Michael Swann loved the isolation of climbing. Rubbing his chapped palms together, perched precariously on the rock face high above the ground, he admired the view. Held in place with his bruised knees wedged in a ragged fissure on the cliff he was glad to ease the pressure on his weary muscles.
As the sun broke on the distant horizon, painting the sea in a rich hue of oranges and reds Swann was at peace. Free climbing always offered him the edge. That immense feeling of danger whenever he faced a challenging path on any climb and today was no different.
The coastal town of Kalymnos was only just starting to stir in the light of the morning sun. Already a third up the Telendos climb it had been a treacherous start. With only the slightest twilight he had begun the climb and all but fumbled his fingers along the stones to find his grip and footholds. Again, the danger tickled his enjoyment all the more.
‘No better place,’ Swann sighed as he shook the tiredness from his arms.
As the pressure on his knees grew as he supported his body weight wedging them into the fissure, he decided to move again. The sparse climbing equipment he carried, solely for emergencies, jangled as Swann adjusted his position and resumed his climb.
Stretching over the rugged face of the cliff he made sure progress until the sun was casting its glow across his exposed shoulders. Long shadows painted themselves across the stone, and once again Swann cast a glance to the world far below him.
Dipping his hands one at a time into the pouch that dangled from his waist he rubbed chalk across his bleeding fingers to aid his climb. Although the morning air was chilled, the sun still only in its infancy, his body was drenched with sweat.
Swann kept himself in peak condition, he always had. The outdoors had been his playground, even more so in the years following his divorce and the loss of his son. Having turned his hobby into a moderately well-paid profession, he had featured photographs and articles in National Geographic a number of times in the last five years. The fact he could couple his inability to settle, combined with insatiable desire to be alone and always on the edge of danger made perfect bedfellows and offered him the chance to visit places off the beaten track.
Although a tourist spot, his vantage point on the face of Telendos gave him another such opportunity.
Clipping himself to one of the many anchoring bolts attached to the rough stone he adjusted himself to get the right position. Seeing the spectacular view around him, as always, took his breath away. The rippling crystal sea and golden coastline looked, to him, picture perfect. Crowned by the rising sun, the colours looked like the brushstrokes of a forgotten painter.
Fishing out the camera from his backpack Swann adjusted the pan and zoom until he had framed the view to his liking. Snapping as many photographs as he could he made minor adjustments as he reviewed each image on the screen until finally, he had something he could work on.
Swann, attached to the face of the cliff by only a metal anchor and aluminium clip, had no care for the danger. The ground far below seemed inconsequential as he twisted and turned himself to get the picture he wanted.
When he was finally satisfied, Swann returned the scratched camera back into his pack and resumed his climb. It was only another half hour of the climb before he finally pulled his aching body over the lip of the cliff and finally could rest.
With his legs hanging over the edge he turned to admire the picturesque view before him. His breaths were ragged, and his heart pounded loudly in his ears as his body fought against the exertion he had put his body through. Even though Telendos was hardly the most challenging of climbs he had endured, it still forced his body into a state of exercise, and he could feel his body protesting against it.
Resting himself on the precarious edge, he allowed his lungs to swallow the morning air. As his ragged breaths began to return to normal, he could taste the saltiness of the air. Soon his senses returned to him, and he could hear the rustle of the dry brushes around him and the crashing ocean far below.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Swann allowed the sun to paint him. The heat began to grow as the sun climbed slowly higher into the sky. Although the gentle breeze chilled his damp skin he did not feel cold, he merely felt at peace and relaxed.
Suddenly, without warning, a strange sound woke him from his relaxed state.
A sound, something akin to the crackle and fizzle of electricity filled the air behind him. Opening his eyes, he turned his head to find the source of the noise but found nothing. In the rugged landscape stretching far off behind him, he was the only living soul, isolated and alone.
Curious but satisfied that he had probably been imagining the noise he returned his attention to the view beneath the cliff.
