The morning sun sparkled from the water as the American fleet approached the island of Jersey. Daniel Harris watched from a cliff top as the warships started to cross the one-mile line from the coast. They had been warned to stay two miles out. Evidently they felt that the Channel Islands couldn't offer enough resistance to stop them coming as close as they liked.
Daniel's phone rang. He let it ring for a couple of seconds, suspecting what the call would be.
He was right. When he finished on the phone, one of the young women arrayed behind him asked what the call was.
'The President says they're too close,' Daniel told all the young men and women gathered on the cliff top. 'We're going to do something about it. Form a circle.'
They were the wizards and witches, all new to their power. The world had never seen its like before - old legends held similar details to what they did, but time seemed to have changed things. If magic had been in the world thousands of years ago, it was different now. He felt the power starting to build behind him as the witches and wizards pooled their energies. He knew they weren't as powerful as they were capable of being. Barely two decades had passed since the first use of magic, since the first wizard had found that insight required to access his power. Not enough time to learn its subtleties. They didn't even really know all the laws. But they used it - carefully, cautiously, observing everything and poring over it afterwards, trying to find by experiment the rules of this new domain of human influence.
He felt the circle's power change, offering itself to him. He reached out and took it up, pulling a small amount of energy from himself to make the link. The pooled power of all the people on the cliff top was substantial, although he felt they were still holding some back. Nobody had dared try to find out how much you could do before you hurt yourself, or died. Yet.
The warships were coming closer, big grey lumps in the blue water. He sent his mind rippling outwards, feeling the ships as he felt the grass under his bare feet, the clothes on his body. They were in the wrong place. He drew on the circle's power.
A wall of light ignited in front of him, towering higher than the clouds, descending to the sea floor at the very least, and swept outwards. It surrounded the entire island - he could feel its extent, control its growth. It swept outwards, caught the warships and pushed them, picked them up and carried them to the two-mile line, spread to all around all the Islands, pushing warships as it went, until all the American fleet was outside the limit the President had set. Then it vanished, and Daniel stood panting on the hilltop. The wizards and witches behind him sprawled on the grass, breathing hard and sweating with the effort. Perhaps it had been too much to try at once, but at least it would get their attention.
Eventually, he looked out to sea again, looked with his eyes and mind, and saw what they had done to the fleet. Warships lay capsized in the ocean, some sinking, their crews largely trapped or drowned. Some had made it to the lifeboats, but far from all. Far from even a quarter. Some of the ships were... gone. Scattered bits of metal marked where they had been, ripped apart by the raw energy the wizards had summoned. Daniel was appalled at the immensity of it.
'What have we done?' he muttered, but he knew. They had started a war.
Meanwhile, back in the far future...
'So the Americans, of course, immediately declared war on the Channel Islands,' the Queen said. 'They couldn't allow the deaths of so many of their men and women, the destruction of so many warships, to go unpunished. However, they also didn't want to risk sending more ships to attack the islands, to invade, so the few surviving warships were ordered to move over the horizon and launch their cruise missiles.'
'Did they wizards stop them?' Linda asked. The Queen shook her head.
'No,' she said. 'They barely saw them coming. Apparently a few never reached their targets; perhaps they did manage to stop some of them, or maybe the missiles simply malfunctioned. However, even without those few the devastation was tremendous. Not a single port or airport on any of the islands remained intact. Thousands of people were killed. I think even the American government was surprised by the amount of destruction they caused. Perhaps they thought that their missiles would be deflected. Perhaps, in the heat of the moment, they didn't quite realise what they had ordered their warships to do.'
'What happened then?'
'The President of the Channel Islands called their head wizard to him, and asked him if they had the power to strike against the mainland of the United States of America.'
'What did the head wizard tell him?'
The President's Office, Jersey, three hundred years beforehand
Daniel looked the President in the eye, as much to avoid looking at the destruction outside the window as anything else.
'Yes,' he said. 'We could do that.'
'How much damage do you think you could cause?' the President asked.
'I'm not sure,' Daniel admitted. 'But we've been thinking about it. After what they did... all of us who survived have thought about it at least once. If we linked our power, as we did before, we could hurt one city. I don't know how much damage - it might just be like a severe earthquake, although that's devastating enough. We might be able to do more. It's difficult to tell. I'll be able to judge it more certainly once I know how much power we have available to us, and how much power it takes just to reach out that far.'
The President nodded slowly.
'Very well,' he said. 'Your target is New York. They have destroyed our finest city, our greatest achievements. Let us destroy one of theirs.'
'Why not Washington?'
'If we attack Washington, it is more than likely the next thing we see coming our way from America is a bombardment of nuclear missiles,' the President said. 'I'd like to avoid that, if possible.'
'And you think they'll react to the destruction of New York with a more rational frame of mind?'
'Perhaps not, but the chance is there. Can you do anything about it if they do attempt a nuclear retaliation?'
Daniel thought for a moment.
'We can,' he confirmed. 'I'll keep five or six who are talented at shielding out of the link. If they have a line to the radar stations, they should be able to stop at least some of what the Americans might try.'
'Good luck,' the President said. 'Proceed as soon as you are ready.'
Daniel left the office, head in a spin, blood heating. Perhaps it wasn't the right thing to do, to succumb to the urge for revenge, but it certainly felt good to be able to take some positive action.
