Plight of the Tivinel
Pedro and Peter
Pedro stood leaning against the rail, watching Jim disappear as the fog enveloped the boat once more. Charon placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t fret, Pedro, for your friend has found true happiness and peace. That’s not our fate, though, at least not for now, as you have another task to perform. After that, well this is a big cosmos and I’m sure there’s lots of mischief we can make.”
“What must I do?”
“You’re a smart lad, Pedro; I’d have thought you’d have it all figured out by now.”
Pedro grinned as the pieces started falling into place.
“We must hurry, for dawn is approaching and he’ll soon be waking up.”
The mist darkened as the boat’s damp wooden deck disappeared beneath his feet, replaced a moment later by the touch of dry leaves and sandstone. A creek babbled nearby as the eastern sky began to glow. He looked around, trying to correlate the landscape with the maps and satellite images he’d been studying.
In a hollow amongst a clump of bushes, a young boy stirred. Pedro walked over to him, aware of the rustling leaves and snapping twigs beneath his feet. The boy looked up, his mouth gaping wide.
“Well don’t just sit there gawking,” Pedro said with a grin, waiting for his twin to stand before leading him north through the bush towards the track.
Pedro woke in the gloomy half-light of dawn, suddenly aware he wasn’t alone.
“Who the hell are you?” a phlegmy voice called out from the other side of the barn.
A heavily-built man, a farmer if the akubra hat and gum boots were anything to go by, stood just inside the half-open door. Pedro moved to his right, squeezing between an upended tractor engine and a pile of packing cases while hoping the gloomy interior would help conceal him.
“Don’t move, boy; stay where I can see you.”
Yeah, sure, Pedro thought, ducking down and crawling through a narrow gap behind a stack of newspapers. Between him and the door stood a workbench covered in assorted tools and half-finished projects, with a gap between it and the wall just big enough for him to squeeze through if he could avoid bumping anything and making a noise.
“What are you doing, boy?”
The farmer was starting to sound flustered; Pedro hoped he didn’t have a gun. If he could just be distracted long enough, there was a chance of escape. Pedro picked up the nearest thing he could spy, an old tin can full of nails, and, as quietly as possible, threw it back behind him. The can hit the floor, disgorging its contents with a satisfying clatter.
“What the –”
As the farmer strode towards the noise, Pedro dashed for the door, but his little toe caught the handle of a rake, knocking it down onto his back and throwing him off balance. The farmer swung around, moving with surprising agility for a man of his size and wrapping his huge palm around Pedro’s wrist just before he could reach the door.
“Stop squirming, you little runt,” the farmer said as Pedro tried to pull himself free. “Now who are you and what were you doing in here?”
“I was sleeping.”
“I got lost in the bush but found this place last night.”
“You’re not that boy everyone’s been looking for, are you?”
“Me? No, that was –”
“You must have been freezing out there in just those shorts you’re wearing. What happened to your shirt and shoes?”
“No, this is all I ever –”
“Come with me and I’ll take you into town. Your parents must be sick with worry.”
“My parents are –”
“Stop your yakking and come along, boy.”
The bright sunshine outside caused Pedro to squint and almost stumble as the farmer led him to a battered old four-wheel-drive. He bundled him into the passenger seat, not letting go of his arm until the seat belt was secured.
“They really should do something about all the school groups going out into the bush up here. Damn fools are always getting lost.”
“I wasn’t with –”
“They should fine the parents and the school, too right, and use the money to pay those poor sods that go out looking for them. Either that or leave them out there to perish.”
Pedro shook his head and groaned.
“I bet you’re starving, aren’t you?”
Until then Pedro hadn’t been aware of any hunger, even though more than twenty-four hours had passed since his arrival in this reality, but the mention of food had awoken the emptiness inside him, causing his stomach to loudly rumble.
“I dare say they’ll give you something to eat, once they’re through whipping your arse off for getting lost. If it were up to me I’d let you starve a few more days, make you think twice about doing it again.”
