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Remaining back where

Authors: Pinkskin
Categories: Adventure
Show Year: Y2
Rating: PG-13
Date: 2012

Story 2 in the "Journey back where" series +
1 - Journey back where
2 - Remaining back where
3 - Trouble back where
4 - A twist in time
Present day site of Lost Royal Chapel, Sterling Castle, Scotland. A book of ancient text is uncovered during remedial work to the castle floor.
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Sequel to Journey back where


Site of Lost Royal Chapel, Sterling Castle, Scotland October 2012

Pete Gosforth hated high profile archaeology. His boss, one of the head honchos at Balmoral Contracts had sent him and his team for this job personally, due to his meticulous attention to detail. High profile restoration work like this was high pressure, and it didn't get much higher profile than this.

Since several skeletons were discovered the last time he was working here for the company back in 1997, he had been uneasy. The place was crawling with reporters at the time, and he was even interviewed by the BBC. He had watched the documentary that was made subsequently, boffins from Dundee University had even been able to tell the cause of death of a couple of them, a man killed by an arrow, and a woman who had her head bashed in with a mace. He shuddered involuntarily.

This time his firm had been called in to investigate a part of the stone floor that was beginning to sink into the ground. They had used ground penetrating radar equipment that had indicated that a void had opened up under one of the large flagstones, and there was concern that an oil extraction process known as fracking being carried out some 15 miles away may have something to do with it, so there was a great deal of urgency to make sure the problem didn't get any worse.

They had been working all day, to ensure that the flagstone could be lifted without damaging it, or its surroundings. A large electric winch stood above it, supported by a heavy metal frame, and straps had been manoeuvred under the flagstone at either end. Pete pressed the go button, his other hand over the big red stop mushroom, ready to kill the power at the slightest hint of trouble.

The stone began to lift slowly, with the sort of grinding sound heard on old horror films, and the light began to fall on the ground it covered for the first time in well over six hundred years. The stone was lifted around a foot, and swung over to an area prepared with rubber matting, and lowered back down. A musty smell rose up, and it became apparent what had happened, the castle itself was built on an extinct volcano, with a large amount of rock and soil used to create a level surface on which it stood.

The seismic activity had caused the ballast to settle, forming the void they had detected, and revealing something wrapped in cloth, brown and brittle with age. More archaeology - Pete had a distinct feeling of déjà vu and rolled his eyes, he hoped it didn't contain body parts this time.

He reached for his 'phone to call his boss.

Chapter 1

University of Glasgow, Scotland October 2012

John Spears again found himself in the office of Caroline Sterling, University of Glasgow's head of archaeology. He wondered why Caroline had summoned him, he was fairly sure she had no idea that the theft of a strange artefact unearthed during the on-going works for the Bannockburn visitor centre from her desk drawer a couple of months ago was his doing. At the time Caroline hadn't even called the police, which he found somewhat strange.

"I have an assignment for you John" said Caroline. "I have recommended you for secondment to the University of Dundee, to investigate a book of ancient text that was discovered a few days ago under the floor of Sterling Castle"

John did not particularly fancy working in Dundee - he would probably have to stay in a hotel during the week and be away from his family, for one thing "What is so special about this book? Can they not send it here?" he said. "No", Caroline replied "though I did ask. It seems it is very old, very fragile, and most likely priceless. It has been carbon dated to circa 1320-1370" Caroline turned to her computer and brought up an email with a picture attached, then swivelled her computer screen around to face John"

"And I think we have both seen something like this before, this is a picture of the first page" John looked at the picture, of a page of ancient yellow parchment, filled with very small, very neatly written script. John recognised it at once, "This is the same language as the inscription on the pendant" he said. It came out somewhat croaky though, as his mouth had suddenly gone dry.

"I thought you would be interested" said Caroline "I said you would start work Monday morning"

John returned to his desk, and scrabbled through the clutter to find the business card he had been given by the mysterious Jane he had met previously. He picked up his mobile, rather than the office phone, and rang the number. Jane answered promptly. He said "this is John Spears, you remember we talked a couple of months ago, well something else has come up. It seems your distant ancestor kept a journal" there was a very long pause "what?" Jane replied "it's in the same ah language, and was hidden under the floor of Sterling Castle. I am being sent to the University of Dundee next week to investigate it" John said.

