Back at the old shed, we were shown through a side door into a courtyard. Captain Grayson handed each person a small tin box with a piece of flint inside. He demonstrated how to produce a spark by striking the side of the box.
Next we each received a metal dish of cold stew and pointed over to where four small fires, unlit, had been set up for us.
Suffice to say, we spent the next hour or so trying to start a fire while our stew slowly transformed into lumpy jelly . The tough part was getting the spark to catch, the larger pieces of wood adamantly refusing to have anything to do with flames of any kind. Luckily, we had all watched dozens of pseudo-documentaries where celebrities pretended to rough it out in the wild.
We needed kindling of some kind and Flossie solved the problem by pulling loose threads off her ‘new’ top and screwing them up into a bundle. Eventually we got the fire going, well after all the other groups had already started eating their hot stew.
The dishes had a small handle you used to hold it over the flames. The dish was metal. The handle was metal. I think you can guess the results.
We didn’t have any kind of utensils, so you had to wait for the stew to cool down before drinking it out of the edge of the dish. Made the whole point of heating it up rather pointless, but we were all so hungry we didn’t care. It tasted bland and mainly consisted of potatoes (I think). Still, at least we now knew how to start a fire.
As we sat there, stew dribbling down our chins, I could hear the other groups chatting away, some of them laughing, others complaining. Our group sat in awkward silence. Until, that is Maurice spoke up.
“I’ve been thinking. This is obviously a pretty backward kind of place, technologically speaking. If we could come up with an invention they haven’t thought of yet, we could become bloody millionaires!”
“Sure,” I said. “What did you have in mind?”
“Well, it can’t be anything too advanced. It’s not like we can suddenly make a computer or a helicopter or something like that. The technology isn’t there. We need to come up with something low-fi. Something that a blacksmith could knock together, right?”
He looked around and the others nodded enthusiastically.
“I haven’t really had time to think it through completely, but as a first suggestion, how about we invent the bicycle?”
I took the opportunity to introduce my own new concept to this world, the facepalm.
“You think what this society is crying out for is the bike?” I tried not to sound too dismissive. I’m not sure I succeeded, but it didn’t seem to matter.
“Everything probably depends on horses at the moment, right?” continued Maurice, all fired up. “But horses cost money to look after. You’ve go to feed them, keep them in stables, they shit everywhere—it’s a fulltime job. But a bike, you lean it against a wall, job done. These people will never have seen anything like it. They’ll think we’re wizards!”
Sadly, we’d probably all be dead long before he got his dream of recreating the Tour de France off the ground, although the idea of knights in full armour charging into battle on a ten-speed chopper had a certain appeal.
However, his idea did make me realise we should use our obvious advantage to good effect. The things we’d learned at school and seen on television about this sort of period in our own history should allow us to come up with something we could use—especially when it came to weapons.
Even stone age man figured out how to tie a rock to a stick and kill things with it, so we should be able to, too. As the others discussed exactly how the pedals attached to the gears, my mind drifted, thinking of simple weapons we could make. Bows and arrows would probably be quite fiddly to get right, plus you’d need a lot of arrows. And sharpened ends wouldn’t be all that great compared to actual arrowheads.
After a bit of thinking the best idea seemed to be to make a sling. If it worked for David against Goliath, why not for us? You needed a bit of string or something similar, and ammo was lying around everywhere. You just picked up small rocks off the ground. The more I thought about it, the better it seemed.
As I sat there feeling pleased with myself, I felt a presence next to me. I turned to find a girl standing there. It was her, the one with the freckled nose who had helped me back in the clearing. She didn’t look very happy.