispered to Lulu and we each opened our own packs and took out the toy figures: "what's this? party time?" asked Hyman, and I rather condoned his rudeness, for he didn't have the faintest idea what would happen next; I nodded to the two figures and in an instant they were full size, and even Hyman was lost for words, dropping his cigarette from his dropped jaw!
And here I must rede to you in explanation, for at the same time as the previous, that is, in 2038 AD, the quiet exfiltration of Crystal Shann-Delyeer DA (AKA China Blue) and her friend Flora Dora from Clan MacFarlane Hotel on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, was observed by Rose Mitnick, who quickly contacted the rest of her group and, while in 2019 we were mushers, padding through snow to our destination, the three American journalists and two Police Scotland Officers, all intent on capturing Sir Parlane MacFarlane followed, in their hired Town Car, MacFarlane's heavies, but keeping well back from the hotel SUV which was heading into the hills; now, while there may have been times when Hyman Kaplan was aware of approaching senescence, that vanished whenever he was on the scent of a scoop and when the watchers saw the heavies hand the two women over to Dominic Doubleday, who led them into a narrow fissure in a bare rock-face, Kaplan knew they were getting close; once the SUV had passed the end of the track where the Town Car waited, my cousin Detective Sergeant Milly Millican nosed out and head back in the direction of the last sighting; even before she had pulled on the hand-brake, my other cousin Detective Inspector Isa Urquhart was out and stepping quickly to the sheer rock, but it was Sadie Moskowitz who found the entrance, a clever overhang shielded it from all but one angle, and once found, it was agreed that Isa and Milly go first, followed by Rose, Sadie and Hyman in that order – Hyman had produced a handgun, so he could guard the rear; it took half an hour, creeping along the low and narrow tunnel before they reached a wider area, with no further to go – but slight signs of a struggle and three sets of footprints ending against the far wall; having some idea about Worm Holes, and convinced that this must be the starting point for Doubleday and the two women, they agreed that they must go together, for if they were separated they might never catch up with each other again; so in a tight huddle, they stood where the others must have stood, but nothing happened until Sadie, feeling slightly claustrophobic, reached out a hand to steady herself against the rock: there was a sudden flare which illuminated the small cavern like a nuclear explosion, followed by intense darkness, where all each one knew was that they were holding hands with two of the others, then Time and Space shifted and they felt like they were hurtling down a roller-coaster ride which ended with another flare and a sudden heavy landing, which sent them all sprawling; when their eyes had adjusted, they found that they were still in the same place as they had started from, which brought out intense frustration and some anger, until Milly noticed something that had not been here before – a cigarette butt: "so either someone followed us in, or Doubleday must have dropped it after he arrived," said Hyman, voicing the thoughts of the others, although Isa wondered if it was entirely separate, "because we don't have any idea whether we have gone into the Future or the Past, we could be anywhere in time!"
Now, draw near my dears and let me just rede it to you, as it happened, on that fateful day of Imbolc, the Second of February, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Nineteen, just as the snows began to fall on what was forecast to be the coldest night of the Winter (so far!) portending strange and mysterious events that would change my life, and those of my companions, Lulu Broon, Jasmine Juniper-Green and Little Levy Balquhidder's two Best Friends Forever, Luc Action Man and Columbine Action Woman – both back to toy-size, I carried Columbine in my back-pack and Lulu had Luc in hers, Jasmine had the bottle of Laphroaig; Lulu, Jasmine and I left Levy's house in Priors Walk and took the Bogle Burn road which runs past the new Borders Crematorium and the old Waird's Cemetery towards Rhymer's Stone, but taking the turn-off to the right which would lead us round the North Eildon and up to the shoulder between that and Mid Hill, there we were to look for what Little Levy called a Rabbit Hole, but assured us that we would be able to squeeze through; once in The Cavern, according to Little Levy, it would be a simple matter of using a compass and counting steps to find the entrance to Tunnel 39 which would take us to our destination; what none of us knew was that in 2038 CE, on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, two young women were being taken forcibly to a similar Worm-Hole to be transported through Time only, to the same place but in 2084 - the very same Space/Time location as us!