Another long pause ensued; eventually Jane replied "Can I come with you?" "I would imagine it's being held under tight security, in archaeological and collectors circles a book of such age that has survived is likely to be very valuable indeed, I doubt that you will be allowed near it" said John. "Can I be your assistant or something?" Jane asked in that pleading tone she had used on him before. John promised he would see what he could do, and would ring her back later, before ending the call.

Arranging for Jane to be his "assistant" had not been easy for John, he had been forced to effectively make up her "career" in the ancient written word as he went along, he wasn't really sure Caroline bought into it either, but eventually she gave her blessing, and recommended Jane Spellman to the University of Dundee's governors as Johns assistant. She was however required to provide evidence of her identity and qualifications for the job when she arrived for work, and she would not be paid directly either. John hoped the IT skills her business card purported her to have would be up to the job of creating the necessary certification.

Jane arranged to meet John in a fast food restaurant near the University of Dundee, she had arranged accommodation locally for the week, (Johns University had arranged for a room in the halls of residence for him - he was sure Caroline had something to do with that - probably to get back at him for railroading Jane's assistant role).

He actually arrived somewhat late; it had been difficult to find parking in the unfamiliar city. Jane greeted him with a smile, the heavy makeup she wore very obvious in the harsh florescent lighting of the restaurant. "I guess we need a plan of action" she said. John hadn't really thought that far ahead, he replied "I will have to make a show of researching the language, pretend to get very frustrated, then eventually give up, and declare it to be a dead language, whilst you transcribe the whole thing. How good is your knowledge of err Psychon?"

Jane replied thoughtfully "About as good as a six year old on a good day. Well remembered on the name, by the way, and you got it just about right about a dead language, she was the last of her kind you know."

They were taken to meet the head of Archaeology and Scottish history, a dour man in his sixties with white hair and gold rimmed spectacles by the name of Jason McGee. He inspected Jane's "qualifications" and returned them to her without comment. John wasn't surprised.

Jason McGee entwined his fingers together "What we have is a very rare find indeed, but we have not been able to make a shred of sense out of it. You come highly recommended in this field, Mr Spears, and I want you to give it your best shot."

"We will do our best" said John "I have specialised in old languages for many years." Just then there was a knock on the door, and two men dressed in smart suits appeared. "Our friends from in-house security will take you to it, and see you are comfortable. Any reference material you require will be provided, just ask" said McGee.

They were led into an air conditioned room. The book sat on a clear Perspex stand, and several pairs of cotton gloves were provided, to prevent contamination from human hands. John noted a large CCTV camera staring balefully down on them. Jane unpacked her laptop, and John produced a large notebook and magnifying glass. Soon John was scribbling ineffectively in the notebook, and Jane was typing quickly and quietly on the laptop.

Chapter 2

Alpha Village, Scotland, April 1337

Alpha Village status report; recorded by Maya Verdeschi. After much argument our leader John Koenig has eventually given permission for me to detail our exile here on ancient Earth, provided it is written in my native language of Psychon. As I am the last of my kind, and began my life on another world, this will be unreadable by any who should find it in the future, but it gives us a sense that we have at least left our mark in some way. For we are what remains of those that lived on Moonbase Alpha, marooned when earth's natural satellite was flung into space following a nuclear disaster, far in the future. All are invited to contribute, for we are Alphans, and this is our story....

Heather McCoy ran. She ran for her life, literally. At 26 years of age she was no youngster either, she had managed to escape from the Monastery, the only life she had known. But she had been betrayed, by a man of God that she thought she could trust. She was a healer, taught by the wise women since she was a little girl, the ways of herbs and potions, and prayer and incantation. But she had been too successful. Those who would have died under the care of others survived when she treated them, and there had been bad blood among her ken. Someone had accused her of witchcraft, and that was all it took, for a macabre death sentence to be passed down on her.

But she had escaped, had dug her way under the wooden stockade that she had been flung into and ran free, as fast as she could. She had been running for nearly an hour, but the light was fading now. Dogs were barking in the distance, the menfolk of the village, better fed and stronger in body were catching up.

