Finding myself sitting behind a brightly lit table in front of literally hundreds of people was fairly taxing. I had appeared on panels back in my own era, most commonly public meetings about various large engineering projects but I was usually there as a representative of a mining company and not the focus of attention.
This was very different, I was very much the focus of enormous amounts of attention, how anyone could enjoy this experience was hard to grasp. I felt my whole body shaking as I entered the room, people who wanted to be famous had to be seriously weird.
The large room I was sitting in was at the opposite end of the institution I had become familiar with. After my breakfast I followed Nkoyo down the seemingly endless corridor as she explained what was going to happen.
‘There are many international worders gathered at the institution, we can no longer contain the information about your arrival and wish to clarify the situation.’
‘Yes, worders, I think you might have called them journal makers.’
‘Journalists?’ I suggested.
‘Yes, journal-ists, we don’t have journals any more but I suppose worders do much the same thing, they interpret events and distribute the information.’
‘So you want me to talk to them?’ I asked, feeling more alarmed. ‘I’m not very good at communicating, not like that, especially not with large groups of people.’
Nkoyo smiled. ‘Don’t be anxious Gavin, I’ll be right beside you. I will guide you, you will be fine and it wont take long, it’ll all be over before you realise.’
Nkoyo stopped by one of the bizarre foldy doors, she laid a hand gently on my forearm, ‘The only thing we would request you avoid is an explanation of Gardenia, of a potential alternative reality running parallel to ours. There is research into this area, still in its very early stages, I think revelations of the kind you have implied to us may confuse people. Is that okay?’
I nodded. ‘Yeah, that’s fine. Don’t worry, I’ll avoid the topic.’ I said.
At that point the weird door slid open and Nkoyo stood to one side and gestured for me to enter.
As I entered I felt a new wave of fear surge through my body, I wasn’t used to surges of any kind, it was all very unsettling. It was very noisy, a huge room full of people talking. Before I made it into the glare of the spotlights on the raised stage, I stared at the crowd in abject terror. This room was full of women; I could not spot one man among them.
I was shown up two steps onto a stage on which was a long table and as soon as I appeared from the shadows the noise from the crowd increased. I sat down behind the table as directed, Doctor Thornett sat to my left and Nkoyo to my right.
There were two other people already sitting at the table when I entered, the big arm lady at one end and a woman who I remembered was Professor Etheridge at the other. The Professor spoke first. I could see no microphone in front of her but her voice was clearly amplified.
‘Thank you for attending today.’ She said. ‘I am Professor Wendy Etheridge from the institute of mental health and I have been studying the story we are about to reveal to you today.’
I fear my shock at hearing this may have been visible on my almost out of control face when I learned that the institute I’d been housed in was a loony bin. Mental health, so they did think I was a nutbag.
‘The news we have for you is, without doubt, fairly dramatic. The man you see before you, Gavin Meckler, is in effect two hundred and thirty two years old. He was born in nineteen hundred and seventy nine.’
The crowd in the room erupted with what I assumed were questions, consternation and confusion but it all happened at the same time so it was hard to make out any individual comment. I could see many women staring at me incredulously.
‘He was born in London although when he was born the London we are familiar with now did not exist. He appears to be capable of controlling an aeroplane to a certain level, although his skills failed him and as you all know this machine crashed in Berners Lee Square very near a children’s play area. This happened early in the morning of the fourth of August and no one, including Mister Meckler was injured.’
Another wave of concern rippled through the crowd.
‘Obviously we were alarmed when this incident came to our attention. At present an anomaly of some sort, caused we think by high levels of electrical energy be somewhere in the vicinity of the Singh power-field at the southern end of the square.’
I noticed the Professor nod her head upwards, this made me glance behind me, what I saw momentarily took my breath away. Above and behind me was a huge screen with an incredibly detailed aerial view of the squares, it was shocking because it was exactly as I’d seen it when I emerged from the cloud. It was also shocking because it wasn’t like looking at a screen, it was like looking out of a window, a window with optically perfect glass. The image was not merely photographic, it was so real looking it had to be real, the room I was in simply had to be floating above the square, we were looking down on it. I gripped my seat instinctively, I was frightened I would fall to my death as the image spun and zoomed, I felt slightly sick and yet my body sensed no movement.
The image flew in with dizzying clarity, swinging around so the wide-open space of the Singh power-field was in the foreground. Above the field was something I immediately recognised, a very large threatening cloud, now I could see it again I realised that it’s formation was not natural, no naturally occurring clouds are the shape of a giant traffic cone, dark at the bottom and getting steadily brighter higher up.
