August 23rd, 1942: Somewhere over Occupied Europe...
"Taking over, Skipper."
"Righto, it's all yours, Bert."
The intercom crackled in the Bombardier's ears as he adjusted the Sperry bomb-sights. Laying on his stomach sighting the targets over Dortmund, Bert Oldham felt, as he always did, that the flak was coming up directly at him. As though he, personally, was the bullseye the ack-ack was quartering; not the droning Lancaster that vibrated under his belly. The searchlights cris-crossed the night sky, illuminating the higher clouds and the lower puffs of short-fall flak.
Bert thought the barrage was a little heavier tonight, but then it had seemed to be a little worse each time out. The skipper had told them, though, it was just imagination as they racked up more flights. Bert wasn't sure about that.
Taking a deep breath, he marked the flickering flames of the incendiaries deposited on this part of the Ruhr Valley by the early flyover of Pathfinders, and nursing the Lancaster through the rising smoke by murmuring gentle guidance to the skipper over the intercom, he brought D-for-Doris over the target.
"Hold her steady, Skipper. Hold her."
Flight-Lieutenant Eric Fillmore did hold her steady, despite the buffeting she was taking... some hits, some very near misses. D-for-Doris was taking some punishment. No fighters, though, Eric thought... not yet, anyway.
"Alright, Skipper, all gone. Take us home." Bert's relief came through the headphones as clearly as his voice.
Eric's relief was as intense as the Bomb-aimer's, but as befits the Skipper of an R.A.F. Lancaster, he calmly said to the Navigator, "Righto then, Ken, give us a course for Blighty, please." The clipped accent belying the knot of fear deep inside him.
* * *
July 7th, 2010: Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratories, Jodrell Bank, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England...
Dr David Campbell adjusted the volume on the speaker. He was using the audio channels rather than the digitised direct-link to the analysis computers as the huge 250-foot diameter steerable paraboloid antenna swung through a few more degrees of arc to catch the faintest whisper of electro-magnetic emissions from the faraway heavens.
Damn, he was bored. Astronomy seemed so exciting when he was studying at the University of Manchester, but now that he had his doctorate, his research and his position at Jodrell Bank, it had lost its attraction. Well, just a little, he thought. Occasionally there was the thrill of discovery as a new radio emission source made itself known. He knew it was futile to expect anything through the audio-channels; the searching out of emissions was best left to the computer, it would lock onto pulsars, reflections and sort a signal from the white-noise hash of space. But David Campbell rather enjoyed listening to the murmurings and occasional shouts of the universe.
David unwrapped a sandwich, placing it beside his notes on his cluttered work-station desk. He surveyed the jumble of papers, books, pens and other paraphernalia that littered the desk-top. Yes, he mused, Dr Hamilton was right; he was a messy young chap, and he must clean it up -- one day. But then that, too would not appease Dr Hamilton. Not that David thought that Hamilton "had it in for him", it was just that Hamilton was of the "old school" (it was rumoured that Hamilton had even known Alfred Lovell, after whom the Jodrell Bank telescope was named.. or was it Galileo that he had been chummy with?) and David, a mere pup of a twenty-seven year old, was not only young, but also intelligent, ambitious and totally like a child in a toy-shop. A galactic toy-shop full of the wonders of the universe, where new discoveries brought almost childish squeals of delight.
David, himself, would be the first to admit that he lacked the discipline of the serious researcher. He became bored too easily; the plodding methodical analysis of datum, the checking and re-checking... and the waiting, the waiting for something, anything, to happen.
He picked up the sandwich, and as he reached across the desk he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the dark, blank computer screen. A thin face, he knew, but not without a certain handsomeness. Blue eyes, blond hair fashionably short, but with a wayward lank that insisted in falling over his forehead to brush the top of his silver-rimmed glasses. He had been told often enough of his boyish good looks, indeed his boyish charm. His quickness to smile had attracted many a young woman, but life was short... David had things to do, places to go.
He thought, yet again, what am I doing here? Maybe I should take up that offer from America. Where was it?... oh, yes, New Mexico. Now that sounded exotic enough, but the job was in interferometry, very long-base interferometry. A twenty-seven antenna array, they said. The line from the lecturer at Manchester University came back to him, in the same droning tones: "long base-line interferometry, the synchronised observation of a cosmic radio-source with multiple-dish interferometers". Boring, he thought, even more boring than sitting here night after night. Interferometry, now that was boring... just a surveyor, sending out radio signals and measuring the reflections and deflections to calculate distances. Ho-hum. Inner-space, David thought. Now, listening in to the sources transmitted from out there... from light years out there, now that was exciting! Signals that began their journey before the earth was even formed... now that was space!
Sure, Jodrell Bank had the capability to also send out signals, but radio waves even travelling at the speed of light are fine for short distances, say within the solar system, however to send signals back to the sources which David was exploring would take millions of years. Then millions more to return... and as David had already decided, life was short.
David took a bite of his sandwich, aligned his co-ordinates and aimed the large dish radio telescope towards the Milky Way, towards the galactic centre.
* * *
Over Occupied Europe: (1942)...
As the searchlight's deadly beam passed, returned, then locked onto the lumbering D-for-Doris, Flight-Lieutenant Eric Fillmore wryly thought, "Well, some nights, sport, the gods aren't with you. Your luck runs out." He swung the Lancaster as though it was his M.G. roadster racing along the hedge-bordered laneways of East Anglia. Doris was suffering. She'd taken a lot of flak, Brian the gunner in the mid-upper turret had reported holes bigger than gramophone records all along her fuselage; and Clifford the wireless operator was nursing a now-bandaged arm from a shrapnel wound.
The Lancaster sluggishly responded to Eric's desperate urging. God, he thought, let's hope a hydraulic line hasn't been severed. Doris swung and dipped, and the searchlight was left behind. Eric exhaled, as he realised that he had actually been holding his breath. Maybe, he thought, just maybe those buggers on the searchlight were as tired as he.
Then there was a bang and a jolt as a shell passed straight through the port wing, then exploded a good hundred feet above and now behind the wounded Lancaster. Ha, thought Eric, the bloody gunners are tired, too. They haven't ranged yet. Maybe the gods are still with us.
He spoke on the intercom with the rear-gunner, "Everything alright back there, Ted? No fighters?"
"Not a one, Skipper, not yet anyway," Brian cut in from the upper turret.
"Keep your eyes peeled, chaps." Eric had no worries about his boys' abilities with the Brownings, but Doris wasn't exactly at the peak of her manoeuvrability. England was still along way off and D-for-Doris was beginning to fall behind the rest of the group, or at least those that remained after the devastation of the ack-ack. Nevertheless they were through the worst of it, and if... if Doris could make it home, so what if the rest of the squadron were already breakfasting on their precious eggs. Eric smiled. And then some nights, he thought, luck was with you.
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
"Hello David, you busy?"
David looked up from his console into the eager young eyes of Michael Eastbourne. Michael was of the same age and although his speciality was in electronics, they had been friends since their undergraduate days. The circumstances that brought them together again at Jodrell bank weren't all that strange. Their mutual respect, and the sharing of their particular interests, had carried them both into astronomical research -- David with his pure "star-gazing" and Michael with his love of gadgets, especially radio transmission equipment. They used to joke that when David found alien life beyond the stars, Michael would talk with them.
David smiled, as he turned down the volume control on the hash emanating from the speaker, "No, of course not, Mike. No Klingons on the air tonight."
Although Michael managed a weak chuckle at their old joke, David could tell that Michael's heart wasn't in it. "What is it, Mike? What's up?"
"It's bloody Hamilton, isn't it? He's knocked back the multi-mode transmitting system I've been working on!"
"Well, you knew that was on the cards, Mike, we're not exactly set up here for transmitting. We're here to listen."
"Yeah, I know that. But the system's a break-through. I've been working on it for months. Brian's pretty pissed off, too."