The pain in her chest from the exertion was forcing her to slow down; even the thought of impending capture was not enough to summon further strength, her legs felt like dead weights. However her sharp mind had noticed her pursuers did not seem to be getting any closer; she could hear distant shouts of confusion, and even fear. Then it occurred to her, she had been hearing rumours for some years about a powerful hidden clan of wizards and demons, she must have run headlong into their lands.

The sudden sick feeling of realising her predicament caused her to stumble, and she fell, a glancing blow to the head knocking her unconscious.

She didn't know how long she was out; she awoke the next day, freezing cold, with a splitting headache, to the sound of footsteps nearby. Coming slowly to her senses she tried to get up, but the world span and it was all she could do to avoid being sick.

Shermeen Williams stopped her task of gathering herbs abruptly, and reached for her knife, she was sure she had heard something in the undergrowth - dangerous wild boar were occasionally known to wander close to the village, and had caused serious injury to several people in the early days of their arrival here. She walked forward a few paces, and suddenly locked eyes with a woman lying in the undergrowth. Blood oozed from a gash in her head, and had clotted on her blond hair, and she wore an expression of utter terror.

Both women were transfixed for a long moment, then Shermeen's jaw dropped as the prone woman threw back her head baring her neck, and uttered in broken English "make it quick"

"I will do no such thing. I am Shermeen, nice to meet you" now it was Heathers turn to be astonished, she had expected death, had been ready to have her throat cut, quicker than the agony of being burned at the stake, the usual fate that awaited those accused of witchcraft. "I am Heather" she stuttered, baffled by Shermeen's strange accent and behaviour.

"Well Heather, you appear to be hurt" Shermeen replied. Her mind raced, clearly the woman needed medical attention, but Koenig had been adamant about not 'mixing with the natives' more than was absolutely necessary, for fear of changing the timeline. However it wasn't unprecedented, there had been a certain amount of trade with passing merchants recently, so she decided to ask her where she was from, and where she was going.

"I am accused of witchcraft" Heather replied "I was to be burned, but by God's grace I escaped. I fell here, my accusers have left me for dead in what is said to be the lands of wizards and demons". Shermeen's heart went out to her - she had nowhere to go, and wouldn't last long without shelter in the cold Scottish April nights, and she didn't look like the survival type anyway. She would take her to the village, and let the Doctors treat her - for all she knew saving her life might be something that is supposed to happen, she rationalised. "Can you stand?" she said.

Helena Koenig gently rocked six month old Antonia Verdeschi in front of the fire in the spacious wooden cottage she shared with John Koenig, wondering what was to become of her people. This wasn't supposed to have happened; all the Alphan women were implanted with long term subcutaneous contraceptives, but six months after getting married, Maya fell pregnant. John had been furious at the time, though Helena had patiently pointed out that it wasn't Maya's fault; it was probably differences in her physiology that made the contraceptives less effective. During her pregnancy however Maya temporarily lost her shapeshifting ability, and consequently the ability to take to the air and keep an eye on what the locals were up to, something John saw as vital to their safety.

Shermeen walked slowly back to the village, with Heather McCoy following unsteadily behind her, shaking with cold and fear. She had done her best to persuade the woman that she would come to no harm, indeed that their healers were highly skilled, but she didn't think she had done much good. She surmised that she was probably suffering from hypothermia, and shock.

After a few minutes they came across the outskirts of the village, consisting of numerous single story small thatched wooden dwellings, either side of a wide pathway. The Koenig's house was one of the largest, with an extra room that served as Helena's surgery, in addition to a small infirmary further along. Under the circumstances Shermeen decided to bring Heather there directly. The whole place stank of wood smoke and cooking, but luckily it was still early and they didn't run into anyone on the way.

