Read Seven Steps to the Sun Online

Authors: Fred Hoyle,Geoffrey Hoyle

Tags: #sf

Seven Steps to the Sun (3 page)

He left the coffee shop, and strolled towards Marble Arch. The urge to work was now very strong. Mike decided to go home and start writing. As he walked along over the green turf, the story began to take shape.
Once the pianist was in the time machine each episode could deal with another period in time. One reason would be that the pianist was summoned from his own time to a future where music has almost been lost, and musicians were needed to fill the gaps. The stories should be almost pure adventure but with a strong social background. In fact, if there were going to be thirty-two or -three episodes, then the overall social picture could be the slow breakdown of civilization as one knew it today. Mike's mind was now really racing. Once he'd sketched the outline, he could see the television people to find out their reaction. If he worked into the night he felt he could get the outline done, and tomorrow go to the TV company.
Reaching Park Lane, he was just about to hail a cab when he changed his mind and descended into the subway leading to the Marble Arch tube station. He found a telephone booth and dialled Pete's flat. The phone was eventually picked up and the line started to blip. Mike forced in a sixpence and waited for the machine to digest it.
'Hello, Pete?'
'It's not dinner time yet, is it?' came a very sleepy voice.
'No. Listen carefully. I'm going back to the flat to do some work. I want to get a story outline finished tonight, so I think we'll have to scrub dinner unless you want to drop round for a bite later on,' Mike said in a rush.
'Going home to write. Can't afford to take me to dinner, so collect food and come round when I'm ready,' came Pete's yawning reply.
'That's it. What time?'
'Seven,' Pete said and the phone went dead. Mike replaced his receiver, and smiled.
He bought a ticket and made his way via Bond Street and Oxford Circus to Regent's Park. Here he came back into the sunlight, and walked quickly up through the gardens. He passed through a small alleyway to the front of the block of flats where he lived. He was about to go in, and stopped. He wasn't quite sure why he'd stopped and then remembered that he still hadn't any milk. He crossed the road, heading towards a small grocery shop where he bought milk and a large jar of coffee. He didn't really like instant coffee, but when he was working it was simpler to make than proper coffee.
He hurriedly left the shop, and reached Albany Street. Clutching his parcels, he stopped, looked left, and stepped off the pavement. His momentum carried him several yards into the road before he looked right. It was too late. The taxi was on him. The driver must have applied his brakes hard—blue smoke rose from the taxi's front tyres. Mike stood transfixed in horror as the vehicle rammed him. He felt the hard metal cut into his legs, before he was thrown up in the air and tossed over the bonnet of the taxi. Mike felt himself hit the tarmac, with a sickening thud. He heard voices and the sound of running footsteps, but consciousness was slipping away. The world around him began to blur grey and then dark grey. Suddenly he saw a small fireball somewhere above him. From this ball of light came small darts which, curving rather than moving in a straight line, seemed to go straight into his head.
Everything exploded into tiny fragments of light and he passed into the world of unconsciousness.
Mike's head felt as though he'd been run down by a jet plane. Even with his eyes closed he could still see the little darts of light. Suddenly, whatever he was lying on moved, and he opened his eyes. He found himself being lifted out of an ambulance.
'Glad to see you're still with us,' said a cheerful voice.
'So am I,' said Mike coughing violently.
He was carried in through large swing doors, down a small corridor to the outpatients. Mike coughed again as he smelled the heavy odour of disinfectant. The stretcher was carried into a cubicle, and left. Mike ached all over but there was no pain except in his chest. He moved his hands over the parts of his body he could reach, and to his joy found no broken bones.
'What have we here?' said a peppery looking man.
'Carbon monoxide poisoning,' said a younger man. The peppery looking man started to give Mike a simple examination.
'Carbon monoxide poisoning?' said Mike, dumbfounded.
'You'll be all right. Just a simple injection, and you'll be able to go home,' said the older man, preparing it. The younger man rolled up Mike's sleeve, and he was given the injection.
