The Quebec Cypher

She needed to let the information sink in a bit more, needed to allow it to mature before picking it apart like a recalcitrant mechanism to find the critical detail that would lead to a solution.

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“As a single atom man is an enigma: as a whole he is a mathematical problem.”

– Winwood Reade

Q

Lady Michaela was a worried woman.  Jack was missing, as was Tinkerbell.  Billy was out of contact, probably trying to get Jack out of whatever mess he was in.  Even though Robert was – technically – their boss, he’d appeared rather disinterested when she’d told him Jack and Tink were missing; all he’d seemed bothered about was finding his missing bod. Truth be told, she’d wanted to give him a sharp telling off when he’d insisted that she stop fretting: “They’ll turn up like the proverbial bad pennies they are.” And, she admitted to herself, she’d still not forgiven him for saddling her with Bunty: he should have known better than to ask her, and she should have known better than to accept.  He seemed completely oblivious that there was so much riding on all of this.  Frank’s death was serious of itself, and the summary of the Foxtrot File that Jack had shown her was enough to convince her that the simultaneous disappearance of Jack and Tinkerbell was neither a coincidence nor benign.  Maybe she needed to try again – insist he sat him down and listened to the whole story. The thing was, he might have resources that could be deployed on her behalf. Then again, he’d seemed to think that MI9 was for the chop, in this brave new post-war world.  Bravo might be reassigned, or more likely axed. Michaela noted the tension and felt the beginning of a headache clamping down. The work of Echo needed to continue; the Ahnenerbe had been a useful catalyst, but there was more at stake.

It was no good, she needed to let the information sink in a bit more, needed to allow it to mature before picking it apart, like a recalcitrant mechanism to find the critical detail that would lead to a solution.  As a distraction, she decided that it was time to do the rounds and see what everyone was up to.  She had been a little erratic in this duty over the last few days, what with working on things for Echo, this Bunty nonsense, and of course finishing off Robert’s car. A little tour of the Manufactorium was certainly in order.

“Right!” With decisive emphasis she got up from the workbench where she had been building the prototype of an improved brake system for her electric-Bentley.  Walking out of her private office-laboratory, she energised the rune-wards and walked down the corridor.

Agnarr was working with some of the older apprentices, supervising their attempts at the carving of cuttle bone to produce delicate, detailed moulds for jewellery work.

“Suuriseppä.” In his slow, quiet way, Agnarr simultaneously acknowledged her presence, and invited her to contribute to the lesson.  She could have just stuck her oar in, of course, but Agnarr, Hildr’s husband, deserved better than that.  He and Hildr had her implicit trust, were excellent teachers, and she could not have built this Warren, let alone run it, without them.  Michaela, made a few suggestions to the awestruck apprentices, partly in order to show that she knew what she was talking about, but otherwise she was content to leave Agnarr to it.  He really did have a flair for jewellery, and other fine, precise work, which you would never have expected from his large hands and thick fingers.

She passed through various rooms where apprentices were at their daily tasks, carving wood, cutting stone, getting on with the various tasks that were required to keep the Manufactorium clean, tidy, productive, secret, safe.  Some were reading and making notes, preparing for their next prentice pieces.  All bowed respectfully as Michaela progressed through the Warren.  She spoke, even if only briefly, to everyone she passed.  She adjusted the angle of a chisel here, recommended a particular tome there, praised diligence wherever she found it.  She demanded the best of her waifs and strays, and got it, because they knew that she would always give of her all to help them grow.  She moved from the underground portion of the Warren, and climbed the steps to the main Forge, which was all that visitors ever got to see.

Juliet was working with one of the newer apprentices.  Every new apprentice learned smithing the hard way: menial labour to begin with, general assistance round the work being carried out.  The first rite of passage was to make themselves a sheath knife: they chose the design themselves, selected the stock, produced the blade and made the handle and sheath themselves.  All of this was done under the supervision of one of the journeymen, who helped with every facet – this was their test, to support without meddling.  When it came to the smithing of the blade, the journeyman had complete charge of the forge – under the watchful eye of Hildr, of course.

Hildr was at the bellows when Michaela walked in.  The fire in the hearth was glowing brightly and the iron bar was white-hot.  The apprentice – not noticing Michaela, thankfully, was looking for approval from Juliet – moved the bar to the anvil and started beating it rhythmically with a large hammer.  It was returned to the fire and the process repeated several times.  Finally, the apprentice looked critically at the blade that had been formed and, having developed confidence during his smithing, did not even look to Juliet, as he plunged his work into the quenching trough.  Clouds of steam rose up, and as he looked up he noticed Michaela for the first time.

“S…s…suuri…s…s….sepa…pa…pä!”  He stammered, panicking slightly, wondering how long that Michaela had been there.

“You looked very competent there, Pyry. May I see?”  Michaela held out a hand and the apprentice reluctantly handed her the cooled metal.  Michaela looked, first with her eyes and then she extended her sense of málmsjón to study the very crystals of the metal.  There was a temptation to skill-clean the blade before their eyes, to reveal the beautiful pattern created by the folding of the metal, but that would just be showing off, and no-one would benefit.  Instead she said:

“Very nicely done Pyry, very nice indeed.  Mrs Wilson from the village was hinting that she would like a new carving knife – you can make it.  Juliet, make sure you show Pyry how to mix the acid to etch the blade, once it has been cleaned and sharpened.”  Hildr snorted, no doubt at the thought of Juliet let loose amongst the chemicals.  Michaela continued as if she hadn’t heard.

“The cloud-form will be particularly pleasing in this blade.  If you can manage it again, Mrs Wilson will have a blade like no other – excepting in the Warren of course.”

Whilst they were looking at the new blade, nobody noticed that the fire, instead of dying down when Hildr stopped pumping the bellows, seemed to be intensifying, and was continuously changing colour, taking on hues that were unheard of in a well-behaved forge.  The flames finally settled into a vivid violet with hints of indigo and deeper purple, but flickered higher and began to curl into a circle.  Hildr was the first to notice: she looked up from her examination of the blade and spat an oath.  The others turned to see what was amiss, and in that moment Tinkerbell appeared from nowhere, emerging from the circle of fire, his battered old bag clutched to his chest.

His eyes glittered with anger and a fierce pride, but he attempted to look casual as he patted out little singed areas that continued to smoke gently, still threatening to break into flame.  As he did so, little electrical discharges in every colour of the rainbow flickered off and grounded themselves on every metal object within 10 yards, including the anvil, tools, and the blade that had just been made.  Tink looked around at the four faces, mouths still open in shock.

“No chance of a bacon sandwich, I suppose?  Touch of HP sauce, perhaps?  Pint o’ something to go with it?  Very good for rebalancing the electrolytes after dianc cwantwm gan reolaeth ynni.”

*****

It had taken every ounce of self-control from Michaela not to fall upon Tink to deliver the most enthusiastic of hugs but, remembering her status amongst the others just in time, she’d acted with as much nonchalance as she could muster up – “Tinkerbell, so good of you to drop in. Hildr, would you send Agnarr to me in the Warren and then join us there after you get things finished up here? Tink, come along!” Sweeping off without a backward glance, she left Tinkerbell to waggle his eyebrows at the remaining shocked faces, before following in her wake.

Once in the Warren, Michaela paced about until Agnarr knocked.

“Suuriseppä?”

“Some of your very finest brew for my friend here Agnarr if you please”

Agnarr returned in moments carrying a large jug and a glass, causing Michaela to thank him profusely and ask if Hildr could possibly knock up some bacon sandwiches.

“Perhaps you could also ask Juliet to see cook in the house and ask for a bottle of brown sauce? My friend here has an inexplicable preference for it.”

“HP, preferably!” Tink added.

Politely inclining his head, Agnarr closed the door behind him. Having poured Tink a glass, Michaela waited whilst he drained it in one go. Raising her eyebrows, but saying not a word, she refilled it. This time Tink savoured each sip. “Mmmm, this really is an excellent glass of beer Michaela. My heartiest compliments to  … Agnarr is it? Dark, nutty and positively delicious.”  Finally Michaela allowed her mask to slip.