"I am going to bring you to our chief healer" said Shermeen, "she will attend to you" they reached the Koenig's door and she knocked gently. After a few moments Helena appeared with little Antonia in her arms "Shermeen" she said "what can I..." she tailed off as she clocked Heather McCoy behind her, automatically assessing her head injury, even as she pulled the blanket over the baby's cheeks to hide her prominent markings. Shermeen spoke quickly "This is Heather McCoy, I found her in the forest early this morning whilst I was out collecting herbs. She has been sentenced to death by burning for witchcraft, but she escaped. She fell and spent the night unconscious outside"

Helena passed the infant to Shermeen and invited Heather inside; she gingerly shuffled forward, her face a mask of fear. "Calm down" said Helena "I'm not going to hurt you. If you follow me through to my healing room I'll get you cleaned up and look at that head wound" she worked a clumsy hand pump to fill a large wooden bowel with water. Heather's eyes went wide, but she let Helena clean her wound. "The damage is not that bad, but I think you may have concussion, and you are very cold" she said. Heather had difficulty with the strange words and accent, but nodded. She felt a little better, and Helena had managed to get most of the blood out of her hair, which helped.

"I will get you a hot drink, infused with herbs to make you feel better and sleep for a little while" said Helena, as she went to the living area, and returned with a large kettle, blackened by soot, that she used to pour hot water over a powder she had prepared in a battered old tankard "now take this - be careful, it's hot" and passed it to Heather.

She drank the potion slowly, and started feeling better almost immediately, along with a feeling of sleepiness and well-being. She fancied that she heard the sound of a large bird, and an odd light shining for a moment just outside, as sleep claimed her. Helena carefully took the empty tankard from her hand, and laid her down gently on the straw pallet she had been sitting on.

Maya was surprised to find Shermeen holding her baby as she let herself in to the Koenig's dwelling; Shermeen quickly explained the situation, seeing the flicker of revulsion on Maya's face at the manner of the poor woman's death sentence. "What are we going to do with her?" Shermeen asked. "I have no idea" said Maya "but we can't send her back to an awful death, we will probably have to have a meeting of the council" "John should be back soon" said Helena, as she returned from the surgery and returned the refilled kettle to its position on the hearth. John had left early to participate in one of Tony Verdeschi's new early morning fitness sessions, and it seemed to have overrun somewhat.

Alpha village's council, though democratically elected, consisted of more or less the command staff from Moonbase Alpha, and although they came in for criticism from time to time, as usual nobody else really wanted the job. They still clung to their titles to some extent, out of a kind of nostalgia. A meeting was scheduled for eleven, attended by Commander Koenig, Helena Koenig, Maya Verdeschi, Tony Verdeschi and Alan Carter, with Shermeen Williams included, as she had the most contact with the new arrival in their midst. "I see that we have two options really" said Koenig, "we can escort Heather some considerable distance, at quite some risk to whoever accompanies her, and try to find her a new life, or we can try and integrate her into our society. I don't really like either of them, what if she was actually meant to die?"

Helena was the first to respond "I don't think trying to build her a new life is going to work John, she is frightened out of her wits" Shermeen added "and she presented her neck to me to cut her throat when we first met, she needs to be looked after, rehabilitated even". "If we try to accept her into our society, we will have to tell her who we are, and that's not going to be very easy for her to understand, to put it mildly" said Alan.

A lively debate ensued, and after over an hour it was decided to try and accept Heather into their society. Maya actually volunteered to talk to her, and try and explain everything. Though it seemed an unlikely choice, as Maya put it, the Alphans had only ever accepted one outsider into their society, her. It was agreed she could stay in the Koenig's place for now, and Maya would visit her in the morning.

Maya made absolutely no effort to hide her appearance the next morning, she wore a green woollen dress that showed her long neck, and the pendant that she wore from her homeworld, she knew her appearance was likely to shock the woman, but she might as well get it over with.

Heather was feeling much better. These strange people had been kind to her, Helena had found her some clean clothes, and she had washed her hair, and had a hearty breakfast. "I have someone who wants to meet you" Helena announced "She will be along very shortly. I don't want you to be frightened of her; she wants to be your friend." Heather did not know what to think, so far Helena, Shermeen and John had been very nice to her.