As he turned his head, the same sound filled the air behind him. This time it was accompanied by a disturbance of air close to the back of his neck.
Swann snapped himself around and raised himself up to his weary feet. Turning to face back towards the open scrubland a flicker of light caught his attention. Stepping across the dusty ground, he walked towards a strange flicker of dancing blue light that however above a quivering bush.
Leaning closer Swann tried to make out the strange sight. It appeared as if a piece of luminescent smoke coiling lazily above the ground and glowing a faint hue of blue. Reaching slowly out towards the smoke, his fingers found no resistance and they passed through the hovering haze.
Another crackle, behind him once again, snatched him from his hypnotic trance staring at the light smoke. Spinning around Swann now found himself surrounded by tendrils of the same smoke. The smoke wafted clumsily around him until suddenly a movement to his side caught his attention.
Turning, Swann felt a wave of uncertainty wash over him as a woman walked towards him.
‘Where did you come from?’ Swann stammered, taken aback by her sudden appearance.
She said nothing to him, she barely paid him any attention as she casually sauntered towards and then past him without uttering a word.
Swann could not make sense of her appearance. Standing on the ledge, he had been utterly alone atop the cliff. Between him and the nearest modicum of covered was an impossible distance the woman could have travelled in the time it had taken him to explore the tendrils of smoke to her sauntering past him.
As she walked past him, he could only stare and take in her appearance.
An apparition of confidence she stood as tall as Swann, her frame taught and her posture filled with an air of confidence. Shoulder-length brown hair carried the signs of lighter highlighting which framed her face which had a light tan. She wore a curious ensemble of clothes. An all-in-one suit in charcoal grey clung to her figure, and even in the morning air Swann could not help but wonder how she was coping in the outfit. Long sleeves and full-length legs hug to her as she walked, and strangely she carried an odd sort of mask in her hand.
There was something about her appearance that Swann recognised, but as he went to speak again, the electric sound crackled behind him.
Snatching his attention away from the silent and mysterious woman Swann turned to locate the source of the noise, and upon finding nothing, he returned his attention to the woman.
Except, she was no longer there.
Where the woman had been walking was now a concentration of the blue smoke. The tendrils seemed to focus on the bright centre of the mass and almost appeared to be pulling in towards a dazzlingly bright epicentre in the exact spot he had last seen the woman. Awash with curiosity Swann stepped closer and raised his hands towards the dancing line of smoke nearest to him.
The smoke moved like the swimming tentacle of an octopus, bucking and weaving lazily through the air. As Swann’s fingers reached towards the smoke, he felt something physical against his skin. Unlike a few seconds earlier when the smoke had been nothing but that, air, he now felt something physical between his fingers.
Instinctively he pinched his fingers together and felt the smoke like a physical rope between his thumb and forefinger.
That was when it happened.
Swann felt an odd sensation, a sharp tug across his chest as if something had attached itself to his rapidly beating heart and tried desperately to yank it free from his ribs. Swann felt propelled forward and in a split second felt weightless as if he was free falling through the air.
Snapping his eyes shut a wave of nausea washed over him as his body tossed and tumbled through the air.
The sensation of falling lasted only a handful of heartbeats but felt like a lifetime.
All of a sudden, without any warning, Swann landed roughly on the floor and felt the wind knocked from him abruptly.
Wincing against the pain, he quickly ran his fingers across his chest to where the strange tugging sensation had been. He was relieved to feel nothing untoward at his touch. Gasping for air, he rolled himself over onto his back and slowly opened his eyes.
She was there.
Stood above him peering down, her expression mirroring the look of curiosity he apparently had painted on his face.
‘How did you get here?’ She asked, her voice tainted with an Eastern European accent but her English was impeccable.
‘I, I climbed.’ Swann stammered as he slowly stood himself up.
‘No,’ she abruptly snapped and pointed to the landscape around them.
