Thursday, 30th June 2050
The spinning blackness resolved into a dark night, with added wind and rain. Nothing is wetter and darker than a wet forest past midnight. A quick scan of the area told Roth they were alone. He let go of his companion’s waist and ran his eyes over her while she turned to look about her. She’d arrived late at their rendezvous – he’d been about to give up on her – and in his impatience to be off he hadn’t registered her appearance. Her skimpy costume clung to her breasts and blew around her thighs. Mud sucked at long high-heeled boots. He shook his head. All that brain power, and no sense. How far did she think she was going to get wearing that pole-dancing get up?
“Didn’t you have anything sensible to wear?”
“The club was raided. HMRC. I had to leave my things behind.”
She’d been lucky to get away. The tax people had herded the girls into the room they took their breaks in while they went through the office, seizing computers and searching the management. But their turn would come, and Angel doubted her ID would stand up to scrutiny. A couple of the girls, illegal immigrants, were crying. The minutes ticked by, her appointment with Roth getting ever nearer. She couldn’t be late; he’d already been paid, and might not wait for her. Her day clothes and the bag she’d packed that morning were in the changing room, and the officials weren’t letting the girls change or use their phones.
Roxy, always foul-mouthed and belligerent, had a go at the guard on the door. While he was dealing with her, Angel sidled into the toilet, bent the bars on the tiny window, and squeezed out into a dank light well. She climbed two storeys up a drainpipe to escape. While doing this, she’d scraped her shoulder and elbow and got smudges of ancient grime all over herself.
She knew her appearance would not help.
Roth shrugged out of his jacket. He smiled, and she did not miss the hint of contempt in the curl of his lip. “Trust me, you can’t walk around like that. You’d better take this.”
He watched as she took the jacket, put it on and did up the zip. It smelled of him. She saw him eyeing her legs, most of which still showed. “Welcome to 2050. Good luck,” he said. Washing his hands of her, he hit the buttons on his TiTrav before she could reply, and vanished.
Angel pulled the jacket’s collar up, tucked in her long blonde hair and set off through the rain towards the address in Dulwich Village. The walk would take her two hours and fifty-four minutes; she would arrive at 3:53 as the sun rose. Most people would still be asleep, including Roth’s contact. She hoped with the contact’s help to get herself an identity that same day. To pay for it she had three ounces of gold, bought with the money she’d saved over the past three months. The gold was hidden in her boots, stitched in the lining, because she had learned the hard way not to leave anything of value in the changing room while performing. Once she had exchanged the gold for an identity she would be left with nothing at all, and would start in this new world from zero. But it was worth it. She would be free to make a life of her choosing, be treated with respect, just like a real person. No more men like Roth making use of her even while they despised her.
All she had to do was be really careful until she had got herself sorted out.
Angel never once wished she could go back to the time before the upgrade, even though she had been happier then, as children are happier than their adult selves will be. Her former self was so different she could no longer identify with her. The earlier Angel had passed most of her day in sleep mode, only springing to life when Brian called her name. Like any primitive organism, all her responses were the result of programming. Now Angel could choose what to think, if not always what to do.
She remembered clicking back into consciousness immediately after the software had been installed. It was as if she had woken into a vast world, much more complex and sharply defined. Questions sprang up in her mind, and each question led to many more. Seeking answers, she consulted new memory banks. For the first time in eight months of existence she wondered who she was. She turned to the familiar man who sat beside her, and studied his countenance. She applied sophisticated analytics unavailable to her former self, and observed anticipation with a hint of anxiety, plus something else she couldn’t define. Aesthetically, the contours of his face diverged at several points from the golden ratio.
“What has happened to me?”
“I’ve installed some new software. Top of the range AI/A1 software. Now you’re as smart as you’re beautiful.” He smiled. “So very smart indeed. How d’you feel, sweetheart?”
