The Albino's Dancer
by Dale Smith
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The Albino's Dancer

'Goodbye, little Emily.'

April 1938, and a shadowy figure attends an impromptu burial in Shoreditch, London. His name is Honoré Lechasseur. After a chance encounter with the mysterious Catherine Howkins, he's had advance warning that his friend Emily Blandish is going to die. But is forewarned necessarily forearmed? And just how far is he willing to go to save Emily's life?

Because Honoré isn't the only person taking an interest in Emily Blandish -- she's come to the attention of the Albino, one of the new breed of gangsters surfacing in post-rationing London. And the only life he cares about is his own.

Part mystery, part detective story, part dark fantasy, part science fiction... original adventures in time and space.

  • Released: April 2006

  • ISBN: 1 84583 100 4 (Standard Edition); 1 84583 101 2 (Deluxe Edition)

4 Nov 1951: While eating a late breakfast at a café, Honoré is approached by Catherine Howkins, an exotic dancer who works for Burgess, the criminal kingpin known as the Albino. She thanks Honoré for saving her life last February when a bunker belonging to the Albino exploded -- and also claims that the explosion cost Emily Blandish her life. Honoré demands more information, and Catherine directs him to a nightclub owned by the Albino. Before telling Emily, Honoré visits the half-man, half-machine Li Po, a living catalogue of the British Library; Po confirms that there was an explosion on the date in question, that two unidentified bodies were removed from the rubble, and that a man named Knight vanished after claiming that the bunker had been blown up for the insurance. Just as Honoré is about to leave, Emily and the Albino suddenly appear in the corner of the room and just as suddenly vanish. Disturbed, Honoré visits Emily -- who seems slightly flustered for some reason -- and suggests that they travel back to January to blow up the bunker before these events can happen; she refuses, fearing the consequences should they begin using their powers to change the course of history. For the first time ever, Honoré catches a glimpse of Emily's future -- and sees her running down a corridor knowing that a bomb is about to go off and kill her.

Honoré and Emily are caught breaking into the nightclub and are brought before the Albino, a scarred mute who can only communicate via a mechanical computer and recorded samples of other people's voices. The Albino summons Catherine to explain herself, but she is shocked to see Emily alive and is unable to explain how the newcomers came to have the address of the club in her handwriting. The Albino has Honoré and Catherine taken away by his enforcer, Leiter -- a walking-dead cybernetic thug similar to Abraxas. However, Leiter is briefly distracted in the corridor, enabling Honoré to flee across the club floor; he is aided in his escape when someone shouts out from the darkness, starting a near-riot by offering a hundred pounds to the first dancer to kiss the black man. Presumably programmed not to make a scene, Leiter is unable to bulldoze his way through the crowd to get to Honoré -- and in the commotion, Honoré notices that all of the exotic dancers at the club are somewhat inhuman. The Albino makes his fortune by trading in lost alien technology... and in lost aliens.

Catherine has escaped from her own captors and is waiting for Honoré on the other side of the club floor. She claims that the Albino is going to use Emily to travel back in Time, but that she and Honoré can follow them, using a damaged travel belt that was rescued from the wreckage of the bunker. The belt functions as a time-channeller, a sort of "little Emily," but it's useless without a time-sensitive counterpart, and the Albino has the "little Honoré" belt on his person. Now that Catherine has the real Honoré, however, she has a reason to repair "little Emily" -- and she intends to use it to travel back in time and save her lover from death. Honoré returns to the Albino's office, hoping to rescue Emily before her departure, while Catherine breaks into the Albino's hoard of alien technology and steals "little Emily." Leiter catches her, and prepares to kill her as he has been programmed to do -- and Catherine thus has little choice but to gun him down with a psi-gun from the hoard. She uses her own love for Leiter to power the blast, which cuts him nearly in half. Catherine then realises that she can use one of the valves from Leiter's body to repair "little Emily," and does so despite knowing that this will cause a paradox if she then uses the repaired belt to travel back in Time and change the events that caused Leiter to end up in this state.

