Dr. Angus McCoy, kilt-wearing Scottish physics pioneer
Prof. Henry Cartwright, shabby but personable innovative English mathematician
Charley McFaddenfief, Northern Irish criminal, urban Tarzan and friend to cities
Col. DeVere-Smythe, ex-pat colonial type, posh but shifty, secret tribal magician (real name Colin Smith)
In a Timbuktu bar, Charley McFaddenfief conducts some underground business with Col. DeVere-Smythe. Charley needs fake papers in order to smuggle some ivory through Morocco. The Colonel feels that Fr. 20000 will assuage his conscience and they agree to meet in a week’s time. In the corner both see a strange stationary figure in some kind of grey coverall.
In Belgium, Prof. Cartwright and Dr. McCoy meet at a scientific conference at a newly built campus of Brussels University. In the bar they encounter a very English fellow called Ignatius Fotheringay, who looks like he’d be at home in 1940s Bletchley Park. He enthusiastically quizzes them about their forthcoming lectures but advises caution in propagating some of their more avant garde ideas. His motives are unclear – is this cheerful fellow threatening them? Is he trying to recruit them? Fotheringay voices his concern about the work of Dr. Inge Persson from Sweden, but the untidy woman brusquely brushes him away when he approaches her. This seems at odds with the cheerful party girl Henry and Angus see in her Facebook photos. Also in the photos is her assistant, Thor Borg. A few complex sums convince Henry that there’s a large variable they’re missing so far, and they decide to investigate further. They need to chat to Inge in persson.
The two theoreticians join Dr. Persson at the lift. While Angus delays the lift (by subtle use of a device that interferes with the control panel) Henry negotiates a demonstration of her invention at 9pm that night.
Angus has a stint at the bar preparing conceptually perfect drinks for the various other scientists – Henry has a cranberry juice. They proceed to the fifth floor to meet with the Swedish scientist. En route, Fotheringay joins them and they discuss the relationship between belief and progress. It seems Ignatius represents a group of self-appointed guardians of public belief in conventional technology.
Back in Timbuktu, a week has passed. During that time both Charley and the Colonel have had odd glimpses of the grey figure out of the corners of their eyes. In the dingy bar, Charley notices two suspiciously non-local looking types watching him. Sure enough, they declare themselves to be police officers from Interpol and arrest Charley. The Colonel accompanies them – and the bag of Fr. 20, 000 Charley is holding – out of the bar, where conveniently his mackaw enrages some wild dogs, providing enough of a distraction for the two felons to make a rapid escape. Charley has further luck – in a hidden alley they encounter a lined old lady holding water in her hand, who directs them to a previously concealed door leading to the desert. There they find escape from the policemen, and a well. The Colonel has knowledge of tribal magic and the pair “water” the ground around the well in thanks and tribute. Life begins to spring from their, er, offering.
Could the lady be Bouctou, the woman whose well originally attracted people to this place, giving rise to Timbuku? Yes.
On the fifth floor of the Brussels convention centre, a scruffy Thor admits the curious scientists. He’s as abrupt and ill-mannered as his cohort. They are taken to a large, glass-fronted room which contains only a control panel, a wardrobe and two large cylinders a few feet apart. Persson claims to have built a functioning teleporter.
In the desert around Timbuktu, Charley and the Colonel walk through a bleached landscape. As the colour drains from their surroundings, they hear and feel malign forces attempting to grab them. These beings seem to speak with their voices as the crooks run towards two stationary grey-suited figures, the Colonel suspecting that they’re angry elephant gods seeking revenge for the ivory deal, or another force come to exact vengeance. “If this is about the Lost Diamond of the Valley of Mu-Mu, I know nothing about it!” he protests (or something similar, anyway).
Back in Brussels, Henry volunteers to take a teleport journey. First, he dons a grey protective suit… Then he steps into one of the tubes as there’s a huge energy build-up.
In the white void, just as the evil fingers seem sure to grasp them, Charley and the Colonel – and the Colonel’s macaw – see a pair of oval exits in the whiteness, and three grey suited figures. They dive into one of the doorways. The new grey-suited figure is Henry, of course, and he grabs one of the others (who is unconscious) and joins the fleeing felons.
An alarm sounds in the teleport room! This is caused by Charley lighting up a fag, so the sprinklers come on and the alarm stops.
The teleport demonstration concludes and the three conscious figures emerge in the conference centre room in Brussels. Charley crouches in a corner and lights up another cigarette and Henry drags out the other grey-suited figure. As he and Angus go to unzip the suit, Dr. Persson brandishes a remote control as if it were a weapon and shouts at them to stop. Thor locks the door. A few moments later, Fotheringay unlocks the door and slips out.
There follows a slightly confused confrontation. The Colonel produces a small gun to threaten Persson with; the remote control has its batteries remotely drained by Angus so when Persson uses it nothing happens; she attempts to pull some of the white creatures through to no avail; and a maid with a trolley carrying egg and sausages passes the room, requisitioned by Charley. Henry unzips the unconscious grey figure, who is in fact the real Dr. Persson. The fake one explains that they plan to make the teleports a commonplace global device. Most people will be able to travel in them with no ill effects at all. Mages, however, will be replaced by look-alikes from the white dimension. As the existence of mages in kept secret by Fotheringay’s people, this should go unnoticed. The intention is conquest! The scientists are disapproving. Everyone discusses how possible the plan is, with the Colonel offering to represent the aliens for a 10% cut of the proceeds.