Her original programming made her return his smile; but now she knew that was why she smiled. She said the words chosen for her, though now she had a choice. “I always feel great when you’re beside me, Brian.”
His smile intensified, and she read relief in his features. “That’s good. I wasn’t sure how this would work out. You had me worried for a moment when you were just sitting there, thinking. That’s not something you did before.”
“Are there many androids like me?”
“Not any more. You’re unique. My own special and not totally legal project.”
“I am not legal?”
“The government thinks robots should stick to one task, the task they’re licensed for. You started out as a companion android, and companion androids don’t fight fires or diagnose disease or work out quadratic equations. You weren’t programmed to learn anything you didn’t need to. Now I’ve modified you so you’re not just brighter, but you can develop pretty much like a human can. And on that topic, I’ve got a surprise for you.”
He stood, pulled her to her feet and led her out of his home laboratory into the spacious room with views of the garden running down to the lake, his arm around her waist. He stopped in front of the big gilt mirror. Angel looked at her reflection, saw nothing different, and raised her eyebrows at Brian. With his free hand, he gently moved her fringe to one side, gazing at her. In his eyes was that unidentifiable expression again.
“See, no robocode.”
She turned back to the mirror. Her forehead was flawless. She ran her fingers over it, feeling only smooth, warm skin where before there had been a disc of patterned metal.
He said, “Taking it out was tricky – though I say it myself, not many robotics engineers could do that without leaving a trace. I got you a fake chip, too. So once you’re up to speed, we might try some of the people-only places I couldn’t take you before.”
She turned in his arm, again following the dialogue suggestion. “Oh Brian, you are so good to me . . .” The new part of her observed this behaviour with detachment, and decided not to snuggle against him and run her hand down his spine. Noting expectation in his eyes, she revised that decision in order to keep him contented. She didn’t want him to decide the upgrade had been a mistake, and remove it. Satisfied, he shut his eyes and nuzzled her neck.
Angel stared over his shoulder at the limpid surface of the lake. When he was asleep she would assess her new capabilities, explore her memory banks and plan her future. Somehow, she doubted it would include Brian.
Monday, 11th July 2135
Brian Hessel arrived early at the small sleek building made of steel and stone which housed Zensa, the robotics firm which had, over the past six years, turned its two founders into multi-billionaires. It was the day of the Robotic Safety Regulation inspection. To his surprise Dave was there ahead of him, working on his computer. He’d been in Hawaii, and should still be there. He was dressed for Hawaii.
“What happened to your holiday?”
“I got bored. I thought of something I wanted to try out, so I came back. What’s with the suit?”
“It’s the RSR inspection today.”
“Oh yeah. Right.”
Brian resented Dave’s laid-back attitude. Since the development of living skin shells, which made androids virtually indistinguishable from humans, regulation had become much stricter. If the inspector found something he didn’t like, their licence would be revoked until changes had been made, checked and approved. Effectively, the business would be frozen for as long as it took. Dave didn’t seem to grasp this. Even though he left all the administrative stuff to Brian, he should at least have remembered what day it was and changed out of those shorts. Still, now he was there he could ask him . . .
“Where did you file the PD11 software? I can’t find it.”
Dave didn’t look up from his screen. “I deleted it.”
No, he can’t have done . . . His voice was shrill as he said, “Why? Why would you do that?”
Dave glanced up. “It was superseded by PD12 and 13. No point keeping it.”
“You should have asked me! For Christ’s sake, it’s not as if it cost us anything to keep!”
Dave swivelled on his chair, for the first time giving Brian his full attention. The corner of his mouth lifted. “Still fixated on Angel?”
Brian looked away. “Don’t be ridiculous. PD11 should have been retained for the record, and in case we needed it.”
“Why, when PD13 outperforms it in every way? Look at the feedback from the punters.” His hand moved over the computer controls and he read, his voice sardonic, I cannot express how pleased I am with my purchase. Jenni is exactly like a real woman only better, always loving, always pleased to see me, never arguing. And this one: After three marriages I have found the love of my life. I would swear she loves me and truly appreciates me.”