“I didn’t mean to –”
“A map and compass along with some training on how to use them, that’s what you lot need. That and enough common sense not to go wandering off the track, am I right?”
Pedro sighed, wondering how he’d gotten himself into this mess.
The orchards and hobby farms soon gave way to large suburban blocks adorned with cardboard mansions, spotless four-wheel-drives and rusty Kombis. Grevilleas, wattles and jacarandas sprouted out of garden beds bordered by triangular rocks set in concrete like crazy stone-age dentures. Some even had plantations of palms, a testimony more to the resilience of the trees surviving in a cold mountain climate than to the taste of their owners.
The farmer turned into the main street of town, negotiating the flocks of shoppers wandering aimlessly across the road before pulling up outside the police station.
The interior looked like something out of the 1950s, with small high windows, pale green panelling and a dark-stained wooden counter separating the public area from assorted desks and filing cabinets. Fading posters sticky-taped to the walls reminded visitors to lock their cars and homes, admonished them to not drink and drive, and pointed out the dangers of illicit drugs.
“I’ve found the lost boy you’ve been looking for,” the farmer told the desk sergeant, pulling Pedro forward by the arm.
“Which lost boy would that be?”
“The one that’s been on the news these last few days.”
“Peter Thorpe? He was found yesterday.”
“What? So who’s this then?”
The sergeant stared at Pedro. “Well?”
“Me? I’m Pedro.”
“Look, I think there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding here. I wasn’t lost, not really, just took a bit of a wrong turn and ended up coming out of the bush pretty late, which is how I came to be sleeping in your barn, so no harm done, as they say, and I’ll be off now.”
“Hey, just a minute, we need to –” the sergeant said, but before anyone could stop him, Pedro slipped out the door and dashed down the street.
He’d almost passed the newsagent when a sudden thought crossed his mind. Turning, he ducked inside and, with his back to the counter, picked up a copy of the morning paper and began flicking through it. He found what he was looking for on page five.
Missing Schoolboy Found
Peter Thorpe, the fourteen-year-old who became lost in the Blue Mountains National Park on Monday while on a school excursion to the Ruined Castle, was found yesterday morning by State Emergency Service volunteers. Suffering only minor scratches and abrasions, he was reunited with his parents shortly before noon.
The boy told police he’d become disoriented while investigating a rocky outcrop to the side of the track and had spent the night in a hollow beside a creek deep in the valley. Meanwhile the school headmaster has publicly thanked the rangers and volunteers who helped in the search and again denied claims that inadequate supervision was to blame.
Pedro was both miffed and relieved to find there was no mention of his involvement in Peter’s rescue. After finding him in his nest beside the creek, he’d led him out of the wilderness to safety, but for reasons he couldn’t explain, had hidden when he’d heard the SES searcher calling Peter’s name.
His gaze moved to the photograph accompanying the story. Aside from Peter’s slightly shorter hair and tidier appearance, it was like looking in a mirror. He’d truly become Peter’s twin brother at this point in time, a time which the front page banner proclaimed to be Wednesday the 22nd of February, 1989.
When he’d last been in the physical world, it had been 2066 and Peter had been ninety-one years old. He couldn’t help wondering how many laws of physics he’d broken in travelling back here. Or was this all just a memory replaying in his mind? If that was true, though, how’d he know where to find Peter?
Before he could ponder such questions any further, a hand fell on his shoulder, causing him to jump around.
“You’re not getting away that easily,” the police sergeant said, holding up a black-and-white photograph. “Care to explain how it is you’re a dead ringer for the boy we found yesterday?”
Pedro shrugged, dropping the newspaper before the policeman could see the story he’d been reading.
“Cat got your tongue, huh? Well you have until we get back to the station to come up with an answer.”