"I didn't know Brian was working on it with you." David swung his feet up onto his desk and leaned back in his chair. "I thought Brian was hard at work on his Ph.D. at Cambridge."
"He is," replied Michael. "But he's doing stuff in pulse radar and long range transmitting, so we've been sharing ideas. I've been spending weekends down at Cambridge and we've actually built a couple of units. Now I don't know whether it's Hamilton's bloody-mindedness or what, 'cause he's already had me install multi-band receivers here at Nuffield."
"You mean, they're operational?"
"Sure are, sport," Michael smirked, "and tested."
"Why aren't we using them, then? I mean this wide-band stuff is okay, but if I could scan across different bands--"
"Why don't you then?" Michael asked, his brown eyes twinkling.
"Yeah, here we are," Michael pulled a note pad from his white lab coat, ran his fingers through his longish black hair and flicked through the pages of the note pad, "Here's the access codes. They're linked to the analysis computers so you can activate the entire com.sys. from the console."
David flipped the power for his terminal, logged on, accessed the command mode and keyed in the codes as Michael read them out.
"Okay, the VDU says the system's activated. Now what?"
"Simple, you can select bands and scan within that band; or you can let it scan through all the bands." Michael reached over David's shoulder to punch a few keys. "See, just bring up the menu, make your choice and hit the command. Easy. If you're in any of the scan modes it'll lock into any incoming signal. The signal processing I've developed means that even a strength of less than a micron of millionth millivolt can be crystal-locked and amplified. Great, huh?"
"Jesus, Mike!" exclaimed David. "It's bloody fantastic."
Michael beamed, shuffled his feet, and then took a flamboyant theatrical bow, "Oh, shucks, pardner, 'tain't nothin'." The smile vanished and he again became serious, "You should see what we've done with the transmitter modes. Brian's experiments with ducting have been amazing."
"Ducting?" asked David. Although a fine astronomer, he was sometimes lost by his physicist colleague's speciality. "Like in ducted air-conditioning?"
"If you didn't spend so much time listening to that space-hash you might find the time to read a few journals, Dave," Michael sighed. "Okay then, Mr Layman -- I shall refuse to call you Doctor Campbell until you've graduated from Electronics Kindergarten -- Okay, alright, now we both know that any electro-magnetic emission travels at the speed of light, right?"
"Right, Herr Professor, 186,000 miles per second. Correct?"
"Correct. Now what Brian has been working is his pulse-radar research is the ducting effect. Now, hang on, I'm explaining it, be patient."
David had swung his feet back onto the desk and was fiddling with the loud-speaker volume control knob.
"Well, just a sec, Prof," he drawled. " I was just wondering, can I switch the audio-monitor to link in with your multi-mode scanner?"
"Be pretty bloody useless if you couldn't, wouldn't it?" Michael reached over to the keyboard, almost toppling David as he leaned back in his chair. "There, now you're synchronised. Happy, squire?"
"Yeah, all happy," David smiled as he nodded his blond head, "You may continue the lecture now, Herr Professor."
"Hey, listen, you asked. Now, do you want me to explain or not?"
"Sorry, mate. Go on, I really am interested. So what's this ducting?"
"Well, with pulse radar, and in fact with most radio waves, the decrease in the density of the Earth's atmosphere as you increase altitude can cause the waves to bend, and what we call ducts can trap and guide them around the Earth's curvature."
"Yeah, yeah, like in short wave broadcasting."
"No, no. We're not just talking ionospheric reflection and ground wave stuff. We're talking about actually bending the waves. You know what that means?"
"Tell me, Professor."
"Well, you've read Minkowski -- Hermann Minkowski and his theory of the space-time continuum? Of course you have. What about Einstein's General Relativity?"
"Yeah, schoolboy stuff, but I'm sorry, Mike, I'm still not with you." David looked intently into Michael's eyes, as Michael perched himself on the edge of David's desk. "What's all this got to do with your new transmitter gismo?"
"How did you ever learn anything at University, Dave? Did you keep interrupting your lecturer there, too?"
"As a matter of fact, I did."
"Well, just shut up for a minute, will you? Now, where was I? ... Oh, yes, general relativity ... predicts that the curvature of space-time results in the apparent bending of light rays passing through gravitational fields, right? -- Shut up, Dave, it's a rhetorical question! Right! From this bending of light waves we've developed a theory that by deflecting radio waves off celestial bodies, as well as beaming through gravitational pulls, we can actually speed them up."
David sat upright in his chair, his feet crashing to the floor. "You mean, sending radio signals faster than the speed of light? That's impossible."
Michael smiled down at the doubting astronomer. "No, we think it's possible. Look, have you ever played the pin-ball machine down in the rec. room? Well, just imagine that the steel ball is the radio signal, the spring starter knob is the transmitter -- you pull it back, the energy inherent in the spring is transferred to the ball and the ball shoots up to the top of the machine. As it bounces from pin to pin, buffer to buffer, instead of slowing down due to friction, it speeds up from the spring rings around the pins... right?"
"You're kidding! How much faster than the speed of light do you think you can send these signals?"
"Well, we've doubled checked all our calculations; and given the right conditions, we think, at least, twenty times faster."
David was silent for a moment, his mind obviously ticking over, then he exclaimed, "Hell, man, that's almost four-million miles per second! You've got to be kidding!"
"No, Dave, I'm serious. Given enough power to begin with, and with the deflection angles right... like, we probably would need to bounce off at least four planets, but twenty times faster should be a snap."
"Bloody marvellous, Mike, bloody marvellous. If it works."
"It'll work. That's why I'm so pissed off with Hamilton. I've actually got it ninety-per-cent connected up to the dish -- use it as a transceiver. Can you imagine it -- we could be sending signals out into deep space, and they'd be taking five-per-cent of the time they take now."
"You know with that kind of time frame, I'd be tempted to take up interferometry. Send out signals, have a sandwich, and catch them coming back. No, seriously, Mike, you're right... it's a breakthrough. Your paper on this will get you your Ph.D. before you're even finished typing it."
"Yeah, the theory's right. But I want to test the practical before I submit anything. That's not going to happen with Doctor-bloody-Hamilton around, though."
"But what's this about you having connected up a transmitter?"
"Well, almost connected. Brian's helped me build three units, so far, so we can test it all out. Well, maybe one day." Michael eased himself from his perch on the desk edge. "Oh, well, I'd best be off and let you get back to your eavesdropping. Thanks for letting me let off steam."
"That's okay, sport. You're bleeding genius, you know. And thanks for my new toy, I'll be scanning all night. I think."
"Hey, don't let Hamilton know you're using the multi-band receiver. Although he asked me to go ahead and install it, he hasn't okayed general use, yet."
"Yeah, okay, Mike, mum's the word."
As young Michael Eastbourne wandered back to his own lab, David tapped the computer keyboard and turned up the volume control as the multi-mode receiver scanned across the range of frequencies searching for the faint signal that one day must come from the void of space.
* * *
Over the North Sea:(south of the Norwegian Sea, north of the English Channel): 1942...
"That's it, Skipper," Bert slipped into the co-pilot's seat, as Ken made his way back into the fuselage to check the charts, and see to Clifford, the injured wireless operator. Bert braced himself against the vibrations as D-for-Doris shuddered from nose to tail, "Inside port engine's feathered."
"Yeah, starting to lose some altitude, too. And this bloody fog, cloud, call it what you will... I think we're in for it." Eric stated despondently. He took a deep breath and pressed the intercom button, "Listen up, boys, Doris is in bad shape. We've lost one Merlin, and we're losing a little altitude. Now I know these kites can take a lot, but I think we're coming to the end of the line. Old Doris isn't going to make it. Check your chutes, boys, and when I give the word we'll leave her to it."
"You can't, Skipper," Bert interjected. "We're over the North Sea, the water'll be freezing. It's foolish, Skip. Doris is still plodding on -- we'll make it."