Suddenly a very recognisable image of my plane appeared out of the cloud and flew in a slightly crazed manner, a little reminiscent of a fly around a naked bulb, slowly descending toward the middle of the square.
I felt I understood something then, they had the same clouds in London as they had in Gardenia and as I’d seen over Didcot. The cloud over London had to be formed by similar vast amounts of electrical energy causing the anomaly in
Gardenia but there was no cable visible, no tether. This was clearly something very different.
‘We have now completed our investigation as to how this happened, and while the exact cause is still unclear, we did record a massive power surge which registered in accumulators and ultra-capacitors in the vicinity of Mister Meckler’s appearance.’
People in the crowd were now shouting questions, I still couldn’t make out any individual voice but they were clearly upset. An image of some kind appeared on the screen, I could not understand any of it, I assumed it was a representation of data but in a form I was completely unfamiliar with.
‘At present there is no need to assume a repeat performance is possible, but we are looking into safety measures. I don’t need to explain that this kind of breach in the stability of space-time is clearly a major security issue.’
Again the room erupted into a cacophony of questions, shouts and general conversation.
‘Mister Meckler has undergone a battery of tests and is of no immediate danger to anyone. He is disease free and although his body carries an alarmingly high array of toxins, they are not of a communicable nature and only a danger to him. They were toxins he would have been exposed to due to the crudity of the technology he was surrounded by in his era.’
I was clearly learning as much about myself as the crowd who were now listening in rapt silence. I never knew I was so full of toxins, all that organic food I’d spent so much money on with Beth, bit of a waste of time by the sound of things.
The Professor continued.
‘At first we had no way of verifying his claims. He was interviewed by Doctor Alice Thornett who some of you may know is London’s leading psychological reader. Doctor Thornett registered that Mister Meckler is incapable of sophisticated psychic deception, his development in this area is, as one would expect of a person from two hundred years ago, rudimentary to say the least.’
I did a kind of smiley shrug as if to say, ‘that’s me, I’m a psychological thicko.’ Which was partly true as I had no idea what she was talking about. My reaction caused another wave of noise to erupt from the crowd.
Professor Etheridge glanced at me as a teacher would glance at an unruly 6 year old, cleared her throat and carried on.
‘We have now been able to check out his claims using deep data restoration and indeed there was a man who exactly matches his description who was born in nineteen seventy-nine and who also disappeared in twenty eleven while flying an aeroplane which matches the description of the one that crashed in Berners Lee Square. It appears the authorities at the time assumed he was missing due to crashing into the Ocean. Even though it seems highly unlikely, everything Mister Meckler has told us appears to be true. I’ll now hand you over to Nkoyo.’
Professor Etheridge sat back at this point and exchanged words with Nkoyo who then turned to me and said ‘Are you ready.’
I was going to say ‘ready for what?’ but I didn’t get the chance, she leaned forward and started addressing the audience.
‘Good morning everyone, my name is Doctor Nkoyo Oshineye, I’m the director of the Institute and I’d just like to lay a few fears to rest. As you may know we already deal with a number of extreme cases here at the Institute but this is something very out of the ordinary. I will admit, dealing with the sudden arrival of Mister Meckler has been a challenge. As you will soon discover he is a gentle and sensitive man, not exactly what we might have expected to emerge from the dark times but it’s just possible we have a lot to learn from him about our distant past.’
I know my eyebrows raised a little when I heard my era referred to as ‘the dark times.’ I also noticed many members of the audience took note of my reaction. I turned back to look at Nkoyo which I will admit was not a chore.
‘I would ask that you try and control your inquisitiveness and give him time to answer. He is highly intelligent and understands most of what we say, although he may not be familiar with some of the eastern European or African terms that have entered our language over the past one hundred years or so. I would suggest you phrase your questions carefully and in as traditional English as you can manage.’
At this point Nkoyo pointed to a woman in about the third row, as soon as she spoke I could hear her voice coming through a very sophisticated public address system.
‘Gavin, can you tell us if it is your intention to try and influence our menfolk and cause upset and discord?’
I looked over to Nkoyo, I needed help with the very first question. She nodded at me as if to say ‘the floor is yours.’
I turned toward the woman who’d asked the question then looked down at the table for some kind of microphone, there wasn’t one.
‘Well.’ I said and got a shock, my voice was amplified, crystal clear, in fact it sounded rather good. ‘Wow, that’s amazing, I’ll need someone to explain to me how the amplification in here works.’