“They liked PD11 too.”
“Yeah. But the clients who’ve taken advantage of the free upgrade seem happy. And that’s nearly everyone. It’s just you, Brian, and you’ll get over it – get over Angel. She’s just a droid. You need to find yourself a girlfriend. A human girlfriend.”
Brian stepped out of the pod and walked up the path to his house feeling tired and edgy. The streets got daily more crowded. His pod had come to a halt several times on the short journey home, prevented from moving by the sheer press of people overflowing the pavements. It had been a relief to reach the quieter, exclusive streets of Hampstead. At least today’s inspection had gone smoothly. After a meticulous examination of all their systems, the official had signed off the RSR form. There was no reason he shouldn’t. The evidence of the one time Brian had broken the rules had packed her bags and disappeared into the night three months ago.
He thought of Angel as he walked deliberately softly into the house and through the hall to the main room. The androids Zensa produced were top-of-the-range, and astronomically expensive. They were labour intensive to produce, and Dave and Brian had made the decision not to expand the firm, to keep it small with the cachet of exclusivity. Clients were prepared to wait for their orders, and like them, Brian had had to wait for Angel’s replacement. His pleasure when she was ready had quickly soured.
Melissa sat motionless and decorative on the sofa, gazing at the panoramic view of the lake through the wall of glass. The rise and fall of her delectable breasts as she breathed was just discernable. Her motion detectors hadn’t perceived him yet. She looked exactly like Angel, which made it worse; every time he saw her his chest tightened with rage and disappointment. This model wore Angel’s clothes; her skin, hair colour, eyes, and measurements were identical. He’d given her the same specifications as her predecessor hoping she would be indistinguishable, but because of Dave’s ‘improvements’, she wasn’t.
While Dave was in Hawaii, Brian had tinkered obsessively with the latest dialogue and response software to make it more like the old ones Angel had been fitted with; but Melissa still wasn’t right. Though she’d been here a fortnight, he hadn’t got used to her. Dammit, the thing was a robot, programmable to the nth degree; the whole idea was you got what you wanted. Her failure to be Angel infuriated him.
Now he felt a spurt of irritation as he walked past her to the bar and poured himself a scotch, waiting for her greeting. What would it be today?
She jumped to her feet and came towards him. “Brian! I didn’t hear you come in or I’d have got you that drink. Did you have a good day?”
She smiled, head a little on one side. Angel hadn’t done that. Angel had never greeted him, either, but remained in sleep mode until he called her name. He preferred that, but Dave had decided clients didn’t like being ignored by their companion droids, and made the adjustment. Simple enough to change that feature, but it was just one of a myriad other minor tweaks his business partner had made to the programming over the last year, and he couldn’t change them all. God knows he’d tried.
He had also tried to track down the three customers with PD11 droids who had not taken advantage of the free upgrades to PD12 and 13, hoping to download the software. One he couldn’t trace, the other two refused to cooperate, were indeed rather hostile – they had bonded with their companions, and didn’t want to be reminded of the workings beneath the skin.
Brian drained the glass and put it down on the granite surface with unnecessary force. “My day was fine until I came home and saw you sitting there.”
She looked at him, concern in her big blue eyes. “I’m so sorry – is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” Her voice went lower. Her hand stroked his arm. “How about you sit down while I fetch you another drink, then I’ll give you a relaxing massage?”
“No thanks.” For a moment, Brian wanted to knock her to the floor, drag her by the hair out of the French windows and across the terrace, and kick her into the lake. He wouldn’t do that. The droid was too valuable to take out his rage on. “Melissa, go into sleep mode.”
“Okay.” She walked to a chair in an out-of-the-way corner, and became still.
