I awoke in my camper-van. I lay there for a while, listening to the morning chatter of the birds. Then I realised I could still taste that cognac. Wow, I thought – that was a realistic dream.
Eventually I rose, washed myself in the icy water of the loch and dressed. Then I fired up the vintage VW camper and drove to the nearby village, Glenmiller, to get a paper and some breakfast.
I parked opposite the village shop, aware that people were looking at my vehicle with undisguised disgust. This struck me as odd, given it was old, but quite clean.
Dismissing this, I walked over to the shop – but it was a tobacconist.
I whirled around, but this was the only shop in the village and it was definitely different from yesterday.
Then I noticed a newspaper vending machine outside. It said “10p” – so I deposited a ten pence coin in the slot. It went straight through. I tried another, with the same result.
As I bent down to retrieve the coin, my eyes settled on the headline of the paper. It read, “King Announces Tour Of Germany” – and reading the article beneath, I realised this was the King of England (and Ireland and the lands beyond the sea, whatever).
Oh, crap. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Reading further down, I became aware that the King’s trip was controversial. The first visit by the monarch, since WW2. And it became clear there were still strong anti-German sentiments among the British people. I began to understand why my VW camper had drawn such a reaction.
Since my money was literally no good here, I wondered what to do next. Then I saw a newspaper in a nearby litter bin. I strode across, whipped it out, walked quickly back to my camper, gunned the engine and drove away.
I parked up in a lonely spot by the loch and began to read. The king in question was called William the Fifth. But he was not Charles’ son – this guy was seventy if he was a day. He had to be Edward’s child.
I ran through the rest of the paper. Some things were much as they had been 24 hours ago – but some were very different.
All the cars pictured appeared to be English. And the TV page had forty-odd channels listed. More than half were BBC (albethey with a strange logo) but the rest were mostly unfamiliar – although the History Channel was still there.
I switched my mobile phone on – but there was no signal.
I tried the radio – just static. So I pressed “search” and after a few seconds, it locked onto a signal. At that moment, the news came on. As I listened to the world’s latest events, I realised I had woken in a very different world from the one I had gone to sleep in.
The country was ruled by the SDP, with Dame Shirley Williams as its venerable leader.
I realised my immediate problem was money. If I tried to pass any of my coinage, I would end up in jail. So I drove to the nearest town, parked the camper on its outskirts and set off on foot.
As I walked, I tried my phone again. Still no signal. I scoured the rooftops for an antenna. There was one. But the houses had square TV dishes, with that odd BBC logo on them. I reasoned that my technology here was about as good as my money.
Without much hope of success, I put my debit card into the nearest ATM. Unsurprisingly, it rejected it.
I only had a few litres of fuel left in the camper, so I drove very gently in the direction of the motorway home – and found the motorway was not there.
Eventually the old bus spluttered to a halt so I began walking, sticking my thumb out every time a vehicle passed. The response was unfriendly. Eventually, a guy stopped – and demanded to know what I meant. I explained I wanted a lift. He said, “Well, you won’t get one using that gesture.”
I apologised and said my hand had cramp. He relented and said he could get me to the tollway. I thanked him.
On the way, I elicited as much information from him as I could, without arousing suspicion. It turned out a flat palm held steady was the accepted signal for needing a lift. A thumb up – meant something quite different.
He stopped his vehicle (which resembled a Toyota Corolla, but with a Leyland insignia – again, with an unfamiliar logo) by a roundabout and pointed to the slip-road I needed…
The long trip south told me some more about the 2012 I had fallen into. McDonalds (with the usual logo) were everywhere, along with a number of other familiar American and British corporate names.
And I learned a number of other things. But I could not ask the questions I really wanted to, without appearing strange. What I needed was a computer.
Eventually, I reached London and went straight to my parents’ house. What if it wasn’t there?
I need not have worried. Mum and Dad opened the door and greeted me like the Prodigal Son (I had only seen them a week ago).
Me and Dad chatted, while Mum went off to cook me some (by now, much needed) dinner.
I learned a great deal more from them. It turned out I had married a woman (in my old world, I was still happily single) who turned out to be a right bitch.
Having not helped me build up a small but successful company making auto computers, she had then divorced me, forcing me to sell the company and give her half the money. At least we had not had kids.
