A Fold in Time

Sir Arthur Clarke, author of Space Odyssey 2001 stated that "when a distinguished scientist states that something is impossible, he or she is very probably wrong."



©Zak removed the small circuit board from the nerve responder, a square-shaped white jelly-like substance, with a special tweezer tool. Hundreds of thin white strands ran in all directions from the responder, through the soft white substitute flesh. Many ran to other responders and even smaller containers, called musceivers, and vibors. All were connected to six main portals, two at the back of the head, one either side of each eye, and one large one across the top of the skull with the last under the lower jaw.

Benjamin watched and learned, committing everything to memory. The rest of the body was equipped with a mass of smaller responders and controls but mainly signal receivers that operated all the muscular movements of the skeletal remains. The portal at the top of the head was the most important. Three sets of six programmed nano-instruction boards, contained within three connected oval pods, controlled all movements and speech. Another pod, colored red, was fixed to the roof of the portal and connected to the three sets. This group was maintained by specialists. These were strictly out of bounds to general maintenance workers. Benjamin guessed the red pod was some sort of signal override that received alteration instructions to the standard operating procedures. 

Zak slid the new board into place. ‘Want to have a go at resealing the container? It’s pretty easy. Just use the laser with a steady hand.’

 Replacing broken or worn parts was a delicate process. One ruined strand, whether by accident or bad workmanship meant another body was going to be a late delivery. More importantly, it meant a penalty of two meals a day instead of three, for a week.

‘I’ll have a go,’ replied Benjamin.

A few moments later, a bell sounded.

‘Time for shift turnover,’ said Zak. ‘Come on, let’s go. Tomorrow is your big day. Your first flesh incision. Get through that, and you’ll get a bench of your own.’

Later, as Benjamin lay on his bunk, he began making notes on a scrap of card smuggled in via the transpod driver. It was funny, he thought, but he didn’t know the man’s name yet he was the only link to the outside world. Maybe it was just as well in case he was caught making notes, that he knew nothing of the man. They met once a week as a variety of parts were restocked on his shelves and workbench. His card and a pencil stub were carefully hidden at the bottom of a reject parts tray while a new scrap of card appeared in a particular box of materials.

The department itself was clean and sterile and a vast area dominated by many rows of workbenches. At one end of the floor stood rows of tall metal rectangular boxes, each containing the finished work. At the opposite end of the workshop, more metal boxes, each marked with the country of origin, stood waiting for works document assigning the contents to a particular bench.  Air conditioning maintained a constant temperature twenty-four hours a day. It was pretty easy going and not really like a prison. After six months, he had got used to the routine. Up at six for tea and cake, work at seven, one o’clock lunch – processed cheese sandwich and tea, finish at six and dinner – soup, one slice of bread, and tea. The menu changed twice a month.

He lay back and hoped the information he was passing on would not only free him but reunite him with his family, especially his sister. One thing was sure. He had to stay out of trouble and keep his present position. Being moved for the slightest infraction would take him away from the technical information the Drifters wanted and any chance of going home.

Benjamin shuddered at the thought of being transferred to the main factory where he would have to wear goggles, plastic overalls, and boots. Visions of dead bodies and the smell of dead flesh and blood being carefully stripped away from the bone as new model frames were prepared, filled him with dread.





Chapter One

©Not knowing where Benjamin was or what happened to him was a never-ending nightmare for the family, especially Elizabeth – or Gabby as we called her. Her brother left without warning just before his sixteenth birthday, and the police had all but given up trying to find him after a couple of months. According to them,  he was old enough not to be listed as a missing child and able to look after himself. His file was still open, but I got the impression that no-one was looking for him.  

It was Freddie who suggested we spend weekends searching for Ben by drawing up a list of his favorite haunts and moving from one area to another systematically.

He was right, of course, but after a few weeks, we had exhausted that avenue with no results. Although none of us brought the subject up, I am sure it crossed our minds that perhaps we may never see Ben again. It was a mystery. Ben was happy at home and loved school. Above average intelligence according to Gabby, and looking forward to a trip to France that last summer with some pals. The only reasonable solution was as Freddie suggested – that the lad had an accident and was suffering from amnesia. Perhaps he was living rough on the streets of London.

