The Dedcot Kids found their unsupervised activities severely limited when they returned home from summer camp. It was some weeks before they were allowed to get together at the hideout and were a bit upset to find that their ‘chickens’ had literally flown the coop. They worriedly checked the local paper for signs of missing pets but there was no obvious news of marauding pteranodons. Not their problem, they decided. Ash was less sure. What remained a problem was that Robbie was due to appear at a juvenile court to face charges of (Colin’s) shoplifting, which might yet result in her being taken into care. Unfortunately there was CCTV evidence of the event. They tried to look up ‘Professor Thelin/Thynne’ or DART or ‘Colin Carter’ in the local telephone directory and found lots of Carters in the Faringdon area, but Robbie’s Colin came from S. Wales of course. There’s no Thelin, Thynne or DART. They cycled over to the DART offices at Drayton but it was shuttered up, so Andy enquired at a neighbouring office and was told the DART place had been closed for a few weeks. The gang noticed that the building’s air con vents were not on and thus concluded that it was definitely staffed by Americans.
Neither Tank nor Andy noticed anything particularly different about their family and their homes, to their relief. Robbie quizzed Mrs Fosset about her mother’s funeral but apparently her dad moved his family into Dedcot when Robbie was quite young, so Mrs F. has no memory of the late Mrs Tucker. Back in Harwell, Kin was pottering about in his dark room and was unsurprised to discover that all negatives he had transported across the time rift were fogged and unusable. What did surprise him was finding one additional negative, definitely not from his camera, in amongst that stash. It was certainly not Mrs Bown’s work as she has such a distinctive style and approach to her subjects. It must have been added deliberately sometime after his return. After developing this strange negative Kin noted that it appeared to be a formal shot taken somewhere in East Germany, that the Frogman’s presence had been highlighted, and that it had been annotated with the words ‘Operation Luch’, which meant beam or ray in Russian. He sent his mates next door to collect a stand loupe, whereupon Tommy also found a number of interesting connectors for Gizmo which Kin had nicked from the Professor’s basement years ago then forgotten.
The gang then cycled further up into the hills to eyeball the original Loop facilities and the Nellie spheres which they knew about. Tank found the name for these things worrying but none of the kids have any idea why they’re called Nellies. There’s a couple of unexpected old spheres and a scattering of missing newish spheres. Looking over the Loop security fences from Grim’s Ditch the kids found all the usual facilities and buildings were still in place but Sean noticed that there were some of his Dad’s personnel ambling between departments. Although Sean’s Dad is senior USAF, many of his staff were in dark, quasi-civilian uniforms with the hexagonal logo – the US Department of Advanced Research & Technology. Sean remembered it well from when the family were stationed at Boulder City in CO. The American invasion may be due to Mrs Thatcher’s enthusiasm for quasi-autonomous neo-government organizations and the financing which they provide. The gang felt a sudden need to read his Dad’s top secret papers and Sean helpfully suggested a sleepover sometime. Tommy looked for the biggest cables which might power the mad Professor’s experiments and there seem to be a lot, with Hangar 8 having more than most.
The gang decided to type a coded letter to the Professor, apparently harmless but with reference to her Milton origins and to Isaac the bot. “Dear Lena, we were passing through Oxfordshire and dropped in on that beautiful house you sent the postcard from, just the day after you were there. See you soon, Isaac and the Gang.” To be posted from the central Dedcot Post Office, with the problem of replying left to the Professor. That business concluded to their satisfaction, the gang decided to investigate Major Dick Hern’s racing stables and see what might have been done to Pete. The kids freewheeled down from the Ridgeway, zoomed through West Ilsley village, and screeched to an abrupt halt at a security gatehouse which hadn’t been there in 1965. An artless attempt to get pony riding lessons was rebuffed with huge distain by the young men in tweed, corduroy and distinctive army boots who guarded Her Majesty’s prized thoroughbred horse stock. Surveying these Hodcott grounds from the rear, it was clear to the kids that there had been serious money invested here and in the nearby Lambourn valley over the intervening 20 years. Pete reckoned that his parents might be an easier source of information on his myostatin mutation.
