It’s early April 1985, breezy and cool and the start of the Easter school holidays. On Good Friday the Kids gather at the hideout wondering at the continued absence of Tommy who was last seen pondering how to (a) detach and (b) thoroughly conceal the hovering military drone which he had acquired. Deciding not to wait any longer the kids bike over to the flooded quarries alongside the Thames and seek out their eccentric friend Reet and her interesting scrapheaps. Once off the road and approaching the scrapyard they are concerned to see the gates pulled closed and their way blocked by her suddenly hostile dog Bundy. Oddly, her dog is patrolling outside the fence. Robbie cautiously approaches close enough for the hound to smell her, and she starts to play ‘fetch the stick’ with Bundy. While it’s distracted the rest of the kids sidle away and find a way in through a gap in the chain link fence around the back. Apart from Andy who gets hopelessly snarled up in the wire and manages to rip his denim jacket. During this unstealthy entry they’re ambushed by a sinister Robotic dog patrolling the inside of the fence and Tank gets zapped by its laser weaponry. After a fierce scuffle it is wrestled into submission, tied up with multiple ropes and chains, and Andy’s jacket is sacrificed to wrap up the sensors.
They approach Reet’s coach home carefully to discover quite a lot of changes. Her furnishings have been dumped outside, windows are taped over and a weird turbine generator is powering a large chest freezer and some stuff inside the coach. They cautiously investigate and are startled to discover Reet frozen inside the chest with a surprised expression – not cold frozen but stasis frozen, like the field around buoys out in the flooded quarry. Robbie takes a poke at one of the turbines and knocks it off the generator, establishing that it isn’t stasis protected. Further investigation of the inside of the coach reveals workbenches, bloody cages, notebooks and a very strange experiment. In the middle of the coach power cables are attached to a cage; inside the cage a hen flickers between two states. It lies either with a cut neck, a splash of blood on the table, and the knife, or it is alive and looks confused. Each stage lasts only a few seconds. They inspect the notebooks which contain advanced calculations that they can’t make head nor tail of; only t=midnight makes any sense. They expect this to all belong to Professor Thelin but it’s definitely not her handwriting. It does look a bit familiar though.
They go back outside and Robbie tries to keep Bundy calm while Kin has a ponder. They decide to resolve Schrödinger’s chicken first. Pete offers to call out timings from inside the bus while Kin uncouples a power cable. This results in a very freshly dead chicken – it’s still oozing blood. They find no observable change in Reet. There is now a considerable delay while some members of the gang scuff around the scrapyard and more thoughtful members consider the ethics of this situation. Eventually though, it comes down to if and when Kin cuts the power. He will not be rushed on this decision. Finally, after adding some extra insulation, he removes power from the freezer chest and Reet tumbles out to be greeted by an ecstatic Bundy. She’s alive and angry, although not at them. Andy and Robbie sit her down with a cup of tea and listen to her rant about her erstwhile friend Mike who shoved her into the freezer. They eventually manage to convince her that she’s lost two weeks ‘unconscious’ and get a description of Mike from her; it matches their maths teacher MacAllister. Kin tidies the coach up a bit. Sean pockets the notebooks. Pete digs out a first aid box and keeps an eye on Tank who is looking a bit grey and shaky. Tank suggests that Reet reports all this to the police but Reet is emphatic that she doesn’t want anything to do with the authorities. Reminded, she says that she has ‘things to do’ and encourages them to go home for teatime. Before they leave they scavenge three mismatched oars for the old rowboat.
After they cycle off Robbie doubles back to stealthily keep watch on and follow Reet. She packs up some supplies, rope and tarp and set off with Bundy towards the river. Interestingly she doesn’t cross the Thames by any of the road bridges but uses a utility girder under the railway bridge. On the other side she disappears into thickets of old willows and Robbie loses her. She deduces that Reet probably has some sort of bivvy in there. Meanwhile the rest of the gang are waiting in the middle of Sutton Courtney village by the signpost. They take time to compare the scene in front of them with the photographic plate taken by Kin’s weird camera. They are already sure that at least one of the cars in the photo looks a bit futuristic, but on closer inspection they also notice that the signpost in the photo points to a place called ‘Milton’ which they’ve never heard of. There’s a ‘Milton Heights’ on the way out of Dedcot going up towards Tank’s and Andy’s farms ; it has some modern housing and a care home, but there’s no Milton village. The current signpost looks reasonably old and bedded into the verge; with neither especially new plastic nor the old, pre-war ‘O finial’ design for Oxfordshire villages.
