25 AUGUST 1971
My name is James Stevens, and I have spent the past two weeks trying to understand events that would scramble the mind of any sane person. My adult life has been devoted to working with words, using my skills as a writer to make sense of the world around me. So that is what I will do now - or what I will try to do, at least.
Two weeks ago I opened an envelope with my name on it. Inside I found a manuscript that defied explanation. Much of it described events I had experienced or witnessed: my early life in New Zealand; my investigation of UNIT; my doomed marriage to Natasha; even how I fell in love with a young woman called Dorothea Chaplet - or Dodo, as she likes to be called.
But the manuscript also detailed things that hadn't happened yet, terrible events in my future that defied belief and shook me to the core. The author of those pages seemed to know me better than I knew myself, yet there was something different about them - a bleak sadness born of a devastating loss.
Most shocking of all was the chapter about what happened to Dodo on August 11th, 1971 - a night that changed my life forever.
I have decided I must record my own version of those events while they are still fresh in my mind, though I have little intention of ever publishing this...
Earlier that day I had escaped from the Glasshouse with Private Cleary, just as is described in the manuscript. I rang Dodo from Paddington Station, and my friend Vincent at BBC3. I convinced him to devote that night's edition of The Passing Parade to exposing the Glasshouse, my scoop of the century.
I went home to Wandsworth, taking Cleary with me. My reunion with Dodo was among the happiest of my life, but all too soon I was rushing back out the door. I had a job to do, not knowing the Master had laid a trap that would destroy my credibility as a journalist. As I left, Dodo told me she had a surprise for me, but it would have to wait for my return.
Within hours the Master's trap had been sprung. The Passing Parade proved a farce, with the Glasshouse empty and the government producing the notorious Victor Magister to utterly disprove all my claims and accusations.
After apologising to Vincent, I returned home to Wandsworth.
But unlike the version of events in the manuscript, I found no police cordon outside my home, no hacks or cameramen waiting for me out front.
Inside the house I found carnage. There had been a violent altercation, furniture smashed and blood spilled. In the front room two men were lying on the floor, one that looked dead and the other as if he was dying. Dodo was in my white towelling robe, doing her best to care for the latter man.
Seeing me, she flung herself across the room, hugging me so hard it knocked the breath from my lungs. I hugged her back, baffled by what I was seeing.
‘James, thank god you’re back,’ Dodo sobbed. ‘I was so worried about you!’
‘Looks like I should've been worried about you. What on earth?’
I went over to examine the two men. As I got closer, I recognised the corpse face down on the floor - it was Private Francis Cleary. He had been shot in the stomach, judging by the pool of blood under his torso. I put two fingers to his neck, checking for a pulse: nothing.
The other man was ashen, able to take only the tiniest of breaths, sweat plastering grey hair to his forehead. I could see no visible wounds or injuries on him, but it was obvious he would not live for long.
I crouched down for a better look at his face - and my mind rebelled at what I was seeing. It was like gazing into a mirror at an older, more tired version of myself. He had my face, but it had borne the weight of decades still to come. Impossible, yet there he was.
‘Don't touch me,’ he whispered. ‘We mustn't make contact.’
‘Something called the Blinovitch Limitation Effect. The Doctor warned me about it. Can't say I understood a word, but he was most insistent.’
The older me nodded. ‘I came back to save Dodo.’ He gestured at a thick manila envelope on the floor. ‘Read what's in there, you'll understand.’ A weak smile. ‘Probably.’
‘But what happened to Cleary?’
‘Brainwashed by the Master. Sent here to murder Dodo before going back to Dallas, 1963. I only meant to stop him. We fought, his gun went off...’
I glanced over at Dodo. She nodded. He - I - was telling the truth.
The older me coughed, a dry rattle of pain. ‘Now he can't interfere with whatever happened to JFK. Now history will run its true course.’
I stood up. ‘We have to call an ambulance, and the police.’
Dodo shook her head. ‘He wouldn't let me.’
‘We can't just watch him die.’
‘You won't have to,’ the older me said. He pushed back a sleeve, revealing an odd metal bracelet round one wrist. ‘I'll take Francis with me. It'll be easier that way, no loose ends. Besides, you’re going to have enough on your plate, with the baby coming.’