'There. You'll be as right as rain,' said the older man, throwing the syringe away, and leaving the room.
'Carbon monoxide poisoning,' Mike repeated.
'Yes,' laughed the young intern, 'what do you think you've got?'
'I thought I'd been knocked down by a taxi.'
'Pity you hadn't, it would have given us something interesting to work on. I think you'd have a job nowadays to get run down,' said the doctor picking up a sheet of paper. 'Now, can I have your insurance number, health insurance number.'
'I'm sorry I don't know it,' Mike said, wondering what the man was talking about.
'You must have an insurance number.'
'If I do, I'm sorry I can't remember it.'
'Then I'm afraid you'll have to pay for the injection.'
'How much?'
'Oh. Six pounds,' said the intern casually.
'Where have you been?' said the intern, looking at the pound notes Mike gave him.
'Nowhere,' Mike said, beginning to get fed up. 'Tell me, what is this business about insurance numbers?'
'Didn't you get all the bumf, when they changed over from the old National Health Scheme?'
'No, I'm afraid I didn't,' said Mike, in great confusion.
'Well, it's a useful policy to have. You can get one from any insurance company. You know, just like a car insurance policy. You pay a fixed premium to begin with. Then if you have no claims in the year they reduce your premium. You ought to see about it, medicine can cost an awful lot nowadays.'
'Thanks for the information,' said Mike, getting up off the stretcher. 'What hospital am I in?'
'University College Hospital,' replied the intern. 'Do you live far away?'
'No,' said Mike. 'Tell me, why does an injection cost so much?'
'It's not the injection that's expensive, it's the doctors' time and things like the ambulance. Drugs only cost a few pence, except for the anti-tissue rejection ones,' said the intern, opening the door.
'What is a Terminal Ward?' asked Mike pointing at a sign above a door.
'We send cases there that might not live more than twelve hours after they've been admitted. If they live for longer, but turn into cabbages, then they are allowed to die. Do you feel all right?' said the doctor, somewhat concerned by Mike's questions.
'Fine, just a little confused,' said Mike trying to force a smile.
Mike left the intern looking after him strangely and walked to the entrance to the hospital. Something must be very odd, Mike thought, as he found himself in Tottenham Court Road. He turned and looked up at the ultra modern building behind him. Tottenham Court Road seemed to be full of traffic. Mike looked at his watch. It showed twelve forty. He held it to his ear, but it had stopped. He crossed the road, and walked to the corner of Euston Road. All the traffic was stationary, and to Mike it looked like a rush hour stoppage on a Los Angeles freeway.
A man came running through the cars towards Mike.
'Excuse me,' said Mike to the man as he reached the pavement.
'Yes?' said the man nervously. 'Could you tell me the time, please?'
'Two twenty-four.'.
'Thank you, isn't this traffic terrible?' Mike said, adjusting his watch. The man looked hard at Mike, and then muttered, 'I suppose so,' and hurried off towards a large building. The traffic in front hadn't moved. A frightening feeling of not knowing where he was slowly seeped through Mike. Everything was different, all the old buildings on the south side of Euston Road had gone. In their place now rose a giant structural complex. Mike hurried along back to the familiarity of his flat. He felt the bang from the taxi had done something to his sense of reality. If this were so, he puzzled, then why had the doctor given him a shot for carbon monoxide poisoning, and why were none of his limbs broken? The fear of this Alice in Wonderland feeling grew as Mike neared his flat, and he broke out in a cold sweat.
His apartment block looked the same as he pushed his way through the main entrance and hurried to his own front door. He inserted his key and tried to turn it. Nothing happened, it wouldn't turn. Panic was now rising quickly. Mike tried to force the key to turn. Finally he pulled the key out of the lock and pressed the door bell.
'Yes,' said a dark haired woman. Mike looked at her in blank astonishment and pushed into his flat.
'Hey, what do you think you're doing,' cried the woman angrily.
'I live here,' said Mike curtly, walking into the living-room. 'What the hell's going on?' he yelled, looking at the room. All his furniture had gone, replaced with alien stuff.
'How dare you,' shouted the woman. 'This is my home, and has been for a long time.'
'Don't be bloody stupid. This was my flat when I left here this morning, how could you have lived here for a long time?' Mike shouted back.