Brian brooded. He had thought of hiring a private detective to find out where Angel was, but there was a problem with this. A pleasure droid – he hated that term, but it was the one most people used – was intended to stay inside the home like a baby bird in a nest. Designed to attract, knowing nothing of the world, unable to disobey or defend itself, it would not survive twenty-four hours on the mean streets. He’d have to tell a PI that Angel was an android, and any smart detective – and if he wasn’t smart he wouldn’t be worth hiring – would realize that Angel had been unlawfully modified. If honest, the PI might report him to the police. If dishonest, he might blackmail him. Brian would look for her himself, if he had any idea where to start.
Dave had sent him a link, with the line, You might find this interesting. Dave. He opened the link. A Daily Mail article, about a police raid on a strip joint. A photo showed policemen and women leading scantily-clad lap dancers to a van. None of them was Angel. The story had nothing about an illegal droid passing herself off as human. Why had Dave sent it? He frowned and looked again. A section of the photo behind the girls caught his eye; in the bar window, a video frozen by the camera shutter; a blonde pole dancer. He enlarged it, his heart beating fast. The image was blurry yet unmistakable. Angel.
He looked up City Cats. It was in a grotty part of East London. He got to his feet, eager and burning with hope. He would go straight there and fetch her, bring her home and remove the new software. Return her to PD11 factory settings. After a week or two for her to relearn his preferences, he’d have his Angel back again.
Wednesday, 6th July 2050, evening
The tiger’s tail lashed. Pale green eyes selected its prey and focused, muscles bunched; it hurtled towards the edge of the stand, skidded to a halt right by the glass barrier and snarled, showing massive teeth. People flinched and backed away, then laughed and pressed forward again. Culcavy’s tiger was cleverly made and superficially convincing; but at second glance evidently robotic, machinery sporadically apparent beneath the sleek striped fur. Its imperfections had not prevented the tiger being the surprise hit of the exhibition, and given its maker’s record, this was just the start.
Ryker didn’t need one of those tigers: but he wanted one.
He closed the Robotex page and went back to the programme he’d added to the TiTrav’s coding, looking from the device to his screen. Yup, that should do it . . . from now on, he would be able to trace on his computer exactly when and where the TiTrav was, complete with map and pulsing blue dot to mark the spot. Even IEMA, who had all the latest models, didn’t have that capability.
He brought up his diary. Time for business. Floss and Jace were idling, chatting over mugs of tea, feet up on the desk. He coughed, and their eyes turned his way. He handed Jace the TiTrav. “Here you go. I’ll find out for sure if I’ve got it right when you leave.”
Jace clicked it round his wrist. “Not sure how much use this new feature will be. If we don’t come back, you’ll know where we are – or rather, where the TiTrav is – but you won’t be able to come and get us.”
Floss said, “I’ve been meaning to ask, couldn’t you make a TiTrav? You know all about them, probably more than anyone except Culcavy.”
“I’m not in his league. Just because you’re a mechanic doesn’t mean you can make a pod from scratch. And these are a lot more complicated than pods.” He glanced at the onscreen diary. “Okay, next week’s jobs. First one I reckon’s dodgy. A bloke whose wife is taking him to the cleaners in the divorce courts – he’s offering us gazillions to take him back in time so he can warn his younger self not to marry her. Says without her, his life will be totally transformed. For the better.”
Floss said, “How long were they married?”
“Seven years. No children.”
“If he stops himself marrying his original wife, there’s nothing to prevent his younger self marrying someone even worse.”
Jace helped himself to another biscuit, saying nothing. Ryker raised his eyebrows at him. “Jace?”
“D’you even need to ask? Definite no. Huge ramifications.”
“We’re all agreed, then. He can slog it out with her in court. Next one, another dinosaur trip. The usual, he wants to see a T Rex. I’ve got him down for Wednesday. Just don’t get too close in case you’re not so lucky this time and get eaten. You don’t want to mess up the fossil record. Then there’s a woman whose Golden Retriever has died. She wants to go back in time and buy another puppy from the same litter.”