Back at home Andy is pleased to find that his sister has done all her chores and, even better, there is evidence that their village neighbours are becoming more supportive. Mrs Roberts down the road has left a Shepherd Pie that just needs to be reheated for dinner. Everything on the farm is going smoothly. Robbie sits down to dinner with Mrs Fossett and tries to get used to someone showing a keen interest in what she gets up to during the day. “I was perfectly safe with my friends”, she lies straight faced. More troublesome is finishing the huge meal (Mrs F. hates waste) and Robbie suspects this is causing her to round out. Pete goes home to a balanced meal with only his parents for company as Alison is out. They are reserved and pleased to be diverted by a letter which has arrived for Pete. He has found a sponsor for his athletics competitions! A British firm called ‘Laura Ashley’ will pay travel and accommodation costs in return for advertising space on his kit. Pete has no idea what they produce and is simply delighted. Kin and his sister have a lovely meal with their dad as mum is away on duty, somewhere in Germany they think. Kin makes small talk about his bike journeys while Trish talks of shop and extra shifts. Over at Vauxhall Barracks Sean demolishes a steak while the twins plan to sell toys and his dad and the houseguest talk about going up to Wembley in north London.
Tank has a more difficult evening because he needs to avoid going home in his current state. He instead finds PC Draper who takes one look and puts his casework aside to gently interrogate Tank on what he’s been up to. Tank prevaricates for a bit but soon ends up telling the village Bobby everything. PC Draper gently takes him through the situation and walks him through the need for evidence (notebooks) and testimony (Reet) before being able to arrest MacAllister. Tank is re-assured and trained up at the same time. Finally PC Draper finishes and takes a look at Tank’s wound before to driving him down to the cottage hospital, when he realises it’s a burn he abruptly changes his mind and hauls Tank off to the scene of another crime: arson at the village pre-school. Tank surveys the scene interestedly and deduces that the fire was deliberately started by the window nearest their toy cupboard, but that most of the damage comes from water when the fire brigade quickly turned up. Tank appears oblivious to the fact that he’s just become suspect #1. PC Draper drives him to the hospital for antiseptic gel and bandaging.
Later that evening Andy phones around to all their houses to arrange a fictitious sleepover and D&D game at Ash’s place. Surprisingly, not a single parent finds this suspicious. Of course, they go to the hideout instead and plan their next move. After much speculation and debate and quashing Tank’s wilder schemes of retribution, Robbie eventually gets them all on their bikes and heading for the quarry in the hope of finding MacAllister. At the quarry they attempt to lay a false trail and sneak in with varying levels of success. They find the junkyard open and tidied up a bit but neither Reet nor Bundy are there. Pete climbs with agility up to the top of a heap of cars and settles in as lookout, Tank watches from the top of the bus, Andy and Sean find concealing spaces behind various junk, Robbie gets into an ambush position halfway from the gate, and Kin stands by the power switch rigged to an array of powerful theatre lights. They wait. And wait. Shortly before Midnight there’s the sound of a motorboat out on the adjacent quarry lake. A little time later gusts of cold air begin to hit them from that direction and lightning starts up in the sky. Just like before an enormous Gauss freighter appears in a haze of electrical discharges. Metal starts bending noisily, parts tear loose and fall down in slow motion. The ship creaks and begins to drop slowly downward. This time there’s also a pulsing white light somewhere out over the water, but only Pete gets a good view from his vantage point. Kin tries to get a picture but just gets a silhouette of the old bus. As suddenly as it appears the whole thing vanishes again. There and then not-there: much like Schrödinger’s chicken.
By now very cold and tired the kids wend their way to Ash’s house and discover her Granny at the door. They concoct some story about needing shelter from a camping trip gone wrong and her Granny Oakley lets them in to sleep in the lounge with piles of warm blankets and hot chocolate. Ash joins them to hear about this latest temporal anomaly. The following morning they sleep in for a long while before being disturbed by Tank suddenly remembering he was supposed to be at a riding lesson with Nellie (this goes badly with her after he apologised for being late cos he was sleeping at Ash’s). Pete goes off for training and hands his sponsorship deal over to Coach Gandy to negotiate — Coach thinks he’s taking it remarkably well. Andy returns to his family farm to discover that all the tasks are done and there’s nothing left to do except sit down to eat with his family. He shares news about arson at the pre-school and amuses his mum with absurd speculation about black market Cabbage Patch Doll dealing. Interestingly, his little sister fails to react normally to either part. He attempts to interrogate her privately but she appears immune to his intimidating manner. Later she cycles off to East Hagbourne where Titch confirms that she’s playing with Sally at their farm.