Swann could not form an answer as he looked beyond the woman and to the landscape surrounding them. It was not the same as it had been, Swann no longer stood in the barren land atop the cliffs of Kalymnos.
Instead, he found himself stood in a wide open field filled with barbed wire and crosses of splintered wood. The smell of death was in the air; fires burned all around the ground appeared pock-marked and scorched.
‘Where…’ Swann did not finish his sentence as a figure emerged from a mound of earth off to his side.
Gripping his pistol in hand, the soldier appeared, bloodied and muddied, from the unseen trench and stormed across the uneven ground firing shots and screaming.
Screaming in German.
Swann’s eyes were wide as the crescendoing sound of an engine reverberated high in the air. Snatching his attention to the sky a bi-plane plummeted towards the ground high above them, plumes of smoke billowing from the burning fuselage as it fell.
Swann was somehow, impossibly, stood in the middle of a battlefield.
‘You can’t be here.’ The woman barked angrily and before he could argue she shoved him hard in the chest sending him tumbling to the floor.
Except Swann did not land on the floor.
The last thing he saw was the tumbling bi-plane explode in a ball of flame as it crashed into the ground off behind the woman.
Swann once again felt himself tumbling, but this time he felt nothing as unconsciousness washed over him and the world went black around him.
Swann felt cold, too cold.
Although his eyes were shut tight, he felt the same swimming feeling he had. It felt familiar, but the disorientation made him feel like he was chasing distant memories. Something was wrong, and he could not place his finger on it. For some reason every time he tried to claw back the memory of what felt familiar about the swimming feeling, his mind found it difficult to focus.
‘Mr Swann?’ A voice echoed in the distance, far away but at the same time, he felt the source of the voice was close to him.
It was a man’s voice.
Although Swann was awash with disorientation and fogged memories that danced just out of reach he knew the voice was unfamiliar. There was nothing distinct about the voice, other than it sounded like a younger man than himself. There was a softness to the voice. Nothing too distinctive but as Swann drew himself closer to it, the voice sounded somewhat soft and welcoming.
‘Mr Swann, can you hear me?’
Drawing himself upwards, following the voice as it grew louder and clearer, Swann managed to regain his senses. Muscle fibres began to twitch and, although he had not realised he could not feel them, his fingers began to tingle.
Pushing through the fog and haze, Swann began to feel himself slipping back to a sense of consciousness and being.
Without conscious effort, or indeed any warning, Swann’s eyes opened, and the bright light contracted his pupils. Squinting against the bright light of the medical room Swann allowed his senses to come back to him.
The smell that filled his nose was surgical. There was a faint essence of chlorine in the air; it smelled sterile and artificial. Explaining the feeling of cold Swann’s skin was goose bumped as the air conditioned air circulated. Beyond the sound of the voice, which had not yet spoken again, Swann could hear machines humming and pinging rhythmically.
As his eyes began to settle Swann allowed himself to open his eyes and take in his surroundings cautiously.
‘Where am I?’ Swann coughed, his throat feeling rough and parched as he spoke.
Looking around the room he was greeted with the sight of painted concrete walls. The layer of paint concealed cracks, but their faint zigzags could still be seen beneath the bright white paint. It was a small room, housing the bed on he was laid on and a handful of aluminium cabinets mounted on the walls all around.
Turning his head to the side, he was finally able to see the source of the voice that had drawn him from his hazed unconsciousness.
The young man looking at him had a head of thick blonde hair neatly parted, he looked to be barely in his thirties. A pair of vibrant blue eyes stared from beneath a pair of designer glasses while his cheeks seemed flushed and red.
‘My name is Doctor Adrian Adams,’ comically the young doctor brushed a hand against his white lab coat before holding it out for Swann.
It seemed an odd gesture, but Swann took the hand all the same and shook it. The first thing Swann noticed was the Doctor’s skin was soft, most definitely the hands of a physician and much different than his own. Swann’s fingers were scratched and chapped, his palms marked with calluses from hours of climbing.
