Robert Appleton

Adventures in Science Fiction

A Tale of Two Sisters Excerpt #2

 

Chapter Two


Dark Salt

 

They crept around the exterior of the north wing by the brilliant light of a gibbous moon, peering in through every open window. Pale servants scurried hither and thither fetching blankets and smelling salts and jugs of water and other cautionary measures to the drawing room, where the vanquished cousins were no doubt licking their wounds, milking the attention.


Boo-hoo! What a to-do. Partygoers invaded by the score to enquire after the trollops—ooh, what a horrible reaction to insect bites—my word, they’d never seen the like this time of year—ah, at least there was no swelling—it was likely shock that rendered them mute for the present—cluck-cluck, cluck-cluck, etcetera. Meredith and Sonja hadn’t had such a fuss made over them three years ago, and they’d been much younger, genuinely inconsolable.


“Father will be all right, won’t he?” Her young sister’s concern made Meredith swallow too, but she didn’t want to dwell on it. This victory was still too raw, too invigorating. The end of an era. Let her have this one night to celebrate without repercussion—the consequences could roll over her tomorrow and forever on for all she cared.


A sugary rush gummed her insides and left her tingly. Warm tears welled in her eyes. The resulting shiver filled her with sublime satisfaction, as though the world could end right now and she could happily make her peace.


“Ah, there you are, Miss McEwans...Misses McEwan...I mean Miss and Miss McEwan.” The boy stopped blathering long enough to hang his head in shame. “Someone please kill me now,” he muttered into his bowtie.


“Gladly.” Meredith went to wipe her eyes with the heels of her hands, but Sonja stopped her in time.


“One prick is all it takes, remember.” Sonja unclasped both their bracelets, then carried them carefully, one in each hand, between forefinger and thumb. She rolled her eyes at the boy’s awkwardness. “William, may I introduce my sister, Meredith. Meredith, this is William Elgin, our silent accomplice.”


“Charmed.” It might have been easier to mask her impatience had the lad possessed the manners to acknowledge her in any way at all. Instead he simply gawped, his broad masculine face bunched into a disoriented scowl, as though he were a rugby player stuck with the ball and had no recollection of what he should be doing with it. “Well, do you speak or don’t you?”

“Sshh.” Sonja elbowed her. “Don’t be evil. He’s a bit shy around you.”


“We’re obliged to you for your assistance, Mr. Elgin.” Mister? Master? It was hard to tell his exact age in the moonlight—he could be anything from a grizzled thirteen to an impish eighteen. “Tell me—I’m curious—have you some personal grudge against the Sorensen cousins? Being the professor’s ward, I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to side with a couple of strangers against his nieces like that.”


“They ’ad it comin’. I were after makin’—” He checked himself, straightened his slouch, and looked down at his hands in his pockets. “I mean they had it coming. I wanted to make up for something that happened a while back.”


The lad’s cryptic answer intrigued her, made her want to quiz him some more. His successful attempt to switch accents, from broad Lancashire to neutral Queen’s English, was also surprising. He might be a pauper playing at a prince, but he seemed to be caught in two minds: defy his stuffy new guise—by keeping his hands in his pockets—or try to impress her and Sonja.

Meredith liked the idea that he didn’t belong here, or anywhere else for that matter. It made him a puzzle, as no doubt she and her sister were to him. “I see. Walk with us then, Mister Elgin.”


Sonja cocked an eyebrow in surprise at the invitation. “This has to be the strangest night Niflheim has ever seen. I can’t wait to see what happens next. So what’s the news, William?”


He walked behind them at first, but when Meredith swivelled her head to glance back one way, then the other, mocking his reserve, he soon scurried to Sonja’s side. A predictable choice—he was clearly less intimidated by her.


“The professors are chewing the furniture a mile a minute,” he said, making them both chuckle. It seemed to egg him on. 

“They all twigged who did it, quick as shit off a shov—I mean quick as lightning. Sorry.”


“Ha! Shit off a shovel—that’s good. I like that.” Sonja was never this relaxed around strangers, let alone young men. But she seemed pally rather than smitten with him. She was talking and behaving in exactly the manner she did with her big sister.

William snorted. “But it don’t seem right when girls swear.” The Lancashire accent again. He looked across to Meredith. “You know I have not heard anyone else swear since...since Tangeni left.” Back to Queen’s English. Hmm, a pattern was emerging.


“Who’s Tangeni?” she asked. The name was vaguely familiar.