Just to prove Pedro’s expectations wrong, the interview room was bright and airy, with no high intensity lights or thumb screws in evidence. A cassette recorder was built into the desk, but the sergeant made no move towards starting it.
“You’re not under arrest or facing any charges,” he said, following Pedro’s gaze. “I just want to get to the bottom of who you are and what you’re doing here.”
“I’m not sure,” Pedro began to say, but the policeman cut him off.
“Let’s just start with your name, shall we?”
“Do you have a surname?”
Pedro wanted nothing more than to say no, but he didn’t think that’d wash. He took a deep breath, feeling the perspiration on his brow starting to form. “Um, Thorpe; I’m Pedro Thorpe.”
The policeman stared at him as if he’d just said he was the Dalai Lama. “Come again?”
“I see. Are you in any way related to our geographically-embarrassed Peter?”
“Um, that’s a difficult one to answer.”
“A simple yes or no will suffice.”
“Um, yes, I guess you could say that.”
“You’re what, his cousin?”
“More like his twin brother, sort of.”
The policeman stood, taking a step towards the door before turning back to Pedro. “Just wait here, will you? Can I get you a coffee or something?”
“Yes, please. Strong and black.”
“Twin brother, you say.” The sergeant stepped from the room, bolting the door behind him with an ominous thud. Pedro wondered if perhaps claiming to be the Dalai Lama might have been a better move after all.
A minute later a constable, who couldn’t have been much older than himself, entered the room, handing him a steaming cup and a plate of dry biscuits. “Do you want sugar?”
“No, this’ll be fine, thanks.”
The constable stared at him as he sipped the coffee, making him wonder whether it might be laced with truth serum or something.
“This is good, really,” he said, grinning. “I was expecting some of that instant crap.”
“We have a proper percolator here, thanks to the sergeant’s missus.”
Pedro picked up a biscuit and started nibbling on it as his empty stomach rumbled in anticipation. “God bless her soul.”
The constable gazed around the room, looking everywhere but at Pedro as he gobbled up the remaining biscuits. “The sergeant shouldn’t be too much longer.”
“I hope not. I have people to see and places to go.”
“Really? Well I’m sure once he’s made his phone calls everything will be fine.”
The sergeant gave a nod of dismissal to the constable as he re-entered the room and sat himself down facing Pedro. He tapped his notebook with his pen, frowning.
“I’ve just spoken to Michael Thorpe.”
“He assures me Peter is an only child and that there’s no Pedro Thorpe amongst any of his immediate relations. So let’s start back at the beginning, shall we? Who the hell are you?”
“I’m Pedro Thorpe, Peter’s twin.”
The sergeant shook his head. “I think Peter’s parents would know if he had a twin, don’t you?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that. Michael’s an astrophysicist, if I could just speak to him –”
“No, not until you start telling me the truth.”
“I am telling you the truth; a DNA test will prove it.”
Pedro scratched his chin, reminding himself that it was 1989. “I guess they don’t have that technology yet, do they?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Take my fingerprints then. You can do that, can’t you?”
“Identical twins never have the same fingerprints so it won’t prove anything.”
Pedro paused for a moment before grinning. “That may be so, but I bet you my fingerprints are exactly the same as Peter’s.”
“Perhaps, but even so I reckon they’ll be identical right down to the last loop and whorl.”
“And if they’re the same?”
“I’ll tell you who I really am.”
“Why don’t you just tell me now and be done with it?”
“You won’t believe me without the fingerprints.”
The sergeant scratched his chin. “All right, then, but only if Peter’s parents allow him to have his prints taken.”
“Come on and let’s get it done, then.”
The young constable was given the task of escorting Pedro into the broom closet identified by a small sign as the fingerprinting room, while the sergeant went to call Michael Thorpe again.
From the tiny desk squeezed in against the wall, the constable removed the ink, plate, roller and record cards, placing them carefully in their correct positions as if Pedro was an examiner in the police academy.