Over in Old Harwell village Kin is developing plates and chatting with Mrs Moss about the suspicious loiterer which the police had to scare away some three weeks ago. Village gossip assumes this was someone reconnoitring the big houses for possible burglaries and Kin decides to check this. It turns out they were spotted in various sites and what they all have in common is that they give a good view of Kin’s back garden and rear windows of his home. It puts a disturbing slant on the uptick in Kin’s log of intruder alerts which he assumed at the time was Trish sneaking in and out. Robbie is also a bit spooked to find that the doll on the shelf in her room has changed position to be looking at her. She pries out the beady little eyes with her letterman and is relieved to find just wadding behind them. She quickly glues it back together again. Once everything is tidy she goes to chat with Mrs Fossett about where MacAllister might live. Mrs F doesn’t know but does reveal that he’s a bit of an outsider in the staff room; the school was originally worried about hiring him but he’s a good teacher and gets results even if the kids do make fun of him and his helmet.
The kids are all tired and have no trouble faking a need for an early night, but all sneak out again to rendezvous at 22:00 hrs for another attempt at foiling MacAllister. They bring along an assortment of semi-random kit and their all-important stash of drinks and snacks. This time they head to the big flooded quarry. They hide their bikes. They find the battered rowboat and three mismatched oars. By 23:00 hrs and with great confidence they set out onto the pitch-black waters; Sean and Pete rowing and Tank on the steering oar. After awhile they crash into reeds. Sean swops places with Tank and readies his compass to get them back on course. After more rowing they crash into more reeds, or possibly the very same ones. Andy takes over the compass and with his extensive knowledge of Scout mapwork puts them on course. They row on. This time they hit shore at a place they don’t recognise at all. Kin takes the steering oar, scribbles some calculations, consults his photographs and plots a bearing to the island by dead reckoning. They row some more and crash into yet another bundle of identical reeds. Then Robbie glimpses a sliver of crescent moon through a gap in the clouds. “We go THAT way” she declares, standing in the bow of the boat like George Washington and pointing with authority. They row on and on. Amazingly they finally bump into moored buoy #85 and it is fair to say that they have lost a considerable amount of time. They feel around the buoy and learn that its slippery stasis field has been extended out to link up with the neighbouring fields: there is now a barrier around the whole island. They hear a motorboat approaching from the other side of the island and attempt to intercept but the rowers are too exhausted to move fast enough. They can only steady the boat and watch as the peculiar lightning storm starts up once again, obviously centred over the island.
The same huge gauss freighter appears in a rumbling thunderstorm with swirling thick snow and blasting gravel. The ship creaks and begins to fall toward the water, while the quarry now seems to freeze and becomes completely covered in ice. At the central island is a small area that instead has turned into a boiling, muddy sludge of flattened willow trees. The ship slowly falls with a tormented metallic scream. Torn off magnetrine discs seem to be frozen in the air and when the freighter hits the icy surface, something happens with time. Five dizzying seconds of crashing chaos, water cascades, explosions and electric flashes seem to stretch a minute that is played over and over again. A time rift! In the middle of the island a milky white circle of pure white light flickers and then stabilizes —a Portal — and by its light the kids can see Mad Mr MacAllister run towards it. “What are you doing MacAllister?” Robbie has the presence of mind to yell. He stumbles to a halt and turns to peer at them. “I have to stop her, otherwise there will be a disaster! Now I know who you are! Take care of … the future.” Then he throws himself into the portal, bicycle helmet and all. A moment afterwards, there is a high shrieking sound, and then a perfect silence. The portal, the ship, the ice – everything suddenly disappears leaving a blast of air and a shock wave of water coming right at their little rowboat. The kids just about manage to turn the bow into the wave and keep it from capsizing. They row desperately back to shore, any shore, bailing water madly from the bottom of the boat and manage to beach it onto gravel before it gives out entirely.
The gang of exhausted, cold, wet Kids slump along the gravel beach to catch their breaths. “What did he mean”, asks Andy thoughtfully, “’Now I know who you are’? He knows us already.”