“My friend—I mean our friend from...from Africa. Used to be in the British Air Corps stationed in West and Central Africa. He visits us now and then. A right good bloke, Tangeni. I’ve learned a lot from him.” He shut his eyes, puckered his lips and mouthed the word shit to himself. “Sorry, did I say Tangeni. I meant Simeon. Don’t listen to me.”


Cagier and cagier.


“It’s okay. We’re none of us in our right minds tonight. We’d be automatons if we were. Right, Merry?”


“True. So how did they wrong you, William? The cousins, I mean. You said you were getting even with them for something that happened. Pray tell.” If it were juicy enough, it might complete her sense of victory tonight.


“I can’t tell you everythin’. Let’s just say they made me do the worst thing I’ve ever done, an’ I’ve hated ’em ever since.”


“Um, I think you mentioned it to me a couple of days ago, William.” Sonja didn’t sound too sure.


“No, no I didn’t. I could never. See, they used me for their own ends—even they don’t know how I did it, only that I did it. An’ I’ll never say any more than that on the subject.”


He didn’t, and they barely shared more than a stray word during the remainder of their circumnavigation of the house.

Though the season of perpetual night hadn’t yet arrived, Niflheim saw no more than a few hours of full sunlight in the day. The presiding twilight, darker than what was commonly referred to as the gloaming in Britain but just as magical, silhouetted the mountain peaks and the steep walls of the fjords, while spreading a dusky cloak of almost-colour over the bay and the sloping countryside below the Sorensen Estate. A niggling breeze spread the scents of awakened flowers over the now empty garden. Guests had retired inside, no doubt overcome by the shocking events.


As they passed the servants clearing the supper buffet from the circular tracks in the centre of the garden, Sonja stopped. Hunched her shoulders. She hooked Meredith and William by the arms and hurried them to one side. “Quick, hide! It’s Father...and the professor. They’re on the hunt.”


“I know somewhere we can go. Follow me.” William led the way, while Meredith and Sonja hiked their dresses a few inches in order to run with him. It felt absurd to be fleeing from the inevitable, but Sonja giggled in her brash, infectious manner, and it was suddenly the perfect capper to an altogether satisfying evening. Hiding from the finger pointing and wagging tongues. 

Ha! Let them cluck.


Beyond the gazebo and the fountains, the entrance to a hedge maze lay between two enormous spruce trees. The opening was extremely narrow because the hedgerows were so overgrown. Meredith was about to commend William for his choice of hiding place—no adult would possibly try to squeeze through there—when he veered to the right and missed the maze altogether. He showed them through a gate in the hedgerow in the far corner of the garden. Again, it was well-hidden by the overgrown plants.


On the other side, a winding path led downhill between several more spruces, until it brought them to a group of buildings at the top of a steep grass verge. About half the length of a football pitch past the bottom of this slope was a sheer drop into Niflheim River a few hundred feet below.


The buildings were a part of Sorensen’s estate, but they couldn’t be seen from the main house. At least two were work sheds. One was a large greenhouse with a deep well in the forecourt; row after row of wheelbarrows inside suggested large-scale botanical operations were carried out here in the warmer months. One of the buildings appeared to be an old living quarters, complete with chimney and stacks of covered firewood, though there was no light inside. The biggest building had a similar shape to those airship hangars that stood along sections of the Thames Embankment in London. It had a paved road running in front of it for at least a quarter of a mile parallel to the cliff.


“What is this place?” asked Sonja, spying the contraptions through a window in the largest of the work sheds. “That looks like a thermoregulator of some kind, possibly for an aerostat.”


“Sounds about right,” answered William. “It’s one of the professor’s hobbies.”


“What is? Gobbledygook?”


He chuckled. “Manned flight. In his spare time, he designs and builds small dirigibles.”


“Bloody hell! He has them here?” Sonja, doing her best impersonation of kettle past the boil.


“Uh-huh. In there.” William flicked a two-fingered salute at the hangar. “He doesn’t usually let me fly ’em unless he’s with me, but I think we can make an exception tonight.”


“My estimation of Professor Sorensen has officially just shot to the moon.” Sonja gave another squeal of delight as she skipped round to the front of the hangar. “Can I pilot?”


“Ah, maybe next time.” But William’s reply wasn’t loud enough—she was already out of earshot. He slid his hands into his pockets and turned to Meredith instead. “You can come up too if you want. Or you can wait for us…if that suits?”


“Are there warm coats in there?”