‘What is this place?’ Swann pressed again as he rubbed his temple to dissipate the hazed confusion he felt. ‘Where am I?’
‘You’re safe, that’s what matters at the moment, and I know you’ve got a million and one questions,’ the Doctor busied himself as he spoke. ‘I’ve been asked to leave the explanations to the General who is most eager to talk to you.’
‘The General? What the hell is going on?’
As if on cue and welcomed with a look of relief on the younger Doctor’s face, the door to the small medical room opened.
Swann took in the appearance of the uniformed man that now filled the doorway. Drab green uniform was meticulously pressed, trouser creases looking almost surgically etched into the fabric. Bulled shoes reflected the lighting suspended in the ceiling and a head of grey hair neatly trimmed, the back and sides shaved almost to the scalp. Perhaps the neatest, meticulously evenly trimmed white beard marked the officer’s cheeks and chin and his face was stern and less than welcoming.
‘I see for once Doctor you did as I asked!’ The scorn was evident in the gruff General’s voice, and Swann saw the young Doctor’s cheeks flush. ‘Thank you for that, may I have the room?’
Without offering a word, the Doctor ushered himself towards the open door. Passing through the threshold, he cast a quick glance back at Swann, now sat on the gurney. Catching the younger man’s gaze for a second, there was an odd feeling, but before he could place it, the Doctor stepped through the door and pulled it closed behind him.
‘Well,’ Swann began and turned his attention to the uniformed General. ‘I hope you’ll be a little more forthcoming with what the hell is going on than the doctor was.’
‘He was only following my orders,’ the General answered, his thick Scottish accent making his words sound even sterner. ‘I am General Cole and am the assigned Officer overseeing Operation Tempus which is where you find yourself now.’
General Cole stepped across the room and stood himself at the end of Swann’s bed. Although in his late fifties he looked a very fit man. Beneath the olive grey material of his tunic, Swann could see a powerful and muscular frame almost bursting to be free of the taught material. The General’s skin was lightly tanned with a healthy glow, and his gaze reflected that of a man who had seen and experienced a lot in his lifetime.
‘I guess that should mean something to me?’ Swann pressed as he tried his best to move past the swimming sensation in his head.
‘I would hope not!’ The General snapped harshly. ‘This isn’t the type of operation you see plastered on the MoD websites and in the news. But before I tell you anything more there are…formalities.’
Swann sensed he was somehow being setup to fall. Something about the General’s precise mannerisms and the sudden appearance of a small tablet device in the officer’s hand had him feeling on edge.
‘Why do I get the feeling you’re leading me down some sort of path here General Cole?’
Swann had regained enough of his senses to stand from the table. No longer dressed in his climbing ensemble, he was dressed now in the thin fabric of a hospital gown. Standing facing the confident General he felt underdressed and a little exposed.
‘I would ask for a little trust, what I am willing to tell you has been classified since the fifties.’
Swann raised an eyebrow as he watched the General’s demeanour soften a little. The gruffness of his voice waned and momentarily the old man looked marginally less of an authority figure. Placing the tablet onto the hospital bed, Swann had been occupying the older man swiped the screen to life.
‘Trust works both ways,’ Swann began as he scanned around the room. ‘My clothes?’
‘We can get to that,’ General Cole answered slowly, his attention remaining on the screen as he swiped his fingers across it until he found what he wanted. ‘First Mr Swann I would ask for a signature.’
General Cole tapped the small screen one last time and then turned the device so Swann could read it. Holding the older man’s gaze for a moment, Swann did not want to look away. Seeing that the General was going to give him nothing else he finally looked down at the tablet.
‘We know you’ve signed this before, but it has been a long time.’
The Royal Crest of Great Britain sat at the top of the screen and the words OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT 1989 sat proudly beneath it. Lifting the tablet from the table, Swann did all he could to hide the nervous shake of his hands.