And Doubleday nodded, so MacFarlane continued: "ok, if that's sortit, whaur ur we aboot the Cave Men?" and Doubleday brightened, feeling more confident, on less shaky ground: "aye, thur Cavern's ready, it's amazin; thon Architect's dun a grand job, ye'd think it wis the Eildon's – or whitever the Cave Men cry thur Hills – an even the Valley looks the same, he's divertet the river as weel as dividin the big hill intae three, an the viewin tunnels fur the punters, they'se perfect, the rubbernecks'll be able tae see whitever's gaun oan, richt close up, whithir it's huntin, cookin, eatin, sleepin – even cave pentin – but it's the fuckin, the hale caboodle, it's a voyeur's Paradise, an when we gie them the chance tae get fully interactive, oo'll hae thum queuein up fer miles, pure dead brilliant Boss, magic idea!" so Sir Parlane sat back with a grin, "ah ken, Dom, ah've got loads of bricht ideas, but let's face it, it's yersel that rede's ma intentions an turns thum intae reality, oor a great team an thegither wur progress is inexorable, an ah'll admit, if it wisnae fur yersel, nane o ma ideas wud ever be realised, which is why the introduction o the Cavern fowk is sae important - there's nuthin else tae touch it in the hale Americas;" Doubleday nodded, then said: "if ye decide tae run fer the Presidency o Nova Scotia, Boss, the fact that ye've harnessed Nature in ane valley on Prince Edward, brought the Past slap bang intae the Present should be worth a couple o million votes, especially fae a the punters wha've had a belter here," and Sir Parlane grinned: "aye, ye've worked like a Trojan, Dom - lissen, dae ye fancy a wee bit fun this weekend, ah think ye shood bring up thon pair fae Gotham City, arrived in 2038 jist afore we zipped up here, an ah wudnae mind donnin ma pontificalia an showerin the whitey wi ma largesse, div ye think ye could haunle the other ane, Pal?"
Sir Parlane MacFarlane was feeling rather Tiggerish, when Dominic Doubleday, his great pal, bosom buddy and life-long - or should it be lives-long? - friend, valet, companion-at-arms, Squire to his Don Quixote, entered, but his thoughts stumbled to a stop, "feeling a bit liverish Dom?, you're looking kind of raddled, a tad puckeroo, certainly not your usual bouncy self, what's up?" as Doubleday took a seat by the fire, and his Master joined him: "c'mon mon, ye kin tell ma whit's up, oor jist wursels here, naebdy's keekin at the lock!"but Doubleday shook his head: "na' oss, it's this plenum ye're wantin organised fer the Ring of Gold," he sneaked a wee sideways peek at the Laird, and continued: "it's michty hard tae organise," but MacFarlane shook his head: "'tis a braw notion, kin ye no see, mon, bringin aw the members fae aw airts an pairts thegither here," and Doubleday interjected: "it's no the airts an pairts that's the bugger, it's the past an future, no jist the present, it's giein me a rich pain in the napper!" and he thumped his head with a gnarled fist to emphasise the point, "an thae's no aw! ye ken ah managed tae track doon thon hacker, The Economic Migrant? well, he didnae gie me mich hoose room, ah think he suspected a sting, bit afore he blocked me ah drapped a wee bug that's only activated on ane keyword, an then only fer a quarter o a second, and it jist pinged - he's had contact fae sumdy in Melrose, bit ah got their ISPN - it's sumdy cried Little Levy an he's wantin tae access Tunnel 39 frae the Eildon Cavern tae here!" and MacFarlane cursed: "hoo the fuck does he ken aboot Tunnel 39? naebdy does - dae they?" but the shake of Doubleday's head was just a fraction of a millisecond too late, and MacFarlane pounced on the hesitation: "wha Dom? wha the fuck kens aboot it?" and a tear-stained face turned towards him: "Elginbrod drapt it, jist like his troosers – ye ken hoo he luvs boastin an tryin tae impress - dusnae metter wha, he cannae help it, an this time it wis sumdy wha wis able tae pit twa an twa thegither and mak 39 an fare the ither clues it wis evident he wis yappin aboot the triplet an a wey tae reach his best freens and blud relatives an ye ken that points richt at us anes; ah think the place wis likely bugged, probly that time the Peelers wis roused by the Peepin Tams - oh he wisnae arrestit, Duncan buried it sumhoo, but the Peelers hud awreddy been tae interview Martin an hud a squint aboot the place, an his freend wud hae hud plenty time tae place a few pinheads an that eejit wud never think tae look, so ah dinnae ken wha, or when, or even whaur, but it's soon, cos he mentioned the date, but ye ken hoo 39 wiggles a bit, it spans the hale island except when we harness it," but MacFarlane held up his hand, palm towards him: "okay, got the pitcher - emdy no kent, ower the next thurty days, roon them up an bring thum here, an ah mean emdy! – got it?"