“Just relax,” he said, taking Pedro’s right hand and rotating it into the correct position. Pedro felt like saying the same thing back to him, but didn’t.
After a couple of false starts, a complete set of prints from both his hands were recorded to the constable’s satisfaction.
“You can wash your hands in the bathroom now and then I’ll take some photos to go with the prints.”
After removing most of the ink from his fingers, Pedro stared into the bathroom mirror, trying to use his wet hands to change his tangle of dishevelled brown hair into something like the neatly parted locks of his twin. Although created by the same follicles as Peter’s, Pedro’s hair had taken on a life of its own and refused to cooperate.
His ablutions completed, the constable escorted him over to where the far wall had been marked from floor to ceiling in centimetres.
“Take off your shoes.”
He stared at Pedro’s bare feet. “Oh, okay, you’re not wearing any. Doesn’t that hurt?”
“No, but I bet those boots you’re wearing do.”
The constable nodded sheepishly as he handed him a small blackboard bearing his name, a five-digit code and the date. “Stand on those marks with your back hard against the wall.”
A bright flash from what looked like an antique camera stolen from a photography museum left glowing after-images in Pedro’s eyes.
“Now turn to the side.”
Another flash, but one he didn’t have to look at.
“And now the other side.”
“Do you want the back of my head too?”
“Only if you want to sue your barber.”
Pedro grinned at the constable’s unexpected levity.
“All done?” the sergeant asked, walking over to join them.
“I have good news and bad news for you, young Pedro.”
Pedro wondered if he’d be calling him that if he knew how old he really was.
“Peter’s parents have agreed to have him fingerprinted, on the proviso that the prints are destroyed afterwards, but they won’t be able to do it until the weekend.”
“That leaves me with the problem of what to do with you in the meantime.”
“You could let me go and I’ll promise to come back next week.”
The sergeant shook his head. “The Department of Family and Community Services has agreed to take you into their care until we can find out who you really are and where you belong.”
“You could just answer those questions for me now and save all the bother.”
“Sorry, but like I said, you won’t believe me without the evidence in front of you.”
“I can believe lots of things.”
“Trust me, you wouldn’t.”
The sergeant sighed. “Very well; Constable Wiggins will take you to your new home then.”
* * *
The Department of Family and Community Services, housed in a new brick and glass block of government offices, looked modern and sterile. White vertical blinds covered the windows while the synthetic navy blue carpet on the floor contrasted the pale blue paintwork on the office dividers. The Bakelite name tags slotted into metal holders on each door underlined the transient nature of their occupants.
“So who do we have here?” the prim and proper woman behind the desk asked.
Pedro, taking an immediate dislike to her for addressing him in the third person, glanced at the constable who stared back at him.
“Oh, you’re asking me? I’m Pedro.”
She carefully printed his name on the top of the form in front of her. “Surname?”
“Is that with an e?”
“Uh huh. T-h-o-r-p-e.”
“Your home address?”
Pedro had no idea and was about to say as much, but before he could, some inner voice spoke out and said, “37 Bellevue Parade, Eastwood.”
He tried to hide the surprised look on his face as he added this to the growing list of intriguing twists to his existence in this reality.
The woman turned to the constable. “We’re not a taxi service, you know. Is there any reason why he can’t simply be returned there?”
“The people who live there deny any knowledge of him.”
“Are they your parents, Pedro?”
“In a way, I suppose.”
She stared at him.
“It’s difficult to explain without making me sound crazy.”
“Any explanation is better than none, young man.”
“Okay, then. I’m their son’s twin.”
“But surely they’d know if they had twins.”
“I’ve never existed in this reality until now.”
The woman stared at him.
“I told you it’d sound crazy, but the police sergeant will have proof when he gets Peter’s fingerprints and matches them to mine.”
She wrote a few more notes on her form. “Is there any reason why he isn’t wearing a shirt or shoes?”
“That’s how we found him.”