The General was right. Swann had indeed signed a copy many years before. Back then it had been a paper copy but now, faced with the Military Act once again it did nothing to abate the air of suspicion that Swann felt.
‘Why do I need to sign this?’ Swann pressed as he swiped through the legal jargon on the page.
‘Because I can’t risk telling you anything about why you are here if you don’t!’ General Cole said matter-of-factly and stood watching Swann intently.
Swann looked from the General to the screen and back again. Somehow the fact he had woken in the confines of a small hospital room, been greeted by a nervous doctor and now faced with an overconfident Army General all added to the mystery. Most people would have signed the document for no other reason than to get answers.
Swann, however, knew the magnitude of the document. True enough he wanted to know what was happening but on the other hand, if what he heard was against his morals he would be powerless to do anything about it. Being asked, as a civilian, to sign the Act told him there was something they wanted to protect. There would be no way, without serious repercussions, of righting any wrongs he felt he may discover.
Torn but filled with intrigue Swann acquiesced and scribbled his signature with his finger across the bottom of the screen.
‘Good!’ The General snapped and ripped the tablet from Swann’s grip before he had time to change his mind. ‘You may get yourself dressed and then perhaps, shall we say in ten minutes, join me outside.’
General Cole didn’t wait for an answer from Swann before he turned and marched himself across to the door. Pulling it open he turned to look at Swann before he left the room.
‘Michael Swann,’ he said slowly. ‘What you are about to learn will be difficult to accept. I only ask that you keep an open mind and only when you are in possession of all the facts make your decision.’
‘My decision?’ Swann interjected as the General stepped out into the corridor beyond. ‘My decision about what?’
The General never answered. Instead, the older man held the door open for the young doctor to step back into the room before disappearing along the corridor.
‘I take it you signed? The Doctor asked as he handed Swann, a pile of clothes.
‘I don’t think I really had a choice did I doctor?’ He answered as he took the clothes.
For a moment the young doctor looked surprised at Swann’s brashness. Although his reply had been truthful, it had seemed to catch the younger man off-guard.
‘Call me Adrian,’ the Doctor finally stammered and once again. ‘If you agree to come on board then we will be working quite closely together.’
Awash with curiosity Swann fought the urge to interrogate the young man. He sensed that he was a genuinely intelligent young man, but Adrian looked as if he lacked the social experience. Somehow Swann sensed Adrian favoured science and other things far above socialising and spending time with people.
‘My name is Michael; I think you already know that though,’ Swann smiled. ‘But most people call me Swann.’
‘Well, Swann, I expect you’re eager to hear what General Cole has to tell you, so I won’t keep you.’
Leaving Swann alone in the hospital room the young Doctor cast a sly glance back towards him as he stepped out of the hospital gown and dressed in his new clothes. Although they weren’t his own, Swann found that, unsurprisingly, the clothes he had been given were the right fit and size.
Fully dressed he eagerly left the room and went in search of General Cole.
Swann was met with more of the same concrete interior as he stepped out into the corridor. Unlike the white paint of the medical room, the corridors were dark and dreary. The air was chilled, but not through air conditioning more because he suspected, he was underground.
A thick black line had long ago been painted along the wall at waist height. As Swann wandered along the corridor he reached an intersection in the path and read the stencilled lettering on the wall:
DISTORTION ZONE >
FIRING RANGE >
Unsure of the direction he should take Swann re-read the signage until the sound of approaching footsteps caught his attention. Turning he was glad to see it was General Cole who now purposefully walked towards him.
Little had changed about the older general’s face. If anything, in the dim light of the corridor, the shadows around his eyes seemed deeper but other than that his emotionless face gave off no indication of his thoughts or mood.
‘If you would follow me this way please,’ General Cole said casually as he stepped up to and past Swann. ‘There is someone I would like you to meet.’
