Though the Mould has no obvious hands, a solid force shoves me back into Room 17. I land hard, hands and knees slamming against dull grey carpeting. I run my fingers gratefully across its tight weave. Same carpet. I take further inventory. Same walls, same angles, same desks. No eyeballs, no time station, no warriors.
I imagined it. I had a seizure. I passed out and… CRACK!
A thin gap rips across the base of one wall, separating carpet from plasterboard. The crack glows gold like the light from Granddad’s clock. Spidery patterns crawl out of the golden gap, turning blue as they spread across the walls and ceiling of Room 17. Blue like the clock, blue like the cuckoo. Blue like veins.
I am still on my hands and knees when Miss Pemberg bursts in. ‘What the—’ She braces against the doorframe as a tremor rocks Room 17. ‘Oh nicely done, Annah!’
‘What?’ I shout over the roomquake. ‘You think I did this?’
‘Stop being so arrogant and get off the bloody floor before it swallows you whole!’
Miss Pemberg doesn’t wait. She grabs me under both arm pits and drags me through the door, down the hallway. Pulling me to my unsteady feet, she thrusts her furious face into mine. I’m a bit sick of people’s faces having no respect for my personal space.
‘Let me know, will you, if you’re planning more daftness so I can assume minimum safe distance,’ barks Miss Pemberg.
‘It wasn’t me, Miss. I was— It— I—‘
Pemberg lets me sputter half-formed excuses. We both know my efforts are pointless but I am too angry to stop. Who does this silly teacher think she is calling me daft? She’s not even a teacher—she’s a… Fine, I don’t know what she is but she is nothing!
‘How stupid are you, pet?’ Pemberg snaps. Stupid? First daft then arrogant now stupid!
‘You dare call me stupid? You are nothing! I can think you into a pile of dust in a corner of your pathetic little life. You have no idea what I am capable of!’
‘Oh, I know what you’re capable of. Better than you do, flower. You play with the universe like some master juggler. Only you dropped a ball, didn’t you? How amateur.’
Amateur! How DARE she? Miss Pemberg needs to learn some respect.
‘Room 17 has a gas leak,’ I explain in slow, deliberate tones. ‘You should evacuate the building.’ I look Pemberg dead in the eye, my confident assurance scorching her retinas. The world bends to me. Truth is what I say it is. Truth is what I say, I mantra in my head.
‘That right? How interesting.’ Pemberg’s voice flatlines and her retinas look remarkably cool beneath her slim spectacles. Bloody hell she’s tough.
‘Most likely you are suffering from methane poisoning, Miss Pemberg. Perhaps you should, you know, see Matron?’ I’m not convincing her—not even making an impression.
‘Nice try, only it weren’t a gas leak. Room 17’s a galactic alarm clock and you set it off. Any idea what that means, petal?’
Galactic alarm? Set for me? I set off an alarm set for me which was set up to set me up? Set to go off. Setting the stage. Setting me up. Set it off! All set.
My brain tangles in a yarn ball of synapses. There are too many things in my head and I cannot find an end to it. If I can locate the tail of one string I can pull it and unravel the whole mess. But there is no ending, only masses of interconnected wool.
Woolly-headed. Wool gathering. Pull the wool over my eyes.
I clutch the sides of my skull and scream. My body contracts into a recovery position. My head between my knees pushes my ears to shut out the universal cacophony. Seconds or possibly centuries later, I uncurl my body. I stand erect, alert and focused
‘Miss Pemberg,’ my voice crisps civility. ‘I have many ideas of what it means to set off a galactic alarm clock. If you would be so kind, please assist me in figuring out which one I should use.’ I blink guilelessly and smile.
Pemberg retreats a step. She regards me speculatively, trying to decide if I am mad or contagious or potentially flammable. I hold my smile and blink a few more times.
‘You don’t know what you are, do you?’
‘I’m the blue cuckoo!’ I flap my arms for her.
A blue cuckoo hidden for so long I forgot myself. Now I’m stuck under a clueless kid who pulled the pin from a bomb she didn’t know existed. But there’s a spark in me. A blue pilot light struggling.
‘I’m new,’ I confess. ‘I hid because I didn’t want to be me. Only I wasn’t really hiding I was waiting to be found. It was a long game of hide and seek. I’m still trying to figure out if I won.’
‘I know who you are, Juliet Annah. You’re Alfie’s girl.’
‘Granddaughter. Do you know what that means?’
‘Brown eyes and a prominent chin?’
‘Don’t be stupid! We’ve no time for stupid, you know. You made a problem. Fix it!’
‘Can I do that?’ I wonder.
‘You’re the only one who can,’ snaps Pemberg impatiently.
‘Because I’m a Time Child?’
‘Aye!’ she bellows. ‘So, get on with it, then. How dramatic a finish you going for?’
‘A big one?’ I venture. Pemberg slaps my back as if performing aggressive first aid on a choking victim.
‘I have to stop The Mould from using the vortex of Room 17’s Station to pull the warriors of Polemis 5 through space time so they can colonise Earth,’ I regurgitate.
‘I left you alone for three minutes!’ Pemberg scolds.
‘I was bored!’ I snap.
‘Your Granddad made Room 17 a galactic station for shuttling folk about or keeping them waiting—for ages if he needed to. Looks like he left a passenger in’t queue holding a ticket. Over to you then, Time Girl. How you going to sort it?’
I am the head of the wheel. The river cannot move me if I refuse to budge.
I’m going to change the rules,’ I announce, leaping to my feet. ‘But first, I’m going to need some vinegar.’