There was a tap on the door, and Helena announced "That is probably Maya, she is who I was talking about, why don't you let her in?" Heather thought quickly, nobody here seemed to wish her harm; it was very different from the society she grew up in. These people were quiet, ordered and peaceful. She suddenly realised something else was different; there were no children, well not quite true, she had seen one yesterday, and had noticed that Helena had quickly hidden the child's face from her, but there were no children running around the place. That seemed unnatural somehow. She stood up and opened the door, and for the first time in her life stared straight into the eyes of a witch.

To give Heather her due, she didn't scream. In fact she didn't make a sound; she just backed away, until her back hit the Koenig's dining table. She even managed to mutter a greeting, sort of, mostly obscured by her mortal fear. At least two minutes passed, and the two women stared at each other in silence. Eventually Maya broke the silence "I believe the human phrase is do you not have a tongue in your head?" Heather didn't understand most of that. However the witch named Maya had not turned her into stone, cast her into hell, or any of a myriad of other things that her upbringing suggested was likely in this situation. "I am Heather McCoy" she said "and I do not parlay with witches".

Maya smiled slightly, she couldn't help but think of the old movie The Wizard of Oz that Tony had shown her early on in their relationship on Alpha. "I am Maya Verdeschi and I am not a witch, I am a flesh and blood woman just a little different from my friends here" Heather noticed Helena and John were entirely comfortable in the presence of the witch Maya; clearly she was part of their clan. She was entirely baffled, for the second time in as many days by this turn of events. Maya continued "I have come to offer you membership of our community, with the benefit of friends and protection, as clearly we cannot send you back to your own people, to face a barbaric death. Very many years ago I was a newcomer too, and was shown friendship and compassion, and even found love"

Heather found herself saying "The child is yours?" Maya looked surprised "how did you know" she said "Helena quickly covered the child when I first met her, but not before I saw its face, it... it looked like you" Heather replied. "That is my daughter Antonia" said Maya, surprised by the quick witted response "The only child we have. Her birth was not planned"

Planned? Thought Heather in utter confusion. How do you plan a child? Why were there no more children? Had God made the clan barren as a punishment for harbouring a witch? She resolved to ask Shermeen, she had saved her life, and Heather trusted her.

Maya sat down, as Helena busied herself preparing hot herbal tea. She continued "there is much that you need to know if you are to live among us. We are not from around here" Heather had herd the tales from the drunken men she had sometimes tended to, injured in brawls fuelled by drink that erupted in the local alehouses. She was also aware she was talking to a witch, but the logical part of her mind told her she had no home now. "I have heard of the tales told at the alehouses" Heather said "That you and your clan once lived in a great castle on the moon, but you were cast down to the earth by the Devil. But I do not believe them, stories of such are for children and the feeble minded"

Maya was shocked, and it showed in her face, Dave Reilly had said something about such tales, but Maya had assumed Dave had been winding her up, something he often did when Tony wasn't around. She decided it might be better to get Helena to tell their story, as a Doctor she had a way of explaining things without the scientific terminology she was so comfortable with. "We lived on the moon for many years Heather, but I will ask Helena to tell our story, as I think you will find it a bit easier to understand from her"

It took hours. Bright though she was Heather could not be expected to understand such concepts as space travel, and life on other worlds. And she thought the earth was flat - Maya had found that particularly frustrating.

Heather had found the story very hard to understand, but it was told with such sincerity and with such patience by Helena (Maya had been right, when she had tried to help out and explain things it had only gotten more confusing) that at some point about halfway through she had begun to believe it. And it was not just the fantastical notion of journeying between the stars, the behaviour of the Alpha clan in rescuing Maya and showing her compassion when her Father had tried to kill them all was not something she could imagine any society doing.

Maya had let Heather examine her pendant in detail, and had been in awe when she described the dress it once belonged to. Helena had asked what Heather was good at, and when she discovered she had been a healer, offered her an apprenticeship of sorts with just one condition; she must swear never, ever to use her skills on anyone other than the Alpha clan.