I could see this comment caused confusion, even mild alarm among the members of the audience. I smiled.
‘Sorry, I don’t know exactly what you mean, but I have no intention of causing upset, I am far more confused than any of you, I don’t know why I’m here and I don’t know how I got here. I’m an engineer not a politician, from what I have already witnessed I can see that you live in a very civilised city and I only want to learn how everything works.’
I turned to Nkoyo and grimaced, I had no idea if I’d said the right thing.
Another question came from someone so far back in the auditorium I couldn’t see them but again it was a woman’s voice.
‘We are meant to believe you came from the past, other than your hair and clothing there is nothing other than the information we’ve just received to give us any proof that this is the case. Can you convince us?’
I leant forward and thought about it for a moment, I resisted the temptation to scratch my head, I didn’t want to attract any more attention to my hair. The only two men I had seen up to that point wore their hair much longer than mine.
‘My hair is, well, it’s just hair, I don’t know how to explain that, my clothes are, um, borrowed, my 21st century clothes have been, um, mislaid. I don’t know how to prove my twenty first century credentials other than the huge amount of knowledge I have regarding that period of history. So far all the information I have given the, er, the institute, has been verified as you heard from Professor Etheridge. My family, my education, official records and the like are all verifiable, along with a great deal of photographic evidence. I really am Gavin Meckler, I really was born in nineteen seventy-nine. I really shouldn’t be here, but I am.’
That caused a fresh stir, not an angry one but I got the impression people really liked my final quote. I quite liked my final quote and decided to make it my tag line.
‘I really shouldn’t be here, but I am.’
A woman in the front row waved at me. I looked at her. Okay, I admit I found her rather attractive which may be why she got my attention.
‘We understand,’ she said. ‘That you have many millions in your account, what do you intend to do with it?’
‘Oh yes, I, er. Well, I’ve only just discovered this and I don’t know.’ I said. ‘That is as big a surprise as my landing in your square. I hope to be able to buy some clothes as these are the only ones I have.’
I was very surprised then that it seemed most of the audience laughed when I said this. Clearly they thought the clothes I was wearing were fairly odd, or even humorous.
There was then a lot of shouting, I couldn’t make out a distinct question but I saw Nkoyo stand up and point to a woman at the far side of the auditorium.
‘Do you have children Gavin?’
‘Children?’ I needed time on this one. I didn’t know if I had children but I knew it wouldn’t be wise to say that. The woman spoke again.
‘If you had children back in your own time, you may have descendants living here today.’
‘Oh, I see, no. I didn’t have children, I suppose I may have relatives in some form, my brother’s children’s children. I might be a very many greats great Uncle to someone.’
I turned to Nkoyo and whispered ‘do you still have Uncles?’
Although I was whispering, it was instantly clear that everyone heard me. Nkoyo smiled and nodded and the rest of the audience seemed to be enjoying this moment, I even got a round of applause.
The woman at the end of the row was still standing. ‘Would you like to have children now? Here in London?’
I know my eyebrows did a bit of a dance as this elicited a lot of laughing and excitement.
‘I haven’t really thought about it. I suppose I’d have to meet someone I’d like to have children with.’ I said. Again the reaction to this statement was not quite what I would have expected. It was a little bit wild, a sort of high-pitched cheer with whistles and applause. I’m pretty sure I heard some fairly suggestive remarks coming from the crowd.
‘Boy children?’ someone shouted. ‘Can you have boy children?’
I noticed Nkoyo react to this statement, she stood up and pointed to the women in the front row.
‘What are you going to do and where are you going to live?’
I was smiling now, I admit that whatever trepidation I’d felt before the questions started had fled, I was starting to enjoy the attention.
‘I truly have no idea.’ I said, ‘I’d like to find out how things work here, how you all live, how you grow food, how you move about, how this incredible public address system works.’ I was silent for a moment, something was happening but I didn’t know what it was. I was suddenly missing Beth, missing my mum, I wanted to walk through Kingham again on a Sunday morning and actually buy a newspaper, not something I’d done in years. I was having feelings, really intense, strong feelings that seemed to emerge from nowhere. My throat felt tight, I couldn’t focus my eyes.
‘I’d like to do all that,’ I said, ‘but really, more than anything, I’d like to go home.’
That’s when it happened, that’s when the dam burst and that’s when I cursed my feelings for happening without warning. I was crying as I spoke the last few words, tears streaming down my face, sobs breaking up the words. Just as I was starting to have a good time, to bathe in my newfound fame, I started bloody crying like a baby.