her name—the explanation could prove embarrassing. I made a wild guess, remembering something of what I had been told about her when I flew with The Rover. “I recognized your photograph. You were an actress, weren’t you?”
She smiled, wiping the perspiration from her face with a large, white handkerchief. “Some would say that I still am.”
“What sort of depth are we at?” I asked, feeling quite faint now.
“Oh, no more than a hundred feet. The air system isn’t working properly and I don’t know enough about these metal moles to fix it. I don’t think we’re in any immediate danger, however.”
“How did you come to be in East Grinstead, Mrs. Persson?”
She did not hear me above the shaking of the machine and the weird whining of its engine. She made some sort of adjustment to our course as she cupped her hand to her ear and made me repeat the question.
She shrugged. “What I was looking for was nearby. There was some attempt to set up a secret centre of government towards the end. There were plans for an O’Bean machine which was never perfected. There is only one of its type—in Africa. The plans will clarify one or two problems which were troubling us.”
“In Africa! You have come from Africa?”
“Yes. Ah, here we are.” She pushed two levers forward and I felt the tunneling machine begin to tilt, rising towards the surface. “The ground must have been mainly clay. We’ve made good speed.”
She cut off the engines, took one last glance into the viewer, seemed satisfied, moved to the hatch, pressed a button. The hatch opened, letting in the refreshing night air.
“You’d better get out first,” she said.
I clambered thankfully from the machine, waiting for my vision to adjust itself. The ground all around me was flat and even. I could just make out the silhouette of what at first appeared to be buildings arranged in a circle which enclosed us. There was something decidedly familiar about the place. “Where are we?” I asked her.
“I think it used to be called The Oval,” she told me as she joined me on the grass. “Hurry up, Mr. Bastable. My airboat should be just over here.”
It was a ridiculous emotion to feel at the time, I know, but I could not help experiencing a tinge of genuine shock at our having desecrated one of the most famous cricket pitches in the world!
The Start of a New Career
U na Persson’s Airboat was very different from the sort of aircraft I had become used to in the world of 1973. This was a flimsy affair consisting of an aluminium hull from which projected a sort of mast on which was mounted a large, three-bladed propeller. At the tail was a rudder, and on either side of the rudder were two small propellers. From the hull sprouted two broad, stubby fins which, like the small propellers, helped to stabilize and to steer the boat once it had taken to the air. We rose, swaying slightly, from the ground, while the boat’s motor gave out a barely heard purring. It was only now that I sought to enquire of our destination. We were flying at about a height of one thousand feet over the remains of Inner London. There was not a landmark left standing. The entire city had been flattened by the invader’s bombs. The legendary vengeance of Rome upon Carthage was as nothing compared to this. What had possessed one group of human beings to do such a thing to another? Was this, I wondered, how Hiroshima had looked after the Shan-tien had dropped her cargo of death? If so, I had much on my conscience. Or had I? I had begun to wonder if I moved from dream to dream. Was reality only what I made of it? Was there, after all, any such thing as ‘history’?
“Where are we headed for, Mrs. Persson?” I asked, as we left London behind.
“My first stop will have to be in Kerry, where I have a refueling base.”
“Ireland.” I remembered the first subaquatic vessel I had seen. “I had hoped...”
I realized, then, that I had already made up my