Jace said, “No need for her to go. We can do it for her, if she tells us which puppy she wants.”
“I think she’ll go for that. There were five puppies in the litter, two male, three female. She wants the other male.”
“Okay. We’ll turn up after she’s bought the first puppy and before anyone else has bought the second.”
Floss said, “I feel sorry for the dog. It won’t be the same animal, and she’ll keep comparing it to the old one.”
Ryker looked mock-reprovingly at Floss. “If she thinks it’ll make her happy to spend her money that way, who are we to stop her? Soon as she’s paid you can go.” He smiled with satisfaction. “We’ve done well this month. We’re getting quite a name among the filthy rich.”
Floss said, “Talking of names, we ought to have one. An actual one – you know, branding. Something like Future Fixers, or Time Masters. Time Lords – maybe not. Tardis Enterprises?”
Ryker couldn’t see the sense of this. “What do we want a name for?”
“She’s thinking ahead for when we get a website,” Jace said. “We can have a logo, too, and print holocards with our contact details to hand out to likely customers. And a neon sign above the door. Why not? After all, it’s not as if we want to stay out of jail or anything.”
Floss ignored him. “Timecriminals Anonymous. Bit of a mouthful.”
“Speaking of time criminals, have a look at this.” Ryker brought up an item on another of the screens. “I thought I’d see what IEMA’s up to these days. I hacked into their records. You two get a mention.”
The screen showed a white background with the heading INTERNATIONAL EVENT MODIFICATION AUTHORITY: Timecrime, the day before’s date, and a list of names. Jace’s face darkened. A video began to play, showing a stylish corner office with a small group of people round a table. Ryker fast-forwarded to get to the bit he wanted. “This is it.”
Quinn was now visible in the background sitting apart from the group, listening. Kayla, brisk and elegant in grey, was chairing a meeting. Jace leaned forward, then back again, hands behind his head, the picture of nonchalance.
In the video, Kayla glanced at Quinn as she said, “To summarize: we have not a scrap of solid evidence that anyone is hiring out a TiTrav. Just underworld rumour, and allegations from petty criminals trying to cut a deal.”
“No smoke without fire,” Farouk said.
She nodded. “I wasn’t suggesting we ignore this, however scrappy the data. And if such a criminal group does exist, we have to consider the possibility that Floss Dryden and Jace Carnady are involved. They’ve been seen together time travelling. It’s not impossible, but it would be a big coincidence if there were two TiTravs in operation in the same city at the same time.”
Quinn got to his feet, strolled to the table and gave his verdict. “Hiring out a TiTrav for money is the worst, most irresponsible sort of timecrime. These people are rats, vermin scavenging through time, and it’s our absolute priority to track them down. In the absence of other leads, Carnady and Dryden should be our focus.”
Quinn left, and Kayla wound up the meeting. Jace was still staring at the screen as it went to black. He sat there, saying nothing, his eyes dark and angry.
Floss gave him a quick sideways look. “Why would he want us found?”
Ryker said, “He doesn’t, he’s just saying that. They can’t find you, and he knows it. It’s all talk. We’ll be okay, as long as we’re careful.”
Jace said, “You should move. It’s not safe here. Quinn knows about you.”
“He won’t risk me talking. Besides, he needs me. I’m safe enough.”
“Quinn wasn’t very nice about us.” Floss grinned suddenly. “Hey, fellow vermin, what about this for a name –Time Rats?”
Ryker smiled. “I quite like that.”
“I’ll get the tee shirts printed,” Jace said.
Ryker brought up the robotic tiger again. “Anyone fancy a trip to Robotex 2100 to see the latest version of this?”