We were standing at the bar of our favorite pub at the time, and our conversation triggered something Freddie suddenly remembered.

‘Peter, what was it Gabby mentioned the other day about a railway?’

I recalled her conversation. ‘Gabby said about the Post Office opening up a museum later this year. It has something to do with an old underground railway line that used to run across London, delivering parcels to sorting offices. It closed in 2003. She mentioned it because-.’

We looked at each other, and I snapped my fingers.

‘Because Ben was working on a school project about the Post Office and in particular an explosion that happened in a disused extension of the rail network in the 60’s.’

‘Precisely,’ grinned Freddie. ‘Damn, we should have looked into that first. Let’s have another beer and decide how to get Gabby to suggest we look there.’ He pushed his glass toward me. ‘Your turn. And tomorrow you can approach Gabby.’

There it was. Gabby had left us earlier to get home. She had exams the following morning.

Her ambition was a little like mine – University and a degree, although she had taken a temporary secretarial job with Freddie’s law firm in the city. She wanted to be an archeologist and me, a scientist researching physics and astronomy. Freddie had already started his career as a newly qualified solicitor. With the best part of a year to wait before Oxford, I shared my time between study and walking the city streets, hoping to find someone who knew of Ben. So far, there was nothing.

Later, after dinner at my bedsit, I did a little research online into the Post Office rail network and found out that the sorting offices on the underground system had all been sold. The explosion had occurred at the Rathbone Place Sorting Office, now being converted into an underground museum.


So I take it that’s what you want?’

Gabby brushed long strands of red hair out of her eyes. She half-smiled and nodded as she raised a foot onto the step outside her apartment to tie a trainer lace. Despite both of us sporting warm clothing and a woolen watch cap, the cold wind had reddened our cheeks and the tips of our ears.

I first met Gabby at High School. She was with Freddie, and naturally, I thought them a couple until I found out they both lived in the same apartment block in Pimlico. By the time I left college, I had a bedsit close to them.

‘Okay, so where are we going today?’

The tall, lanky figure of Freddie appeared at the top of the steps, and both Gabby and I burst into laughter. A multi-coloured Laplander hat covered Freddie’s balding blonde head, and two long ties hung either side, at the end of each a huge bright green woolen ball.

‘You muffins. At least my ears are going to be warm.’ He pulled the flaps down over his ears. His ruddy cheeks were a brighter red than usual.

 ‘Rathbone Place sorting office – well, what used to be the sorting office,’ I answered.

Gabby looked over her shoulder at me as we moved off. ‘I take it we’re not just visiting a boring office?’

Freddie looked at me and shrugged. ‘Let’s see when we get there. Head for the tube it’ll be quicker than walking.’

A short while later, we stood in front of the old sorting office.

‘It’s all locked up. We can’t just break in,’said Gabby.

Freddie pointed to a small door. ‘I’ll try the door and see if anyone’s about.’

I waited with Gabby as Freddie opened the door and disappeared inside.


Freddie’s soft but urgent voice came from the other side of the opened door a couple of minutes later, urging us inside.

‘You’ll never guess what,’ he said excitedly. ‘This is the museum entrance and stairs at the far end go down to the station platform. There doesn’t appear to be anyone around although there must be painters at work. You can smell fresh paint down below. Now follow me but let’s keep it quiet. I’d hate for someone to come along just as we are about to explore the railway.’

Gabby stifled a giggle. ‘If I didn’t know him better, I’d say he’s getting all excited.’ She poked me in the ribs.

We followed Freddie through the entrance hall and down the stairs. What we found at the bottom was astounding. I had seen the pictures of the driverless train and the small narrow gauge rails but actually seeing it all – the platform where the parcels were offloaded and sorted, and the tunnel that the railway ran through was amazing. A small electric train with two trailers stood at one end of the platform.

‘It operated from 1927 to three years ago,’ I said as we took it all in. ‘Six and a half miles between Paddington and Whitechapel. This is so fantastic.’