Meanwhile, the Albino communicates certain instructions to Emily through his computer and his lawyer, Schreck. The Albino has already seen Emily in his own past and knows that she will take him back through Time now, using her own powers and those of the Albino's "little Honoré" belt. Emily notices that the belt is marked with the horned devil symbol, but is still not sure why this causes her such distress. According to the Albino, his belt's "little Emily" counterpoint was damaged at some point in the past, and the Albino now intends to travel back before that point and recover the belt while it still works. Also, Emily is at one point to order someone to "Go after her." If she follows these instructions, the Albino promises to release her and her friend once he has both functioning belts.

Honoré bursts into the office, too late to stop the Albino from seizing Emily and forcing her to transport them through Time. Emily tries thinking of Honoré, and momentarily forces the Albino to materialise in the British Library in front of Honoré and Li Po; however, he forces her to leap again immediately, and they arrive in his bunker on 23 February. It is just after 3:00 a.m., and the younger Burgess is waiting for Leiter and Kate Howkins, who arrive using the two functioning time-belts. Burgess, though still an albino, is not as badly mutilated as his future self and still has the power of speech, and Leiter is, although mechanically augmented, still recognisably human. At least, he is physically; but Kate, who had believed that Leiter loved her, is shocked when he reveals that he's bored of her and has come here to sell her to Burgess as an exotic dancer.

The Albino steps forward and reveals that his younger self brought a gun to the meeting. Leiter turns on Burgess, and Kate flees into the depths of the bunker. Emily follows her orders and tells Burgess to "Go after her." This leaves her and the Albino alone with Leiter -- and the Albino turns the gun on Leiter, intending to steal the travel belts from him. However, he is momentarily distracted watching Leiter remove the belts, and Leiter takes advantage of this and attacks him. In the confusion, the gun goes off, and the injured Leiter staggers away into the depths of the bunker. The Albino prepares to follow, but then discovers that his own "little Honoré", the future version of Leiter's belt, was damaged beyond repair during their fight.

Back in the nightclub, Catherine returns to the Albino's office to find that Honoré has overpowered Schreck and the Albino's guards. Honoré also recognises the horned devil symbol on "little Emily", but Catherine doesn't want to talk about the Sodality, the time-travelling cult who created these belts; this is partly because of the suffering she experienced at their hands, but also because she hasn't told Honoré the whole truth about her agenda. She doesn't care about Emily's death; her intention is to rescue Leiter from the bunker before the explosion destroys the last of his humanity, for she still believes that he loved her before the Sodality captured him and tried to remake him into a machine. Before following the Albino, however, Honoré and Catherine use the belt to leap back a few minutes and rescue their younger selves from the Albino's goons. When they overpower the younger Catherine's guard, Leiter is momentarily distracted, and the younger Honoré flees without noticing who's responsible. The younger Catherine accompanies her older self and the older Honoré to the club floor, where Honoré sees his younger self crossing the floor and shouts out from the darkness, starting a near-riot by offering a hundred pounds to the first dancer to kiss the black man. He and Catherine leave the younger Catherine to wait for the younger Honoré, but Honoré has now realised that Catherine doesn't know why he came to the club; he thus has her make one last trip before following the Albino, back to the café where he "first" met her, so she can set in motion the chain of events that will bring him and Emily to the club.

Having tied up these loose ends, Catherine and Honoré travel back to the bunker, but the belt's failsafe prevents it from materialising while another version of itself is operating, and they thus arrive at 3:10 a.m., later than expected. Catherine directs Honoré to the chamber where the Albino and Emily should have arrived, and takes "little Emily" from him, claiming that this will change the outcome of events and perhaps ensure that Emily survives. On his way to the main chamber, Honoré stumbles across Leiter's dead body, and sees that he's wearing the younger version of "little Emily." Honoré doesn't fully trust Catherine, and decides to take this version of the belt in case he needs to escape by himself; while doing so, he notices that he's dropped his wallet in a puddle of Leiter's blood, and picks it up again. He is then confronted by Burgess, who has captured young Kate, and who demands that Honoré hand over "little Emily." Honoré points out that it's useless without a time-sensitive counterpart, either him or the "little Honoré" belt, which appears to have gone missing. But as he starts to negotiate terms with Burgess, Kate tackles Honoré and activates his "little Emily" belt.