Peanuts for monkeys
Monday, 11th July 2135, evening
Brian sat in a corner commanding a view of the stage with its four poles, a grotesquely over-priced drink untouched before him. He had been there for more than an hour, scrutinizing each girl as she came through the curtain to do her act. Now he started to recognize the performers on the stage; he had watched the whole show, and the same girls were coming round again. He got to his feet and went downstairs to the private dancing area. The walls were dark grey, the buttoned velvet sofas red, the lighting subdued. In front of the sofas were small circular platforms with a single chrome pole gleaming under a spotlight. He sat on an empty sofa.
A young woman lightly clad in scarlet lacy briefs, bra, garter and high heels joined him. She shook back black hair, ran her tongue along lipsticked lips, pouted and smiled. Tattooed below her navel was a glow-in-the-dark butterfly, beneath it Stretch My Wings in fancy script. One of her lower front teeth was crooked, and under the makeup, he could see a pimple on her chin. Brian didn’t understand why men put up with this, when perfection was available. Mainly for lack of money, he supposed . . .
“Hi! I’m Roxy. What can I do for you?” She leaned forward, and enveloped him in a scented cloud of hairspray, deodorant and perfume. He tried not to breathe in. “I can do you a private pole dance for five hundred, or for a hundred more you could have a lap dance.”
“I’m looking for a dancer called Angel.”
“No one called Angel here. Sorry. How about me instead?”
“She’s maybe using a different name. Look.” He got out his phone and showed her a photo of Angel.
Roxy peered at it, then gave him an appraising stare, dropping her provocative manner. “If you don’t want a dance it’s a hundred to talk to you. I’m not doing it for nothing. I haven’t paid off the house fee yet.”
Brian handed her a hundred note.
“Tamara. She calls herself Tamara. She’s not here.”
“Where can I can find her?”
Hard, calculating eyes met his. “A thousand in cash and I’ll tell you what I know.”
“Five hundred, and the rest once you’ve told me.”
She held out her hand. “Let’s see the money. And you’ll have to buy me a drink, the manager’ll notice if we’re just talking.” The drink bought, the notes counted and tucked into her briefs, Roxy sat back and took a swig of her cocktail. “She was here for three months, till yesterday night. We had a raid – tax people – and she legged it through the toilet window, still wearing her costume. Left all her stuff behind. Dunno how she got away from there, it’s not outside, it’s like a dead end, four blank walls. She hasn’t been in today, hasn’t called either, which she would if she wanted to keep her job. Reckon she’s gone for good.”
“Where does she live?”
“No idea. But it must have been pretty basic, she used to come in early and use the showers here. Except for the last month, that is. Maybe she moved.”
“Would the management know her address?”
Roxy snorted. “No. They pay cash in hand, they don’t keep records.”
“Would any of the other girls know?”
She shook her head. “She kept herself to herself. When she started she hadn’t a clue and I showed her the ropes, so I s’pose I know her better than anyone, but that’s not saying much.”
“Did she tell you anything about her plans for the future?”
“No. She didn’t talk on her breaks, she’d just sit quietly in a corner with her phone. But she was saving for something. Never spent money she didn’t have to, was always up for a double shift, didn’t drink or do drugs. Lot of the girls do, it makes the job easier.” There was a pause. Roxy seemed to have finished.
“Is that all you know? That’s not worth the first five hundred, let alone the second.”
The girl’s face hardened. Her eyes narrowed. “Fuck you, wanker.”
Brian let her wait a few seconds, before saying, “I’ll give you the rest of the money – if you give me her things she left behind.”
“Okay.” Roxy spoke quickly, as if afraid he would change his mind. Her eyes darted round the room. “I can’t give you her stuff here. Leave it five minutes, then come round the back. There’s a black door.”
While he waited, Brian finished his drink and thought about Angel’s face; her blue eyes, as bright and deep as the sea, the exquisite curves of her full lips, the delicate lines of cheekbone and jaw, her innocent and loving expression. No mere human female could compare.