“This is all I ever wear,” Pedro said, hitching up his frayed denim shorts which had drooped more than he thought might be appropriate in his present predicament.
She frowned. “What about when it’s cold?”
Pedro shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me.”
She made another note on the form before turning to the constable. “Tell Sergeant Kent he was right to send him here. We’ll have the duty psychologist at Sunnygrove make an assessment before we decide what to do with him. Now if you could just sign here?”
“What’s Sunnygrove?” Pedro asked as the constable signed him over.
“That’s going to be your home until we figure out who you really are.”
She picked up the telephone on her desk, muttering a few words before replacing the receiver. A moment later a large man entered the room.
“Pedro, this is Nigel who’ll take you down there now.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Nigel said, pumping Pedro’s hand as if he were drilling for oil. “Do you have any belongings?”
“No, just me.”
“Let’s go then.”
“Good luck,” the constable said, patting Pedro on the shoulders. “From what I’ve heard, you’re going to need it there.”
“He’s only joking,” Nigel said, out-grinning the fabled Cheshire cat as he guided Pedro through the back of the building to the staff car park.
* * *
Pedro’s immediate impression of Sunnygrove was of a prison hiding behind a boarding school façade. Its sandstone two-storey buildings, set amongst what would have otherwise been a picturesque field of trees and well-manicured lawns, looked like the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing, ready to devour anyone daring to enter its domain. What troubled him most, though, was the high fence surrounding the facility with the barbed wire angled to keep the residents in rather than intruders out.
Nigel pulled up in front of one the buildings, stepping around the car to unlock Pedro’s child-proof door. The Department took no chances on their captives escaping. Half-open double doors set under a stone arch revealed a gloomy interior of dark-panelled wood as he led Pedro inside and down a corridor on the left. He entered the third room along.
“We have another one for you,” he said to the elderly woman behind the desk, handing her the form the Department woman had filled out.
“Mr Thorpe, is it?”
“Yes, with an e.”
“You’re a very fortunate young man, Mr Thorpe with an e. This boarding school’s second to none when it comes to housing and educating young vagrants found living on the streets.”
“I wasn’t living on the streets.”
“According to this you have no place of abode.”
“Actually I do, but my parents don’t know me yet.”
“That’s nonsense and I’ll hear no more of it.”
Pedro glared at her but said nothing.
“Right now you may think us harsh and unkind, but by the time you leave you’ll be thanking us.” She opened the blue loose-leaf binder on the desk in front of her. “I’m putting you in room 219 with Colin Dunlop. He’s a couple of years older than you and will provide a good role model.”
“Does he snore?”
A ghost of a grin crossed her face before being erased by her perpetual frown. “I most certainly hope so. Now we should get you into uniform as soon as possible.”
“Good grief, child, we can’t have you going around like you are now, can we?”
An hour later Pedro found himself sitting in a classroom amongst some thirty other boys, all dressed in pale green long-sleeved shirts, baggy brown shorts, itchy socks and heavy black shoes about as flexible as hardened steel. The teacher, a grizzly middle-aged man with a stick of chalk in one hand and stick of bamboo in the other, glared at the class, seeking out his next victim.
“Paterson! What is a light year?”
All eyes turned to the small blonde-headed boy in the front row. “Um, is it the opposite of a leap year?”
The teacher whacked his cane across Paterson’s desk. “Stand up, boy. You have a mind like a sieve.”
He shoved him over to the blackboard before turning back to the class. “Anyone else?”
Several hands went up. “Is it a hundred years?”
The teacher shook his head while tapping his cane again on Paterson’s desk.
Pedro half-heartedly raised his hand.
“Yes, you, the new boy.”
“It’s the distance light travels in a year.”
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Err, Pedro Thorpe.”
“All right, Mr Thorpe, perhaps you can tell us how far away the nearest star is.”
“You mean apart from the sun?”
The teacher frowned.
“That’d be Alpha Centauri, or is it Proxima Centauri?”