The knot of fear tightened in Flight-Lieutenant Fillmore's stomach, and as he turned to face the Bombardier in the co-pilot's seat, Bert could see the strain on his skipper's white-washed face. "I'm the skipper, Flight-Sergeant. I make the decisions. And when I give the word we're going to bail out." He stabbed the intercom button. "Now, Ken, give us a fix so Cliff can get a message through to the rescue lads."
"Sorry, boss, I can't," the voice of the navigator hesitantly crackled in Eric's headphones. "With all this cloud, and the varying airspeed, the best I can do is a guesstimate... and the hits we've taken seem to have affected some of the instruments."
"Bloody hell!" expostulated the Lancaster's skipper.
Then Clifford cut in on the intercom, "Not only that, skipper, but that piece that got me in the arm had already taken out the morse-key -- we'd have to use voice."
"Well, we'll use voice, then," Eric replied. "Just give us that rough fix, Ken."
Clifford's voice came back over the communication lines, "But, Skipper, we're supposed to be under radio silence, and besides I don't have voice codes -- all today's codes are for short-burst morse."
"I'll make the decisions!" Eric's mounting fear was becoming evident as his tremorous voice shouted through the crew's headphones, the bakelite S.G. Brown ear-pieces vibrated with the crackled anxiety.
Bert looked across at the skipper; saw the whitening of the knuckles as they tightened around the half-wheel; saw the dark eyes staring, unfocused, into the dark enveloping cloud as it wrapped itself around the lumbering Lancaster. He, too, was becoming worried... not about D-for-Doris' ability to keep flying; not simply because they seemed to have lost their way and navigating back home could be a more than a little difficult... the bubbling concern rising from deep within him was more for Eric, his comrade and skipper, his leader, captain and rock. Was Eric cracking up?
Bert glanced anxiously across at Eric. "Are you alright, Skipper?" he asked, his voice a bare whisper above the drone of the remaining engines.
"I'd be bloody better if I knew where we were," Eric snapped, then with a tense smile -- more a clenching of teeth -- he continued somewhat more calmly, "Or, if I knew that the old crate was going to make it home." He paused, staring intently ahead through the rain drops on the cockpit's windscreen, then whispered, "I don't think she's going to make it, mate. I think we should take our chances and jump before she takes us with her."
"Just give it a little longer, Skip," Bert tried to reason. "Cliff's not going to stand much of a chance with that arm, you know."
D-for-Doris lurched as she hit some turbulence. The Lancaster was flying, or least limping, further into the stormclouds. A lightning flash lit the skies.
"No, Bert, we'll do it now," Eric determined. He spoke into the intercom, again with the authoritative voice of a R.A.F. Flight-Lieutenant, "Clifford, patch my mike in, please."
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
David Campbell adjusted once more the volume emanating from the monitor. He checked the co-ordinates of the celestial target area from the data displayed on the screen, and noted the relevant details in his log. Then he tapped the keys to send Michael Eastbourne's multi-band receiver back into scanning mode...
* * *
Over the North Sea: (1942)...
"You've got it, skipper," Clifford, the wireless operator's voice burst through the headset.
"Thanks, Cliff," replied Eric. Then he depressed the microphone switch, "May Day! May Day!"
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
"Jesus, shit!" David exclaimed as he frantically hit keys on the computer to lock the receiver into the frequency, "Sweet Jesus shit!" he exclaimed again as he snatched up the telephone. "Come on, come on," he muttered as the handset burred gently in his ear.
"Oh, Christ," he spoke into the phone. "Thank God you're there, Mike. Quick, get down here. Now! It's unbelievable. Just fucking hurry will you?!"
David impatiently tapped at the keyboard, double-checking the co-ordinates, reviewing the alignment of the antenna dish, and frantically fiddling with the speaker volume control fader.
Michael Eastbourne burst into the lab, his white coat-tails flying behind him. "What is it, Dave? What's up?"
"Listen. Just listen," David replied as he turned up the monitor.
".... May Day.... May Day.... This is D-for-Doris.... Blue Flight Two.... Do you read me, Command?.... Come in Command.... "
"Shit, Dave, it's a May Day. You've locked into an aviation frequency."
"No I haven't Mike. It's coming from out there." David gestured broadly towards the ceiling.
"What do you mean, it's coming from out there? It's as clear as a bell."
"Yeah, it's one hell of a receiver you've built, old chum. But, here look at the co-ordinates... see?"
"Shit, you're right. What is it? Where's it coming from?"
".... May Day.... Come on you Sea-Rescue lads.... can't you read me?.... "
David scratched his head, and then removing his glasses to absent-mindedly polish them with his tie, he slowly said, as though thinking out loud, "You know, Mike, it does sounds like an aviation channel. Um, the accent's definitely English... Now how's this for an idea? It's a returning signal."
"A returning signal? You mean one that was sent years ago, has been reflected and is now returning?"
"Yeah, something like that. You're the radio wiz; is that possible?"
"Well, yes, it is possible. Radio waves are like waves in a pond -- they radiate out, and diminish in strength as they get further away from , say, the initial splash. But if they strike something like a rock, they can ripple back again. Yes, I guess that's a fair analogy. Yeah... yeah, it could be. We used to joke that somewhere out there there'll be aliens listening to the Goon Show. Yeah... possible. If the radio waves escaped the ionosphere they could travel for years and then, say, strike some astronomical mass or something and be reflected back."
"Yeah... " David contemplated. "I wonder how long ago these ones were sent. I mean they're certainly terrestrial, not alien."
"Well, let's look at those co-ordinates. So where's the dish pointed?"
"Towards the galactic centre. I've been trying your multi-band receiver out on a problem area I've had. There's a faint inter-stellar gas cloud that had been causing some interference when I'm sweeping towards Pulsar 569."
"A gas cloud?" Michael questioned. "..um... that could be it. That could be our reflector. Tell me, what's the composition of this gas cloud?"
"Well, it's ionised hydrogen. Not very thick, only about point-one atom per cubic centimetre. Would that do it?"
"Ionised, you say? Um.... could be. Could well be. How far is this cloud?"
"Oh, close enough to8-point-9 parsecs."
Michael began to brush aside the note-pads, books and scraps of paper on David's desk. "Where's your calculator?" he urged.
"... May Day... May Day... This is D-for-Doris... "
"Here," David pulled open a drawer and handed Michael the pocket calculator.
"Right," said Michael. "Eight-point-nine parsecs... that's... um, okay call it twenty-nine light years. Well, close enough anyway."
"Twenty-nine light years. So the signal is twenty-nine years old."
"No. That's from the reflection. Double it. Eight-point-nine parsecs to the gas cloud, eight-point-nine parsecs back, that's the total distance. So, it's twenty-nine years to get there, twenty-nine years back. That signal's been travelling for sixty-eight bloody years."
"Sixty-eight years. Shit! That means it was transmitted in... in 1942."
"Jesus," whispered Michael. "We've got a May Day from 1942."
"Hey!" David slapped his palm against the desk-top, sheafs of paper fluttered to the floor. "This guy's Royal Air Force. It's wartime. 1942. Shit, man, this guy's in trouble."
"Was in trouble." Michael slowly shook his head. "I think we've got his signal sixty-eight years too late."
"...May Day... May Day... "
"Hang on. Hang about, Herr Professor." David excitedly shook his friend's shoulders. "What about your new gismo? You said you could send signals faster than the speed of light. Can we send signals back to him? ould we talk with him?"
"Back to 1942?! You're crazy!" Michael laughed. Then as he caught the crest-fallen look on David's boyish face, he stammered, "Well, I mean, maybe. Yes. It could be, if we achieve an acceleration of, oh shit, we're talking sixty light years. No, our calculations suggest maybe twenty times the speed... maybe... "
David hovered expectantly as Michael mumbled to himself. Michael's mutterings ceased as he lifted his head to look David in the eyes.