“Tinkerbell, it really is such a relief to see you. Jack’s still missing you know, and now Robert’s been in touch about some scientist bod that’s gone astray. Apparently it’s someone Jack knew and helped pick up in Europe.”

Mumbling through his beer Tink enquired “Mmmm, did my messages get through?”

“Yes, yes … although it took me a while to realise they were from you, but what did you mean by that date? I mean, I know its Guy Fawkes, but are you suggesting there’s another gunpowder plot?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what they’re planning, but that seems to be a key date they’re working towards. There’s a lot more I found out that night, but it was too complex to communicate … and I only had a few seconds. If I’d not been able to get back, I thought it might mean something to one of you.”

A tap at the door heralded the entrance of Hildr carrying a loaded platter of chunky bacon sandwiches. The bread was sliced generously, the bacon was crispy just as Tinkerbell liked it and the brown sauce looked rich, brown and fruity. With a slightly reproving look, Hildr placed the lot in front of Tink.

Jumping to his feet, he responded with a flourish “Bacon sandwiches is it? You have no idea how welcome these are. I’ve been positively starving for the past couple of days. Thank you my dear, this is food fit for the gods.”

Hiding a smile, Hildr nodded. “Suuriseppä, you will call if you need anything else?

“No, thank you, Hildr, this is excellent.  But perhaps you could make sure that the apprentices stay…occupied for the rest of the day?”

“Very good, Suuriseppä.  Hildr withdrew, closing the door behind her.

“Tight ship you run here, Mike bach” Tink said as he dolloped brown sauce generously on the sarnies.

Once again, Michaela had to stifle her impatience as Tinkerbell made rapid progress through the pile of sandwiches.  She returned to pacing, pausing occasionally to remove a mote of dust from a bench here, straighten a tool there.  Tink finished the last sandwich, and leaned back with a satisified sigh.  Suppressing a belch, he enquired –

“Now, what does Billy say about Jack?”

“Oh Billy says it’s not unusual, and I know he’s right, but … really … right now. It’s just … so vexing.”

Pleased that Michaela was starting to sound like her old self once more, Tink shared everything he’d learned that fateful night.  In addition to the date, there was the VLF frequency of course, and the conclusion that there might be a submarine involved somewhere.  It was building up to something, but what? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

“Oh, and it was worth disrupting all my molecules with the dianc cwantwm gan reolaeth ynni -”

“Now that would be…let me see… quantum escape by energy control?  It’s no good trying to be mysterious, you old faker.  Nevermind, son’t look so surprised.  It was still very impressive, and the others were all suitably surprised.”

Tink hurrumphed slightly, but decided that this was not worth responding to.  Instead he drew himself up, and assumed a put upon expression.  ” As I was about to say, it was worth the effort because the jump allowed me think about the cypher they’re using.  It would normally be quite tricky, they’re using a book cypher, but with a wheeze.”

“Book cypher?”

“Yes, simple, effective, time-consuming to crack.  Each party has a book, and then you get a pair of numbers, page number and the number of a word on that page.  The papers that the courier was delivering gave the list of books to use for the next three months, a different one every week.  This week’s is ‘The Sun of Quebec: A story of a Great Crisis’.  It’s by a chap rejoicing in the name of Joseph Alexander Altsheler; if it’s like his other stuff, its a bit Boys’ Own.”

“And the wheeze?”

“Oh!  When they encode it, the offset every number using a keyword from the title.  So in this case, it’s Quebec.  So you’d split the message into groups of six letters, see, and then the first letter you add 17 to, the second 21, the third 5 and so on.  If we can get any more messages, they’ll be, heh, an open book.”

“Cledwyn Cadwalader! That is a terrible joke – and while our friends are missing too.”

“Sorry!” But he looked unabashed.

“We really do need to get hold of Billy though. Do you know how …?”

“Billy usually contacts me, not t’other way round.  There’s a few protocols Jack and I agreed for emergencies, but they might be stale by now.  Still, I’ll go up to town and see what I can find out.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“Michaela, m’dear, you’d stick out like a sore thumb in the East End. And one of us needs to be here in case Jack acts like a homing pigeon – he often does when in trouble. As I’m sure Billy’s got someone covering the garret, we’d have heard if he’d turned up there. I’ll head to the East End and ask around.  Billy will get the message and appear before too long. I promise to keep in touch by telephone. Now, can you run me to the station do you think m’dear?”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

Papa Thames

O, clear are England’s waters all, her rivers, streams, and rills,
Flowing stilly through her valleys lone and winding by her hills;
But river, stream, or rivulet through all her breadth who names
For beauty and for pleasantness with our own pleasant Thames?

WILLIAM COX BENNETT

PJack awoke.  Disoriented, he tried to remember the last thing that had happened to him and, simultaneously, to take the measure of his surroundings.  As he noted the decrepit furniture and piles of bric-a-brac, the action at the docks came back to him.  He remembered sinking down into the Thames, almost as if he were weighed down by the parcel that he had retrieved from the courier.  The parcel – what had happened to that?

The thought percolated through that he was in a bed.  This was followed by the realisation that his clothes were missing, and instead he was wearing a rather old-fashioned flannel night-gown, much mended.  He strained his ears, listening for any sound that might give a clue to his location, the presence of those that had brought him here – anything.  All he could make out was his own breathing, slow and steady, and his heartbeat reverberating in his ears, regular, rhythmic: a heartbeat to set your watch by.

He would have jumped out of bed, but at this moment he felt every one of his years: the stiffness that he had begun to feel a few days before was increasing, exacerbated no doubt by his recent extravagant exertions.  Hopefully this outbreak of activity would be over in the next few days and he could give some thought to settling down for the winter. Gingerly, he eased himself up and out of the bed.  On the floor, where someone getting up would find them, were a pair of slippers.  Like the gown, they had been repaired.  As he rose, he eased himself into some gentle stretches to work out the knots in his muscles.  As he did so, he had a sudden thought, and with equal suddenness moved from the stretch into an examination of his head to check for bruising.  Nothing.  Either he had been out long enough for any swelling to subside, or there had been no blow to his head.

From his new viewpoint, he was better able to take in the boxes and chests, piled high with debris.  The receptacles were a mix of old tea chests, packing crates, tin trunks and a dozen more boxes of different kinds and sizes.  Mostly battered, some had been repaired with varying levels of skill and success.  The junk, for nothing appeared to be of any great value, had been carefully sorted.  Along one wall were containers of pottery and along another, tin cans.  The majority of the pottery was broken: shards had been sorted by size, shape and colour.  There was an entire tray of clay pipes, a very few intact, most chipped or stem completely broken from bowl.

Jack was beginning to have an inkling as to where he was.  He moved to the door and tried to open it.  The wood of the door and frame was warped, the (cheap) paint was peeling, and the door handle was corroded.  The door eventually succumbed to his efforts, but he was intrigued that no-one came in answer to its summoning creaks and groans.  He was immediately faced with a choice: left or right?  There seemed to be a slight movement in the air, which he felt was moving from the left to the right, as he stood in the doorway.  There were any number of reasons why this might be the case, but it decided him to move towards the breath of air.  After all, he couldn’t just stand there rooted to the spot.

As he walked, he saw open doors – these even more dilapidated than the one he had just come through, probably incapable of being closed – on either side of the corridor. In each room he passed he saw yet more junk piled up: each room had a theme, and each room exhibited the same confusion of muddled organisation as the one that he had come from. Only one room was empty and he stopped to look at this one.  Why was it special?  At the door were steps – an immediate difference – that led down to a floor some three feet below the floor of the passageway.  This room was much larger than the others, positively cavernous, and unlike the others there were no boxes, bales, crates or cartons. There were glints of light scattered across the floor, like lumps of amber strewn on table top.  Jack descended.

The room was a shrine, or rather it held multiple shrines, with a variety of large candles and oil lamps (of varying style and antiquity) grouped together around basins that had been dug into the London clay.  The shallow pools thus formed were surrounded by miscellaneous rocks: some dressed stone, assorted flints, cobble stones – anything, it seemed, that the creator could lay their hands on.  The pools were full of clear water. Regarding the one closest to the steps, Jack thought he could make out the word ‘Fleet’ and a date, cut into one of the stones.  There were a dozen or so of these shrines, which seemed to have been placed at random: the light from the candles seemed to hint at more of these basins further into the room prepared against some future intent, but if there were more, they were not afforded light, for some reason.