“Of course. For every kind of weather.”


“Then I’ll be damned if I let you two have all the fun.” In truth, Meredith shared little of her kid sister’s enthusiasm for technological marvels, especially unproven, possibly lethal ones built in someone’s shed. But Sonja was game, and William was game; no way was she going to come it the shrinking violet now, on her night of triumph. “You’re certain you can fly the three of us?”


“Well, I’ve never flown three before,” he replied, a wicked twinkle in his eye, “but I’ll do my best.”


She had to scurry to keep up with him. “I’m also partial to rowing,” she called after him. “Maybe it would be better if we—”

“It’s about a two mile hike down to the village…that way.” He pointed westward along the clifftop. “Plenty of rowing boats there. We won’t be long.”


“Hey, don’t you dare!”


William dashed out of sight round the front of the hangar, laughing. As she sprinted after him, the thrill of their daredevil escape washed over her trepidation, and Meredith found herself swept up in the excitement. The excitement all fugitives felt when they were at liberty and out of reach.



Soaring over the clifftops of the fjords at night was frightening at first. With only moonlight to guide them, heights were hard to judge. And Sonja kept urging William to fly higher and faster, ironically the two things his dirigible struggled to achieve because it was so reliant on its ballonet, a bullet-shaped envelope filled with hot air. The pilot had to constantly manipulate the temperature of the gas in order to ascend or descend. The steam-powered propeller at the rear spun like a whirling dervish, but even that produced only a kind of steady forward drift. Yet the craft’s sluggishness and buoyancy were the very things that made Meredith feel safe.


Being a prototype, it didn’t have an official name yet. Of course, that was music to Sonja’s ears. Moments after seeing it for the first time, she’d dubbed it The Hornet: its ballonet, fuselage and wing seats did resemble the rough shape of a flying insect. To distribute the weight evenly, Meredith and Sonja were strapped into the two wing seats, while William piloted from the rear cockpit.


After circling the clifftops a few times, he brought them down toward the mystical gloom of Niflheim village, where a thick sea mist had settled over the fishing fleet and the two wharves. The collective glow of lantern lights from the dwellings inshore shone warmly through the mist, reminding Meredith of the toasty bed waiting for her later. Her hooded duffel coat was fine for the flight, provided they didn’t stay up too much longer; the cold was starting to bite at her hands and face.


William flew them up to Sorensen’s estate, taking care to stay high enough to avoid detection. He also slowed the propeller to a whisper so they could cheekily spy on the very people who were likely searching high and low for them. As The Hornet drifted over the garden, however, Meredith spied an odd glint coming from one of the trees lining the fence. It was as though someone was sat in the tree, looking up at her through a spyglass. She tried pointing it out to William, but he was busy fiddling with the thermoregulator for another altitude adjustment.


The Hornet slowly turned and climbed over the edge of the garden. Again she noticed the glint. But this time, the entire tree appeared to shake. She was certain a body fell out of it and hit the fence. They were high up now, but she could still make out the dark shape on the grass, where the body lay motionless.


Who was it? How long had he or she been there, sitting in the tree, spying? Would the body still be there when they landed?

Her mind spun all kinds of theories as William took them up for one more circumnavigation of the bay. He went much farther, in fact, past the fjord and out beyond the headland to the open sea. Meredith wondered how much oil and water The Hornet’s engine carried when suddenly, all around them, the sky filled with birds. Flocks of seabirds, all flying toward land. She tensed in her seat, gripped the straps holding her in. It was a good thing the dirigible was so slow. The birds were able to fly around it without piercing the canopy or crashing into the occupants.


But why so many birds all of a sudden?


The wind got up, too, raking Arctic gusts that buffeted the craft like a buoy on choppy swells. Meredith clung for dear life to the brass frame that fixed her seat to the wing. The temperature dropped. The sky darkened. She looked out to sea, expecting to see storm clouds on the horizon.


But there were no clouds.


By now the strong headwind had blown them back to the cliff. The propeller was next to useless, and William might struggle to land safely in these conditions. Meredith shielded her face from the gusts, but through her fingers she glimpsed a strange phenomenon out to sea. Or rather in the sky. The population of stars was diminishing...rapidly, as though they were being swallowed from beneath.


What in God’s name?


A distant rumble grew to a bellowing roar—partly the ferocious wind, partly the crashing of terrific waves thrust up against the cliffs below. She shouted to William and Sonja but her words were lost to the furore. A dark swell lifted the horizon and continued to rise, as though the ocean itself was being flung up from its roots.