Heather accepted. She had no choice really; Shermeen had offered her living space in the dwelling she shared with a Jamaican woman named Marie Scott. Heather had never seen a black person before, so Shermeen had drawn a rather out of scale map of the world on a piece of slate, and pointed out where Jamaica was. Then she asked the question that had been troubling her since her arrival "Where are the children?" she said. "We cannot have children" Shermeen replied, she showed Heather a slightly raised area on her upper arm. "All the women have these, they change the way our bodies work so we can't get pregnant. We can't have children in case they go on to change the future" Heather thought for a moment, Helena had tried over and over to get the concept of corrupting the timeline over to her. She was still vague about it, but thought perhaps in time she would understand. "But Maya has a child" she said. "Maya is different, it worked for her too to begin with, Helena thinks it's something to do with the shapeshifting, not copying the foreign molecules in the implant back exactly correctly or something" Shermeen replied without thinking.

"I don't understand" said Heather "Shape something? Mole what?" Shermeen realised they hadn't told Heather about Maya's shapeshifting, she already thought she was a witch, albeit a friendly one, presumably they thought that would be a step too far. "Maya will probably explain it to you when you are ready." Shermeen wondered if she would ever be ready, what they had told her so far had most likely turned her whole world view upside down.

For the next few months through into summer Helena taught what she could of modern medicine to Heather. She had managed to create crude antibiotics, effective in an age before disease had become resistant to them, but they had still lost too many of their people that she could have easily saved back on Alpha. Heather was proving to be a very bright pupil, and was making progress accepting the Alphans for who they are. She began to frequent the Tavern, a far nicer place than the Alehouses she had heard of, her vocabulary had improved, and she even had a few friends, and had certainly caught the eye of Dave Reilly.

Dave had taken to Heather, they had long walks together, and he told her of adventures the Alphans had been through that she could barely imagine. For her part she had little to tell in return, hers was a simple life, but she very much enjoyed the time she spent with him. It wasn't long before she was being included in mundane conversation, and one night at the alehouse after several pints of Tony's famous beer she overheard a conversation between her housemates that disturbed her greatly, Shermeen had remarked that Maya "sometimes indulges Dave Reilly in his passion, and that Tony puts up with it, but underneath is jealous and it shows".

Heather was heartbroken; she was actually beginning to enjoy life with the Alphans, and was beginning to develop strong feelings for Dave, and she had been under the impression the feeling was mutual. Now she realised he had been playing her for a fool, clearly he had no respect when it came to women. Come to think of it she had seen Dave walking in the direction of the meadow a couple of times around mid-morning, carrying a large leather contraption. She had thought nothing of it at the time, just another of the odd things her new friends did. But she would confront him with the witch Maya in his arms and tell him what she thought. Her honour was at stake after all, she was not just some tart from the gutter.

So Heather had waited, she still spoke to Dave, though it now made her feel ill inside, instead of dreamy and elated. One particularly sunny day Maya had called on him, and the two of them set off for the meadow, Dave again carrying the leather contraption, and wearing his strange pigskin hat, smiling. A few people smiled back at them. Did these people have no morals? Heather followed them quietly at a distance. She managed to secrete herself behind a large gorse bush, and waited for them to embrace. They did not do that, and she would remember what they did do for the rest of her life.

Dave set the leather contraption down on the ground, and Maya stood a few feet in front of him. She seemed to have a faraway look in her eyes, then her outline blurred, and for a second there was a ball of light. The light faded and there in front of Dave stood a beautiful white horse, its mane stirring slightly in the breeze. He promptly put the leather contraption on the horses back, tied it on and using a hanging foothold swung himself into position. He then rode the horse around the meadow at full tilt, waving his hat and hollering at the top of his voice for the best part of an hour.

Heather didn't stick around. Her mind could not deal with what she had seen and turned inwards; she turned and ran, and kept running on and on.

Dave untied the saddle, and put it to one side. The snorting heavy breathing of the horse became the very heavy breathing of Maya, red hair untied and plastered to her face. However rather than being elated by the experience, as she usually was, as soon as her breathing had calmed to the point of being able to talk exclaimed "Dave, I could not comprehend what the significance was from the horses mind, but I saw Heather - she saw the whole thing and ran off in a blind panic!"

Dave was mortified; he was really starting to become very fond of Heather. "We have to find her!"

The whole village became involved. They searched in the direction that Maya had seen her run, to the extent of their territory. They found nothing. Maya took to the sky in the form of an owl for its excellent eyesight, to no avail. She seemed to have just disappeared. Dave hoped she had not been picked up by her own people, and shuddered at the prospect of the fate that awaited her if she had.

