Read Seven Steps to the Sun Online

Authors: Fred Hoyle,Geoffrey Hoyle

Tags: #sf

Seven Steps to the Sun (6 page)

Mike woke with a king-size headache. It was so dark it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust. The floor was rough and cold. Mike raised himself on one hand, and looked around. He focused on the bare, shabby walls, and wondered where on earth he was. Far away in the distance he could hear the sound of heavy machinery at work and the occasional raised voice.
The room was suddenly exploded by an eye-splitting thump, and part of the outside wall caved in. Mike was instantly on his feet and grappling at the closed door as the large, menacing weight crashed in again. He pulled hard on the handle and it broke. The weight was swung out of the room. Mike moved back from the door and charged, hitting it hard. The demolition weight had distorted the frame. He pushed urgently through the gap he'd managed to make.
Outside was bright and airy. He was lucky. It was all too apparent that almost the whole building had gone except where he was standing. He heard shouts and looked down. Workmen below had noticed him and were waving frantically. The demolition weight came crashing closely alongside. It was an unhealthy place to be, and he hurriedly made his way through the rubble to safety.
'What the hell do you think you're doing?' shouted an irate workman, coming over to him.
'Sorry, mate, I didn't know you were going to demolish the building,' said Mike, taking a look around. There was nothing left of the street, and in the far distance he could see the green of Hyde Park. What the hell was he doing there?
'All right, you'd better come with me,' said a man in uniform. Mike was going to resist the invitation but, seeing the hard, stocky workmen standing close by, he decided that passiveness was a good policy at the moment. They walked over to a neat hut. The uniformed man opened the door and Mike walked in.
'What is it, Sid?' said another man in uniform sitting behind a desk.
'Found this fellow up on the landing of the house we're bringing down.'
'Where we started work this morning?'
'Right, he nearly got himself killed,' said Mike's captor.
'Rubbish,' said Mike. 'You keep your mouth shut until you're invited to speak,' said the man, getting up from behind his desk. 'You weren't trying to kill yourself, were you?' he smiled.
'Don't be stupid, why should I want to kill myself?' said Mike in exasperation.
'Funny, isn't the man funny?' said the man, giving him a back hand across the face.
'What the hell was that for?' Mike said furiously, squaring himself up to the man. He was suddenly grabbed from behind and sat down hard on a seat.
'What's your name?' said Mike's attacker, going behind the desk.
'Why?' asked Mike truculently.
'Because I need it. Funny men like you can't come walking onto my building site trying to kill themselves without being reported, dead or alive,' came the reply.
'I didn't come here to kill myself. You're mad, bloody mad.'
'All right, so you weren't trying to kill yourself, what were you doing here then?' said the man viciously.
'I came back to visit an old, familiar building before it was destroyed,' Mike said, inadequately, struggling to remember what had happened.
'Oh, roll me over and tickle my tummy again, that makes me laugh. Sounds more like you were up to no good,' said the man, taking up a pen.
'Name?'
'Jerome, Michael Jerome.'
'Fine,' said the man, getting up and putting on his jacket. 'You'd better come with me.' Mike was ushered out of the hut and the two of them made their way to the entrance of the site and to a row of small bubble like cars. The man went up to the first one and opened the door. Mike got in. As the man walked round to the other side of the vehicle, Mike tried to find a door handle, but he didn't have enough time. The man pressed a switch, let the brake off, and they were on the move.
Mike was sharply aware of the emptiness of the streets. It was uncanny. London streets were always an inferno of metal and noise.
They stopped and entered a police station. At the desk the man who had brought him pressed a button and a policeman appeared. He was dressed in a lightweight, blue uniform almost like army combat dress, and carried a gun.
'Yes?' said the policeman.
'Found this fellow on the building site.'
'Do you want to prefer charges?'
'No, I'll leave him with you,' said the man, moving towards a corridor. The policeman nodded and picked up a form and pen.
'Now, sir, would you like to tell me what you were doing at the site?'
'I don't really know.'
'Right, your name please.'
'Michael Jerome.'
'Address.'