The wind spun The Hornet completely around. Twice. The impact kicked her head back, enough to see one of the canopy stays ripped away above. It tore a hole in the envelope. The hiss of escaping air terrified her. The Hornet began to fall. But when she looked out to sea, mouth open to the blasts of sea air, the reality hit her full-on.


Meredith’s gaze lifted with the colossal surge that now blotted out the moon. Its height scaled the fjord walls and continued to climb. But it hadn’t reached land yet. The urge to escape blanked every other thought from her mind, but she was trapped in her seat. In midair.


William frantically manipulated his instruments in an effort to get the balloon to rise. It was pierced, but still had its shape. Heating the air inside might be the only way for them to escape the monstrous wave. It would be close. She couldn’t tell if they were rising or not, only that by now the wave had swallowed up most of the night sky.


It piled above the highest point of the cliff. Still it didn’t curl. The thunderous surge seemed to reach up for them. Its summit lifted the underside so that The Hornet was surfing it for a few moments. Then it heaved up even higher, flooding the wing seats. Meredith screamed as she submerged to her chest in the icy black water. She shut her eyes, didn’t want to feel death when it came.


There was nothing but the thunder. The Hornet lurched forward, seemed to spin as the water spilled off her. They hit something hard and continued to spin. Meredith opened her eyes long enough to glimpse a fishing trawler tumbling bow over stern as the giant wave finally crashed onto the shoulders of the fjord cliffs. It wiped out unreachable forests at high altitude.


The Hornet hung inches above the soapy crest, the gas in its dying ballonet raging to keep the three of them out of harm’s way.

The wave rose higher still as it approached the bay. It threw them sidewise against the mountain, where The Hornet hit nose-first, then skidded across a scree slope before wedging itself in the hollow left by an uprooted tree. Meredith didn’t want to stay in her seat a moment longer. She was aground and that was all that mattered. She unclipped her straps, jumped out, and clambered up the slope alongside Sonja and William, who’d had the same idea.


The three of them stopped on top of a large boulder overlooking the bay. They watched in terrified awe as the dark rolling wall summoned all remaining water before it to feed a final towering surge of Biblical proportions. It dragged a fishing fleet from its berth before dashing the vessels to kindling. The wave leaned and toppled and collapsed—an incalculable explosion of breaking water—onto the village.


The crash shook the mountain, forced Meredith to slap her palms against her ears. Niflheim burst into a cloud of roaring white. Its watery shrapnel bombarded the mountainside. She held Sonja tight. Sonja pulled William into their embrace. They crouched together and waited, prayed, not daring to imagine the fate they’d just cheated.


The worst eventually passed as driving winds dispelled the drizzle away to the west, but the thunderous new tide hadn’t even begun to settle. It heaved and sloshed its way up ridges and hillsides, then collapsed back on itself with the added tonnage of accumulated debris—rocks, trees, houses, boats. Professor Sorensen’s clifftop buildings and aeronautical contraptions were washed away.


It took the three of them hours to make their way back along the upper ridges and then pick their way around the flooded gorges. When they finally arrived back in the garden, Father ran to them like Meredith had never seen him run. “Thank God! Oh, thank God! But are you hurt?” He grabbed his two daughters simultaneously, checked them for cuts and bruises. “Where were you? I looked everywhere. I-I thought you’d—” But he choked with emotion and couldn’t finish. Seeing him cry like that made Meredith and Sonja burst into tears.


In the middle of their family reunion, Meredith spied the used-to-be valley below, where upturned hulls rocked and glistened in the moonlight on the wild undulating sea. Broken rooftops and loose forests swam about and collided in the frothy cauldron. Waves continued to break ashore where there was no shore—on low mountain passes, against wrecked barns and farmhouses, on the bare crowns of besieged hillocks.


She shrank from her memory of the dark rising surge. Too big, too monstrous to comprehend. Her mind couldn’t think past the cold and the sure-to-be nightmare images and noises of the tidal wave. But why hadn’t it taken her? Sonja? Father?


She gasped. Had the hot air in The Hornet’s balloon not been hot enough, she would have died tonight. So would Sonja. And if the walls of the nearest cliff had not guided the wave, it would have broken over this estate as well, killing Father. It could so easily have washed all of them away like sheaves of wheat, as it had the village and the fishing fleet below.