"David," he said, "I don't think it's possible. But Brian did say once that a Professor of his at Cambridge in the Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Department had said that if our original premise is correct, and he thought it was, that any speed was possible. We've not tried anything in a practical sense, but we think the calculations are valid; whether we can get up to a sixty-light-year speed is another thing."
"Fifity-eight will do," David smiled. "So, you'll give it shot?"
"Bloody hell, yes!" exclaimed Michael. "Let's do it! You get onto Brian down at Cambridge, here's the number. We'll need him, at least on the phone. It'll take me only a couple of minutes to do a quick temporary install on the remaining connectors. We'll have to over-ride some of the power supplies, so make sure the dish is locked in, we won't be able to afford the power for the drive motor once we start. In fact shutdown any electrics we don't need... we'll want the computers of course. Oh, shit! What about Hamilton? He'll never okay it."
"Hamilton went home to Henbury about half-an-hour ago. I'm the senior on duty at the moment. I'll okay it. I'll take any flack."
"We'll both be taking it, boyo," Michael chuckled. "Well, let's get cracking, eh? If that guy's in real trouble he's not going to hang about waiting for us."
"Christ!" David wailed.
"What is it, mate?"
"What are we going to say to him anyway? What can we do for him? Sorry Mike, maybe we're just wasting our time. And if Hamilton finds out, we're sunk."
"Come on," urged Michael. "You got me all fired up, you're not backing out now. And I do want to test the accelerated transmission system. Come on, let's do it!"
"... May Day... "
* * *
Over the North Sea: (1942)...
"It's no use, Skipper," Bert watched Eric battle with Doris' controls whilst still flicking the microphone button.
"I'll keep trying to reach them. It doesn't matter that it's clear voice. Even if Jerry could get a fix on us he couldn't find us in all this muck. We don't even know where we are."
Bert, like all bomb-aimers, as well as navigators such as Ken, were also all trained fliers, so that, should some kind of emergency arise, they could take over the controls. Bert studied the gauges and dials. He checked the altimeter. Doris had lost some altitude, but as far as Bert could tell, not enough to worry as much as the Skipper seemed to be doing. And whilst they didn't know exactly where they were, the compass bearing, if the reading was reliable, was surely guiding them to some intersection with the English coast. If they could hang on a little longer....
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
Michael returned to David's lab bearing a foot-long, six-inch wide metal box; dangling from the box was a C.B.-type microphone connected with its spirally lead. Other coloured wires protruded from the rear of the metal casing; on the front a simple two-position switch, one attenuator knob and a cheap VU meter that looked as though it came straight from Tandy.
"That's it?" demanded David. "That's your you-beaut super electronic gismo?"
"Don't be daft!" Michael scoffed at David's apparent stupidity. "This is just a make-shift sub-console. I'll use the analysis computers' secondary audio feeds to connect it up to the mainframe transmitter. It means you'll be able to talk direct from here."
"Oh, right. Okay, I've got Brian on the line from Cambridge. I've explained what we're about. Do you want to speak with him?"
"Not just now," Michael's voice was muffled as he clambered under the desk trailing wires after him, "but punch him up on the speaker-phone so we can all hear each other."
"Is our R.A.F. chum still on the air?" asked Michael.
"He was a minute ago. Doesn't seem to be getting any answer though."
"Well, I'm not connected up yet, am I?"
"I don't mean from us, Mike. I mean from his own people -- from his own time."
"Yes, of course. Sorry, been concentrating on rigging this up. Okay, I'm finished here now," Michael eased himself from under the desk, and talking towards the speaker-phone said, "Can you hear me, Brian?"
"Yes, I can hear you. Both of you." Brian Smythe's voice came back along the line from Cambridge. "I've just accessed your computer system through that modem link we set up, Michael, so that I can feed info from my data-bank. You'll need angles and co-ordinates from the accelerated transmission. Now, how are we going to work this?"
"Well," Michael explained. "We'll keep the main antenna-dish locked where it is for receiving.. we're getting our chum's signal.. and we'll use the smaller dish as our up-link. Less motor power; we'll need the electrical supply for the actual transmitter. We're talking about 500-kilowatts."
"Okay," Brian's disembodied voice was static-free through the speaker-phone, a rare British Telecom good connection. "I've also linked into your receive console so I can down load the incoming co-ordinates. Next time he gives us a burst I should be able to set the calculations for our transmit mode."
"Brian," David interposed. "I've just had a thought -- a pretty wild one, I admit. But Mike told me you did some work with radar, right?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"Well, I was thinking... radar is just radio waves, isn't it?"
"Could you accelerate radar waves so we could pinpoint our May Day?"
"Actually, David," Brian's voice replied over the speaker-phone, "That's how I got involved in all this. I was investigating the ducting effect on radar waves and -- "
"Yeah. Yeah," David cut in, "Mike explained all that to me. What I'm wondering, can we geographically locate our flier?"
"No, I don't think so, mate. You see, we could get the radar there, but we need for them to come back again, the freak thing that's happening with your guy's transmission is a one-off. The chances of the radar waves returning the same way is too remote."
"And besides," enjoined Michael. "If they went out into space first and bounced around like our voice transmit system to gain acceleration, it wouldn't give us his location, would it? And if it reflected back to us off that gas cloud of yours, it would us give that as the location, wouldn't it?"
"Oh, right." David suddenly had another of his inspirations. Boy, he thought, this sure beats the shit out of staring at stars and listening to a lot of static day in, day out. "What about him? Would he have radar?"
"Jesus, David," Michael sounded somewhat exasperated. "Just stick to your radio-telescope; your knowledge of scientific history sucks."
"Well," David persisted. "Would he? Would he have radar? Did they have radar then?"
"No, Dave, he wouldn't," Michael answered as he screwed home the final connections on the make-shift sub-console. "If you'd read Guerlac's 'Radar in World War II' you'd know that Sir Robert Watson-Watt had, by September 1938, that's twelve months before the start of the war, already set up a chain radar system operating in the 30-megahertz band, as an air-defence system. Then by 1940 the Yanks at the Radiation Lab -- that's electro-magnetic radiation, Dave -- in Cambridge, Massachusetts began work using a magnetron, working in a higher frequency. U.H.F., in fact."
"So the Americans invented radar? They had it?"
"No, Dave -- bloody hell, you weren't listening, were you? Sir Robert Watson-Watt -- remember? Scottish, Doctor Campbell, Scottish.. British! And the Brit scientists at the University of Birmingham invented micro-wave radar. That was around 1940, too. But listen, Dave, they were ground installations, for air-defence. No radar in aeroplanes in 1942, I'm afraid."
"In fact, Dave," Brian joined the lecture, his voice tinny, but still clear over the British Telecom landlines. "To give you an idea of the complexity of radar in aircraft -- well, at least in today's aircraft, let me tell you that a typical pulse Doppler radar operating in the X-band -- that's 8 to 10 gigahertz -- has about 10 air-to-air modes and about 6 to 10 air-to-surface modes. Each mode handling different waveforms, signal processing and antenna scanning. That's what you have in a modern warplane."
"Oh," said David, chuckling. "I guess you're telling me that our guy doesn't have all that?"
"Dave, what your chum, in 1942, has got is more likely zero. Nothing. And Dave, we don't even know what kind of plane he's flying. How big is it? What's it payload? Today, in, say, the British Hawk 200… you know those red things the RAF’s Red Arrows fly… the radar unit takes up about three cubic metres, weighs about two-hundred and thirty-seven pounds, and requires an input power of 2.25 kilowatts! There was some primitive radar fitted to some night fighters, and later.. around 1943 some bombers had some basic ground radar. But no, Dave, I believe your guy, our guy, probably hasn't got anything."
"...May Day... May Day... "
"Except maybe us," mumbled David.
"Did you get it?" Michael shouted. "Did you get a fix, Brian?"
"Yes! Yes! I've got him! I'll down-load it to your computer right now. Get ready to transmit."
* * *
Over the North Sea: (1942)...
"Give it a miss, Skipper," Bert urged. "We're not going to raise anybody."
