It was literally impossible. I looked up the hill, looked down at my feet, looked back up the hill and consulted Van Starbuck’s idiotic book again. But try as I might, it definitely said to run up the hill as a preparatory item to having dinner with a female.

“Scuse me” grunted a young man as he sped past me in a high visibility vest. He disappeared into the distance and I was prepared to briefly admit that perhaps it wasn’t literally impossible to run up the hill. It was, however, impossible for me to run up the hill.

“You may be feeling like you can’t do it” continued Van Starbuck, “but believe me you CAN. This exercise is designed to prove to you that you can do anything if you really put your mind and body towards it. Later, when you take your lady out for dinner, you’ll feel a renewed sense of being able to do everything your heart desires.”

I had to admit that made a sort of woolly sense. Although convinced of my status and achievement in the fields of telehistory, telehistorical research, telehistorical writing and technical document analysis (telehistory division, first class), I was less sure I was able to do the more advanced parts of having dinner with a woman such as eating and talking. Dinner with Lola Whitecastle was so important to me and my future endeavours that I took my dressing gown off (which I should’ve done indoors as it made me look a bit foolish), hung it on a tree, put Van Starbuck’s book in one of the pockets and took a deep breath.

“For unique documentation and beyond” I said as a rallying cry and began to run.

Running, it turns out, is really very easy. It’s like walking quickly but without the risk of it turning into mincing. Many is the situation I’ve tried to walk quickly away from only to make it worse by my turn of speed making my hips wiggle in a way that some find arousing and others find grossly offensive. However, such things were in the past now I could run. They’d tried to teach me to run at school by putting raw meat in my shorts and letting dogs chase me round the athletics pitch but that only taught me the most efficient way to take my shorts off without tripping over them. A skill I’ve not had much cause to use since leaving the Academy. Happiest days of your life? What utter rubbish.

I passed my third lamp post and was feeling pretty good about myself when a hitherto unnoticed defect in my waistcoat meant I could feel a sharp pricking sensation in my side. Had Mr Titheridge left a needle in the lining which hadn’t been jogged loose over the previous thirteen years? It was most perplexing and at the same time increasingly painful. I was sure the pain must indicate a considerable puncture wound so I stopped and quickly removed my waistcoat. To my astonishment there was no blood. The pain remained in my side but I wasn’t bleeding. Nor could I find any dangerous defect with Mr Titheridge’s lining. I was feeling quite hot all of a sudden so I left my waistcoat hanging from a different tree and resumed my run.

Two more lamp posts passed and the pain was getting worse. Added to that was something Van Starbuck failed to take into account – namely that the air gets thinner at higher altitude. It’s a well-known and provable fact which explains why I was finding it harder and harder to breathe the nearer I got to the top of the hill. I was literally risking my life going any further without oxygen. But I was Dennis Brent and that means something to me. I went so far as to loosen my tie in order to let the thinning air pass more freely into my burning lungs and made one last push for the summit.

I managed to go past three more lamp posts before collapsing in an oxygen starved heap on the verge. I’d gone too far. I was heroic and yet foolish. Everything went misty and I passed out.

“Wake up – it’s all over” said a comforting voice.

“Am I back home?” I asked.

“You’re out of theatre” he told me.

“I never go to the theatre – every show has a different aspect ratio and I find that too distressing.”

“Dammit, Butch, I knew we should’ve let the medibots work on his head as well. The fellow is as confused as I am. Wait. Ignore me. I don’t want to set a precedent for surgery as a cure for nuttiness. I’d end up bald and quite probably dribbling. Ignore the little puddle on the front of my tunic by the way – I spilt a very small amount of water. I definitely didn’t drool on myself. Dammit, someone else say something.”

“Maitland? Manly?” I gasped. My brain was definitely not coping well with the opiate painkillers. What had been a reminiscence of the day of my dinner with Lola had confusing turned into a continuation of my stay on the SS Pioneer which I was fairly sure hadn’t happened.

“You said some strange things while you were asleep” said Maitland. “You kept arguing with some colleagues about dinner with a woman called Lola.”

“Who is Lola?” asked Penny Danger.

“You are” I told her.

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are – off camera.”

“I’m never on camera” she insisted.

“That’s what you think” mumbled John.

“It’s as if you keep dreaming you’re back in your own time in Central City.”


“Forgive me – we are from the twenty eighth century” explained Maitland for the thousandth time. “Hopefully, as the drugs we’ve given you clear you’ll stop believing yourself to be back home.”

Could that be it? Was all that stuff about the hospital just a dream? Was the twenty eighth century real? Had I become involved in a web of mayhem, intrigue and time travel?

“But we can’t sit here being philosophical forever” continued Maitland. “I’m afraid something went wrong with your surgery and the medibots had to remove both your legs.”


“Don’t worry – we had two spare metal legs in the utility cupboard and Penny gave them a thorough wash. The medibots fitted them while you were unconscious.”

“Metal legs?”

“They’re just like your old legs except they don’t feel the cold, you don’t need to cut your toe nails and you can steer them using a remote control device that fits inside the average over-sized pocket.”

“Metal legs? Over-sized pockets?” I rambled.

“Oh, and one other thing that you might need to know is that the knee joints don’t work so it might take a bit of effort to get used to walking.”