God had spared each of them this night. He had wrought the rock cliffs into their specific shape and left The Hornet enough buoyancy for this one purpose—to spare the McEwans. Of that she had no doubt.


Death. So that was what it tasted like.


Dark salt.


***


Men waded out to see the shocking flood. Even now, hours later, women screamed and fainted on the lawn which was still awash up to shin-height. A few of them had to be saved from drowning. Sonja had no words to describe the enormity of what had just happened—indeed, what was still happening. The tidal surge had reached as far as she could see into the valley, and even now it lapped over half way up the hillside to their garden.


As the event had unfolded, she’d detached from herself, quite involuntarily, as she always did when unable to deal with something momentous beyond her ken. Mother’s passing. The disappearance of Whitehall and Westminster during Professor Reardon’s accidental time jump of ’08. The humiliation of three years ago in this very house. Father’s long, perilous absences. Yes, that instinct knew when to take charge, when to let things wash over her.


Wash over...


But poor Merry didn’t seem to have that capacity, never had. All happenings hit her head on, uncushioned, and she was forced to weather them no matter how severe. Did that make her braver? Sonja couldn’t decide as she hooked her arm around her big sister’s waist and helped her up to their guest bedroom.


Aunt Lily hugged them for the longest time and then handed them towels. She asked poor Mrs. Sorensen to see them to their room. The latter’s nerves were frayed and she might need these few minutes away from the crowd to collect herself as well.

Merry behaved as if nothing had happened while they dried and changed, the same serene, swan-like movements, only even smoother, even more serene. And she didn’t utter a word. Puffed her cheeks, yes, and gestured whenever Sonja made an empty observation, but for the next quarter hour or so, she was as mute as the Sorensen cousins.


They didn’t change for bed. There was no way Sonja could possibly sleep. They dried off and changed into the handsome eveningwear ensembles they’d reserved for tomorrow night, their last night. Make that tonight—they’d surely be on the first airship home in the morning. All the more reason not to miss a thing.


It wasn’t until they’d reached the main staircase that Merry finally uttered, “Did you see him fall?”


“Who?”


“Did you see him fall—the man from the tree?”


The image flickered in the corner of her eye. Something she’d seen in the periphery of her vision but had not registered at the time. A dark shape falling onto a fence. “I...yes, I saw something fall from a tree. A man, you reckon?”


Merry shrugged, then pouted.


“We’d better ask somebody to find out,” said Sonja. “He might be hurt.”


“He was spying on us.”


“How do you know that?”


“Why else would he be up a tree?”


She had a point. Not a terribly consoling one, but a point nonetheless. “I say, William, come here,” Sonja called across the landing to where their new friend—no, hero—was fiddling with the cuffs of his fresh shirt. He was only half dressed—his white vest peeked from between the lapels of his green smoking jacket—and his hair was a wet bird’s nest. Even so, he looked quite handsome, more than she dared let on. And as usual, he couldn’t take his eyes off Merry.


“So we’re the ones,” Sonja announced. “Balcony seats and all that. I’ll bet no one else has ever seen it like that.” It struck her how callous that sounded, but her mind insisted on loitering apart from the horror. Making light of the events, at arm’s length, somehow comforted her.


“Apparently someone else had a ringside seat,” he replied. “A peeping tom. He was armed, too. Knocked himself out when he fell and hit the fence. They’ve got him in the library, the rotter. He’s for it when he comes to. I plan to be there when they wring the truth out of him.”


“How beastly.” That sounded more like Aunt Lily than Merry, but it was indeed the latter, her gaze questing over the knots of guests in the foyer below.


“We can look out from the observatory if you like.” William nodded across the balcony to a door that led to Professor Sorensen’s famed telescope room.


“No thank you. I want to see it again...before it recedes altogether.”


“Merry? You want to go back out there?”


“Did you see him fall?”


“Um, yes.”


“I saw him fall—the man from the tree.” Merry walked stiffly, like a pallbearer down the grand staircase, her fingertips squeaking on the varnished banister. “Before it recedes,” she muttered.


Psst.” William dashed to Sonja’s side, whispered, “Should we be letting her go? She doesn’t sound right.”

For some reason that observation stung. “Mind your own business, William Elgin. She’s coping with it in her own way. Why don’t you run along to your peeping tom, join the lynching party when he wakes up—that seems to be your way of coping.”


He sighed through his nose. “That’s rich coming from you. Brigitte’s still crying her eyes out. Anyways, I’m coming with you whether you like it or not.”