Gabby clicked her fingers. ‘Okay, boys, get over the excitement. Which way are we going?’

‘To the right,’ I answered. ‘Somewhere here there is a store, and that is where an old part of the tunnel was blocked off, and the bomb exploded.’

‘Why start there when we have six and a half miles to check. Ben might have come down here, but he could be anywhere.’ Freddie looked in the other direction.

‘No,’ I reasoned. ‘If Ben were working on a project he would know about the explosion. If you were fifteen, where would you explore first?’

‘A bomb crater.’ Both Gabby and Freddie answered together.

We walked to the end of the platform, and it was Gabby who found our way first. Putting a finger to her lips, she motioned to a bend just inside the entrance to the tunnel leading away from the station. Muffled voices could be heard. Then she pointed to the end of the wall we were walking next to. As the line ran past the platform, there were the remains of another tunnel running back behind our station. It had to be the entrance to the store.

Gabby, being the smallest, jumped lightly down onto the track. I followed with Freddie. Once out of sight and inside the entrance, I turned my torch on. Sure enough, the rails had been lifted, and the floor of the tunnel was littered with rubbish. Several old electrical motor parts and lengths of cable and wire lay scattered around.

‘Let’s walk to the end,’ I said. ‘There should be a mound of rubble. If Ben was here, we might spot something.’

Minutes later, we stood at the edge of an enormous mound of bricks that blocked the rest of the tunnel.

‘If I know my little brother well, I’d say he would have climbed up there to take a look at the crater – that’s if he came here,’ said Gabby, thoughtfully.

Freddie didn’t need any discussion. He pulled an elasticated headband with an attached LED reading lamp and stretched it in place around his head.

‘I use this for reading in bed,’ he announced, seeing the look on our faces. ‘It might look a bit silly, but both my hands are free.’

He had a point. I started climbing up the mound behind him, with Gabby bringing up the rear, holding on to the hood of my windbreaker while the light from her torch played back and forth off the walls of the tunnel. By the time we reached the top, we were covered in dirt. After getting our breath back, we started looking for an opening. A couple of minutes passed before Freddie made our first discovery.

‘Found a sweet wrapper,’ he proudly announced. He held the small paper wrapper in the air. ‘It’s from a licorice toffee.’

I shone my light onto it. ‘It could have been blown up here from the entrance,’ I motioned. ‘Probably one of the painters perhaps.’

‘What’s up, Gabby?’

Freddie tapped my arm and moved closer to Gabby. His arm went around her immediately. I could see her shoulders shake a little as she cried.

‘They were his favorite sweets. I know he’s been here,’ she sobbed.

We were silent for a moment. It had been a long time since she had shown any emotion. It made me realise what a brave person she was, hiding her feelings in front of us and carrying on with college and all. I felt so sorry for her and desperately wanted to help. 

‘We’ll find him, you’ll see,’ I reassured. ‘Tell you what, why don’t you and Freddie stay here for a moment and I’ll climb across the mound and see if there’s a way over the top. Ben would have done that.’

I moved carefully along the wall of brick and concrete rubble and slipped several times. I remembered taking Ben rock climbing once in Scotland and how well he seemed to adapt. We often jogged together too, and that was another reason I was shocked when he disappeared. When I last spoke with him, he was hoping to plan another trip.

I stopped to examine the rubble in front of me. There didn’t appear to be any kind of opening. Edging my way, I stopped briefly to aim my torchlight across the rubble to the far wall. There seemed to be some sort of light shining on a slab of concrete.

‘I think I may have found a way across,’ I whispered, my voice barely echoing in the dark.

My next step was nearly my last although I had no idea that the slab I intended to step on was loose. With an involuntarily warning shout, I tumbled head first down to the ground. Freddie slid down and picked me up.

‘Anything broken. Let me take a look.’

He played the light over me, but apart from a few minor scratches and bruises, I was fine.

‘There’s a hole of light up there,’ I said. ‘That’s unusual considering we’re in a tunnel underground. Must be a crack or hole in the roof on the other side, probably caused by the explosion.’

I climbed up again, this time followed by Freddie. We joined Gabby.