But I had confounded her by starting a new company with the remaining capital – and had built up an even more successful one. Apparently, I was now quite rich.
Furthermore, I had paid off Mum and Dad’s mortgage and built an extension on the back of their house, to use as my “bachelor pad”. But then, the new company being largely self-perpetuating, I had gone off around the world to “find myself” – I wondered if I had succeeded.
It occurred to me that if the other me came back, things might get awkward. But I was tired and so decided to chance that. They wished me a good night.
I entered my flat and was impressed by what I saw. On the wall was a huge TV. Its diagonal measured two metres across – but there was something odd about it. It took me a moment to realize, then I measured its ratio. It was 14:9.
I turned it on and channel-hopped for a while. The picture quality was excellent – the label said, “EMI 200cm 1125HD” – but the programmes were no better than they had been before. They even had Eamonn Holmes. Yuch.
Then I found my computer. It was now an IBM and started up considerably faster than my old one. Everything was much the same on the keyboard, but I had an anxious moment when it asked me for my password. It had been a character from Victorian literature, plus a rude number – and luckily this version of me had thought similarly.
In this 2012, Google was nowhere to be seen (hooray!) Here, the Internet was dominated by AOL.
Also there was no Wikipedia, but the BBC had a huge historical site – so I spent the next few hours re-learning the events that had shaped the Twentieth Century.
Edward must have dumped Wallis – there was no mention of her. He had married a Swedish minor royal and reigned until his death in 1972, at which time his eldest son William had taken over.
But the biggest shock was World War Two. Oh, it had still happened, but the story was very different from the one I knew.
Hitler had overrun Poland in 1937. Britain, with no effective aerial forces, had stayed out of it. Then slowly, he had moved on all of the other countries of central Europe.
Edward had urged America to help him engage Hitler, but she had her hands full with Japan.
Meanwhile, Hitler had honoured the Non-Aggression Pact with Russia – and his rise had gone unchecked until 1945, when word had finally leaked out of his totalitarian state that he had virtually wiped out every Jew in Europe – along with millions of others from various political, religious and ethnic groups.
At which point, Britain had dropped a huge nuclear bomb on Berlin. Hitler and half his cabinet had died and those remaining had surrendered immediately.
However little had been known about fallout, with the result that in addition to millions of Germans being killed instantly – millions more had died from the effects of the radiation, over the ensuing years. And since the wind had been coming from the west that day, most of them had been in Eastern Europe.
Berlin had been utterly destroyed. Today, the entire area was bulldozed flat and known as Ground Zero (in this world, there had not been a “9/11”).
And having seen what had happened, when America threatened to do likewise to Tokyo, the Japanese surrendered too.
This left Britain and America reigning supreme over the whole planet, while Japan, China and Russia were second-rate powers – with Europe barely surviving as a collection of miscellaneous states.
And I knew why.
I had told Edward about the nuclear bomb. Nothing technical, of course (I am an electronics man – not a nuclear physicist) but I had mentioned the Manhattan Project. He must have had British spies in the American camp.
Furthermore, I had discussed how Hitler’s blunder regarding invading Russia had cost him the war. That story could have reached the Führer’s ears.
In fact, I learned that Edward had taken a much larger role in political affairs after our little chat. And as a result, Britain was far stronger in this world than it had been in the one I had left.
But at a terrible cost. The total dead from WW2 in Europe had been twice what it was in my world. This was my fault. I had to do something.
However right now, I needed sleep. But that posed a problem. What did I do about the device? By now, I had decided the object I had acquired from space had to be the cause of all this.
It still lay in my pocket. As best I could think, it appeared to have the ability to transport me and anything I was in contact with (my clothes, the contents of my pockets, etc.) to the past.
I suspected it happened in my sleep because my mind was in a different state then – perhaps more like the inhabitants of the place it had come from. I refused to even think the word “aliens” because it sounded silly. But I could come up with no other explanation…
Either way, while I seemed to have some control over this odd dream state, I was by no means acclimatised to it. Thus I did not want to go tripping off again, until I had had time to consider the ramifications.
I had done enough damage already.
So I went to the kitchen and got some chicken foil. Then, having wrapped the device in a copious amount, I placed it in my safe and whirled the tumblers (again, the same combination as the one in my old world).
Figuring I was now safe, I repaired to the bedroom and slept for fourteen hours.