The Universe faded and we were back in Little Levy Balquhidder's room, Luc and Columbine had resumed their places in the mirror and Lulu, Jasmine and I sat on the floor with the small boy and listened as he explained that we should meet up in the morning, after the grand Supper at the Burns', with the two Free Spirits and make our way to the Cavern which lay at the heart of the Eildons; the Map would show us which way we needed to travel, taking one Worm Hole from the proliferation of possibilities, which would lead us to the latest known location of the dastardly Duo – Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday – in the year 2084, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Canada; he never properly explained how he knew this, but we had no doubts; between his own instructions and the experience we had just had with the Universe Map, and the remarkable ability of his two friends in their guise as Action Man and Action Woman, we were convinced that we could rely on his information and the veracity of the Free Spirits; so, after a chat with his mum, Rilla – who told us that she and her sister (who turned out to be Pru Montelimart, née Teitlebaum, which meant that Rilla, like Pru, was in fact my second cousin, once or twice removed, I've never quite got my head around these terms) would be singing some of Robert Burns' songs at the Burns Supper – we made our way back to my Aunts' house at the other end of Melrose, only to find that Auntie May had an attack of shingles which meant she would miss the Burns Supper, which was a shame because she normally responds to the Toast to the Lassies, but no doubt Auntie Cristo will opitulate and fill in for May; anyway, we commiserated with May then went upstairs and had a pow-wow in my room; Jasmine, as an officer in the Scottish Secret Service, had no qualms about the prospect of pursuing and encountering MacFarlane and Doubleday, but then, she would be armed and Lulu and I would take our cues from her, without the need to act independently; but we should have kept in mind the warning Robert Burns wrote in his poem, To a Mouse, dehorting blind optimism and over-confidence, that 'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley!'
The words spoken by Luc and Columbine from across millions of light years, or millennia, were surprisingly clear: "the blue lines are Worm Holes, spanning both Space and Time, unpredictable and random – they shift and change from moment to moment; the pink lines are more predictable, with the use of this map, it is possible to travel consistently and quickly over vast distances; the yellow lines operate only through Time, enabling regular trips but only between two points; and the green lines only through Space, in variable Times; the map is necessary to make use of any of the Worm Holes; it seems that Sir Parlane MacFarlane and Dominic Doubleday have obtained a Map; look," and the universe vanished and was replaced by a large Earth, travelling around the Sun, and criss-crossed by the same coloured lines – it was like a map of the London Underground, but the pattern remained – Space/Time, Space only and Time only, and it was clear that there were certain hubs, where all of the lines interconnected, one of these points was the triple Eildon Hills and explained so many of the incidents which, in recent years, had brought so many strange disappearances and re-appearances: "but where did the bastards get their Map?" asked Lulu, still holding tight on my right hand; it was Little Levy, his face shining in the strange reflected light of the Earth, far below us, who spoke next: "first, you must understand that they were Free Spirits like us, but they took their identities by murder, and we believe that they stole the Map from another Free Spirit, Azael, leaving him to die in the desert, but he did not die, though he was robbed of his charisma, and from being an inspiring teacher and guide, his memory was cleared of all recollections so that, to this day, he wanders the desert of the Land of Nod, searching, but without any knowledge of what it is he seeks; that is what MacFarlane and Doubleday did, and just one good reason why we still strive to catch up with them, for the sake of Azael; but MacFarlane is as slippery as an eel, as sharp as a skelf, and it is not simply a matter of finding him somewhere, we need to catch up with the latest, most up-to-date appearance of himself and there destroy him!" and there was a squeak from Lulu: "izzat whit oor here fur? dae ye want us tae dae yer durty work?" and Little Levy chuckled: "no, that's probably our job; Gor is his base, the name is a reversal of the initials of th Ring of Gold and it's populated by the top echelon of that hedonistic cult – do you know how it was created?" when we admitted that we didn't, he explained that the planet Earth, long before any life form existed, had been much larger than it is now, and in it's semi molten stage, had such a strong gravitational force that it twisted into a shape like a barbell and eventually split and the two halves separated and