A middle-age lady with greying hair and slightly old-fashioned clothes knocked on Mr Barkin's door.
"Enter!" a voice bellowed. Ex-military, possibly drill sergeant, she thought.
Opening the door, she found an office that was meticulously organised and structured. Regimented.
"You do not appear to be a student here", Mr Barkin commented dryly. "How may I be of assistance?"
The lady smiled. "I have heard your school has a slight shortage of teachers. I recently retired from a school in England, with twenty years experience in history..."
She got no further. "How soon can you start? We have a history class in fifteen minutes, over in room 3b."
That was unexpected, especially as he had not checked references or curriculum vitae. Had she been anyone else, she would have been shocked. However, it was clear he expected her to be there and it might jeopardize things if she refused.
Earlier, she had discovered by asking around that "curriculum" was too strong a word for how the children had been taught, so she didn't bother asking what they were doing. She doubted Mr Barkin knew.
"I will be there."
"I just need your name for the paperwork and insurance."
It was that bad?
"Mrs Barbara Wainwright."
Mr Barkin nodded and handed her the staff room keys. "You had best prepare in the remaining time. I wish you luck."
It sounded ominous. But, then, after facing down terrors that would drive most people insane and – worse – disruptive teens who lived in time-travelling spaceships with acerbic grandfathers, she felt this would be within her ability.
Although perhaps only just.
Fourteen minutes later, she set off from the deserted staff common room. It was a short walk down the hallway, so she took her time. She entered the room at the designated time. Most of the class had settled, although there were two empty desks at the front. A young lady at the back was listening to something that might have been music, but Barbara was not willing to speculate or waste time on it.
She turned to start to write her name on the board in a florid style when two people rushed in and took their seats. "You're late."
"I'm sorry", Kim began. "I had trouble getting back from Timbuktu, they had had a problem with killer bees in the sacred library."
That was a novel excuse. "We can talk later."
Over at the back, Bonnie snickered.
Mrs Wainwright finished writing on the board.
"Today we're going to cover the Aztecs. Most people have heard about their violent side. However, I am going to cover the gentler aspects, starting with..."
The lesson intrigued Kim. This person actually made listening fun rather than merely something for a grade or to accomplish a task. She was friendly, easy to listen to, and above all very knowledgeable. But why would someone this skilled teach at a high school, particularly a high school in a fairly small town?
After class, the mystery deepened. When they met, Mrs Wainwright carefully asked questions about Timbuktu that were clearly designed to find out if she had in fact been there and hadn't merely read something recently. After the tenth minute, it clearly went well beyond simply seeing if she had been making excuses. Mrs Wainwright was looking for something.
Mrs Wainwright was, of course, entitled to ask a few questions, but she occasionally said something indicating that although she had been there in person herself. However, she lacked knowledge of anything remotely recent, as if her knowledge stopped six hundred years ago.
After school, it went from mystery to serious confusion. Wade checked and found that the name he had obtained from the school computer – Barbara Wainwright – corresponded to no teacher from England. He also discovered that she, along with a gentleman by the name of Ian Chesterton, were booked in at a run-down motel in Middleton.
This was seriously confusing to her. Nothing was adding up. Barbara had the money to stay somewhere respectable and that side of town could get rough. As she was due to meet Ron downtown to get movie tickets, she decided she would go a little early and take a look. She had a hunch that something was wrong and her hunches often turned out right.
Her mother frowned at her exasperating, heroic, daughter.
"Now, Kimmie, you can't fix everything. And, besides, they might want to be there. There may be all sorts of innocent reasons."
"I know, but it's only a short way where I'll meet Ron..."
"And you won't be happy until you know who this mysterious stranger is. I'd probably do the same."
Kim was not naturally suspicious and was forever telling Ron that he was being hysterical, but something did not feel right here. As her mother was going downtown herself anyway, she dropped Kim off between the motel and the cinema, though not too far from either.
Kim hurried down a side street into a part of town that was quiet but not always friendly. It was older, in need of some repair and had been largely forgotten in the bustle of life elsewhere. All towns have such a place, she knew from experience, but it was not somewhere you generally looked for high calibre teachers. Particularly ones who weren't up to defending themselves.
Mrs Wainwright was sitting outside with a similarly-aged gentleman. She wondered if this was Mr Chesterton. They were talking quietly, but seemed relaxed until Mrs Wainwright saw her. She said something to her companion, who laughed and shook his head. Mrs Wainwright beckoned her over.
"Good evening, Miss Possible. To what do we owe the pleasure?"
Her accent and old-fashioned mode of speaking were stronger outside of the classroom. Kim tried to think of an excuse, but the gentleman broke in.
"Let me guess. You were curious about one of your teachers, maybe her knowledge was a little lopsided, a little advanced of what you would expect, and so you followed her home."
His sparkling voice and good humour threw her for a moment. Kim wasn't sure how to respond. Mrs Wainwright's sideways glance was equally unexpected. There was something they weren't saying, an inside joke.
Mr Chesterton paused. "You have quite a reputation, Miss Possible. Timbuktu this week?"
"It's so not the drama. The thieves had left the manuscripts in the truck."
"You owe me ten shillings, Ian. I told you language had shifted more than you had expected."
Ian slid some coins over to Barbara.
Kim looked puzzled. Again, their reaction was not the one she had expected. Besides which, she was fairly sure shillings had not been in use in Britain for some considerable time.
Ian turned to Kim. "I take it you like helping people with difficult situations. We had not intended to interfere with your studies and had intended on asking for help when it was more convenient for you. We weren't even sure if it was something that would interest you."
Kim glanced at them. "What do you need help with?"
Barbara sighed. "I don't know if you'll be able to understand this. We don't belong on this world. We don't belong in this universe. We were kidnapped. We can move freely around Middleton but not beyond and we can't return home."