Their next port of call was the hill barn above East Hagbourne where Tommy had stashed their stolen covert ops Russian attack drone behind last year’s hay and an ancient Fergie tractor. Tommy asked Kin to try linking Gizmo to the tractor using his array of connectors because computerized tractors are clearly the future of farming. Gizmo, of course, already had an established comm link to the drone from their earlier misadventures. Within a short while Kin had daisy-chained half a dozen different cables to link everything together. It was art. With high impedance. While most of the kids were wondering whether they had invented a killer tractor or an agricultural drone, Tommy typed in the command ‘Activate’ and a giant robot unfolded to tower over them in the barn. They were delighted. After a very brief and superficial consideration of hazards they decide to give it full test run next morning and deactivated it to a less scary configuration overnight. “Finally, my dad will be impressed!” declared Tommy.
That evening Tank sat down to a family meal and confessed that Nellie was no longer talking to him, but perhaps a split was for the best; things had not worked out for them. Tank shrugged off the helpful advice from his parents and concentrated on finishing his organic glazed ham with honey. The honey tasted funny. Over at Mrs Fosset’s, Robbie tucked into a high cholesterol dinner while they considered what to do about the coming court case. Mrs F offered to back her up if she wanted to go and apologise to the shopkeeper but since it was Colin’s theft she won’t insist, it’s entirely Robbie’s choice. Robbie decided to try it. At Andy’s farmhouse everyone sat down to one of his Mum’s epic harvest suppers. She was still ill but looked much better after her experimental treatment. Andy spent the meal showing genuine interest in the treatment and charming details out of her. It apparently involved another transfusion and some new pills which she has to trial for the next month. She got out all the Get Well Soon cards and notes from their neighbours, and even showed him a signed photo from all the staff at the hospital. Andy immediately noticed Professor Thelin lurking in the background of the photo and on the back, half hidden by the frame, a written message: ‘Don’t even think about it Andy, I have 20 years’ head start on you.’ Pete returned home to find no sign of tea or dinner, and no parents around. He did locate a bottle of salad cream and a tin of spaghetti hoops so that had to fuel him. He opted to search his dad’s room but found nothing interesting. He moved onto his sister’s room and observed that her entire collection of gymnastic prizes and mementos had been cleared out, it just looked like an ordinary teenager’s room. Sean spent the evening staking out his Dad’s study and looking for trouble around the residential area. His mum had that look in his eye which promised more chores unless he found something useful to do. Tommy spent the evening designing a de-gaussing gun.
The next morning Mrs F dressed Robbie in the most conventional little girl clothes they could find, then accompanied her over to Drayton General Stores to confront Mr Arthur Bradley. This grumpy old geezer was most unimpressed by Robbie’s sob story but accepted her apparently heartfelt apology. “You need to learn the value of hard work, young lady.” He wanted to know what she could do to pay back wasting his time and police officers’ time, so Robbie offered to do odd jobs for him around the shop. Mr Bradley agreed that if she showed up every single Saturday morning to work for him, then he would be prepared to drop the charges. It all went so smoothly that Robbie began to suspect Mrs F’s hand in all this. Robbie went home to change and re-punk. Kin, meanwhile, handed a copy of his printed photo to his mum and described when and where he had discovered it. She commented that she hadn’t heard of ‘beam’. She asserted she would take care of things and Kin promptly made himself scarce. Elsewhere at the hideout Andy brought the gang up to speed on the hospital photo, and Robbie reappeared. They all ambled along to the library to look up events around Robbie’s birth but found no notices at that time and in that place. Miss Green pointed out to them that prior to 1974 the whole Vale was part of Berkshire not Oxfordshire, so official records would be held at Reading. They decamped to Reading and its much bigger library.