"One more try." Eric Fillmore, Flight-Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force and skipper of the Lancaster bomber known as D-for-Doris, wiped a bead of sweat from his brow as he flipped the aircraft's intercom switch. "Skipper to Flight Engineer. Roy, how's it holding together?"
"I'm back with Ken and Cliff, just checking the fuselage damage. Quite a few holes, but can't find any real structural damage.. yet. But if she holds together, we should be right, even though she's straining a bit. We're one engine down.. Mr Rolls and Mr Royce make magnificent engines; the other Merlins will get us home.. I hope."
Eric turned to Bert, "I'm going to keep trying. I don't want to bail out anymore than you do. But I don't want Doris to take us down if she gives up the ghost. If I can contact the Sea-Rescue boys, I'd rather take my chances in the sea. If we can't raise them, we'll keep trying to steer this old kite towards home. Maybe we can bail out when we're over Blighty."
"But, Skipper, you heard Roy. She could get us all the way home."
"Possibly." Eric pressed the microphone button, "May Day.. May Day.. "
The static in his headphones abruptly gave way to the faint strains of Dr David Campbell's answering voice, "We read you May Day. We read you. Can you hear us?"
"Bleeding hell!" exclaimed Eric. "I've got 'em. They can hear us." He again flicked the microphone button, "Yes, we hear you. Is that Sea-Rescue Command?"
"No, sorry. This is the Radio Astronomy Lab at Jodrell Bank. We've picked up your signal. Where are you? Who are you?"
Eric, his face beaming with a wide grin, glanced at Bert in the co-pilot's seat. "Well, we've got someone anyway. They can get a message to Command."
"Hang about, Skipper," Bert was cautious. "Have you heard of this Jodrell Bank?" Switching to the intercom he continued, "Clifford, are you listening in on the set? What's this radio astronomy thing?"
From the cold, dark recesses of Doris, where Clifford, Ken and Roy were huddled around the wireless set, Clifford replied, "Never heard of it. But God knows what the boffins are up to these days."
"Skipper," said Bert. "I think we should get a full identification.
"Fair enough, Bert. Maybe you're right. We can't be too careful, but somehow I don't think Jerry is going to be listening in... and what can they do if they are?" He cleared his throat, "Jodrell Bank, this is D-for-Doris, Blue Flight Two, please confirm your identity."
There was a slight pause and a sharp burst of static before his earphones echoed with the hollow reverberating reply, "I'm Dr David Campbell. I'm an astronomer here at Nuffield Labs at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire. I'm actually talking with you from 2010."
"What do you mean, 2010?"
"The year 2010. We've just received your signal... it's taken sixty-eight years to reach us. I don't know what we can do to help you. What's the problem? What's wrong?"
Bert stared incredulously at Eric, "Sixty-eight years?! He's got to be kidding. He's having us on."
"No, wait." Eric was reluctant to let go of any possible lifeline. "No, maybe there’s an explanation. It might be their code or something... Jodrell Bank, this is D-for-Doris. Please confirm your last message, over."
"Well, um, it's all got to do with reflected waves and, uh, ducting, and , er, well it's now 2010 and you're, um, in 1942 and well... oh, hell, I'll get Herr Professor to explain it to you."
"Herr Professor!" Bert yelled. "Bleeding hell, Skipper, it's Jerry!"
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
"Hello, May Day, do you read me?" Michael shouted into the microphone.
"Calm down," urged Brian through the speaker-phone. "Don't shout. Try calling, what was it?... D-for-Doris?"
"Yeah, okay... Jodrell Bank calling D-for-Doris, come in D-for-Doris, over.." David implored.
Michael shrugged his shoulder as he fiddled with the attenuator. "I guess we've lost him."
"Maybe not." Dr Hamilton's voice boomed across the quietened laboratory, bouncing off the far tiled walls. David and Michael gaped as the head scientist marched across the linoleum floor. "Maybe not, Mr Eastbourne. I do believe that Dr Campbell's inane remark about 'Herr Professor' has convinced him that you pair of schoolboys are Germans."
"Doctor... Doctor Hamilton," stammered David. "How long have you, ah, been here? I mean, sir, that I thought, um, I thought -- "
"I know what you thought, Dr Campbell. You believed I was happily ensconced with my dear wife beside our hearth in Henbury. And so I was, lad, so I was... until Professor McCormack rang me from Cambridge."
Dr Hamilton projected his rich baritone towards the speaker-phone, "Give my regards to Jock when next you see him, will you Mr Smythe?"
Brian Smythe mumbled quiet acquiescence over the phone line as David found the courage to ask Dr Hamilton how it was that he had "sprung" them.
"My dear Dr Campbell, you may be a brilliant astronomer... well, one day you may be... but your powers of deduction are somewhat retarded. Your friend in Cambridge -- are you listening in, Mr Smythe? -- contacted Professor McCormack at the Department of Applied Mathematics, to verify some calculations after you had set up this, this experiment. It may surprise you to know that Jock McCormack is an old friend of mine, and that Jock has kept me appraised of young Mr Smythe's work for sometime. And, of course Mr Eastbourne, I'm well acquainted with your work in transceivers....
"The reason I was reluctant to approve the installation of your, I must admit, brilliant, equipment is exactly because of what has now occurred. You are playing with a science we have not tested, re-tested, properly researched or even previously contemplated. Who knows what dangers are waiting? Who knows what ripping asunder of the fabric of the entire Universe this could cause? You're playing with the space-time continuum... you're playing with fire. Fire, Dr Campbell, Mr Eastbourne. Fire, faster than the speed of light!"
"But, Dr Hamilton, we have been playing with it, as you well know," David said. "And we've got an R.A.F. plane in trouble.. in 1942. There must be something we can do to help, to use Michael's gear to do some good. I mean, it's amazing, we're talking across ffity-eight years, back to 1942. It really does prove that Michael and Brian's gadgets work Surely, sir, there's something we can do?"
"Alright then, Dr Campbell, let me have a chat with him. You've no doubt scared him off with your 'Herr Professor' faux pas, but maybe I can convince him we're on the up and up. I was a youngster with the War Office from '41, so maybe I can explain a few things to him. After that, I don't know what we can do."
Hamilton reached past Michael and David, and lifted the microphone from the desk. He cleared his throat, and in his well-modulated tones announced, "D-for-Doris... this is Dr Arthur Hamilton, Director of Research, Jodrell Bank; late of the War Office. Let me explain a few things to you... "
* * *
Over the North Sea: (1942)...
"What do you think, Skipper? Is it the truth? Is this Dr Hamilton talking with us from the future?" inquired Bert.
"Well, I'm inclined to believe him," Eric said. "I know it sounds far-fetched, but who knows? We've got nothing to lose -- and he did say we won the war!"
Eric flicked the microphone button, "Jodrell Bank, this is D-for-Doris. We understand what you say. Well, we accept what you say anyway, but I don't know how you can help us. We're one engine down, and pretty shot up. We're not sure of our position -- we're somewhere over the North Sea. Our situation is serious. We would bail out if Sea-Rescue knew where to look for us. Our instruments are cock-eyed, and even if this kite stayed together, I'm not sure that we could find our way home."
"D-for-Doris, Jodrell Bank. Where is home? Where is your Squadron based?"
"Hell, Skipper, you can't tell him that!"
"Look, Bert, it's my play. Now it's all or nothing. Report me if you like when -- if -- we get back, but I'm going to grab any chance I can to get out of this.... Jodrell Bank, our Squadron's field is just east of Caxton, about fifteen miles from Cambridge. Can you get us home?"
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
"Well, can we, sir?" David looked inquiringly at the elder scientist.
"I don't see what we can do," replied Dr Hamilton. "I think you chaps have probably caused that R.A.F. boy enough consternation. No point in giving him any false hope."
"It's a pity he doesn't have radar," David continued. "At least then, if there was some way of getting the signal to them, we could at least guide him back to their base."