Without waiting to see if Swann would accept the invitation, the General stepped past him and continued along the corridor. Having read the stencilled letters on the wall, Swann assumed they were heading towards the Firing Range or else the strangely named Distortion Zone.
‘Care to tell me something that may make sense of all this?’ Swann quizzed as he stepped to General Cole’s side.
The other man’s pace was quick, his footfalls rhythmic and steady on the concrete floor. They had moved along the length of another corridor before the General acknowledged Swann’s question.
‘Do you know the meaning of the Latin word Tempus Mr Swann?’
‘Not off the top of my head.’ He replied quickly ‘But…’
‘It means time Mr Swann,’ General Cole interrupted him abruptly. ‘The inscription beneath the banner in my office reads Praeterita Redire which means Return Past. I have spent many years staring at that banner and still, it means very little to me.’
‘So, what, are we in some school for Latin phrases or something?’
Sarcasm had always been Swann’s coping mechanism. In his youth, it had landed him in trouble more than once. It was, he suspected, one of the reasons his military service had been so short. A hot-headed young man, barely out his teens with a sharp tongue was hardly your typical recruit into the Armed Forces.
The slick remark was not lost on General Cole who suddenly stopped in his tracks and turned to face Swann.
‘I have no time for words games and wit Mr Swann,’ the older man barked. ‘I would rather keep my operation a purely military ensemble, however, it would appear those with the relevant skills do not always find themselves among the rank and file.’
Swann could think of nothing he had done or skills he had displayed, that would have been of interest to the General stood before him.
‘Where have you been today?’ The General suddenly asked.
‘Here.’ Swann quickly answered.
‘And before that, where were you before you woke up in my medical wing?’
General Cole watched as Swann’s brow furrowed. His fogged mind still obscured his memories, and any recollection of what had brought him here seemed distant and confused. The General amused himself as he watched Swann try to pull together the shattered memories mired beneath a haze of confusion.
‘Greece, do you remember that?’ General Cole watched for any sign of recognition, he was happy as the confusion on Swann’s face began to change to realisation.
Swann remembered something. He recalled the dazzling sunrise and the shimmering surface of the turbulent sea. Unconsciously he rubbed the tips of his fingers together as he remembered the coarse stone digging into his skin. Casting himself back through the fog in his head he recalled the steady climb and the crashing waves beneath him.
A flash at first, her face framed by the clear blue Grecian sky, he did not recognise her face. She somehow felt familiar, but there was nothing about her face that Swann felt he knew.
‘Who is she?’ Swann asked, more to himself than the General who stood patiently in front of him.
‘What happened after you saw her?’
It was like laying a trail of breadcrumbs for Swann to follow. Guided by the questions of General Cole he was able to push himself through the fog and confusion until he remembered.
Swann remembered standing atop the crumbling cliffs; he recalled the strange noise and the sudden appearance of the strange woman. The odd blue tendrils of smoke that hung in the air where she had once stood.
He remembered touching them…and then.
‘So you remember?’ General Cole asked as he watched Swann step backwards and lean against the wall.
The strange tugging sensation in the pit of his stomach appeared once again. Instinctively Swann held both hands to his stomach but there was nothing there, and his own hands offered him no comfort to the strange sensation.
‘It’s not possible,’ he stammered slowly. ‘I remember her. I remember her and then being, somewhere else.’
‘Where did she take you?’ The General pressed eagerly.
‘Take me?’ Swann asked trying to make sense of not only the General’s questions but also the answers he could offer.
‘Yes, you followed her into the Distortion, where did she take you?’
There was an unmistakable look of excitement now on the old General’s face. His eyes were wide, and he stood eagerly awaiting Swann’s answer.
‘Trust. You said you wanted a little trust from me,’ Swann had regained his composure and looked across at the General confidently, defiantly. ‘I would ask for the same. How about we stop playing games General and you start giving as much as you seem to be taking from me.’
‘Meaning what, exactly?’ The stern look had returned to General Cole’s face.