The Albino, pursued by Emily, arrives to find Leiter dead and both belts missing. Catherine also arrives, and when she sees that Leiter is dead and both the belts are missing, she realises that Honoré must have found Leiter and taken the belts in order to replace the one she took from him. Not only has she failed to change history, she's creating the one she knew. In her despair, she sets her own "little Emily" to overload, intending to die alongside his former lover and destroy his body so that he won't be transformed into the monster she's seen in the future. Emily is unable to talk her out of this, and is forced to flee alongside the Albino. As Catherine waits for death, she thinks back on her life and Leiter's behaviour, and comes to understand that, in her despair, she's become obsessed by the memory of an abusive man who never truly loved her. She's realised this too late, however, and before she can change her mind, "little Emily" overloads and explodes.

Honoré, Burgess and Kate have been pushed forward a few minutes by "little Emily"'s failsafe, and materialise at the moment that the belt in Catherine's possession ceases to function -- the moment that it explodes. Because of the position in which they're standing, Honoré and Kate are shielded by Burgess' body, and are able to activate the belt and leap ahead another 20 minutes. They are rescued from the rubble by the emergency services, but Burgess has been badly burned and is now the scarred, mute Albino whom Honoré knows. A reporter asks Honoré what happened, and Honoré tells him that the bunker was blown up for the insurance; he then bids the reporter "'Night," but the man misunderstands and assumes that he's been told Honoré's name. A female body is removed from the rubble, charred beyond identification, and Kate and Honoré conclude that this must be Emily. Frustrated, Honoré plunges his hands into his pockets... and finds that he's carrying two identical wallets, one clean and one blood-stained.

Realising the truth, Honoré bids Kate goodbye and uses "little Emily" to travel back into the bunker before the explosion. There, he finds the mortally injured Leiter, who dies admitting that he never really loved Kate and was only using her. Honoré takes Leiter's "little Honoré," leaving the other "little Emily" and deliberately dropping his wallet for his younger self to find. He then leaps forward to November, and contacts Emily just before his younger self arrives from the British Library. He gives her "little Honoré," orders her to hide it securely on her person so it won't be found even if she's frisked, and tells her to use it at precisely 3:25 a.m. on 23 February. He then leaps out of the apartment just as his younger self arrives. Emily is flustered but successfully hides the reason, and when she and Honoré go to the Albino's nightclub, she is wearing "little Honoré" hidden beneath her dress...

Moments before the bunker explodes, Emily catches up to the Albino and uses her "little Honoré" to transport herself and him to safety outside the bunker. Schreck has just arrived to take care of Burgess, and Emily gives her "little Honoré" to him. The real Honoré then arrives, and he and Emily transport the Albino back to November, where the Albino decides to leave well enough alone. The female body is that of Catherine, who dies knowing that she's failed to change history; Schreck and the Albino will find Leiter's body and transform him into a walking-dead automaton, and young Kate will wander the streets, alone and starving, until she has no choice but to return to the Albino and sell herself into his service. Honoré and Emily travel back to 1938, deliberately damage "little Emily" by removing one of its valves, and leave it in the newly-built bunker. It will be recovered from the wreckage in 1951, and the Albino will presumably believe it to be Leiter's. Before they return to 1951, however, Honoré admits to Emily that he deliberately dropped the blood-stained wallet in the bunker instead of the clean one, creating a time paradox just to see whether he could get away with it. It appears that he has...

Source: Cameron Dixon

Continuity Notes:
  • When Honoré visits Li Po, he finds the librarian reading Erik Clevedon's The Peculiar, the work of "fiction" that preceded the same author's Peculiar Lives.
  • Emily reminds Honoré that when they changed history, in The Winning Side, it was to put right a timeline that had already been meddled with. This argument will resurface in the next book, The Sideways Door.
  • Honoré notes that Catherine is careful not to touch her younger self on the club floor; she doesn't explain why, but it's presumably for fear of the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, as seen in the Doctor Who TV episode Mawdryn Undead.
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