Someone coughed.  Not a polite “hello, I’m warning you that I’m here” cough, more of an essential expectoration of phlegm to ensure continued existence.  Jack spun round, and took in the figure in the doorway.

“Papa Thames, it’s good to see you again.” Jack’s warm greeting was met by another hacking cough.

“I’m not your father, Jack Runward” the old man sneered.  He should have been huge, even stooped over his walking stick, he was taller than Jack, but shrivelled with age and disease.  He was dressed in a mish-mash, with the only consistency derived from every item being hopelessly outdated.  The clothes were not merely dated, had not only seen better days, but were spotted and stained with food and drink.  He was the archetype of some Dickensian caricature  – at one moment Fagin, with long greasy hair, at another Scrooge, probably because of the strange night-cap. Every now and again, there was a flash of Christmas Present, when dignity and sense of purpose shone through, but this was easily missed.

“I did not mean to insult you”, Jack said quietly.

The response was a little growling noise, much like a dog that senses interest in its bone, but with less good humour. The old man turned: “Come” he barked.

Jack took one more look at the cavernous space, uneasiness rising inside him, then climbed the steps and caught up to the shuffling, bent figure.  They continued in the direction that Jack had been going before he found the shrines.  This stretch of the passageway looked older, perhaps Roman. They passed yet more doors.  Jack was trying to get a feel for the place – Old Thames had several haunts, but this felt like one that he spent a lot of time in somehow.  Given what he’d already seen, the place must be vast.  As if reading his mind, the shambling figure growled a comment over his shoulder:

“We’re under the old Hanseatic Warehouses.  We rescued you when you fell in, and brought you here.  When you leave, you can go dry-foot.  There are several ways out, but I’d recommend Steelyard Passage, I think.”

Finally they came to the end of the corridor.  A more impressive door frame than ones they had been passing filled the end of the passage: oak, dark with age, carved ornately with scenes of river life, it filled the entire passage from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling.  The door set into the frame was also richly decorated, a part of the whole in fact, so that it was difficult to determine exactly where the door ended and the frame began. Thames pushed the door open and beckoned Jack to follow him.

The room beyond was some kind of study, that of an old-fashioned gentleman, which is to say some combination of a library, office, and comfortable retreat.  Bookcases lined every wall, and these were filled with books of every kind, including scrolls tied up with ribbons, vast leather-bound tomes, small paperbacks and books with wooden covers.  There was even what appeared to be a copy of the Torah, although this was in an extravagantly decorated silver case, standing on its own on a polished walnut table.  Near it was a large desk, covered in a litter of papers, bottles of ink, old-fashioned dip-pens, pen wipers and blotting paper.

The old man gestured to a pair of high wing-backed leather chairs.  Jack took the less worn looking of the two, surmising that the other was the one preferred by the old man. He was confronted by a beady-eye: it looked as if Thames was about to speak, but he merely hawked phlegm and casually projected it towards a brass spittoon.  Jack sat back into the chair, and made himself comfortable.  He truly hated waiting, but this was the game the old man seemed intent on playing, and so he bided patiently making mental lists, wondering where the package that he’d taken from the courier had ended up, but trying not to allow himself to get too distracted.

“Jack Runward, heh.  And what is it you are guarding secretly?  Or are you a secret guard? Eh?”  The questions, while spoken aggressively, were clearly rhetorical and so he ignored them.

“Because I’ll tell you what Jack, I don’t know why you’ve taken that name, unless you’re trying to leave your old friends behind you.  Answer me, damn your eyes!  Answer me! I’m dying, Jack, dying, and so are my daughters.  Some of them are already dead…” Sunken into his chair, the voice began to match the withered frame: ebbing and flowing, it died away into a snore.

Jack wondered what to do now.  He could probably find his way out, eventually, but without any sensible clothes, he’d likely find himself in a great deal of difficulty…his train of thought was derailed by the door opening.  Softly, a figure stole in and tucked a tartan rug around the hunched form, too small for the large chair.  Her clothes, too, were rather old-fashioned, what you might expect a widow to wear, a widow for whom times were tough.  The worn black dress, with a touch of black lace at the cuffs and on the shoulders, had been mended and re-mended.  Skillfully, without a doubt, but it added to the overall shabbiness of the garment.  Over the top was an even more old-fashioned apron, that had once been white.  It was clean, but appeared to be the embodiment of the word ‘serviceable’.

Checking that the old man was comfortable, she beckoned to Jack.  Jack hoped that they weren’t going far – the ill-fitting slippers were rubbing in places, but on the whole were over-large and threatened to trip him up.

“I don’t think we’ve- met, I’m Jack.”

“No, we’ve not met, but I know who you are Jack Runward.  I’d know you anywhere, I think.  I’m Coln.  I  don’t normally come this far East, but so many of my sisters are unwell that those of us that can have come to try to help.  Father is especially unwell of course – and no surprise with all the filth that is in the river.  It’s been coming for a long time.  Not that you care.”  This last was delivered with a baleful glare.

“I care.”

“You’ve got a funny way of showing it.  When was the last time you talked to any of us? You’ve gone over to the ephemerals.  And it’s just not good enough!”  As she said this, her voice built to a sobbing crescendo.  She hastened down the corridor, crying into her apron which she had pulled up to her face, to dash away the tears.

Jack hurried after as best he could.  She opened a door, and he followed, finding himself in a large kitchen with a wood fired range.  Encouraging Coln to sit at the long, scrubbed table, Jack found the kettle.  He asked where the tea leaves were, found the cups for himself and made tea. Coln had recovered by this time and she produced a loaf of bread and the remains of a roasted joint, from which she fashioned some sandwiches which in no way could be described as delicate.  They chatted.  Jack found out that Thames and his daughters believed themselves to have been abandoned.  They were confused, and didn’t understand what was going on.  They hadn’t really appreciated that there’d been a war – when Jack had mentioned the Germans, the Blitz, and all the proceedings of the last few years, it all came as a complete shock.”

“But those nice Hanseatics were here for ever such a long time!” she had exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, I hadn’t realised that things had got so bad.  I’ll do everything that I can, of course” Jack had promised.  “But you can’t just keep yourselves down here – you’ve withdrawn from the world, and that isn’t going to help anybody.”

She asked him about the War.  He explained, to the best of his ability.  And then he told her about what he’d been trying to do for the last few hundred years.  It was then it occurred to him that one of the last times that he’d come to see Thames, he’d left something behind, asking Thames to keep it for him.  He persuaded Coln to take him back to the study, but before they went she gave him back his clothes, which had been cleaned and dried, and then, whilst he quickly dressed, she went and got the package which he’d taken from the courier.

With some trepidation, he opened the outer wrapping. Inside, wrapped in oil cloth, was an item, perhaps a foot long, eight inches wide and two inches deep.  With a sense of foreboding he swore: “Hel’s teeth!”

 


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The British Oscar Holderer

Whilst all of this was going on, under the surface, the intelligence communities were having an even bigger bun-fight, one in which the Germans were playing on all sides as well as their own.

A war is a war, and when my country is at war, my duty is to help win that war.

– Wernher von Braun

OAt the end of the war, there had been a bit of a scramble.  The ‘Allies’ had all rushed to secure parts of Germany – it looked like some kind of three-handed game of rugby-chess, played to the rules of musical chairs.  And when the music stopped, there had been some untangling to do. Somehow it was agreed who would look after what bits and troops were withdrawn and moved around.  Late in the day it was decided that the French should have a chair as well, so one was carved out of the extra-wide US one.

But whilst all of this was going on, under the surface, the intelligence communities were having an even bigger bun-fight, one in which the Germans were playing on all sides as well as their own.  Equipment and documents were destroyed, and eminent Nazis opted for suicide rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.  Others debated who it was better to surrender to.  They hid papers for recovery later, and tried to elude the more rabid SS officers who sought either to snatch a late win, or hand the Allies a Pyrrhic victory.