‘You clearly want to know about what happened to me, yet I’m the only one sharing. How about a little trade of information.’
General Cole seemed to mull over the concept, if only for a second, and then turned and stalked towards the end of the corridor. Without uttering a word he reached the end of the hallway and slipped a key card into a reader mounted to the wall beside the door.
As the light changed from red to green on the face of the device he turned to look at Swann.
‘You want answers?’ Throwing open the heavy double doors Swann stepped towards him. ‘Welcome to the Distortion Zone.’
The sight beyond the door was curious, and immediately Swann felt drawn through the open door to make sense of what he was seeing.
What looked to be an old underground reservoir was spread out in front of him. The floor was still flooded with water, but nowhere near the depth, it had once been. The large arched ceiling towered above him and off into the dark distance. The light was dimmed low, and Swann could barely make out the intricate brickwork of the wall and ceiling.
In the darkness beams of light indicated parts of the vast cavern that were in use. All in all, he could see three columns of light that illuminated a curious sight.
In each section of illumination, a platform was raised from the flooded floor below. A solitary figure stood on each of the three illuminated platforms, but their movements were obscured. Above them, a bottomless sphere of glass stood sheltering them from the cascade of water that poured down from the ceiling high above.
As the water flowed across the surface of the spherical glass, it fell in sheets all around the figures that stood on the platform beneath it. The cavern was filled with the sound of splashing water but more than that there was something that echoed like an amplified heartbeat echoing in the darkness.
Allowing Swann to take in the strange and impressive sight general Cole guided him through the door and to a set of railings above the splashing water far below.
‘Watch there.’ The General instructed and guided Swann’s attention towards the nearest of the sphere covered platforms.
Behind the shimmering sheet of water, Swann could just make out the figure of a man who stood still in the centre of the platform. Hands by his side the man looked to be meditating. For a moment there was no movement until slowly, and quite unexpectedly the platform began to rise higher. Undisturbed by the action the man remained motionless as he rose higher and higher towards the domed ceiling.
As the platform settled into place, Swann craned his neck to see everything. The man behind the wall of water began to move. His movement was slow and purposeful as he removed a strange mask from his back and positioned it on his face across his mouth and nose. Securing it in place, Swann watched as the light began to dim around the sphere covered platform.
‘What’s going on?’ He asked but was silenced by what he saw before he got an answer.
As the artificial light began to fade there was still a source of light from the platform. Unlike the white light, this appeared blue and seemed to be emanating from the man himself who stood once again motionless. As the white light faded, the blue light grew in intensity until suddenly the light flared and the man disappeared.
Quite without warning or expectation, Swann’s mouth was agape, and the blue light faded to be replaced with tendrils of blue smoke contained within the confines of the falling water.
‘What just happened?’ Swann stammered as he stared disbelieving at the space where the man had been stood.
‘You recognise it?’ General Cole asked as Swann looked closer at what was left behind.
The General knew all too well that Swann recognised what he was seeing. The smoke contained within the walls of water was the same that had been left behind by the mysterious woman. It was the same as what had tugged him from the warm cliff-top and into the desolate battlefield.
He was about to speak when suddenly the man reappeared on the platform in another flash of bright blue light.
The man was gasping and as he pulled the mask from his face the falling water slowed until it became no more than trickles off the edge of the glass. Swann was now able to see that the sphere was incomplete, the bottom third having been cut off which allowed the man to remain protected by the water yet not entirely sealed within the glass ball.
With the water no longer sealing him inside the blue smoke dissipated into the vast cavern until it disappeared completely.
With his chest rising and falling, gasping from an unseen exertion, the platform lowered until the man was level with Swann and the General.
‘I take it you were successful Vasille?’ General Cole shouted across to the man.
‘You ever doubted me?’ The other man, Vasille, retorted and jumped across the gap between his platform and the raised gantry on which Swann and the General were stood.
‘Mr Swann this is Vasille, my most experienced Regulator.’