drifted apart until they reached their present locations, on opposite sides of the Sun, unable to see one from the other, although on the same orbit around the Sun: "the Rulers, all members of the Ring of Gold, originally from Earth, abduct their victims from Earth and other vulnerable inhabited planets in the Universe and enslave them; MacFarlane – and there is nothing Rafflesian about him, he enslaved the indigenous inhabitants of Gor and forced them to work in the coal mines, salt mines, gold mines, diamond mines, cultivating the arable lands, he worked them to death until there are now no surplus mouths to feed, beyond the Ring of Gold, even Cecil Rhodes might seem a Saint in comparison, MacFarlane is only out for himself, a truly vile, ondful, evil and thoroughly nasty piece of work – and he is the head honcho, although he is rarely there; he's been beaten to a pulp and blown to smithereens, decapitated and speared, but always resurrects himself; he can only be destroyed by Free Spirits, but we can never get close to him – which is where you three come in – we need you to track him down, at the latest point in his life, so that we can finish him, for once and all time!"
"First," said Luc, in the form of a full-sized Action Man toy, with a raspy kind of voice, "we need to go back to the caliginous past of the Universe and use some naometry to explain the variations in the STC which made it possible for Worm Holes to occur," but Columbine interjected, and her Action Woman had a husky, 40-a-day habit: "forget it, already, they don't wanna know that, do ya?" but without giving any of us time to respond, she snapped back: "see, we don't need to go back to Genesis so cut it with the gob, Luc, you always say too much – forget History, give'em the technology!" so Luc cracked his knuckles, which worried me, lest the plastic break, gave a grin and said: "oh, I see, you just wanna know how they work, not why, yeah?" and we nodded, under the glare of Columbine's impossibly blue eyes, which clearly took no prisoners: "right, well, if you accidentally find yourself in a Worm Hole, chances are you won't even know it before you're dropped off somewhere you've never been before, but if you want to go to a specific Time and Place anywhere in the Universe, it pays to have a Map!" and from his back-pack he took a small black cube which he placed on the floor, then he tapped it and the room darkened as the walls disappeared and we found ourselves floating in the void; instinctively, Lulu, Jasmine and I held hands, to stop one of us from floating away in the vastness; we could see Little Levy and his friends on the far side, a million, million miles away, or should that be light-years? now, I'm no sleuth, but I suddenly felt that there was something terribly wrong with the Universe and we were on the wrong side, or in the wrong Time, like a clone of a Neanderthal might feel if he opened his eyes and found himself in the lab where he had been conceived and grown like a piece of fungus; so I felt an overwhelming and urgent need to kick out and smash everything that The Creator, about whom Levy had spoken, was responsible for, all the pain and suffering his Universe had witnessed – and we only knew about the history of Earth – there might be dozens, hundreds, maybe more, other planets with developed life, maybe way ahead of us – perhaps even caused!
Well, if it was Magic, Little Levy was way ahead of Tommy Cooper and Paul Daniels; he pointed at a looking glass and we could see two figures in it, a bit like Action Man and Woman, in safari uniform, one (him) blonde, the other (her) brunette; they each had a rucksack and a variety of tools and weapons on their belts and straps: "are you ready for the foray?" asked Luc, the male figure, while the queen of the night, Columbine, said: "we'll have to go down into the Cavern in the Eildons, so you need to dress for damp and dirt, and carry water; are you okay to start tonight?" and I realised that we'd miss the annual Burns Supper with Rabbi Shmuel and Rebbetzin Zelda Burns – it's one of the main Family Events we have and is only missed on account of Death, Contagious Disease, or Imprisonment, but Levy seems also to be a mind-reader, for he interjected: "can't be tonight guys, big family dinner – I'm going too, so if you want to tag along, you'd better come out of the mirror," and it was incredible – from a mirror about 10"x12" these two small figures stepped out and were full-size, both about 5'10" and suddenly the room was too small for us all; but Levy gave a signal and they both shrunk to toy size and scrambled under Levy's bed just before his mum came in with bowls of soup: "give me a shout if you want anything else," she said, and left the room, with the door just a crack ajar, but Levy crawled over and closed it quietly: "that was closer than I like," he said, and when the other two came back out from under the bed he advised them to stay that size until we started on our trip: "and in the meantime, let's make some plans and explain to the ladies how these particular Worm Holes work!"
