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Prequel: Unlocking The Impossible…

Earth…

Samantha Darrow had been dreading going through her grandmother’s possession ever since the news from the hospital that the told lady had not had the strength left to survive the operation, but life had to go on, and setting things in order was the last great hurdle. It had to be done, and one Sunday morning Samantha made herself go to the house, and make a start on the heartrending process of distilling a loved one’s past into “keep”, “sell” and “throw out”…

It wasn’t the most productive of day, but Sam had at lest made a start, rearranging the two unused bedrooms in the old house so that she could go through the clothes and old books without tripping over something and breaking her neck. As long as she kept busy, she found that her emotions could be kept in check – she could save any crying for when she got home.

At the very back of the old broom-cupboard, under the stairs, Sam found an old box, wood covered with embossed brass that hadn’t seen polish for untold years. The woman wondered whether it might be valuable, but like so many of the potential “treasures” she had uncovered, the truth would most likely be that this was a “cheap an cheerful” copy of something pricey, and not even worth the price of a lottery ticket.

There was no lock, but the lid refused to open, and Sam felt it would hardly be a crime against the antique world to exert a little force. A hinge gave way without much resistance when Sam to a rusty chisel to it, and the lid finally submitted, exposing the box’s contents; a small chest, crafted with more care and quality than the dingy box that held it – there was something vaguely familiar about it, and not that she’d seen something similar on one of the Saturday market stalls, being sold by that chatty Sikh fellow from the other side of town…

Gran had often said there had been nobility in the family, and maybe even a title – or so the story went. In one of the old, old albums, there was what Sam assumed was one of the first ever photographs, depicting Emily Hatton-Darrow, newly returned from India – seated in the photographer’s studio with a small chest of exotic wood in her lap.

Emily had been Gran’s grandmother – Sam’s great great grandmother – and the box represented a piece of long-lost family history, dating all the way back to the days of the height of The British Empire, and “The Raj”…

The key to the little box was possibly somewhere in the house, or equally likely to be just rust under the floorboards, but Sam’s curiosity was not about to denied. Instead of the chisel, she tried to spring the tiny lock with one of Gran’s old air-pins, but it was nothing like as easy as it looked in the movies…

With a snap, the lock popped open.

Not knowing what to expect, Sam eased the box open. Thoughts of rare jewellery, or deeds to some grand stately home whirled through her head, but reality chased all that away as the woman took out a small bundle, dusty velvet bound with a faded ribbon – a small book, perhaps… a secret journal, giving glimpses of a sordid past kept locked away for generations…?

Sam slipped off the knotted loop of ribbon, and carefully unwrapped the ancient object.

“No… freaking… way…”

The piece of the past that emerged was a mobile phone, apparently new, but with a crack in the casing at one corner, as though it had been dropped. “But Gran hated computers and mobiles and stuff like that”, murmured Sam, as she thumbed the power button. “And what’s it doing in here…?”

The screen, the size of a credit card, did not come to life. Turning the device over, Sam saw that the battery compartment wasn’t properly closed, perhaps jarred open by the drop that had cracked the case, and she pressed the battery back into its proper recess…

A tinny electronic tune emanated from the phone. It appeared to still be charged, and thinking that her grandmother had perhaps found the phone in the street, near her front gate, and put it away for safe keeping, Sam accessed the Inbox, looking for some sign of the identity of the owner, but found only one message…

Miss Emily – I hope you have not forgotten our agreement. Please don’t keep me waiting. R.

“Emily…?”, Sam mumbled. “No, that can’t be right…”

She checked for a sending date, and a return number. The number was nonsense – 88888-88888; probably corrupted when the phone was damaged – and the date…

…the date read “15 July 1877″.

“Someone has got to be taking the piss”, Sam told herself. “Now, is there – hey, a video…”

The phone had a camera. It had been used only once, to record a brief clip of video…

Not entirely sure what to expect, Sam played the recording.

Someone was jiggling the phone back and forth in half-darkness. A prim and proper voice muttered “Heavens – is this thing doing what it’s supposed to do…?”

A curtain was pulled back a little, and the camera lens poked through the gap. On the other side was what looked like the interior of some kind of palace, in particular a ball-room or something like that, but instead of dancing, there seemed to be a fight going on – a sword-fight, between a man in an old military uniform with lots of gold braid, and a blindfolded woman, with long black hair and long black vinyl boots that could not have been more out of place…

Sam woke up, one side of her face on damp grass, the other uncomfortably hot, and as her vision cleared, she immediately understood why. She was lying in the garden, and Gran’s house was on fire.

The woman struggled to her feet, and reached for her phone. She keyed in “999″, but paused before pressing the “Dial” key – hadn’t there been another phone, with a message for… Emily?

Sam shook the notion out of her head, and called the fire brigade. Her inheritance was burning down.

…o O o…

“Did you really have to set the house on fire, Agent Starfyre?”

“You… recruited me, Mister Kane. If you don’t like my methods, you can send me home.

“Not yet, Master Starfyre – and it’s Professor Kane, if you don’t mind. Now, you were able to acquire the anomalous item?”

“Here it is – and yes, I did check out the video. Is that… her?”

“It is.”

“I can certainly understand what he sees in her – she’s seriously hot…

“That’s not what he was looking for. If I’m right, the device had been heavily modified, and Miss Hatton-Darrow was unknowingly scanning for some very unusual and powerful artefacts…”

“The shards?”

“Exactly – and now, our adversary should know all he needs to know to find more of them. Finding and acquiring are, however, entirely different legs on the beast, so to speak.”

“Particularly with us on his tail. And what about the woman – the ‘Maharani’, I mean…”

“We’re bound to run into her soon enough. Our paths have been going to intersect for quite some time now…”

To Be Continued…

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