‘When we’ve made a space big enough to squeeze through, I’ll come and help you,’ I said.

‘I’ll come along on my own,’ countered Gabby. ‘I don’t like the way you go down. Besides, you may be the fittest here but you are not the smallest. I can move a lot quicker and more safely than you.’

She was right. I started moving crabwise across the top again with Freddie close behind. At the far end of the mound, we found a space to squeeze through. The light I had spotted was a reflection of my own torchlight coming from a piece of silver foil that contained crumbs and a stale crust of bread. We said nothing to Gabby.

‘It has to be his,’ I whispered enthusiastically. ‘I can’t see any other reason for it to be up here. He must have had a break here before going over the top.’ I shone my torch across the mound to Gabby. ‘Over here, there’s plenty of room for you. Follow us down.’

Securing our backpacks, Freddie and I pushed a few more rocks out of the way and wiggled through the gap on our stomachs. To my horror, I dropped down into an enormous crater. Seconds later, Gabby stifled a scream as she fell on top of me.

‘Well, that was fun – I don’t think,’ she gasped.

‘And we have it all to do again,’ said Freddie.

His torchlight played on another pile of rubble on the other side of the crater. Fortunately, it was a more gradual climb to the top, and a crawl space to the other side was quickly found. Scrambling over, we rested, staring into a black void. Our surroundings were much like the tunnel entrance. Large dust covered piles of debris and lots of electric motor parts. I wanted to get to the other end. According to my research, the far end was bricked up. If Ben came through there, he must have found a way out.

‘Come on,’ I shouted. ‘There has to be a way out.’

I started to walk, but within seconds the most painful feeling of nausea hit me. My breathing got labored, and my feet felt like lead weights. Frightened, I clutched at my stomach and doubled with pain as a vile tasting liquid started bubbling from my mouth.

‘Ahhhh, no, no – Ahhhh!’ Gabby’s chilling scream echoed through the darkness.

Cold shivers coursed through me. I couldn’t move. Long tendrils of foul smelling thick saliva slowly dripped and dribbled to the floor. I choked and sank to my knees, trying to spit it out. With rapid intensity, my chest tightened and unable to stem the foul flow, I curled up on the ground until the vomiting stopped. My whole being was weak, and the weirdest feeling of lightness of mass began to manifest itself – not physical but in mind, as though I were floating without attachment to my body.

Gabby sobbed. ‘What is happening to us? Have we been gassed? She held onto her stomach.  ‘I think we may have been gassed.’ The same disgusting liquid had been oozing from her lips.

Freddie, who was standing next to her, bent over and vomited profusely as I had done. I had a feeling Gabby’s instincts about being gassed were right on.

 ‘The explosion could have been a German gas bomb, I guessed. Or there could have been a ruptured gas pipe in the vicinity. The gas might have been impregnated into the walls of the tunnel, who knows.’

It did seem an obvious answer to our dangerous predicament. I picked myself up and cleaned my jacket as best I could. With caution, I took a step forward. Although I could feel my feet on the ground, the weird floating experience continued.

‘Bloody hell, let’s get out of here!’ Freddie sounded scared.

‘I’m not going back the way we came,’ I said. ‘There has to be a way out up ahead.’

‘Are you bloody insane, man?’ Freddie grabbed Gabby and shone his torch at me. ‘If he wants to be the great explorer, let him go. Come on, let's get back over the crater.’

‘No. Benjamin came this way. I know what I saw. What if this shit happened to him? If he got out, we have to find him. I’m not leaving him for anything.’ Gabby remained seated.

‘He’s not going to pop up nearby. We don’t even know if he’s al-.’

Gabby turned angrily and hit out at Freddie. ‘Yes, we do! Yes, he is! Don’t you dare suggest such a thing, you coward. Ben is still alive!’

She fell forward onto her knees and burst into tears.







Next chapter


I really enjoyed that. Not sure enjoyed is quite the right word but you had me in that claustrophic tunnel with those people and I am wondering what will come next. You've created a setting that I could visualise. This is very good imaginative writing and cleverly crafted... You've given us lots of hints to whet our appetites. The characters were very believable.