'Young man,' said the woman fighting for calmness in her voice, 'I have lived here for a little over nine years, and, if you won't leave, then I'll have to call the police.' She moved towards the phone.
'You've lived here . . .' Mike felt his legs go weak, and he almost fell over.
'Are you all right? You've gone a very strange colour,' said the woman.
'May I sit down for a moment?'
'Well. As long as you go when you feel better.'
'Yes,' said Mike, sitting down thankfully.
'Tell me,' he said at length, clearing his throat, 'have you got a newspaper?'
The woman looked at him, and then handed a paper to Mike who took hold of it eagerly, and searched for the front page, 'June 6th, 1979' read the date. It was unbelievable.
'This must be someone's idea of a very bad joke,' he said weakly.
'I don't understand?'
'It can't be 1979,' said Mike, with a nervous laugh. 'Well, it is, and if you don't leave, I shall call the police.'
'I'm sorry, Mrs . . .?' said Mike not knowing quite what to say.
'Mrs Peters; now will you leave?'
'Yes, of course,' he said, standing up. 'Tell me, who did you buy the lease of the flat from?'
'Please, whoever you are, will you kindly leave,' said the woman.
'Was it through a black jazz musician called Pete Jones?' said Mike, reaching the door.
The woman was so taken aback that she said, 'Yes.'
'Thank you, Mrs Peters, I'm sorry to have been such a nuisance.'
The door to the flat crashed shut behind him. 'Bloody bitch,' he said to himself as he descended in the lift. He had been positive that he'd been hit by a cab on June 6th, 1969, at around lunchtime, but now he wasn't sure. Perhaps he'd just had a mental black out, and Pete was playing a joke. The trouble was that Pete didn't have that type of macabre sense of humour. Mike walked through the lobby to the main door.
'Mr Jerome,' came a cry of horror behind him.
'Sam,' said Mike in great relief.
'That's right, Mr Jerome, we all thought you was dead,' said the old man, staring as if he were seeing a ghost.
Mike couldn't find anything to say, until a thought struck him. 'Sam, what happened after I was knocked down by the taxi outside here?'
'They took you away in an ambulance.'
'Who did?'
'The ambulance men, Mr Jerome,' said Sam, beginning to look frightened by the inquisition.
'O.K., don't look so worried Sam,' said Mike. Out in the street he stopped to collect himself as best he could. It was all a bad nightmare. Find Pete, thought Mike. Pete would be solid reality, and once he was found, the rest of the joke might start to fit into place.
If it were truly 1979, that would explain the traffic, that seemed to be stopped in a permanently snarled up rush hour, thought Mike as he went along. It would be a logical progression from the rush hour jams of the past. At Portland Street Station he barged his way through the crowds. He searched the ticket hall for a phone but there was no sign of one.
'Excuse me,' said Mike to the man behind the grill of the ticket office, 'where do I make a phone call from?*
'Post Office.'
'Fine. Where would I find a post office?' said Mike, feeling the eyes of curiosity staring into his back.
'Down by Warren Street Station,' said the man in the monkey's cage. Mike struggled back into the street. The sky scrapers that loomed up round him made the old G.P.O. Tower look rather like a garden gnome. A large sign appeared on his right indicating that there was a Post Office in the next building. The door slid open and closed as he passed through. A flashing sign showed the way, a long moving escalator. Mike was carried down into a fluorescently lit sub-basement. In front of him as he stepped off the stairs was a large gallery, containing the Post Office, an impressive array of different banks, and what looked like a large jewellery shop.
'I'd like to make a phone call,' said Mike to a woman behind a counter marked telephones.
'Number?' said the woman as she finished with another caller.
'727 9209,' he said, risking that Pete wouldn't have got round to changing his number.
'Booth number 17,' said the woman pointing. Mike found the right box and picked up the phone which just appeared to be hanging from the wall.
'Please replace your receiver until you are called,' barked an officious voice. Mike looked at the wall and then at the phone. Where the hell was he meant to replace the bloody thing? A small hook in the wall eventually caught his eye, and he attached the phone onto this. If this was really 1979 then he didn't think much of it. The whole atmosphere was rather like walking through a thick, damp fog. Mike shivered. Bip, Bip, went the phone, so he picked the instrument up from it's hook.

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