The US Office of Strategic Services was no doubt the big winner here, in no small part due to Wernher von Braun falling straight into their laps. Operation Paperclip relocated von Braun and his team to the US – they would quip that they were Prisoners of Peace, such were the conditions in the early days – which paved the way to the US Space programme, one of the great adventures of all time if you will.  But all that was very much in the future.  Von Braun took 120 of his people with him to the US.  Of these, a 26-year old engineer called Oscar Holderer would go on to be one of the most influential practical engineers of the burgeoning space programme.  Holderer was too young and too junior to have been caught up in the scandal that would plague von Braun and his more senior engineers, and he was born to invent and get on with solving a problem.

Whilst the Paperclip was an emphatic US victory, there were – reluctantly – shared operations, with the main intent of denying the Russians any crumbs at all if possible. Operation Big, scoured the country, as much as possible, and Operation Epsilon saw the British take custody of a number of individuals, including Werner Heisenberg, who had been working on the Nazi nuclear programme.  Most of these people ended up detained in Godmanchester, near Cambridge, England, where the intelligencers tried to ascertain how close the Germans had been to their own nuclear weapon.  There’d been a few others that the British managed to bag as well, although they kept them, very quiet…

*****

“Hildr?”
“Yes, Suuriseppä.”
“I’ve told you, you don’t need to call me that when the apprentices aren’t around.”
“It is your right and my pleasure, Suuriseppä.”
“Oh! No, I’m determined not to get cross about this, it is such a little thing.  I wanted to ask your advice.  Robert’s car has turned out very well, and the stainless steel bodywork is rather a triumph, although somehow I don’t think it will catch on.”
“No, Suuriseppä.  The process is too laborious for the mass produced cars.”
“Exactly.  But I’d like to think in similar terms for the racing car.  It needs to be lighter though.  I briefly thought about one of the aero grades of aluminium, but there are all sorts of objections.  And then I started thinking about a titanium alloy. ”
“That’s an interesting idea Suuriseppä.”

The older woman considered the problem as they enjoyed a moment of autumnal sunshine strolling outside the forge. “Titianium is not easily come by, even with the war over.”
“Do you know anyone working on it?”

“Milady!” Mike’s maid had come into the yard from the house. “Milady, you’re wanted on the telephone.” “Oh! Very well, tell them, I’m on my way.”  The maid scurried off. “Give it some thought Hildr, would you?” “As you command, Suuriseppä.”  The older woman bowed, and turned back to the forge.

Mike walked briskly to the house and picked up the receiver.

“Hello?”
“Michaela?”
“Oh, hello, Robert, excellent timing!  I was going to ring you actually.  The car’s finished, you can come and collect it any time you like.”
“Oh! Good-o.  Can I persuade you to bring it up to Town though?  I can’t get hold of our chum, and I really need to have a word.  I’ll take you for a spot of lunch as well, if you like.”
“Why I don’t I race you to Upminster, and then we’ll take a spin out to Southend and put the car through its paces?”
“Capital! There are a couple of good pubs that way, or we could slum it and have fish and chips, and promenade along the front.”
“You, Robert, are a terrible snob!  Right, I’ll give you a count of 100 and I bet I still beat you to Upminster!”
“You’re on!”

*****

Robert walked out of the station.  Mike was rather obvious, although she’d hidden herself away behind a newspaper.  The car, however, had no possibility of hiding.  It shone in the autumn sunshine, and where it wasn’t dazzling onlookers, it was reflecting the surroundings.

“Budge over then!”
“No fear!  I’m driving – you need a lesson.  Two, in fact.  This is no ordinary car, you know, and you were rather rough with her last time.  I’m not going to keep doing running repairs because you don’t treat her properly.”  Mike was rather prim, folding away her paper, and delicately using the auto-starter.
“And what’s the second lesson?” said Robert, hopping over the door of the Bentley.  He was instantly pressed back into the seat as Mike tore out of the station-yard, moving the gearstick with the deftness of card-shark dealing from the bottom.

At speed, Mike navigated through Upminster, and out onto the open roads of the countryside, where she eased the car into its top speed.  She proceeded to dodge round a a couple of trucks – still at speed – took a corner a little too fast for Robert’s liking (pressing him against the door, which he hoped fervently was properly closed) and then eased off a little on a straightish stretch.

“You, young man, need to learn to be a little bit more respectful to women in general, women drivers in particular, and Juliet specifically.  Have I made myself clear?…I said, have I made myself clear?”

Robert didn’t trust himself to speak so he just nodded.  Mike accelerated again, and in a shorter time than Robert would have believed possible, they were in Southend.  He had tried to settle back and enjoy the drive once Michaela had made her point, but his knuckles were still rather white when he got out of the car in Southend.

“Please, give my apologies to Juliet.  I suppose I was rather thoughtless.”
“Yes, you were.  Perhaps you can give her the benefit of your driving experience sometime and help her with her lessons.  She’s coming along quite nicely, but she needs to practice and she needs to know that I won’t always be there to hold her hand.  Just don’t tease her, and don’t bark at her like she’s one of your soldiers.”
“I don’t bark!” His tone was injured.
“Anyway, you wanted to talk about something with Jack, and because you can’t get hold of him, I’m your second choice.”
“It’s not like that, and you know it.  It’s just that…well…Jack was in on it, something in Germany towards the end.”
“Go on …”
“There were a few people who were ahead of the forces sweeping across Europe.  Some of them were a bit mad, but they got the job done – they secured intel, documents, people, that might not otherwise have survived.  In those last few months, before the Reich fell, Jack did a lot of that.  I always felt that there was something in particular that he was looking for, that tracking down the Ahnenerbe strongholds was some sort of cover.”

“Anyway, for whatever reason he was with the team that secured Werner Heisenberg and his nuclear egg-heads.  It was suppossed to be a joint effort, but we knew the Yanks hadn’t been sharing all that they’d found.  Jack identified a couple of people who shouldn’t really have been there.  We were able to bring them back with the Heisenberg team, and then split them off from the main group without anyone realising.”

“The thing is one has turned up dead, and one is missing. The dead one’s no great loss, frankly, but the one that’s missing – young chappie of the name of Ansgar Blecher – is the only one that agreed to work with us.  He and Jack got pretty chummy, and I was hoping that Jack might be able to help track him down.”

“Oh dear” Michaela said in a rather weak voice.  “Well, you see, it’s like this…”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

 

The November Deadline

Billy knew he had a tendency to take this sort of thing personally and Jack knew just the right thing to say. Course, as Jack’d done a flit at the docks, that was out.

“Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot”

17th century nursery rhyme

NRelieved to be back in London, Billy had important business to take care of. As he’d told Michaela, he’d been running down the possible whereabouts of Frank’s knife for a few days.  There’d been not a whisper of it when a disturbing rumour had come to his ears on the night of the India shout. Someone he knew – and knew well – had been putting the word out that he had a knife for sale, one which sounded exactly like Frank’s missing one. Being extra careful, he’d managed to verify the fact from a couple more sources, one of whom had actually seen the knife and could confirm its markings. Now Billy was no fool, but he wished he’d got Jack here to talk it over. He knew he had a tendency to take this sort of thing personally, and Jack always knew just the right thing to say.  Course, as Jack’d done a flit at the docks, that was out. Nor had he talked to Lady Michaela about it, as … well, no disrespect meant to her ladyship, but Jack was family, and this was a family matter.

Feeling every one of his years, Billy walked up the stairs to Charlie’s office. Setting his shoulders, he threw the door open and called out “Sit yerself down Charlie, I needs to ‘ave a talk wiv you m’lad”.

*****

Charlie sat with his head in his hands. He’d been shocked by Billy’s news, there was no doubting that. Even now, his hands were still shaking and the colour had drained from his face.

“This is Frank’s knife? The one he were killed wiv? I swear Uncle Billy, I ‘ad no idea.” Knowing Charlie only ever called him Uncle when he was really emotional, and never when trying to pull a fast one, Billy’d patted his shoulder “p’haps you’d better tell me wot’s bin goin’ on then?” Half an hour later, Charlie’d spilled the beans.