At Reading library Kin was very disappointed to find insufficient references to obscure Russian scientists. The gang found an electoral register for Steventon showing a John M. Tucker and a Rosie Tucker in 1970. By 1974 there was a J.M. Tucker on the electoral register at Dedcot, but no R. Tucker. There was no Rosie Tucker death certificate and no other Rosie Tucker anywhere in Berkshire. It occurred to Robbie that she doesn’t know her mother’s maiden name; how odd. Tommy attempted to transliterate the Russian alphabet to try to understand his drone’s settings. Andy delved into medical journals but found no reference to his mum’s trial, unsurprisingly. Pete intended to flick through the old racing newspapers and then start a crash course in genetics but was stopped in his tracks by a Racing Post front page (just the front page) that dropped out of the bound archive volume. It was for Monday 22nd November 1992 and appeared to show Windsor Castle burning down. “That hasn’t happened yet,” Pete observed, and “I’ll be 21 then.” While brainstorming ways to look for a missing person Sean came across the Salvation Army, and this naturally drew his attention to the library notice board adorned with various Salvation Army helplines, and also to a poster advertising auditions for a child actor in an upcoming West End production. He alerted Robbie to both items. Tommy switched his research onto the Iwasaka Corporation, learning that they were world leaders on robotics and pioneers in machine learning and the development of A.I. None of their publicity revealed anything so advanced as Gizmo.
The gang headed home. Tommy took his Dad up to Hill Barn to show off the robotic ‘hay baler’ which was a huge shock to dad when it activated, and even more of a shock when the bot simply tossed all the hay bales randomly down the hill due to programming errors. As his dad ran down the hill yelling for it to stop Tommy allowed that the bot might still need some fine tuning. At that point he was distracted by an incoming message on Gizmo from a node on ‘Janet’ which promptly deleted itself. Tank slipped off to deliver an audition notice to the fair Natalie who was pleased to see him. This led to an actual exchange of phone numbers and the possibility that Tank might accompany her to London. Andy went home to work with his dad on farm machinery which was clogged up with some sort of fleece trimmings. Pete was delayed in Reading when he noticed the local parkour club tumbling through the town centre. He followed and observed that his sister was exceptionally good at it and completed several death-defying manoeuvres with great aplomb. He interrupted to ask her why she gave up gymnastics and learned that their Mum forbade it due to something in the blood, which big sis assumed was an illicit drug. Anyway, she does her own thing now and encouraged Pete to choose his own path too, “Spite is a great motivator.” Kin got home and discovered that his sister had been accepted into Girton College, Cambridge, so yet again she had set an unreasonably high bar for him to live up to.
That evening Robbie went back for tea with Mrs F and shared what little she knew about her mum and her need to find out more about what happened. Robbie asked Mrs F to accompany her to the records office in London, and before Mrs Fosset knew it she had also been persuaded to add an audition to their itinerary. Tank bounced home and started to set the table for a meal but when he went into their dark pantry the honey pot appeared to be glowing. His mum confirmed it was from the new batch and calmly suggested opening one of the older jars instead. Pete intercepted a letter from his sponsor that invited him along to another publicity junket. He wrote a polite acceptance and posted it before his mum returned. Natalie phoned Robbie at home and asked if she wanted to come up to the audition with her which Robbie accepted gleefully before explaining that Mrs F was coming along to act as a chaperone. Natalie hadn’t got as far as thinking about a chaperone but agreed that an adult might be very useful. As dusk fell Tommy was still out helping his dad collect bales and rake hay clumps out of the river. As he worked his way upstream Tommy couldn’t help noticing that someone had installed a small stone circle in the long grass by the water: 18 stones in a 5m radius. Over a late meal Tommy asked his aunt what it was for. “It’s a cyntaf fix as you’re missing your hag, it is. Dros dro, alright?” was his answer. She helped herself to more honey.