Heather ran and ran, her chest burned, and her vision was clouded by a red mist. She had seen such sorcery with her own eyes, and Dave was a part of it, embraced and enjoyed it even. Her logical mind and her upbringing were in conflict, the tiny part of her mind that comprehended it was just two friends having fun, not Dave womanising with a witch was overwhelmed by the teachings of church and tradition. Eventually she could run no further, and collapsed, crying profusely.

Heather didn't know how long she had been crying, or where she was, so she decided to start walking, and hope some familiar landmark would come into view. After several hours she saw smoke in the distance, and made for it, now not caring if it was her own people or not. The source of the smoke turned out to be a large stone built manor house, but as she drew closer she noticed something was very wrong. A tattered black flag fluttered limply from a makeshift flagpole, formed in a hurry from the branch of a tree.

Heather was not thinking rationally, she should have known that the flag indicated the pestilence known as the Black Death had taken the household, but a side door to the kitchens was open and she entered anyway, tired hungry and troubled. The inside was a mess, but she found some stale bread and ate hungrily. She was just about to wallow in another bout of self-pity when a sound startled her from upstairs. She froze, ready to run or apologise, she was not sure which. The sound came again, someone moving around, then something heavy fell to the floor with a crash, and she was sure she could hear moaning.

She resolved to try to help, she was a healer after all, and it would stop her thinking about what she had witnessed this morning for a while, if nothing else. The door from the servant's area to the main house was also open and she stepped through and ascended the narrow stone staircase towards the source of the sound. The great hall was in darkness, shutters closed over the windows, and only a single almost exhausted candle lit the room. A young man, dressed in what must have originally been great finery lay on a pallet on the floor, and even in the dim light large pustules were visible on his neck, and he was writhing around in what must have been agony.

Heather had nursed the man for a week, using Helena's homebrew antibiotics that she carried in a drawstring bag, along with her herbs and other healer's paraphernalia stuffed into a large pocket in her skirt. Eventually his senses returned and he asked her who she was. "I am Heather McCoy" she explained; "I was accused of being a witch, but escaped". She decided to leave out her experiences with her new friends; the image of the witch Maya turning herself into a horse was still giving her nightmares, however for all that she wished very much to return to them, especially to Dave Reilly.

The young man announced himself as John O'Conner son of the Earl of Dunsmoore, he had lost his entire family to the Black Death, but that was not going to stop him rewarding her for saving his life. Heather asked him if he knew of the hidden clan rumoured to be in league with monsters and demons, and he said he had, but only from hearsay. For saving his life, she said she wanted only one thing, would he take her to them. He said he would, once his strength had returned, though he questioned her sanity somewhat. However a debt of life was as big a debt as a man could have, and he was as good as his word.

A week later very early in the morning he awoke her and announced he was ready, and asked her to follow him. He carried what Heather recognised to be a far less sophisticated version of the leather contraption Dave had used to ride the horse that the witch Maya had conjured somehow from herself, and they walked for perhaps half an hour to a spot that was obviously important to him, a craggy peak overlooking his lands. He sat down, and whistled loudly several times.

There was a thundering of hooves, and a very large black horse appeared, its breath steaming in the cold early morning air. From Heathers point of view it seemed to have come out of nowhere. John fastened the leather contraption to the horses back, much the same way she had seen Dave do, what seemed like five minutes ago, and pulled himself astride. John then motioned for Heather to join him, and though scared out of her wits she was eventually seated behind him. The ride back to Alpha village was the most exhilarating thing she had done in her life, the cold air flew past her and the landscape thundered by, in a rush that she had never felt before; she could suddenly see the escape that Dave had sought from Maya. Eventually they arrived, however Alpha village could defend itself, various clever trips had alerted Tony's security staff, and they were ready, all spears, arrows and martial arts training. Maya stood to one side, to defend the village in a way only she could if necessary.