He’d been picking up some extra money working for this country toff he’d met on a night out down the West End. Apparently the bloke’d been asking around for an intro to someone a bit handy, with useful contacts for acquiring black market goods. He paid good money too, really good money and Charlie’d hoped it might lead to more contacts amongst the gentry. Feeling he had Billy’s sympathy, Charlie started to snivel: “‘s not like Jack nor ‘er ladyship ever offered to give me a leg up, and …” He stopped pretty smartish when Billy gave him a clip round the ear.

“Don’t push yer luck m’lad. Yer knows wot we do is sensitive, yer should’ve aske’ me to check this toff out.”
“But Uncle Billy …”
“Don’ yer Uncle Billy me. Yer’ve bin an idiot Charlie and now yer holdin’ the knife wot killed our Frank. Yer still ‘aven’t told me ‘ow you got the knife, has yer?”
“Nuffing sinister there. This ‘ere toff, ‘e was in Germany wiv them art recovery types. Said ‘e comes across this knife in one of them stashes they found ‘n ‘is bods says it’s not German, nor nuffing interesting, so ‘e took it off their ‘ands. Now ‘e’s havin’ a tidy up and ‘e asks me to get rid of it. I says it’s not my usual stuff, but I’d ask around … and that’s jus’ wot I’ve bin doin’.”

Billy had to admit that tied up with everything he knew of Charlie and that he’d been told.

“You jus’ make sure you stay away from this ‘ere bloke till I gets to know wot’s wot, y’hear me Charlie.”
“But can’t I be your inside wotsit? I mean, ‘e can’t ‘ave Frank’s knife ‘n not be … yer know… I liked Frank. We ‘ad a few nights out together, you know, chasing the birds. ‘e was a good lad that Frank, girls liked ‘im an’ all.

Realising that Billy was giving the idea some consideration, Charlie sought to finish the deal. “Yer knows I can turn it on Billy, yer’s the only one who knows me well enuff to see thru me malarkey. Look, this Bunty geezer, ‘e’s told me to bring ‘is stuff to th’ West End. I don’t fink he likes mixing with the working class.” Billy’d glowered, but agreed Charlie could deliver the goods. “No clever stuff alright, just deliver and go. But if you notice anyfink’ useful, I’ll be waitin’ ‘n y’ kin tell me all ‘about it.”

*****

Later that evening, his business with Bunty successfully completed, Charlie’d popped across the road to The Blue Posts, he owed the landlord a drink as a thanks for the intro to Bunty. After a couple of pints, he decided he’d better be going; Billy’d be waiting for him back at the office after all. As he walked up to Piccadilly, he spotted Bunty coming out of The Ritz with some posh bird on his arm. Handing her over to the doorman who called her a cab, he walked back round the corner, only to stop outside of his office. Spotting that Bunty was looking for something down the road, Charlie saw an opportunity to further ingratiate himself, and called out a greeting. He made small talk with Bunty until a chauffeur-driven roller’d pulled up. Shaking Bunty’s hand, he’d promised to be back in a couple of days, before opening and shutting the door for him. Watching as the car pulled away, he was more than a bit put out to spot Bunty wiping his hand on a handkerchief.  “Bleedin’ toff, really thought ‘e was better ‘n the rest of us. Well, he’d show ‘im.”

Much to Charlie’s surprise, Billy fell into step alongside him as he walked along Piccadilly away from Bunty’s office. Tapping Charlie on the arm, he ducked into the Piccadilly Arcade. Charlie followed him through the Arcade onto Regent Street, where Billy went into a tobacconist. Entering the shop, Charlie recognised old man Levi who held a finger to his lips. Then, opening a door into the back of the shop, he’d indicated “in here Charlie my boy”. Immediately the door shut, Billy was on him.

“Wot ‘appened then?”
“Keep yer ‘air on Billy, I’ve got some good gen.  I makes the delivery likes you said. ‘is man took it ‘n I were worried I’d not get to see Bunty ‘imself, but then ‘e sends me into Bunty’s office to get paid. I were waitin’ there a while before Bunty looked up ‘n noticed. Before I cud get me words out, ‘e got up ‘n grabbed this book off of the front of ‘is desk and stormed out. I ‘eard ‘im tearing a strip of ‘is man for lettin’ me in there while it were on the desk. ‘Course, when ‘e comes back in, I plays all ign’rant and ‘umble, yer know ‘thankee Mr Hargreaves, so grateful Mr Hargreaves’ ‘n all that malarkey. ‘E just nods like it’s ‘is due ‘n gives me a list of more stuff ‘e wants. I’m to deliver to t’same place. I checks the list ‘n says ‘couple a days alright Mr Hargreaves’, to which ‘e agrees ‘n off I goes.”
“Well done m’lad.”
“Doncher want to knows the name of that book?”

Billy looked genuinely surprised as Charlie handed him a bit of paper with a name on it. Glancing at it, he had to admit it meant nothing. Still when Jack or Tinkerbell turn up, it might to them, so it gottucked away safely into an inside coat pocket.

“Anyfink else?”
“Crikey, don’t want much do yer? Yeah, well … I looked at ‘is diary while ‘e were out, dint I?  ‘ere, I’ll write down what I saw” and with that Charlie scribbled frantically on another piece of paper, before handing it over to Billy as well. The first few were dates and times against the word ‘Cargo’, each with a different London dock named against them, but the last one caused Billy to draw breath.

Against Wednesday, 5th November 1947, Bunty’d written ‘dinner to introduce Lady Michaela to Mannfred Wüst’.

“Alright Uncle Billy? Yer looks like yer’ve seen a ghost?”
“Huh? Yeah, fine Charlie, fine. Jes’ a name I didn’t ‘spect to see. Yer’ve done well lad, very well. Get yerself back ter work. I’ll be in touch soon. ‘n make sure you don’t go see this Bunty bloke again wivout talkin’ t’me, righ?”

And with that Billy disappeared, blending right into the West End shoppers as if he was born there. Charlie shook his head, he’d always wondered how Billy managed to do that even down the East End, but here … it was something else. Stopping to check the traffic for a suitable gap so he could cross Regent Street, Charlie caught sight of a swinging fist. Ducking automatically, he stepped off the pavement. Turning to see who it was, he recognised that bloke he’d seen hanging round outside the pie and mash shop in Silvertown. “Jus’ leave my wife alone, yer ‘ear me!” the man shouted and swung again. Forgetting where he was, Charlie stepped back … right into the path on an oncoming bus.

The last thing Charlie heard was the sound of a woman screaming …


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

Mike’s Manufactorium

It was amazing that so few people ever really bothered to find much out about Lady Michaela McManus.

There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.

-H.G. Wells

MIt was amazing that so few people ever really bothered to find much out about Lady Michaela McManus.  Of course, she knew the right people, and that smoothed the way for the most part, but still.  In truth, she was a lady, ostensibly of excellent Anglo-Irish family on one side, if that sort of thing mattered.  There was a minor title, which carried a few lines in Burke’s Peerage, should anyone check.  It at least kept things from becoming awkward.  But it was her other title that was more important: amongst her own people she was minor royalty, from the very upper echelons of society and in due course she would probably have to take up a role in the governance of her people.  At the very least, she would have to take her Mother’s seat on the Council but, with luck, that should be decades off.  At 572, her Mother still looked much as she had at 250, or so her father said, and had the energy of a much younger woman.

Her responsibility to her people was an important part of her being: it hadn’t taken Jack much effort to persuade her to find home and hearth for those poor orphans, and in some respects she was looking forward to playing her part in the governance of her dispersed people.  The thing was, that she enjoyed her experiments too much, and if it become known quite how far she had progressed, that might bar her from service.  Her family simply thought her eccentric, which is why she had hidden her workshop away on Jack’s estate.  They believed that they’d managed to squash her enthusiasm in this regard, and that she was just enjoying her youthful years.

The problem arose because her people were inherently stuffy about the modern world.  What was particularly galling was the hypocrisy: they took advantage of the modern technology when it suited them, but they clung to some idealised “purity” of their work. None of them seemed to realise that the world no longer wanted swords and magic rings.  Michaela had been working on petrol engines for a few years, but had recently dropped this in favour of an electric car: she’d thought it a great shame that the electric cabs had died out in London.  They had been so unreliable though.  She had a few ideas on that score, and her ambition was to successfully race an all-electric car at Le Mans.  In one of the stables was a Bentley – the twin of Robert’s – that was being rebuilt by Mike and her helpers.