"Before you tell me what it is that you want to know, or how you might want to use the knowledge I can give you, I must warn you that there are risks with Worm Holes; they were never intended by The Creator, they are an aberration, a tiny coding error, and for that reason, they are unpredictable and inconsistent; they aren't holiday jaunts or safaris, it's quite possible to arrive at a different time or place from that intended and, obviously, the return may be impossible or, at the very least, inexact; Jasmine, you know the two Professors Sir Clement Dane, they are one obvious result of a Worm Hole malfunction – two identical people who are one and the same, existing in the same present because a little looped Worm Hole brought one back to a moment before his original disappearance, who prevented the original accident happening to his original self and so, now, there are two of him; definitely not to be recommended; The Creator could, possibly should, correct the Worm Holes, eradicate them, and may well do so, but because there are innocent people who have been displaced and not yet returned to their proper time and place, The Creator has not done that, yet – but such a mopping-up could happen at any time, although the result could be a permanent displacement, so bear that in mind if you decide to venture into the sub-strata of the Space/Time continuum: you may find that you are unable to return, ever! and while some Worm Holes are fairly straight-forward, within the context of the theoretically impossible, others are like shifting sands – here tomorrow, gone yesterday; others, because of the number of journeys, have become eroded, meaning that while they appear to contact two different Space/Time locations, points of entry and exit, there are sections where the fabric of Space/Time has become so worn and thin, it is possible to slip through the net and find yourself in entirely a wrong location, with no identifiable access point through which to escape; now, because of my responsibilities here, to my parents, I cannot accompany you should you decide to make a journey, but never fret: one or both of my friends, Columbine and Lucifer, may be willing to be your guide – they are Free Spirits, not perhaps in the sense that you might use that expression, but rather that they are not players, they do not possess identities, in a sense, they are outwith the continuum; are you with me so far?" and he looked at us, and it was Lulu, as ever, who spoke first: "so whaur ur these geezers? wud we ken them if we saw them, or ur they like ghosts or summat?" and Little Levy had a fit of the giggles, rolling on the floor and thumping the rug with his chubby hands and feet, tears of laughter running down his cheeks! in fact, he was making such a noise that there was a knock on the door, which then opened and Rilla looked in: "I should have warned you," she said, "he's been in a funny mood the past couple of days, are you okay, sweetie?" and Levy threw himself at her and was scooped up in his mother's arms; she kissed and cuddled him and then sat him back down on the floor: "would you like some tea or coffee?" she asked, "and I've made Cullen Skink for lunch, seeing as it's Burns Night, I hope you'll stay," and when we'd said we'd be delighted to stay for lunch and each told her what we'd like, said she'd just be a few minutes and closed the door behind herself; which was when Little Levy said: "she doesn't have to be myopic, she chooses not to know what's going on here, not to see what's under her nose, but I don't know if it's because she's a frogpondian, you know, a believer in transcendentalism, she certainly has a firm belief in the inherent goodness of individuals – as opposed to the State at whatever level – but I could tell her some tales would straighten her hair and iron out her features; don't get me wrong, Rilla loves me as only a mother can love her child and I love her right back; Rary's a bit different – he’s working full-time so we don't see so much of him and when he's here he's like a lodger; he doesn't take me out – okay it's winter, but it's nothing like the one in '98 during the Alaska Gold Rush, brrrrrr that one could freeze a fellah's balls right off, oops, sorry, I don' get a lot of chances to speak so freely and so I make the occasional slip, but hey! you were asking about Columbine and Luc, okay guys, time to show yourselves!"
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