The horse came to a stop, and Tony stepped forward. "I see you have one of our clan" he said. John replied "I am John O'Conner, son of the Earl of Dunsmoore. I have come here to return Heather to you, as payment for her saving my life" Heather awkwardly dismounted, and John O'Conner turned his horse around, and galloped off without another word.

"She did what" exclaimed Koenig in the council meeting that had been hastily convened following Heathers return. "She is a healer" Helena replied softly "What else did you expect?" "But we made her swear that she would not treat anyone from outside our society" Koenig persisted. "What if this John O'Conner changes history? He should have been left to die"

Heather had been invited to the meeting, and was now crying profusely. Between bouts of sobbing she said "I was scared. My wits had left me, the witchcraft I saw Maya perform for Dave Reilly was too much at the time" she looked over at Maya, who was feeling decidedly awkward. "The damage is done" said Helena "and nothing we can do will change things". Helena had been shocked to the core when John Koenig had initially mooted the suggestion that they might take a team and assassinate O'Conner. The other council members had talked him out of it, but not after some very heated discussion that was utterly meaningless to Heather. She was wondering what was going to become of her, these people had trusted her and she had broken her oath.

As the meeting drew to a close Heather hiccupped "What of me?" she was feeling particularly wretched, and just wanted her life to end on the spot. "I for one hope you remain part of our society, we were sick with worry when you ran off" Maya replied. Heather was dumbfounded, something that happened a lot to her since she joined the Alphans. "I am sorry I scared you. You see Dave Reilly is an Irish Cowboy, and horses are in his blood. Occasionally I ah, indulge him in his passion". Heather noticed Tony giving her a particularly uncomfortable look "Usually I enjoy it as well. It is not witchcraft, magic or any other such thing. The science is very complex, I do not understand it fully myself, but some of my kind have the ability to change our form, as you saw."

Heather felt she should say something "There is no need to be sorry Maya, it was my fault. You see I had heard tell of you indulging Dave in something, and I thought you and he were lovers, so I followed you." Maya knew she was sweet on Dave, and found the whole thing hilarious "I am married to Tony, love him and have a child with him, I could never be unfaithful" she replied.

Almost a year to the day, Dave Reilly and Heather McCoy were married, and had settled into life together. Heather was almost unrecognisable from the frightened women that had stumbled into their midst, and today she was going to do something that before she met the Alphans she would have thought beyond unthinkable.

It was another beautiful summer's day, and Heather held tightly to Dave Reilly's hand as she watched Maya turn into a ball of light, then the beautiful white horse. Dave attached the saddle, and pulled himself astride, and then Heather climbed on behind him.


University of Dundee November 2012

John Spears and his 'assistant' Jane had been working for a week, and John was finding it hard to keep looking like he was doing serious research. There was a mountain of books and papers on ancient text that John had requested, all to no avail of course. "I can't keep this up much longer" he said to Jane, "how is it going?"

Jane looked thoughtful and replied "I am just about done. There are gaps though, words that I just don't know, but I think I can make sense of it. It would appear that my ancient ancestors name was Maya Verdeschi, and she was the record-keeper for a village of around 200 people, that were the original inhabitants of something called Moonbase Alpha, sent with the moon into deep space by some kind of catastrophic nuclear accident. Something bad happened, and their only choice was to use technology from earth's far future to somehow transport them into earth's distant path. It's all very confusing.

They went their separate ways; John had to endure considerable criticism, as did Caroline Sterling, when he told them that they had been unable to decipher a single word, and he was not a good liar, though he told himself that actually he couldn't have never made sense of it Himself. Jane had promised to email him with the whole thing, though he had to swear on his life to her he would only read it in private, and then delete it.

John got in his car and began the journey back; there was a flyer for the referendum stuck under the wipers, it seemed to be in all the media at the moment. He personally didn't think it was a good idea, joining England, Wales and Ireland, and the word United Kingdom was already beginning to be banded around.

Mel Gibson stared down from countless billboards, in his John O'Conner garb from the historical blockbuster Dunsmoore; supporting the vociferous no vote camp. John was looking forward to going home.

This is story 2 in the "Journey back where" series. Previous story - Next story
Copyright (c) 2012. Reprinted with permission.
Space:1999 is (c) 1976 by Carlton International Media.
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