Robert’s Bentley had caused quite a stir.  She’d read about a demonstration that the Ford company had carried out before the war, creating bodywork out of stainless steel, which had been finished to a high standard.  The result was a shiny and reflective monster, and as she’d thought when she’d seen some pictures, it suited the Bentley down to the ground.  For the Le Mans car she wanted something lighter though, and was working on some special alloys.

Unless they’d seen Robert’s car, anyone who visited would be surprised to see quite how complete the forge and workshop was.  Mike’s arrival in Theydon Bois had been a seven days wonder.  The spectrum of gossip had run from scurrilous speculation of the connection between the elusive Jack and the newcomer, and dismay at the “lady blacksmith”. The locals here and about, had wondered a lot about what Mike did: most had assumed that it would be arty ironwork, but those that had taken the time to get to know Mike more than superficially had met a woman who, on the one hand would generously repair pots and pans or reshoe a horse in an emergency, and on the other did produce art, but things that were airy and graceful, belying the ferrous nature of the medium.

Her neighbours also found that she did not just do ironwork, but was a skillful jeweller and smith of precious metals. She was a competent tinkerer with clockwork.  She was a patient teacher and would give classes to any who asked.  One or two of the local craftsmen swallowed their pride and learned things that put them at an advantage over their peers.

What no-one realised, was that what they saw was not all that there was to see. Perhaps it was because they never saw everyone at once, perhaps because they couldn’t envisage what else might be done, or perhaps because the stable-block and outhouses were so orderly in their utilisation.  If they had realised that Mike was in fact one of the Dvergar, they might have had an inkling of the warren of workshops – the Manufactorium – that had been created under Jack’s estate.

By some quirk of language, dvergar had become dwarf, and in turn been linked to a lack of stature.  To begin with this had been vexing to the dvergar, who lived side by side with the flighty and ephemeral humans.   Worse still had been the barefaced propaganda that had seen the dwarfs belittled, figuratively, for their grasping ways and conniving spirit, and certain lecherous propensity where maidens and valkyr were concerned.  It didn’t take long for a human to forget who had helped them out of a hole, but the dvergar had long memories…

*****

Feeling better for Billy’s company the night before, Michaela returned to her the workshops to find something absorbing to do whilst waiting for Jack to turn up, for Billy had convinced her that he would. She spent a little time checking on her current batch of apprentices and journeyers, Juliet included, to ensure they had plenty of projects to keep them occupied, then headed off to the warren below ground, and her private suite of workshops.  She spoke a word and the rune-wards flared brightly.  Another word, combined with pressure on certain points in the ward-web and she unlocked the door.  She unbanked the fire in the forge and turned on a little pump of her own design that would direct oxygen into the hearth,  and left it to get to the proper temperature while she consulted her notes.   She knew she was close to finding the right alloy for her purposes, it just needed a little careful tweaking. Deeply engrossed in weighing out powdered metals from different stock, she was surprised to hear a loud spitting from the forge. It was far too soon for it to have reached optimal temperature. Carefully putting her equipment down, she crossed the room to the forge. What she saw made absolutely no sense at all. Glowing in the goals was a fragment of paper containing a handwritten date. Grabbing her tongs, she quickly extricated it and placed it carefully on the surround, well away from the coals. Strangely, the paper wasn’t on fire nor, when she brought her hand close to it was it even vaguely warm, yet the edges were decidedly singed. Briefly puzzled, she wondered what new trick her apprentices had picked up, before idly tossing the fragment aside to return to her test tubes. When it happened again ten minutes later, she crossly exclaimed “botheration!”

Storming back above ground, she called the apprentices into the main workshop and had it out with them. “Now, I know it’s probably just a bit of high spirits, but I’m simply not in the mood for it! And what’s the significance of this date? Are you after the day off for a jolly or something?” Looking around the room, she saw nothing but puzzlement on their faces. Pulling the fragments out of her pocket “I pulled these out of the forge, but not only weren’t they on fire, they weren’t even warm. So, come on, who’s learned a new skill? And more to the point, who taught you?” A couple of the lads dashed from the room and returned with the ashtrays from their rumpus room. There amongst the cigarette ends were a couple more fragments – identical to the ones Michaela’d found. The lads looked a bit worried, admitting they’d assumed the same as she had. Putting on her most serious voice, Michaela started to remind them of their status, or more to the point the continued sufferance of their presence at the Manufactorium only to be interrupted by Juliet “Mike, you know this sort of thing is way beyond us. Not that we wouldn’t love to learn how, but right now … no, it’s not us”. All the lads nodded or murmered their agreement and Michaela suddenly realised just who did have this level of skill – Tinkerbell. Oh how stupid she’d been, he was trying to send her a message. She thought quickly, and caught Agnarr’s and Hildr’s eyes.

“Very well then.  But if any more of these messages come, I want to see them at once.  Anything, out of the ordinary, and you must tell Agnarr and Hildr.”

She scooped the notes out of the ashtrays and handed the trays back.

“Off you go now, back to work.”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The Lima Legacy

Pulling the artefact out of the bag, she thought again what an an odd thing it was, unlike anything the Ahnenerbe had been after before.

“What is history? An Echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future in the past.”

Victor Hugo

L

Her ladyship was not only irked, but indeed vexed: there had been no word from Jack or Tinkerbell.  Not that she’d really expected anything, but the events of the afternoon had put her on edge, and there was this whole business with Bunty that Robert had dragged her into. And there was still that inexplicable noise to be considered.  Still, having Juliet’s help on Robert’s car meant she’d finished what she could do today ahead of time.  There were a few things to sort out, but it would be ready for him to collect sooner than he thought; it would be good to have him in her debt, for a change.

She made her way to her private suite of workshops and looked at all the projects in various states of completion.  There were some bits to be built for her own car, some experiments in electrochemistry.  She’d been meaning to get back into paper and ink after reminiscing about the Echo Memorandum.  And then there was…or… and then again… Scratching around for something to do, she came across the bag Tink had given her at the rendezvous. Pulling the artefact out of the bag, she thought again what an odd thing it was, unlike anything the Ahnenerbe had been after before. Even odder had been the story of where it had come from, for it had been sent to Jack from Lima, Peru.

*****

There’d been something of a lull in the conversation.  Everyone was rather sombre – Frank had been difficult in many ways, but good at heart and one of the team.

“Oh! I nearly forgot.  Tink, give her Ladyship the bag will you.”  As he said this, Jack’d fished a note out of his coat pocket. “Tink’s seen it already, probably best if you read it for yourself.”

In a wonderfully old-fashioned and florid hand she read:

“Dear boy,

Now I always realised you knew some odd chaps, but this morning’s little encounter surprised even me. You know, of course, that I’m in Peru to catalogue the finds after that earthquake they had in 1942. In truth, it’s been rather dull, well – until today’s little event that is. To date, I’ve been based down near Ica.  The city, such as it is, still hasn’t really recovered, but all sorts of goodies have been brought to light.  I’ve been keeping pretty busy, but it was my turn to accompany certain finds for the formal arguments over who gets to keep what.  Dubious trip – very little in the way of decent trains, or for that matter roads.

Having escaped officialdom, I was free and easy in Lima on the tram en route to my hotel, my mind filled with thoughts of a long, hot bath, a decent meal and a proper bed, when I was interrupted by this rather sweaty young chap burbling frantically in the local lingo. Now I’m not at all bad at understanding it, but I do need it to be spoken slowly. Nevertheless, I did manage to catch that he wanted me to confirm I knew you. No sooner had I nodded, than he chucked a decidedly grubby bag into my lap saying ‘for senor Jack’, and then jumped off the tram! I was just calling out to him when a car behind the tram ran him down. It didn’t just hit him dear boy, it ran right over the top of him. Well, that shook me up good and proper and it took more than a cup of tea to steady the old hands, I can tell you. I’m adding the bag and its contents to my shipping, as I’m heading back to Blighty in a few days. I’ll have it marked for onward shipping to you at the London garret.