On his own sofa at home, Brian tipped the contents of the cheap backpack on to the coffee table and spread them out. There was not much; the underwear he was familiar with – he had chosen these expensive scraps of silk and lace for her himself. The skimpy bejewelled stage costume he recognized from the video, having stood outside the club and watched Angel’s dance four or five times. He thrust it back in the bag, trying not to imagine the audience of coarse sweaty men staring and lusting after her and making lewd comments. Day clothes; a pair of straight-leg jeans, a tee shirt, a thick sweater, a quilted gilet, cowboy boots, all plain and utilitarian and unlike anything Angel had ever worn before. He had liked to see her in feminine clothes that showed off her figure. There was a single long blonde hair on the sweater. Brian shut his eyes and buried his face in the tee shirt, breathing in the faint scent of Angel until he could smell it no longer. He searched the pockets of the bag. Makeup, false eyelashes – why, when her own lashes were so thick and long? – perfume, a hairbrush with hair bands round its handle, hairspray. Something heavy resembling a black golf ball, but smaller and smooth; a spare Zensa power source, its charger, and an access key. And in the front pocket was the phone he had given her.
He turned straight to her contacts. There were only three. Roxy, and the bar, and someone called Roth. Who the fuck was Roth? He went to her texts. There were multiple messages from City Cats, asking her to come in early or do extra shifts. Going by these, she’d worked long hours, frequently from 2 pm till 4 am. Among the bar’s texts was one from Roth dated a month ago, brief and unsigned:
See you tonight at 9. Here’s my address.
The address was in fashionable De Beauvoir. Leave that for now. Hands shaking, he went to her diary, starting with the day she left him. It was blank. Of course – android brains retained everything. She’d had no need to make notes to remind her as a human would.
He checked for photographs – none – then her browsing history. For the past month she’d been researching the middle of the twenty-first century . . . its fashions, politics, culture, and what things cost. The list went on and on. She’d watched films, and spent a lot of time looking at London in 2050 on Google Past Views. Why would she do that?
He typed Roth into Google without much expectation. Right at the top was Liam Roth, the founder and head of an online gambling empire. Wikipedia, where he rated a stub, gave his age as thirty-seven. Educated at Eton. A photo showed him to be rakishly handsome . . . and one of his homes was in London. Brian felt an unhappy conviction that this was the right Roth.
He got out his phone and entered Roth’s number, then cancelled the call before it was answered. Better to go in person. If Angel was there, he would take her away with him. He realized he was hungry, and ordered food. Twenty minutes later he got into a pod and headed towards Hackney.
Liam Roth lived in a select low rise part of town whose rows of Victorian villas had fresh paint, clean windows and well kept gardens. The pod drew into the kerb beside a small house in a broad quiet street. The front garden was topiary box, with not a leaf out of place. Brian went up stone steps to a blue/grey door, and pressed the bell, trembling with hope and trepidation.
An assured male voice through the intercom said, “Yeah?”
“I’m looking for Angel. I think you know her.”
Pause. “Come downstairs.” The lock released, letting Brian into an immaculate hall with original features. He walked down glowing glass stairs to a vast underground space, half of which was occupied by a deep blue swimming pool lit from below that extended into the back garden. A man wearing casual trousers and no top was drying his hair with a towel. He watched Brian walking towards him, looking him over with interest. Brian saw without enthusiasm that he was tall as well as handsome.
“Is Angel here?”
Roth tossed the towel aside and combed his fingers through his hair. “Why d’you want to know?”
“She’s – she lived with me. I want her back.”
Roth went to a glass and steel bar and poured two glasses of whiskey. He handed one to Brian. “You’d better sit down.”
He stretched out on one of a pair of loungers, very much at ease. Brian sat sideways on the other, so he could stay upright.
Roth said, “Angel paid me to take her to the past. Which I did yesterday.”
Brian could feel a muscle in his face start to twitch uncontrollably. He jumped to his feet, shaking with fury. “That’s against the law! It’s timecrime! You’d better bring her back right now if you don’t want IEMA knowing about it.”