'I'm afraid I don't have an address at the moment.'
'What were you doing on the site?' said the policeman unperturbed.
'I went back to have a look for an old friend, but I found that the whole street was being demolished,' Mike said, stating the nearest thing to the truth. He leant forwards to see what the man was writing. The date at the top of the form confirmed his dread. It was 1989. Feeling dazed, he turned round to look for something to sit on.
'Just a moment, Mr Jerome,' said the policeman, leaving the room.
Mike made for the door. He pushed hard on the glass doors but they wouldn't budge.
'That's the entrance, not the exit.' Mike turned to see a plain-clothes man standing behind the counter. 'If you will come this way.'
Mike passed through a half-door in the counter, and looked hard at the pleasant face with its lines of worry running from the corners of the eyes. Mike felt very conspicuous alongside him. Everyone was wearing clothes made from light fabrics, with a military cut about them, whereas he was wearing his roll neck sweater and suede jacket. They passed through a large room which looked like a communications room. In a rabbit warren of passages, the man in front of him stopped. Mike hesitated for a moment in the doorway, and was given a push from the policeman he'd first seen. This man slid the door shut behind him, leaving the plain-clothes man and himself. The room contained a semi-circular desk and two chairs. The man sat down behind the desk and motioned Mike to take a seat. Mike was unimpressed by the room; it was so stark it was uncomfortable. The detective read something that was in front of him and clicked a switch on the desk.
'Sergeant, cross reference the fingerprints and let me have the file on Mr Jerome, Mr Michael Jerome,' said the man, swinging round in his chair and looking out of the window. There was nothing of interest out in the yard, except for a grill in the ground to allow the water to drain away. The sergeant took Mike's fingerprints and went away.
'There's nothing on him, sir.' The sergeant had returned, nonplussed.
'That's ridiculous. Mr Jerome, can you remember when your fingerprints were taken?'
'I think the last time that I can remember was when I got my New York driving licence,' said Mike, in all honesty.
'No, I mean for the computer identification,' the detective said testily.
'I don't think I've ever had that done,' came Mike's reply.
'You must have, you wouldn't have a passport otherwise. Come to think of it, you wouldn't be able to do anything without this record being taken,' said the detective, in firm disbelief.
'There is some information on Mr Jerome, sir,' said the sergeant, handing over a very thin file. It was opened and studied. Mike sat there trying to think of any offences he might have committed, but nothing came to mind.
'Well, Jerome,' the detective said, his voice changing to a hard, official tone, 'what were you doing on June 7th, 1979, and where have you been since that date?'
'I was with a friend called Peter Jones,' said Mike.
'And what have you been doing since then?'
'I don't know,' said Mike truthfully.
'Mr Jerome, you are wanted by the police for questioning. If you won't tell me where you've been then I must assume you've been in hiding, otherwise you couldn't have avoided having your fingerprints taken.'
'Not necessarily,' Mike said, wondering what the devil they wanted to talk to him about.
'Oh yes, every country in the world runs fingerprinting computers, and I don't feel you could have avoided them, unless you were purposely hiding.'
Mike sat looking at the detective wondering what he could say.
'Jerome, I'm waiting,' said the detective, impatiently.
'Well, all right,' said Mike. 'The answer to your question is very simple, I've been travelling through time.'
'Sergeant,' said the detective, and the man left the room.
'Jerome, before you get yourself into real trouble by telling lies, I suggest you see the police doctor.'
'What for?' asked Mike.
'If you find that you can't tell the truth, then the doctor will help you.'
'Help me, in what way?' asked Mike crossly.
'It's very painless, just a truth serum. It saves a lot of time when a suspect is unco-operative.'
'Don't I have any choice?' asked Mike in amazement.
'No,' came the simple reply.
'You mean to tell me you're legally allowed to do this?'
'Of course, I'll show you the law if you want,' said the detective opening a drawer.
'Sounds like Orwell's 1984,' said Mike sarcastically.
'I'm afraid that's a little off target. This is just a speedy way of helping a very undermanned police force.'
Mike sat in silence waiting for the doctor. Thrusting his hands deep into his pockets he suddenly remembered the notes Smitt had given him. They were no longer there. As he sat racking his brains trying to remember where he might have lost them, he had an uneasy fear that something or someone had more control over his predicament than he had himself. He had little to fear from the drug as the truth was going to give the police a big headache. But what on earth did they want him for? The door opened and in came a jovial, middle-aged man and a couple of assistants, carrying various pieces of electrical equipment.
'Morning, Doc,' said the detective, 'got a rather stubborn fellow here who needs help.'
'We'll soon have him sorted out,' said the doctor, turning to Mike. 'Morning, could you roll up your sleeve, please?'
Mike obliged and was given a strong jab with a hypodermic needle. The two assistants busied themselves setting up their equipment. The doctor looked at his watch and felt Mike's pulse. Mike waited in great anticipation for something dramatic to happen, but he didn't feel any different.
'Feel all right?' said the doctor. Mike nodded.
It was a good five minutes before the doctor and the detective settled down to questioning him. The assistants had finished playing with their tape recorder and it was now connected up. Mike still felt no different, but when the questions started, the answers seemed to roll off his tongue without any apparent effort from himself. He told them all about himself, his career, the meeting with the professor and what had happened to him since. The detective asked him a terrific amount about his relationship with Pete, and particularly about June 7th, 1979. Mike told them what he could remember about the last minutes before he lost consciousness. They went on asking him questions about the event until they'd exhausted their lines of approach. The detective went over and over Mike's statement with a fine toothcomb, trying hard to find some weak link in what Mike had been saying, but he couldn't. Eventually the questions stopped and the doctor gave Mike a second jab.
'There we are, Mr Jerome. You'll feel perfectly all right in a few minutes,' said the doctor cheerfully, packing up his bag, and leaving the room to the detective and the two assistants.
'You've got me really puzzled. Your story is the most far-fetched I've ever heard,' said the detective looking a little bewildered.
'Have you anything for a headache,' Mike asked, feeling a pain building up behind his eyes. One of the assistants produced a box of pills. To Mike's pleasure the pill didn't have an unpleasant taste, as he crunched it up. He then sat there praying that it would soon relieve the pain. The detective got up from his chair and started to pace steadily around the room. 'How do you feel?' asked one of the assistants. 'Awful,' Mike replied, feeling a little sorry for himself. The assistant took another pill from the box and Mike consumed it.
'You rest your head,' said the detective pleasantly, as they left the room. Mike's head suddenly began to ease. He got up and gently tried the sliding door. It opened; he peered out into the corridor. The thought of escaping loomed large in his mind. He turned and went over to the window. There didn't seem to be much hope that way, as the yard was completely enclosed. Perhaps his chance would come later. He had no idea of the lay-out of the building, and if he were caught, the police would be even more suspicious of him. Mike stopped pacing round the room and studied the electronics equipment. Part of it was obviously a tape recorder, but the rest of it baffled him. All it seemed to be was a box plugged into the wall.
'Interested in electronics?' said the sergeant from behind.
'Yes, I was wondering what it was?' Mike said, pointing at the box.
'It's very simple really, your statement was recorded on this tape machine. It then went into the box, where it was converted into computer language, and passed on to the central computer. There it is stored. Anyone wanting to hear what you said just has to type out your name on the input machine, and within seconds, we get everything there is to know about you,' said the policeman, with great pride.
'Will you come with me,' said the detective, poking his head round the door.
'Where to?' asked Mike, following him.
'They want a word with you over at Scotland Yard,' said the detective as they passed through the communications room. They turned through a door marked exit, and out into a car park. Mike was interested to find that the car they were travelling in was petrol-driven.

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