"I explained all that to you before, David," an exasperated Michael interjected. "There wasn't any radar, and there's no way of getting it back to them anyway."
"Quite right, my boy," Arthur Hamilton ran his fingers through his silvery mane. "But we did have a crude system of radio direction finding... I wonder if... no. But then again..."
"What, sir? What are you thinking?" an excited David probed.
"Well, it's just a thought. If we could get the signals back, you know speed them up, without ricocheting them all about the Universe first, from the location of their airfield, we could send him some A-and-N's."
"A and N's, sir?"
"Yes, it's not used much nowadays, but what happens is that you send out two synchronised radio beams from two point either side of your target point, broadcasting constant morse signals. An 'A', that's, um, let's see... oh, yes, 'A' is dot-dash, and from the other point and 'N', that's dash-dot. So you have constant dot-dash and a constant dash-dot in the alternate lobes of the radiation pattern. Now where the lobes overlap, in line with your target point, the signals blend to create a continuous tone. Using an ordinary radio receiver the aeroplane, or whatever, simply has to follow the continuous tone. If it drifts off course, it'll hear either an 'A' or an 'N' in morse... and so if 'A' is on the starboard side of the transmission grid, the plane knows which way to turn to correct and so lock back onto the continuous tone at the centre of the two lobes."
"Dr Hamilton!" Brian Smythe's voice piped through the speaker-phone. "I've got two of our transmitters here at Cambridge. I could mount them on a couple of lorries and get them out to the old airfield. I've just looked it up on the map, and it's just west of here. Wouldn't take me much time at all."
"But Brian," cut in Michael, "the signals need to be directional. How can we speed them up - sixty times the speed of light - without using the gravitational pull principles? It won't work."
David was again downcast as he continued to caress the attenuator knob. He glanced up at Dr. Hamilton who had begun to pace around a self-determined circuit behind David's work station, his hand constantly brushing through his grey hair. David waited a moment and then gently asked, "You've got an idea haven't you, sir?"
Dr. Hamilton stopped his pacing, paused with a somewhat startled expression upon his aristocratic features and tapped his temple with his forefinger as he slowly replied, "Possibly, possibly." He lifted his voice towards the speaker-phone, "Caxton, you say, Smythe?"
"Yes, sir. Seems the airfield used to be to the east of Caxton."
Dr. Hamilton became more animated as he began to think aloud and then to issue instructions.
"Caxton ... yes, yes it was. I thought the name was familiar. It may work. Yes, yes. It can work. Quick, Eastbourne, in my office, fetch the ordinance map for that part of East Anglia. There's a file of marked maps in the research file on Magnetic Field Interferences. You, Campbell, get some telephones from the other desks. I need to speak with Jock McCormack, and I need to reach an old Air Vice-Marshall acquaintance of mine. Smythe, can you hear me? You, you get those lorries loaded up and get yourself out to Caxton. Have you got a mobile phone? Good! Get moving and call us on the mobile - and keep the line open."
Hamilton grabbed the handset from one of the telephones as soon as David had placed it on the desk, its cord trailing across the floor from the neighbouring work-station. He punched out a number and, as he waited for an answer, he told David, "Campbell, you'd better get back to D-for-Doris before they think we've forgotten about them. Tell them we're working on something. --" He broke off to whisper urgently into the mouthpiece, turning his back on David as he continued his telephonic conversation.
Michael Eastbourne returned with the large scale map as Dr. Hamilton hung up the phone. David concluded his assurances to D-for-Doris at the same moment and swivelled his chair to face Hamilton and Michael as they spread out the map on David's cluttered desk top. David cleared his throat, "Um, excuse me, sir, but, um, are you going to explain what it is you've, er, thought of?"
"My dear young Dr. Campbell, I shall tell you. It was the name Caxton that prompted my memory. You may recall some time ago, we did some investigative work on terrestrial magnetic fields and their relationship to interference with deep space radio signals. During the course of that research we discovered a particularly interesting phenomena around the area of Caxton and east towards Cambridge. Now, you know about the magnetic field grid lines around the earth. Some elements of our current crop of New Age mystics attribute great psychic properties to them ... and yet these magnetic grids have been known for years. Here in England they were well-known to the Ancient Britons. Some call them ley-lines. They cross-cross the entire British Isles ... and at the junctions of these lines, the magnetic field is particularly strong. Stone Henge, in fact, is built on one of these ley-line junctions ... makes you think, doesn't it?"
"But what about Caxton, sir?"
"Oh, sorry, rambling a bit. But, scientifically speaking, it does make you think. Anyway, Caxton is just near a magnetic grid-line junction.. near the old Gibbet.”
David’s eyes glazed as Dr Hamilton went on with his history lesson, “Caxton Gibbet has quite a dark history, you know. You know what a gibbet is, don’t you? A gibbet is a gallows-type structure from which the dead bodies of executed criminals were hung on display. A little different at Caxton Gibbet, though, there criminals were placed in a cage which was hung from the gibbet, and then left to starve to death.. Nasty.” David shuddered.
“Where was I?” Hamilton continued. “Oh, yes, when we transmitted a signal across this area to measure any degree of interference or deflection, we failed to receive it on the other side. The signal simply disappeared. We didn't know whether it was deflected completely, or whether magnetic interference swamped it ... it just ceased to exist. Now, Young Mr. Eastbourne and Mr. Smythe's experiments with accelerated radio waves have convinced me that, rather like celestial body deflections and planetary gravitational pulls, the magnetic force in the area didn't just deflect our test signals ... it caused a similar acceleration of the radio waves. The reason we couldn't receive those signals was because they were no longer in our time dimension!"
"Wow!" exclaimed Michael. "You could be right. The magnetic field, particularly along a grid-line, combined with the curvature of the earth, ionospheric conditions, and the old radar-ducting effect could just duplicate the acceleration technique we've been using ... and it would be geographically locatable; it wouldn't go bouncing around outer space. True space-time continuum warping ... space constant, time warped. Whether it could accelerate to the sixty-eight light years we need or not is another thing though, sir."
"That's why I need to talk with Professor McCormack. He can work the calculations for us. You'll notice, Eastbourne, the grid lines and their relative strengths marked on the map. Those co-ordinates and magnetic field strengths can be cross referenced to your acceleration figures and, given the correct angles, ionospheric conditions and transmission power, Jock can work it so that we hit that sixty-eight light year speed smack on the head. I need you here with me when I talk with Jock - he'll need to double-check your figures and you, I must admit, know more about this than I."
"Oh, sir, your deductions on the grid line junction were just brilliant though."
"And your work on this break-through will not only earn you your PhD, but accolades from all branches of the sciences, Mr. Eastbourne."
"What about me?" David chimed in. "I made the contact. I picked up the May-Day call. And... and it was my idea to use Mike's equipment to reach them."
"I rather thought it was you. I didn't think Mr. Eastbourne would have initiated this exercise. But, now that you have involved us all, I must concede that the prospect of in some way assisting these boys who are still fighting a war in which I myself played a very minor role, gives me the determination to see it through; as a great man once said, 'right to the bitter end.' You, Dr. Campbell, will play your role. I've arranged with Tom Heggarty for you to fly down in an R.A.F. Jump Harrier to Caxton to help Smythe set up the A and N transmitters."
"Air Vice Marshall Heggarty, Campbell. He's retired now, of course, but he does still have some pull with the Ministry. He's calling back shortly with confirmation, and with some other information we may need."
"Excuse, sir," interposed Michael, "Professor McCormack's on the line for you."
"Jock!" Hamilton greeted the telephone handset, and turned his back on the younger men as he continued his conversation with the Professor in hushed, but somewhat excited tones.
Michael and David grinned broadly at each other as David gave the "thumbs-up" sign; then the other phone rang. Dr. Hamilton turned back towards David, gesturing for him to answer it.