Best,
Julius”

Dated a couple of days after the first part, was added …

“Jack, I was interrupted at dinner tonight by a couple of German goons. Their English wasn’t up to scratch but, as you know, my German’s not half bad. I didn’t let on how much I understood, of course, but I gathered they were old Ahnenerbe hands. Seemed they were extremely agitated about an important artefact which has gone missing and they wondered if the fellow on the tram had given me anything? When I said not, they were persistent in enquiring if he’d told me anything? Insisting that I’d have nothing to do with a scruffy stranger, I shoo-ed them away.  I rather think they might have been in that car chasing the sweaty fellow from the tram.  I’ve not opened the bag, so have no idea what’s in it. I think that’s for the best. You can fill me in over a bottle of port once I’m home.”

Michaela was something of an open book: Jack and Tink followed her progress in the letter by watching the range of expressions on her face.  She finished with raised  eyebrows.  Jack’d explained: Julius was a Professor – with some double-barrelled name that she couldn’t now recall. His things had arrived … but he hadn’t. The Embassy in Lima reported that he’d died in his sleep – heart attack presumed. Jack had come home to both this letter from Lima and a package from the shippers. Having no clue as to the origin of the bag’s contents – other than it looked to be a rather grubby carved stone – he’d taken it up to Oxford to ask Tinkerbell if his beloved Bodleian could throw any light on things.

Taking over the story, Tink dropped his voice a touch “I did a few of my special scans first, you understand,” he waggled his bushy eyebrows, “I had to make sure it was safe to take into the Bod.  But I couldn’t find anything, not a trace, so I decided to proceed on the basis it was a normal archeological artefact. One of the old boys, too crusty for any of the current rash of recruiters to notice, came up trumps.”

His voice moving into lecture mode, Tink continued “it’s an Ica Stone, with its origin in the Nazca culture.” Noticing Michaela’s enquiring look he’d added “pre-Inca. Problem was the old boy got a tad over-excited. Told me he’d only seen ones containing images of living creatures before, but that he’d heard tales that others existed … like this one. Ones people believed proved the existence of some form of super race, possibly even from another planet. He was dead keen to keep it to show some of his department and to carry out some analysis, but I decided it was something to keep hold of.  The other tidbit I got, although I don’t really understand it, is that normally Ica stones are carved in andesite, but apparently this one is dacite.”

That super race thing made some sense, at least in terms of the Ahnenerbe interest; even though they still knew very little, Jack decided that was enough for it to be added to his stash of artefacts. As he was staying in London, he’d asked Michaela to take it home and take a look at it herself.

*****

Feeling absolutely terrible, Michaela realised she’d forgotten all about her promise and had simply chucked it into a corner of the workshop when she’d got back from the Strand.   Yes, certainly dacite, and not local to Peru…Pulling herself together, she took the bag and its artefact across the courtyard to find a safe place for it till Jack got back.

While poking around in the house, Michaela pondered Bunty. Initially, she’d assumed he was a dull-as-ditchwater country bumpkin, exactly as Robert had said. But now she was beginning to wonder. Although he looked the part, something told her he was trying too hard – almost like he was playing a part.  She’d talked to Robert about it on the telephone the previous night, not sharing her instincts of course, as he’d just mock and call her “old girl”. She’d simply asked for more information about Bunty on the basis that the more she knew, the better the job she could do for Robert. And of course, Robert had spilled the beans – although he’d assured her there was nothing confidential – not in the information he’d be telling her, nor was there anything he wouldn’t be able to share.

He’d met Bunty in Germany in early ’44, where he’d been attached to one of those new groups tasked with retrieving the art spoils looted by the Nazis. They were an odd bunch of coves – academics, scholars and historians – and Bunty was their army minder. He’d pulled some strings to join up after his brother had died but, due to his previous ineligibility with epilepsy, it was either a desk job or babysitting this lot. Bunty’d made it clear that he was keen for some less academic company, so they’d had a few late nights sharing brandies and smoking cigars – all apparently liberated from their previous owners by Bunty’s mob. Robert thought Bunty had been enjoying himself hugely; not being regular army and having no-one to report to in the field, he was able to roam around freely investigating rumoured stashes for his academics.  “I think it made him feel he was almost a proper army bod” Robert had said with remarkable kindness, ruining it slightly by dubbing him “a bit dim, but a good sort”. Michaela wasn’t quite so sure …

*****

Having locked the artefact in a cupboard in one of the rarely used bedrooms, Michaela was heading back to leave via the kitchen door, when she found Billy, in the process of putting a kettle on to boil.  Keeping her fear in check, she made some buttered toast – for some reason she always felt Billy needing feeding up – while he made the tea. He didn’t keep her waiting long for his news.

“It’s bin a bit messy. Jack’s missin’, and Tink an’ all.”
“What? How? When?”
“We got a lead on some stuff comin’ in quiet-like,  through the old India Docks.  Jack disappeared in a bit o’ rumpus there, and then later, they ‘it the safe ‘ouse. Place wen’ up in smoke ‘n caused a right stir. Took a fair while afor’ I were allowed in. No sign of bodies, but I found this”

From the depths of his famed donkey jacket, Billy pulled a twisted object.

“Dear me!  What’s that? It looks like it might once have been a bowl, I suppose.”
“Tink were doin’ some scrying, so I ‘spose it were ‘is. But that don’t explain where ‘e’s got to now.”
“Are you sure …?”
“I wuz right outside. Them thugs come out wiv burnt ‘air and complainin’ bitterly ‘cos they’d not found ‘im.  I found out afterwards that our boys scragged one of the couriers, Jack took off after one, and a third one escaped. ‘Cept ‘e dint, ‘coz I saw ‘im and followed ‘im.”
“Oh, well done you!”
“He dint go far, and I’ll know ‘im again. I managed to get ‘old of Albert Grice before he went to the safe house an’ he round’d up a couple of his lumpers what was on their way back an’ all, and they’re keepin’ an eye out for me. So I hoofed it over to the safehouse sharpish, and I bumped into young Isaac Baker – reminds me a lot of Frank, that boy – and he told me that he’d managed to snaffle the goods and get them to Tink over the back fence.  He’d hared off to leave a false trail in case anyone had been following, and then doubled back to see if any of t’others’d wud make it back. Wen I spotted them thugs, I changed the chalk marks to warn ’em all off. Them thugs moved quicker ‘n I thought they wud, but I got a glance of Tink movin’ round indoors. Then … nuffink. Almost like ‘e went up in smoke.”
“How come you weren’t on the shout with them Billy, I don’t mean …”
“‘S alright love, I knows you don’t. I’d ‘eard word about Frank’s missin’ knife ‘n Jack ‘ad me off on an errand for it. I got t’the Docks jes’ as it was all gettin’ messy.”
“Oh dear.  I do wish we knew what had happened.  Have you no ideas about where Jack might be?”
“Bin no sign of ‘im so far, but it’s not bin long, really.  I’ll start worryin’ when it’s been a day or so.”

Sighing, Michaela re-filled the kettle and put it back on to boil. “You’ll stay for something to eat, won’t you Billy? I really could do with the company. I’ve always hated the waiting.”

Billy grinned, his face crumpling with all the wrinkles.  “I reck’n I can stay for a bit, love, but I’ll have to push off before too long – places to go, people to see, yo’ know ‘ow it is.”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The 13.13 kiloHertz Intercept

With a start, he realised that he was looking at a code book, some dates, and a frequency: 13.13 kHz.

“About every 1500 million years this ball of radio waves will double in diameter; and it will go on expanding in geometrical progression for ever. Perhaps then I may describe the end of the physical world as one stupendous broadcast.”

Arthur Eddington

KTinkerbell had made good use of the few days that he’d had.  In addition to all the thinking and planning for Jack’s raid on the Ahnenerbe smuggling gang, he’d turned the safe house into a home – albeit a Spartan one – and he had added to its security.  For a start, he’d placed wards on the front and back doors, on the windows, and on the gates that led into the pocket-handkerchief front garden and reasonably sized yard in the back. Nothing too strong, mind, because it could be the wards themselves that drew the attention of the wrong sort of people.  Then, he placed watch sigils – discreetly – at either end of Seagull Lane, and in some other choice places that meant all the approaches were marked and there was good coverage of the whole area. Again, he was careful to make sure that these would not be so strong as to draw attention, and also that they didn’t of themselves form an obvious pattern with Hotel at the centre.  He drew a sketch of the locale on prepared parchment, and bound the sigils and wards to the map: if something triggered or tripped these spells, it would be indicated on the map.