Stubborn boy. Tonight’s aerial heroics aside, he’d gone out of his way to help them this past week, and now, like Merry, she found herself curious as to why. Before, it had simply been a new and exciting acquaintance—an older boy eager to spend time with her—a first for her, however plutonic. Now, with his attentions clearly on Merry and not her, she had a more objective view of him.


He didn’t add up.


But something in what he’d said earlier about why he’d helped them get their revenge—“I can’t tell you everything—the worst thing I’ve ever done—they used me for their own bitchy ends”—pricked her intuition.


What part did he play three years ago?


After a rallying cry from one of the airship pilots, several men, including William, grabbed gas lamps, ropes, axes, blankets and emergency provisions from Professor Sorensen’s supplies, anything useful they could put their hands on, before making their way south to the small airships berthed at Sigurdfjorden. The floodwater would take hours, perhaps days to recede to a level safe enough to wade across, so for now the volunteers would have to do what they could from the air. Meanwhile, Aunt Lily, Father, Professor and Mrs. Sorensen, with the help of the head servants, continued making telephone calls for assistance, tended those taken ill by the shock, and generally orchestrated some semblance of order to the frantic comings and goings.


The dark torrent below gave off a constant gravelly rumble. It was punctuated by the grinds and thumps of smashing debris, and even the occasional distant scream, jerking Sonja’s gaze hither and thither across the valley. The terrible death toll might never be known.


She suddenly felt bad for not having liked Niflheim more when Aunt Lily had taken them shopping for souvenirs earlier in the week. It had seemed a sad, gloomy fishing village, nothing more, so isolated that it was in most respects a century behind steam-powered England. Its peculiar smell, too, a mixture of fresh fish, whale oils and blubber and a wild, natural salty scent all its own, had been a little too pungent for her—and she’d been brought up in Southsea.


But the village was gone now, and likely not a single building would remain standing when the waters finally emptied. An entire community washed away in moments.


She glanced at her boots as they squished on the wet topsoil. Not rain but seawater, all the way up here. A small metallic object in the grass reflected light from an airship passing overhead. She picked it up and showed it to Merry, who was leaning on the fence near where the peeping tom had fallen, staring blankly out at the fjord.


“What do you make of this, Merry?” It appeared to be a closed pocket watch with an odd design on the brass casing—something like a sceptre, but with the planet Earth as the ball at the top. Merry didn’t take any notice until Sonja added, “I think our tree man must have dropped it.”


“Hmm? What have you got there?” Merry grabbed Sonja’s hand and tilted the item until it caught the light of another passing airship.


“Is that a sceptre?”


“No, I don’t think so.” Merry plucked the spectrometer goggles from her sister’s pocket and inspected the inscription under medium magnification. “It’s a new one on me. The stick you thought was a sceptre is actually the London Leviacrum tower, and it’s holding up—”


“The earth?”


“Yes, but that’s obviously symbolic. Hmm. It won’t open.” She fingered the edges and tried to pry the two halves apart, but there didn’t appear to be a clasp or hinge. The little winder wouldn’t turn either. “Blasted thing.”


“Here, let me try,” Sonja said.


“After I’ve finished my inspection.”


Sonja masked her grin by pretending to wipe her mouth. This mystery was just what Merry needed, and it was great to see her engaged in it instead of brooding silently over things beyond her control. Sonja leaned in. “The engraving is incredibly fine, isn’t it—looks like it was done under a spectrometer microscope. Here, there might be something written—”


“Ah, ah...” Merry brushed her sister’s hand away, “...I’m on top of it. There are three words across the globe. I’m trying to think back to Latin class... Exitus acta probat.


The result validates the deeds. Sonja would rather give her big sister a minute or so to translate it on her own, otherwise Merry might get snippy and sink back into her moroseness.


“Aha! I’ve got it. A means to an end.” Well, not quite, but close enough. “Obviously some kind of secret organisation. Don’t you think?”


Sonja snickered. She was usually the one prone to seeing conspiracies in everything. So this was what the others felt like, patronising her at breakfast as Father and Aunt Lily read the newspaper headlines and Sonja spun the stories into her ingenious speculative theories.


“Why do you say that?” Sonja asked.


“The man was armed. He was watching us. Then the wave hit. Connected...surely.”


Well, that was a stretch, even for a McEwan, but Sonja thought she’d best play along for now. Until someone made sense of all this. And if she were honest, nothing would ever surprise her again after tonight.