"That'll be Tom Heggarty." Hamilton reached for the out-held handset whilst still continuing his conversation with the Professor on the first handset, braced between shoulder and ear. "Jock, have to go, it's Tom on the other line. I'll pass you onto Eastbourne and he can give you the strength readings and co-ordinates ... Tom? Right, okay, I'll tell him ... yes ... uh-huh ... right ... yes, got that ... Boland you say? ... seven? ... thanks, Tom. Yes. I'll keep you informed. Bye."
Hamilton looked thoughtful for a moment, studying David's countenance intently. "Dr. Campbell," he began, "Air Vice Marshall Heggarty has accessed R.A.F records. It seems that D-for-Doris belongs to 678 Squadron based at a field east of Caxton.. There was a RAF Flying School near Caxton Gibbet, and their field was just a little south-east of that. Of course, the airstrip itself is now long gone. It seems it's now one of those semi-rural housing estates. A new town idea… called Lower Cambourne or something. D-for-Doris is a Lancaster bomber, reported missing in action in August of 1942, with the loss of all.. um.. seven crew -- "
"Lost?" David interjected, "that means they don't get back. It means we've failed before we've even begun."
"Not necessarily, lad." Hamilton's voice took on a comforting tone. "Maybe what we're doing here now will change that outcome ... maybe somehow we have a chance to change history. At least as far as those seven men are concerned."
"You think so, sir? Seven crew, you said sir?"
"Yes, and if my memory serves me right, there's the pilot, navigator, flight engineer, bombardier (sometimes just called the bomb-aimer), there's a wireless operator and two gunners. That's the seven. Tom tells me that the squadron was commanded by a chap named Boland. Maybe I'll tell those boys in D-for-Doris that we're aware of that. It may ease their minds a little if they still have doubts about who we are. Anyway, my lad, I'm rambling again and we have work to do. Off you go. That jump jet will be here any moment. It'll be doing it's vertical landing in the main car park - it's pretty empty at the moment. Go on, man, go."
* * *
Lower Cambourne: (2010)...
The rain began to fall more heavily from the dark clouds overhead as Brian Smythe lifted the mobile phone to his ear. "Yes, sir, I’m here on the Cambourne side. I've got both transmitters in place, one here and the other across the fields just outside Caxton, near the A1198. No, no sign of David yet; I grabbed some fellows from the college. They've helped me set them up. Yes, I've got Professor McCormack's co-ordinates. Had some difficulty with the starboard lobe, that’s this side, the Cambourne side -- they've built houses right along the grid line, but we've managed to get the lorry parked in someone's garden No, not transmitter masts; I've adapted a couple of mobile satellite up-links. They'll do the trick. I've also managed to digitise the morse signals, so the lap-top computer I've brought along will run that side of things. Yes, sir, yes times have changed. What? Sorry, Dr. Hamilton, I can't hear you ... it's the Harrier --"
The R.A.F Harrier jump-jet roared overhead in a slow overpass. It banked about a mile west of Brian's command post in the cabin of the lorry, which was serving as the port lobe transmitting station, and then returned to hover above the vacant common at the edge of the housing estate. As the Harrier began its slow vertical descent, Brian stood on the lorry's cabin roof waving his arms frantically to indicate to David the "command post's" location.
He then clambered back inside the cab and switched the cellular phone to hands-free operation. As he did so, Dr. Hamilton's voice came through the dash-mounted speaker, "Are you still there, Smythe?"
"Yes, sir. David's just landed, sir."
"Are you all set up, ready to go then?"
"Yes, sir. Thanks for sending David down - but I'm afraid he'll be disappointed there's nothing for him to do now. We're all set to transmit."
Dr. Hamilton's rich tones were gruff in their reply, "Well, goddamn it, man, start transmitting."
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
"Brian, are you there? It's Michael. I've patched our audio channels into the phone so you can monitor our conversations with Doris. Is David with you?"
"Yes, I'm here now, Mike," David replied. "Is Hamilton there?"
"He's on the other line talking with Professor McCormack."
"You know, Mike, I've been thinking. I think Hamilton has sent me down here just to get me out of the way. I think he and McCormack are going to hi-jack this project. They're angling to take all the credit. I was the one to pick up the May-Day. It's my project."
"David, it wouldn't be a project without my equipment and Brian's research. And besides, Hamilton gave us the idea for the A & N directional transmission and the magnetic grid acceleration theory. McCormack's calculations make it all possible. We're all in this together, mate. Hang on, Dave, here comes Hamilton."
Hamilton strode across the room to the work-station, his silvery hair tousled from the constant running of his fingers through its length. He fixed Michael with a steely gaze of his grey-blue eyes. "Right, then, Mr. Eastbourne, enough of this chit-chat. Let's get back to D-for-Doris. Pass me the microphone."
* * *
Over the North Sea: (1942)...
"Did you get that frequency, Cliff?" Eric asked over the intercom.
"Yes, skipper. I'm just tuning the auxiliary wireless now."
"Righto, then. Call me if you pick up the morse." Eric turned towards Bert the Bombardier who still occupied the co-pilot’s seat. "Looks as though we may yet get out of this, Bert."
"You're not serious are you, skipper?" Bert asked anxiously. "I mean, it could be some kind of German hoax. You can't surely believe all that malarky about 2010 and radio astron-or-whatever. It's not possible."
"You heard what they said. They know our squadron, they even know of Boland. Listen, Bert, it's our only chance. You don't want to bail out not knowing where we are. Doris is still vibrating badly. This storm is getting worse. Listen, if we get their radio directional signals, I'm going to follow them."
Clifford's voice suddenly broke through the gentle hiss of the intercom headphones, "Got it, skipper. I've got a signal on that frequency."
"What is it, Cliff?"
"It's an 'A', skipper."
"Righto, then, turning to port. Tell me if you get a constant tone."
"Skipper," Eric's voice was pleading. "Skipper, um, Eric, we've been friends a long time. We've been through a lot together. We all have. Don't follow these signals. I've got a bad feeling about them. Look, Ken's still back there working on his charts. This storm'll clear and Ken can fix our position and Doris can get us home."
"Bloody hell! You listen to me Flight Sergeant. I'm in command here. And I say we follow the signal."
Again the wireless operator's voice burst through the earpiece. "Skipper. I've got it. I've got a continuous tone. We're fixed on the centre of the lobes."
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
"Yes, Doris, we read you. You're on the tone? Stay on it -- and good luck." Dr. Hamilton replaced the microphone upon the desk, beaming at Michael Eastbourne who was doing a fair imitation of an Indian war-dance around the desk. "Mr. Eastbourne, would you desist from that whooping!" Michael halted in mid-stomp. Then Dr. Hamilton continued with a chuckle, "...and go to my office where you'll find some champagne in my bar-fridge. I believe we should celebrate."
"Too right we should!" whooped Michael. "I mean, we've done it... I mean, you've done it... we'll get them home."
"We may yet get them home," Hamilton said. "but what we're celebrating is the fact that we have proved your equipment. We have proved young Smythe's theory, and we have proved my contributing theory. Radio waves faster than the speed of light! We couldn't have done it without Jock's equations, though. When we present the paper on this there'll be enough scientific glory for all of us to share."
"What about David Campbell, sir?" Michael asked. "He was part of this too."
"Bugger Campbell, Eastbourne. Just go and get that champagne."
* * *
Over The North Sea, near the Norfolk North Coast... off Holkham Bay: (1942)...
D-for-Doris was lumbering closer to home. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engines were still straining in their endeavour to drag the shattered Lancaster and her seven young crew through the storm clouds to the safety of the R.A.F. airstrip. As the bomber crossed the coast seventy air-miles north-east of Caxton, the swirling grey clouds below the aircraft parted momentarily, enabling Flight-Lieutenant Eric Fillmore to catch a quick glimpse of the landscape below; the tussock-capped sandhills and marshy lowlands, grey and stark in the early morning light. He glanced at Flight-Sergeant Bert Oldham and smiled.