He grimaced. ‘Oh, she hasn't told you yet. Sorry.’
Dodo took hold of my hands. ‘He's right. I’m pregnant. We’re having a baby, James.’
One of the worst days of my life had brought me the best of news. I hugged Dodo to me, pulling her as close as I could, never wanting to let go.
As I did, the room filled with a brilliant light, and the crackle of electricity. I felt the hairs on my neck and arms standing upright. I twisted round to see the older me surrounded by a glowing ball of energy. Reaching over to touch Private Cleary, the old me mouthed one final word: goodbye.
Then they were gone, leaving just a burn on the floor, smoke rising from it.
That was two weeks ago. The police came soon after, in search of the missing UNIT soldier. Dodo and I denied having seen him; it was easier than trying to explain what had really happened.
I read and re-read the manuscript, struggling to understand. Try as I might, I couldn't make sense of it all. I needed help - expert help. An announcement tucked away in New Scientist offered hope: a professor from Cambridge was giving a public lecture at Imperial College about new theories on time travel. Her name was Elizabeth Shaw.
I sat in the back of the lecture theatre, listening to her talk. Much of it went over my head, but her conclusion did capture my attention. Professor Shaw talked about the terrible consequences that could arise if humanity ever travelled through time.
‘If we went back into our past and altered an event, current thinking suggests that action could have devastating consequences. It would divert the course of history, sending the future in a new direction. Those of us living our lives here and now would not notice the change because history unfolds around us in real time, day by day. But the time traveller could never return to their point of departure, because the future they know would no longer exist. By altering the past, you run the risk of destroying the present - and your future. That is the danger of time travel, and its ultimate paradox.’
There was a drinks reception after the lecture, with warm white wine and insipid fruit juice. I waited until Professor Shaw slipped outside to light her pipe to approach her. She recognised me at once.
‘I heard what happened after we met,’ she said. ‘I did warn you.’
‘Don't worry, I've given up chasing UNIT.’
‘I wanted to ask about what you said - the consequences of time travel.’
Professor Shaw's gaze narrowed, no doubt wary of my motives. But she listened as I described a hypothetical version of my older self's intervention. When I finished, she smoked her pipe in silence a while before replying.
‘Blinovitch Limitation Effect,’ she said. ‘I haven't heard that in a while.’
‘Is what I described possible?’
Professor Shaw knocked her pipe out on the side of the lecture hall. ‘Yes, it is. But there's something else you want to ask me, isn't there?’
I hesitated, unsure how to phrase my question. ‘It's about the past. The soldier was supposed to go back, alter events in 1963 - and the journalist was meant to follow him. But instead the journalist stopped the soldier in 1971, so the events in 1963 were never altered. Does that mean--?’
‘The world we are living in now, the past we know, all of it is following the original pathway that human history would have taken,’ she replied.
‘And everything that happens after today?’
‘Our future isn't predetermined, Mr Stevens. You choose what you will do with the rest of your life, as does everyone else.’ Professor Shaw paused, something wistful in her expression. ‘This hypothetical Time Ring - I suppose it vanished with your hypothetical visitor?’
‘Probably just as well,’ she smiled. ‘As I concluded in my lecture, time travel is a dangerous business. Best left to the professionals, you might say.’
I walked home from South Kensington in the warm air of late summer, It took ninety minutes, but gave me a chance to reconcile all I had seen and heard and read. Dodo was dozing on the sofa when I got in. I kissed her awake, and she smiled. I knew just how lucky I was to have her in my life.
I had lost her once, and - thanks to the impossible - had gotten her back. Having been given this second chance, I would not make the same mistakes. No doubt I would make new mistakes instead, different ones, but they would be my mistakes, my choices from now on.
I wrote this new chapter to make sense of these events. When the original version of this manuscript was written, it opened with a hypothetical sequence imagining what might have happened if JFK had not been assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Happily, I no longer know who killed Kennedy. The past is another country and I don't have to live there any more. I shall seal this revised manuscript in an envelope and give it to someone I trust, with instructions that it be published only when Dodo and I have both died. Hopefully that will be many decades from now!
In the meantime, I have one last JFK quote to offer. His words will serve as a fitting conclusion to this tale of fear and tragedy and - finally - of hope:
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.