The following day the gang convened at the Hill Barn to act as minions for Tommy’s hay baling bot. Their job was to retrieve stray bales and bring them back up the hill for the bot to practice on, a task they were not wildly enthusiastic about but the prospect of having their very own killer robot was a great incentive. By the end of the morning its programming had improved enough to pick up and put down bales reliably, although more in a pile than in a stack. Tommy then tried to instruct it to go down the hill and stop. He failed. The bot set off at a brisk pace but failed to stop and by the time Tommy thought to press ‘deactivate’ it was out of range. In desperation he tossed Gizmo to Pete who sped off in pursuit and managed to catch up and deactivate it just on the edge of Hagbourne village. It attracted a number of onlooking locals. They walked it back up the hill but wisely decided not to activate the tagetting lasers for bird scaring. For lunch they amble over to Andy’s farm and provide noisy distraction while Andy searched for, and found, his mum’s secret trial pills. He made a careful note of the name on the label: c-a-b-o-t-e-g-r-a-v-i-r.
Next stop was Tank’s farm where they investigated his glowing honey. They wondered where the bees were foraging and investigated the farm’s beeshives set on the civilian edge of the Loop’s security fence. The other side of the fence was a minefield; aka an undisturbed expanse of calciferous wildflower meadow which the bees clearly adored. The gang’s photographers used film in the beehives to establish that this honey was not radioactive but bioluminescent. While they were pondering this they suddenly noticed, from their high elevation, a plume of smoke coming from the Culham area in the valley below. They biked down to see what was happening and most of them were speedy enough to elude the fire officers and headed down a back alley to get a fine view of the Laura Ashley factory going up in toxic flames. Sean was especially good at his sneaking in and took polaroid photos of the items and people being evacuated. They learned that it was certainly arson, that the autumn and Christmas orders were destroyed, that the factory was a complete write off and manufacturing will now have to move elsewhere.
The following day Pete intercepted the early morning incoming post and found that his parents’ divorce papers had come through; his mum will get custody of course. Mrs F, Robbie, Natalie, Andy, Pete, and Tank took the train into London at 9:30 am. Kin vanished off to the Science Museum library to track down any of the people in his photo. For the others their first stop was at the Records Office where Natalie, of all people, established definitely that there was no death certificate to be found for Mrs Tucker. Andy slipped away to find ‘Gay’s the Word’ bookshop at St Pancreas. The staff plied him with free leaflets, advice and no small amount of concern which Andy completely ignored since he was laser focussed on getting medical information for his mum. Mention of the drug name drew a complete blank. Meanwhile Sean, Ash, Tommy accompanied Sean’s mum as she travelled up to London in the family limousine with its diplomatic license plates and dropped the boys off in the West End with instructions to meet her at the embassy later when they’ve finished.
The theatre kids went off to a dodgy Soho address under Mrs F’s suspicious gaze and were relieved to find a serious audition process. Both Tank and Sean failed to perform well, Natalie was competent, Andy shone despite his best intentions, but once again Robbie stood out. Mrs F’s contact details were taken and Robbie will definitely be called back at some point for the next phase. Sean got into a friendly conversation with another good-looking lad hanging about the auditions; a boy called Jon from nearby Abingdon who mentioned that he’s trying to put a rock band together if he can find enough local musicians and somewhere to practice. Sean was a bit cautious but Tommy was keen to be a stage hand and swopped details. Kin slipped in at some point and eventually the rest of the gang registered his presence. Robbie was becoming visibly tired so Mrs F ushered half the gang back towards the train station in time for the last off-peak journey home. The rest enjoyed a wander around the maze of twisty passages in Foyles bookshop and then Forbidden Planet before ambling back to the American Embassy laden with their books. They were parked in the opulent outer lobby to read and await Mrs Ericsson’s return from whatever function was taking place behind the security barrier. Everyone returned from London exhausted but happy.
Episode 1: Life on Mars Bars
Episode 2: Twix a Rock and a Hard Place
Episode 3: SCreme Egg Scramble
Episode 4: Time for a Picnic
Episode 5: Marathon Man
Episode 6: Careless Wispas
Episode 7: Bar Noir
Episode 8: It Takes Allsorts
Episode 9: Jolly Tots and Candy Bots
Episode 10: Double Deckers and the Trusty Tube
Episode 11: Bounty Hunters
Episode 12: A Ripple in Time, Part 1
Episode 13: A Ripple in Time, Part 2
Episode 14: Smartie Pants