“You tell me.”
“Um, Proxima I think, but I’d have to look it up to be sure.”
“You do that and tell us tomorrow what you find. Now do you know how far away they are?”
“About four and a half light years, I think.”
The teacher tapped his cane again. “You surprise me, Thorpe. Now can anyone else tell me what that means? What would we see tonight if Alpha Centauri went supernova right now?”
A boy at the back thrust his hand up. “Nothing, sir, because we’d all be blown to bits.” He clapped his hands together for emphasis.
The teacher’s face turned red.
“Oh wait, I get it now. It’d take four and a half years for the explosion to get here, and then we’d all be blown to bits.” He clapped his hands together again.
“Very good, Reeves, there’s hope for you yet.”
“What about the cosmic rays and stuff? Wouldn’t they get here before the light?”
“That’s a very good question and really gets to the crux of it all. Anyone?”
“Nothing can travel faster than the speed of light,” another boy said. “I heard that somewhere, I’m sure.”
“That’s right, well done! Einstein’s theory of relativity proved that nothing, not even information, can travel faster than light, so there’s no way we could know about that supernova until four and a half years after it happened.”
Pedro raised his hand again. “What about subspace?”
“You could use subspace to find out about the supernova straight away. It’s pretty much instantaneous.”
“And what comic book did you read that in?”
“No, it’s true, sir, only, um, I guess it hasn’t been discovered yet, has it?”
“Stand up, Thorpe.”
Pedro stood as the teacher strode towards him.
“Don’t you ever contradict me in class again, do you understand?”
“But sir, subspace does exist, I swear. It’s a quadrature space to our own.”
“Hold out your hand, Thorpe.”
The teacher whacked Pedro’s leg with the cane. “Hand out, palm up!”
Pedro cautiously raised his hand.
“There is –” WHACK! “– no such –” WHACK! “– thing as subspace.” WHACK! “Is that clear?”
“Um, yes sir.”
“Good, now sit and not another word from you.”
Pedro stared at him, taking in for the first time his blonde hair and pale, almost anaemic, complexion. A memory came to him from the deep past, a memory he shared with Peter from when they were one and the same. It had been seventy-seven years ago, hence right in this here and now in which he was living, yet it had been a different version of reality back then.
The principal, a thin energetic man in his late forties or early fifties, welcomed everyone back for the start of another year and gave a special welcome to the new students. He then introduced us to a new member of staff, a Mr Andrew Schilling who would be teaching science. At the mention of his name a chill went up my spine.
A chill indeed, he thought, because standing before him was that very same science teacher, that very same Andrew Schilling.
“You know, don’t you?” Pedro said before he could stop himself. “You know about subspace because you, you’re not human, you’re Eridanian!”
“What did you say?”
“What colour does your blood turn when you cut yourself, huh? It goes green, doesn’t it?”
“How dare you!” The teacher grabbed Pedro by the ear, pulling him out of his seat and towards the door. “The rest of you can read chapter three of your text books while I take this clown to explain himself to the headmaster.”
Once outside the classroom, he grabbed Pedro by the shoulders and pushed him back against the wall. “How is it you know about subspace and Eridanians?”
“It’s like you said, I read it in a comic book.”
“Don’t bullshit me. This school’s full of rogues and thugs so no-one will bat an eye-lid if some scruffy vagrant suffers an untimely accident.”
“Your real name’s Andushin, isn’t it?” Pedro said in Eridanian. “You and your Barradhim masters should be more than a little worried that this scruffy vagrant has blown your cover so easily. Perhaps, sir, it might be worth your while to find out how that’s happened before you start arranging accidents.”
“What is it you want?”
“I have to get out of here.”
“Nothing’s ever impossible. I know who it is you’re looking for.”
Schilling’s jaw dropped. “You, you mean Dodo?”
Pedro nodded. “I can help you find him.”
“I want to join up with you; I want to become a Barradhim agent.”