"We're going to make it, Bert." he said. "We're really going to make it. That's good old Blighty down there."
Bert looked out the cockpit window just as the clouds swirled, and again enveloped D-for-Doris in their dark, wet embrace.
"Ken," Eric called through the intercom. "I think I know where we are. We've come in over this stretch of coast many-a-time. Don't need you working on the charts now... come up and relieve Bert for landing preparation --"
"No." Bert interjected. "No, skipper. I'll stay. Clifford can do with Ken's help on the wireless."
"Yes. Alright then." Eric agreed. "Ken, you stay with Cliff. I've got no idea what the ceiling is, fellows, but I'll begin descent soon -- maybe we can get below this cover and I can get a visual for approach."
"Skip," Cliff's voice broke through the intercom system. "The tone's starting to break up."
"What are you getting Cliff - an 'A' or an 'N'?"
"Neither, Skip, it's just breaking up. It's either interference from the storm, or we're losing the signal."
"Bloody hell!" Eric thumped his palm against the console. "Not now. Please God, not now."
He furiously stabbed the push-to-talk button, "Jodrell Bank, this is D-for-Doris. We've got a problem."
* * *
Lower Cambourne: (2010)...
"Did you read that transmission, Smythe?" Dr. Hamilton's voice growled through the dashboard speaker. "What's the problem down there? Why are they losing the signal?"
"I don't know, sir," Brian replied. He wiped the fogged lorry window with the back of his hand. "I'm not sure, but these satellite uplinks are notorious for their hash interference in wet weather. I'll check them out."
Brian swivelled in the driver's seat to face David who sat hunched, wet, and miserable on the passenger's side. "Look, the fellows I brought over from Cambridge are fine on the installation, but they wouldn't know what to look for if they have to go problem solving. I'd better go and check out the other transmitter in the other lorry in Caxton. It's almost a mile away across the fields, so I'll be gone a while. Come on, don't look so down. You're here now, there's nothing you can do about it. We all know it was your contact. Anyway, I'd better go. Listen, don't touch anything will you? The transmitter power, the elevation angles -- everything -- are set to McCormack's calculations. We're locked on the magnetic grid line, and we've obviously lucked into a 'duct'. The signal’s been accelerated and we've hit 1942 spot on. It's just this rain that's causing us some block-out."
Brian pulled the hood of his anorak over his head and swung open the driver's door. As he leapt from the cabin, he yelled back to David, "Remember, don't touch anything."
* * *
Jodrell Bank: (2010)...
"Another glass of champagne, Eastbourne?" Doctor Hamilton held out his glass. "Come on, lad, why the long face? We're supposed to be celebrating."
"How can we celebrate, sir", Michael inquired, "when we still haven't got that plane back home?"
"Come on, lad, be sensible. It's the radio wave acceleration that's important. I don't give a damn about D-for-Doris!" He poured himself another glass. "No, no that's not quite true. I do hope they get back. I was there, you know. So many young men didn't come back. Yes, I do hope they make it -- but we're scientists, remember. We've proved a theory here. It's a breakthrough, possibly the breakthrough of the century and, that, young fellow, is worth celebrating!"
Dr. Hamilton raised his glass in salute, and returned the champagne bottle to it's makeshift ice-bucket in David Campbell's waste-paper bin -- the clatter of glass against the thin metal echoing down the open speaker-phone circuits to the waste-bin owner sitting within the fogged-windowed lorry in Lower Cambourne.
* * *
Lower Cambourne: (2010)...
Dr. David Campbell sat brooding within the lorry cabin, listening to Dr. Hamilton's discourse over the telephone speaker, muttering to himself, "Bloody Hamilton. Always did have it in for me. Stealing my contact ... going to take all the credit ... doesn't give a shit about those guys in the Lanc ... Shit! If I could get them home ..."
He glanced at the knobs and dials of the transmitter remote control console resting on the engine cover between the lorry's two front seats. "Now, David," he mimicked. "Don't touch anything ... treating me like a bloody schoolkid!"
David watched through the window as Brian made his way past the school playground towards the residential avenue in which was parked the second lorry. He listened to the hum of the portable generator providing power to the transmitter, and the quiet hiss of the speaker-phone.
"Jodrell Bank, this is D-for-Doris," Eric Fillmore's voice was re-amplified from Macclesfield over the speaker-phone. "We're still only getting intermittent tone. We're having difficulty following a course. Can you improve the strength of the signal?"
David stared at the dials on the console. "Bloody Hell. This transmitter is only reading 60% output." He reached for a control knob and rotated it fully to its final stop. "There you go boys. Full power. I'll get you home."
* * *
Over Norfolk: (1942)...
"Got it back, skipper." Clifford cried. "We've got back the tone! Bleeding hell, it's strong! Shit! Oh, sorry, sir, but it's fair bursting me eardrums."
"That's alright, Cliff, as long as we've got the tone... whoa, you better hang on, boys, this storm's getting a little rougher. Lots of lightning around, too --"
"Skipper," Bert shouted, as he pointed ahead through the clouds where the lightning flashes illuminated the darkness, bathing D-for-Doris in an eerie blue light.
Eric stared at the dancing blue aura that flickered around the Lancaster, "Must be some kind of St. Elmo's Fire, what with all this storm activity... Can't climb above it -- we'll continue our descent..."
"She's starting to pitch, skipper!" Bert cried.
"Hang on, chaps. God, Bert, we're too low to jump now! I'm losing her!"
"Hold onto her, skip!"
"I am.. I am! She's shaking like a shimmy dancer! She's pitching and yawling.."
"You can do it, skipper.. you can do it."
* * *
Lower Cambourne: (2010)...
The portable generator bolted onto the tray of the lorry had begun to vibrate badly, causing the entire vehicle to shake. David glanced anxiously through the lorry's rear window at the generator, and at the shower of sparks erupting from the transmitter unit. "Shit, its over-revving -- its too much power." He tried to turn the power control knob back to its previous setting, but the remote control sub-console was hot to the touch and beginning to smoke. "Fuck, the pot's melted - it's welded itself!"
David jumped from the cabin and clambered, slipping on the slick surface, onto the roof. Waving his arms frantically, he shouted into the wind for Brian. After a moment, Brian halted his trek across the common, turned, cupped his hands about his mouth and shouted something in return. David couldn't hear the returning shout as the gale carried the sound away, and in its place, borne on the wind from the north-east, was the growing throb of a multi-engined propeller-driven aircraft.
Dr. David Campbell and Michael Eastbourne turned simultaneously towards the north east, David nearly slipping on the wet roof. He brushed his soaked, wayward lank of hair from his rain splattered spectacles as the darkened sky lit up with a sudden bright flash, and the lumbering Lancaster emerged from beneath the storm clouds, a bare one hundred feet above the scattered homes some two miles distant.
"Hell! It’s the fucking plane!" David thought in anguish. "Shit! I've really stuffed it!"
Brian clapped his head in his hands, confused thoughts running through his mind, "How the fuck? The ducting effect! It's followed the ducting! My God! No, no, it’s the magnetic field! Oh, Shit! We’ve dragged the fucking plane into now!"
Both men stood transfixed as the battle-scarred bomber, buffeted by the strong storm winds and lashing rain, rapidly lost height and, careering lopsidedly like some drunken great sea-bird borne on the tempest, headed straight towards the housing estate and the transmitting lorry...
The lorry that stood on the site which sixty-eight years earlier had been home to 678 Squadron, home to D-for-Doris and her seven crew. But the landing field was now long gone…
The lorry on the roof of which stood Dr David Campbell...
The lorry which was parked in the garden of the small house in the housing development...
This story is a work fiction. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental. Certain institutions, organisations and places may exist but are included in this story for plot purposes only. To the Author’s knowledge there existed no such RAF Squadron numbered 678, and the Author assures residents of Cambourne, particularly certain friends about to move into Fox Hollow, that there is little likelihood of a RAF World War 2 vintage Lancaster bomber landing on their house.
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