Whilst he wasn’t as good at fading into the background as Billy – who was – he wasn’t bad at being unobtrusive, and so he took the time to reconnoitre the area, building on the picture that Charlie and Billy had painted.  A few streets away, he found a hardware shop: here he purchased, amongst other things, a shallow enamelled bowl.  There were those, principally people who didn’t have a clue who held that it should really be silver, but Tink was much more practical than most practitioners: whatever receptacle he’d found would have needed the same several hours of ritual preparations.  Another few hours preparing boiled water, again ritually (although there was enough left over for a rather nice cup of tea), and at the end of it all, he had the paraphernalia for scrying.  In a pinch, you could scry in a puddle of murky water, but it took some effort, and was rarely worth it.

Preparations complete, he went through some warm up exercises, trying to locate people that he knew.  As usual, he was completely unable to find Billy.  Jack appeared to be cleaning his boots (about time too) in his Mare Street garret, whilst her ladyship was in yet another tea room with one of her waifs and strays.  Tink always felt uncomfortable scrying on friends, but they were a useful touchstone, especially when he was out of practice.  From here, he tried looking at the street outside, and he practiced traversing his focus along the length of Seagull Lane and back again.  Finally, he reminded himself of the tips and tricks for scrying a location in darkness.

*****

Earlier, he’d briefed Jack and the rag-tag group of helpers that Billy had found for them, if you could call it a briefing: the plan lacked subtlety, and there were so many things that could go wrong.  He felt uneasy, and he’d told Jack so.  Jack had taken him seriously, but had asked what else they could do, and Tink had nothing to offer.

Tink had followed the raiding party in his scrying bowl.  Whilst perfectly proficient, especially having put the time in to warm up over the last few days, Tinkerbell wished, not for the first time, that he had more power and skill in this area.  He knew, and had worked with, adepts who were capable of keeping two, three, even four separate scenes in view at once.

Keeping a broad overview of the West India Docks, he saw Jack and his team taking up positions.  He saw the boat tie up at the quay that Billy had located.  Tink was no spotter, but he rather thought it looked like a Vosper designed Motor Torpedo Boat – how had that slipped into the control of the Ahnenerbe?.  He didn’t see the fire-fight start, but he saw the night, until then peacefully furtive, erupt into chaos and confusion.  He lost track of Jack amongst the debris of the bombed out docks.  He lost track of the other courier.  He bent all his will and effort to trailing the chap who’d snagged something from the ground near the dead smuggler.  He watched him beat a retreat from the compromised docks. He saw the man do his best to disappear into the night and head for the safe house as quickly but indirectly as possible.  As far as Tink could tell, he wasn’t followed.

The man had significant promise: rather than handing over the package to Tink face-to-face, he simply lobbed the briefcase over the back-gate whilst running past at full tilt. Tink waited, checking to see if anyone was following, and then, when he thought the coast was clear, he doused the lights and slipped out of the back door to retrieve the package.  Perhaps this evening wasn’t a total wash-out after all.

*****

Back inside, upstairs, at the table he’d set up in one of the bedrooms, Tink settled into a chair and pulled a metal case from the inside pocket of his jacket: it resembled a case for glasses, although slightly oversize.  He opened it and indeed there were a pair of glasses inside, although these looked more like the sort that an optician would pop on your face to assess a prescription.  In this instance though, instead of the single lens on either side that could be replaced in order to change the strength of the lens to suit the patient, here were three sets of lenses in series, which whilst obviously capable of being rotated, were not removable.

As Tink fiddled with the lenses, he remembered the making of them with Michaela.  This had been a defining moment for Echo.  Tinkerbell’s people had the knowledge of various invisible writings, but the moon-letters (he probably shouldn’t have mentioned them at that gathering in the Eagle and Child, but how on Earth could he have known that they’d have ended up in that children’s book) were perfect for their purposes.  Michaela had understood what was needed straight away.  Then it had simply been a case of getting the information to the Ahnenerbe without them suspecting.  Whilst they hadn’t used it for everything, the Ahnenerbe had taken to it with enthusiasm, and much of their plans had been a, heh, open book, to Echo.

Tink leafed through the contents of the briefcase making notes in his pocket-book.  With a start, he realised that he was looking at a code book, some dates, and a frequency: 13.13 kHz.  Radio was not one of his areas of expertise, but he was reasonably certain that this was in the range that was called Very Low Frequency, and that it was used, amongst a very few other things, for signalling submarines.

Rather pensively, Tinkerbell put the spectacles away again.  It was at this point that he received his second bad shock of the evening: the sketchmap of Seagull Lane and environs was starting to light up like a Christmas tree.  Multiple intruders were entering the area.  They’d clearly managed to track their quarry somehow.  Tink swore in a language unknown to the East End and red sparks grounded on the brass bedstead against the wall.  He turned to his scrying bowl.  Yes, he recognised some of the faces from his scrying of the docks earlier in the evening, and there were others, clearly forming a cordon.  Escape was going to be problematic, to say the least.

Tink’s mind raced furiously: he muttered a cantrip and a little speck of white light formed in the air.  It danced over the documents he’d been looking at earlier, the briefcase too, and settled on the code-book.  At a word from Tink, the speck of light became more orange, and landed on the paper.  Instantly, the paper flared white, and the Ahnenerbe Irminsul seal – a pillar-like tree-trunk – extended from the page in an angry red projection.  The light dissipated, leaving nothing but ash.  Out of the corner of his eye, Tink noticed that one of men converging on Hotel seemed to flinch at the moment of the document’s destruction.  Interesting.  Tink made sure that he’d recognise the man again.

Tink was reasonably certain that his future was now measured in minutes.  He flicked his scrying between two people approaching the front and back of the house.  He grabbed his bag from under the bed and shoved a few things into it – he’d kept everything close to hand.   He didn’t have time to be indecisive, but he really was between the hounds and the spears.  He could cross into Fae but, as an exile, his life would be forfeit.  He could stay here, to face what ever out-of-tune music the thugs outside could muster. There was a third option.  Beyond perilous, and with the risk that he would be lost from the World for ever.

He watched as the enemy, literally at the gate, produced bottles of something or other – presumably not brown sauce – and proceeded, on the one hand, to pour it through the letterbox and, on the other, to douse the back door with it.  Tink sent out little flickers of will in order to prevent the coming fire from damaging the houses either side – whoever lived there didn’t deserve to be caught up in this.

Realising with a start he’d not had time to share what he’d learned, Tink’s mind raced over how to pass on a warning.  Jack was missing…he’d never find Billy…it would have to be her ladyship. Hoping upon hope she’d understand, he rummaged around in his pockets until he found his little box of special matches.  He tapped the box delicately so that he could see the ends and selected one. Scribbling his message several times over onto a piece of paper, he tipped out his bowl. Rapidly tearing the page into fragments, he set light to them.

Having done the best he could, he set about re-filling the scrying bowl before drawing up a new scene.  One he was pretty certain the hounds outside would not know about.  He drew a deep breath.  Face Queen Mab? Out of the question.  Face the Ahnenerbe?  Given that they had gone straight to burning the safe-house down, it was unlikely that they would bother to talk to him before they tried to slit his throat, and there were just so many of them.  He fancied he could hear the sound of a lighter, but that was probably just his imagination.  He muttered a brief prayer, focussed on the image in the bowl and, as the flames began to lick at the stairs, touched his fingers to the surface of the water, so delicately that he did not break the tension of the water.

There was a flare of energies, coruscating electric blue and violet, enveloping the form of Cledwyn Cadwalader, former War-Chief of the Armies of the Fae, known to his friends as Tinkerbell.  When the arsonist’s fire reached the bedrooms of the two up, two down, they were empty.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey