Read an Excerpt
When the machine first wound down, Kate Connor couldn’t quite decide if it had worked. The room she was standing in looked ordinary—neat and uniform, but ordinary. The carpet was a rough beige pile, and a little curving armchair stood to her right, by the door. Warm light spilled from beneath another door directly in front of her, giving the entire room a soft ambience that she found somewhat comforting.
It could have been anywhere. It didn’t have to be 3033. For all Kate knew, the machine hadn’t worked, and instead she’d been teleported to somebody’s plush, little apartment.
But then more details surged into focus, and a different idea of what sort of year this was came with them.
The door to her right, for example. It had the look of something you’d find on a submarine. It seemed reinforced and strangely shaped, rounded where it should have been sharp-edged, sunken and scalloped where it should have been smooth and straight.
There was no discernable handle.
There were no objects in the room, either. It took her a while to notice, but once there they became starkly obvious. No books, no DVDs, no magazines lying around—nothing but a little table, a bed and an armchair, with nothing resting on top of any of them. Everything was pristine and seamless, as though no-one had ever lived in the room she stood in.
Even though she knew someone did live here. She could hear them, in the bathroom.
Of course, it could have been that the room before her was not, in fact, a bathroom. After all, the running water might have signified anything, in this brand new alien context. Perhaps they used the water to pass electric currents through their molecularised bodies here. Maybe it wasn’t water she could hear at all, but stabilising fluid, for their mechanised gears.
For the first time since starting this whole crazy thing, awareness of the complete unknown grabbed hold of her guts. She thought not of the sweet countdown to her first journey through the machine, but of its opposite—how long until Waites zapped her back? How long was left? Ten seconds? Twenty? It had seemed like a scrawny little glimpse, before, and she had pushed for more.
Why in God’s name had she pushed for more?
The bathroom door was starting to open. Any second, and Earth’s bleak and terrible future was going to emerge and grab her with its tentacles. She held her breath without even being aware of it; her hand clenched tight around the timer strapped to her wrist, ready to press and press and send a frantic plea for help across the vast acres of time and space—
He was almost a disappointment, after a build-up like that.
“Hello, brother,” he said—and not even in a Chaucerian accent in reverse, or with a buzzing mechanical note behind his voice, like the lizards in V. She ran her gaze the entire length of him, but no third arm sprang out. There didn’t seem to be a ray gun on him or a tentacle growing out of his bum or anything, not anything at all.
He looked like a normal human man. Apart from the preternatural attractiveness, which Kate was pretty sure didn’t count as terrifying. In normal circumstances, perhaps, but not when in the future, trying to cope with everything aside from handsomeness.
Like the gesture he appeared to be making. Hand up, palm facing her. It seemed impolite not to make the gesture in return, and yet awkwardness flooded her on doing so.
“Hello,” she found herself replying, the steady tone of her voice a flickering surprise. It should quake, if only because of one constantly beating fact—she was speaking to a man from the year 3033. Whether or not he was about to eat her face seemed somewhat irrelevant, in light of that fact.
“Can I help you?”