The Grandmasters of the various guilds sat in high-backed thrones on a dais that curved around half of the circular star chamber. Wearing sombre expressions, they listened while Professor Eddington explained the gravity of the situation in 1944.
Around the ranked rows of the auditorium, members of the Order appeared in their seats, the benches quickly filling with an assortment of strangely dressed individuals from various parts of the last thousand years.
Rufius watched Eddington pacing around the chequered floor in his dark robes, his hands behind his back like a priest rehearsing a sermon.
His head was slowly clearing, thanks to Caitlin’s insistence on three cups of strong coffee and one of Doctor Crooke’s foul-tasting tonics. She’d also found his almanac, which did indeed have an urgent message, and she duly responded in a worryingly convincing imitation of his handwriting.
* * *
The Grandmasters were accustomed to long monologues from the Head of the Copernican Statistical Analysis Division. However, it was clear that some were beginning to lose patience, including the Leader of the Council and the founder of their Order, Lord Dee.
‘What is your considered opinion as to the best course of action?’ the founder asked, getting to his feet.
Eddington was clearly caught off-guard by the interruption, his mouth flapping like a fish as he considered his answer. Rufius tried his best not to laugh, but only Caitlin’s nails in his leg stopped him.
‘Surely the Copernican model has a clear indication of which path to follow?’ added the founder, pulling back the cowl from his head.
Lord Dee recruited Rufius at the age of fourteen, and more years had passed than either of them cared to remember. In all that time, his steely-eyed face had hardly changed, retaining a timeless quality. No one knew how old the man was or dared to ask. It was one benefit of time travel. The ageing process was dramatically reduced.
‘It’s not that simple,’ Eddington began, regaining his composure. ‘The differential fluctuates between minor fractions of a percentage, and there’s also the matter of the strange attractor, which is making the equation impossible to stabilise.’
Eddington nodded. ‘Yes, my Lord. The timeline causing the deviation appears to be chaotic. Their chronology shifts when observed. All we know is that they originate from the twentieth century.’
‘Rough guess?’ asked the Draconian Grandmaster Derado, with a slight smirk.
‘We do not deal in guesses,’ replied Eddington cooly. ‘When the fate of the future hangs in the balance.’
Derado shrugged. ‘You’ve obviously never spent any time in the dark ages.’
Eddington ignored the comment and carried on. ‘The only advice I can offer you is that a watchman should be chosen to assess the situation.’
The founder looked over to Rufius. ‘But, surely this falls under the jurisdiction of Westinghouse?’
The professor nodded. ‘It does, my Lord, but in such a sensitive situation, I wondered if we should use someone with a more delicate touch? Especially after the Romanov incident.’
Rufius rose from his seat, his hands bunching into fists. ‘How bloody dare you!’
Caitlin took his hand and squeezed it.
The founder stroked his beard into a point. ‘Rufius Westinghouse has served us diligently for longer than I care to remember. He knows the twentieth century better than anyone. I can think of no better watchman for this task.’
‘But he’s a drunk!’ Eddington protested, his face flushing red. ‘He should have retired decades ago.’
The founder held up his hand to silence him. ‘Let us put it to the vote. All in favour of assigning this mission to Master Westinghouse, raise your hands.’
The response was unanimous. Every Grandmaster raising their hand into the air.
Rufius breathed a sigh of relief and turned towards Caitlin with tears in his eyes.
‘Then this session is adjourned unless the members of the council have anything further to add?’
The others shook their heads.
‘Then I leave it in your good hands, Master Westinghouse,’ the founder said, his blue eyes flashing. ‘And trust you to consider this mission your highest priority.’
Book 1 in the Bestselling Infinity Engines series
Will Rufius succeed in solving the riddle surrounding the changes to the end of WW2? Who is the mysterious stranger disrupting the timelines?
Find out in the first book of the Infinity Engines series.
Available now on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and Paperback from Amazon