He returned to the cliff top where the survivors had gathered, the same one from which they'd launched their assault on the approaching warships. Since it wasn't in any notable settlements, it seemed like a safe place to gather in case the Americans struck again. As safe as anywhere, anyway.
'New York,' he said to them, answering the unspoken question in his eyes. 'Harriet, Diana, Billy, Vanessa and Richard, stay out of the link and see what you can do if the Americans try to retaliate with missiles. Everyone else, your power to me as before.'
It wasn't the same people this time. This time it was everyone left with a drop of magic in them, save the five who were already casting their minds out for missiles. He'd forgotten they could do that until halfway back from seeing the President. Magic was still so new, but already powerful. Perhaps it was too powerful.
As before, he accepted the power offered to him by the circle behind him, and cast his mind out across the ocean, settling on New York as a bird lands on a telephone wire. He could see it all, but more importantly he could feel it all, the people going about their lives, the buildings standing, moving slightly with activity or as parts of their structure decayed by amounts nobody would notice for centuries or more, when it accumulated to an appreciable level.
These wouldn't get the chance, though. He felt around for something to work with, some inspiration as to how to perform this task. There was very little to go on - San Francisco would have been easy, just triggering an earthquake would have flattened the city if he'd put enough power into it. New York, however, didn't stand on a fault line. It did stand next to the ocean, though. All that water had to be good for something.
He retreated a way, and poured his power into the ocean, gathering energy from the circle and feeding it into the sea, a shockwave aimed in one direction only, tightly controlled. It moved towards the shore at a speed which astonished him, and as it hit shallow water a tsunami formed, taller by far than any building ever built, a solid wall of water that smashed down on the unsuspecting city before most people had even seen it coming.
He didn't stay to watch the aftermath.
The Moon, three hundred years later...
'How much damage did the tsunami do?' Agnes asked. Whilst in America she'd heard there was still a city called New York, but in three hundred years it could have been entirely rebuilt several times.
'None,' the Queen said. 'As it turned out, the people of the Channel Islands were not the only people to adopt a society inspired by h2g2, nor were they the first to use magic. They were, however, the first to do either of those things openly.
'A group of people living in southwest England had a prophet among them, who foretold the events of that day, and what their role in them would have to be. We don't know very much about what happened, but we know they gathered at Stonehenge and used it to amplify their power and protect the city. I understand that the backlash into the Atlantic Ocean was profound, and the currents and habitats have never returned to how they were.
'After saving New York, the English wizards turned their attention to the Channel Islands. First, they placed an impenetrable barrier around them. Then, they reached inside it and teleported all the wizards and witches away. We don't know what happened to them next, but after that there was only one order of wizards, and it was based in England.
'Unfortunately, we don't know very much more detail after that. I don't think hardly anyone on Earth knew what was going on either. America tried to attack the Channel Islands several times, but never made a dent in the shield the English wizards had placed around them. About six months after it all began, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and all the Scandinavian countries announced they were joining in with the Channel Islands, and the shield was extended to cover them. More countries followed fairly quickly after that.'
'What about the shield? It's not there anymore, and how could anybody forget that kind of time in history, even after three hundred years? They had good record-keeping then - we know quite a lot from before it all happened, so they should have been recording things during it,' Linda protested. 'It leaves a lot of unanswered questions.'
'I know,' the Queen said, 'but our knowledge is not complete. We do have one clue for you, though. About ten years after this all happened, when the moonbase had finally managed to guarantee its own survive independently of Earth; one of the wizards visited us. It was the same prophet who'd foreseen the events surrounding the Channel Islands. He told us some of what we know about what happened then, but he also told us that in several hundred years, two women would come seeking a way to end a crisis in their homeland. He told us to tell them, to tell you, what we knew of the history of that time, and one important thing.'
'And what's that?' Linda asked.
'It's a number, a code of some kind. We don't know what it means. Five two eight, seven four nine, zero one zero.'
Linda and Agnes repeated the number, committing it to memory.
'You have no idea what it's for?' Agnes asked.
'No,' the Queen said. 'Would you like a drink? I have much yet to tell you, because events here on the moon haven't been particularly stagnant for the last three centuries. You will, no doubt, be interested to learn why-' she cut off suddenly, clutching a hand to her breast. 'I've been shot,' she said, and slumped forward. Linda suddenly realised she was invisible, and Agnes leaped on her, pushing her away from where they were standing in case someone banked on them remaining where they had been when they were visible. Two sounds of metal impacting rock argued that her precaution was a wise one. They scrambled under partial cover for protection from stray fire and looked around.
American troops, clearly natives of Earth rather than the tall people who'd grown up on the moon, stormed into the cavern. To the natives, they showed no kindness, shoving gun barrels in their faces and throwing them roughly about before kicking their legs out from under them, pushing them face-down on the floor and applying handcuffs and leg irons. Soon all the natives, save the Queen, were shackled and marched out.
'Where are the other two? We were supposed to get them over the others,' one of the remaining soldiers said.
'They must have slipped out somewhere,' another said, looking around. 'Set the charges and get out of here.'
What are Linda and Agnes going to do now? With the Queen dead and all their allies on the moon captured, how will they survive and how will they know what to do next? And will they realise in time that the remaining soldier is setting explosives to collapse the cavern? Where is everyone else? Read the next Future Prefect, and find out...