Patricia, Jemima and Charlie walked back towards the place where the earthquake had happened.
"What's going on?" asked Jemima, suspicious of the man as he press a button hidden in the forest as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
He smiled as a large white room rose up from the floor.
He explained to them that as well as being a politician he was also a scientist and had accidentally stumbled across a way of traversing the dimensions.
"Right, OK, Charlie," said Jemima, not knowing what was meant by that.
He explained that the world in which they lived, where Lord Ashdown was the Prime Minister and President Rice ruled in America, was only only one dimension - there were a myriad different dimsenions, or parallel universes. Each occupied the same time and space but you couldn't see or feel one when you were in another. Some might be as radically different as this one, with the Labour Party in power and so on; others might be so close together you'd not know the difference unless you hunted for it, e.g. Charlie would have better teeth or Jemima wouldn't wear glasses.
Various people across the dimensions had simultaneously done work which opened up a gateway between the parallel worlds. Charlie happened to be one of them. As to what it was that had driven them all to be doing that work in the first place, well, none of them could say. Maybe they were being inspired by a Higher Power? Who knew...
Jemima wanted to know if Charlie were from this dimension. No, he said; this one was similar to his own but his double had better teeth and Jemima didn't wear glasses. As soon as the words were out of his mouth...
"O... M... G...!" said Jemima. "You mean we're actually here as well? I mean we could actually run into ourselves? How strange is that?"
Charlie wished he hadn't said anything. He needed to get these two girls back to their dimension. Their wandering into his laboratory could have unforeseen consequences - he needed everything back as it was so that he could go back to doing the work that the tiny group of scientists from across the dimensions had agreed on doing.
"Like what?" asked Jemima.
"Saving the multiverse from anyone from one of the dimensions who may wish to travel trans-dimensionally and cause harm to all the other universes."
"Like who?" asked Jemima.
Charlie wouldn't answer. He just said once the gateway was opened it couldn't be closed and the small secret group would have to be vigilant. Patricia and Jemima would have to take the oath of secrecy as well and meet the person from their own dimension who was the Keeper of the Secret there. Again, though, he wouldn't be drawn as to who that was.
Charlie grabbed the girls, a little forcefully, Jemima thought, steered them down into the white room and pressed a button on the wall. A less strong version of the earthquake happened again, this time with the room protecting them.
"You still won't say who you're trying to protect all these worlds from," complained Jemima.
"I can think of none more dangerous than your Prime Minister, Lord Ashdown," said Charlie.
At this point Jemima broke away. What was she doing going with this man? He was mad. Who could think Lord Ashdown meant any harm to anybody? He was well-liked in the country. No, Charlie was obviously a dangerous lunatic. And she didn't like the way he was looking at Patricia nor how hard he was holding them both.
"Let go," she said and pulled free of his grasp.
"No! Don't! The field is too strong for you!" said Charlie trying to increase his grip. All he was holding, however, was her sleeve and she pulled free, her sleeve tearing in the process.
She felt a sickening lurch as she flew through the air away from Patricia and Charlie. Blue and white formed patterns around her. The white room and its two remaining occupants shrank into the background. Around her no was blackness and blueness, a few stars appearing, seeming to change their minds and disappearing again. "I really must lay off the WKD," she thought. None of this could be happening; of course it couldn't. She knew a dream when she saw one.
She landed on some grass. It still hurt, though. She rubbed her left arm, shoulder and her left side, then suddenly became aware that there was a large crowd which had gathered around her. Everybody was wearing a sort of brown tartan. If it weren't for the mobile 'phones or the glasses on some of their faces, they'd all look well out-of-date. Everybody was staring at her in amazement. Suddenly they all started flashing their cameras and 'phones at her and shouting hysterically, some falling to their knees and looking up into the sky. She couldn't understand the language but they all kept saying the word "gwyrth". As she looked around she realised they were all in a circle around her. Behind them was a circle of stones - it looked a bit like a smaller version of Stonehenge. What was that all about?
From behind the brown tartan brigade came a man with a long white beard and a flowing green robe. The only original dresser in town, thought Jemima. He had powerful blue eyes and looked at the girl before speaking to his friends with a gentle yet strong voice. Now she listened to it it sounded a bit like Welsh. Where on Earth (and which Earth?) was she. His favourite word seemed to be "aberth", whatever that was. The crowd obviously liked it because they kept chanting it after him. He turned back to look at Jemima. His face was not unkind.
"Dere, merch," he said, smilingly. Somehow she trusted him and let him take her by the arm. With his other arm he took the girl who'd been standing next to Jemima with her hands tied behind her back and a goat's head over her face and... A GIRL WITH HER HANDS TIED BEHIND HER BACK?? O... M... G...! How come she hadn't spotted that before? She'd been so dazed that...
Jemima tried to struggle. It was no use. The bearded man called for back-up. The Brown Tartans complied willingly. Jemima and the other girl were taken to a great big statue of a man all made out of bundles of twigs and placed inside it. It seemed to be the exact centre of the circle of stones. The Brown Tartans were writing things on little yellow pieces of paper, kissing them and sticking them into the wicker man. Jemima looked up. It was full of other teenage girls. She and the girl with her hands tied were taken into the structure and forced to climb to the third chamber up. When the brown tartans had gone, the door to her chamber was sealed from the outside by a large piece of wood. The tartan people all left and walked a long way back from the structure. Jemima looked on from above as Green Robes delivered a speech. Although she couldn't speak the language you could tell he was a great speaker. His voice echoed and you could hear each syllable bouncing off the wood around them.
To her horror, when the speech had finished and the crowd had stopped their roaring, one of the Brown Tartans came forwards with a burning torch. Green Robes bowed to him, turned and marched towards the wicker man, closed his eyes in prayer a moment and proceeded to set light to the bottom of it.
"There are people in here, yeah," shouted Jemima, "you nutter!"
Her shouts were as nothing, however, to the roar of the crowd which had started again even more loudly. They all took out their mobiles and digital cameras and were snapping away at the wicker man blazing away with the people in the chamber two below Jemima's screaming as though it were the best thing they'd ever seen. Maybe it was the best thing they'd ever seen.
Jemima began coughing. The smoke was getting quite nasty.
"We need to get out of here," she said to the girl who'd accompanied her, "it's proper, proper dangerous."
The girl made no reply. She turned and gently removed the goat's head which had been obscuring the other girl's face.
"O... M... G...!" said Jemima. She'd recognise that face anywhere. It was the one she saw every day in the mirror.