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The girl drifted just above him, her arms flailing as she struggled to reach for a handhold.
Through the forward view-ports, as Adrian’s ship soared east in its orbit across the Atlantic, the immense circle of the horizon glowed against the blackness of space. Far below, he could see most of Britain, its shape so familiar that it just meant, ‘home’. Across the North Sea, Scandinavia’s green lay dusted with snow, its splintered coastline of fjords disappearing beyond the curve of the northern horizon.
The girl’s hand darted in front of Adrian’s eyes, momentarily covering the praying-woman shape of the Baltic Sea, which was just sliding into view. Beyond the Baltic lay the Soviet Union, a dark zone, laden with nuclear missiles and bombers.
Adrian reached out, grabbed one of the girl’s legs and pulled her towards him. His arms slid up to her waist and her slender body in its silver spacesuit pressed against him. Her forehead bumped against his.
“Oops!” the girl murmured, her face close. Her glowing brown hair swayed out around her head as if she were under water. She felt warm, soft, against him. Her eyes were beautiful. Adrian tried not to tremble with excitement. He felt his willy twitching as her mouth–
A piece of chalk struck him on the head. He heard a ruler bang against a bench top.
“Adrian Thorby, can you tell the class who first described acid-base reactions?”
He was back in 1962. Beyond the classroom windows, across Maybury Road, terraced houses ran eastwards towards the docks, the lines of roofs broken only by a single bombsite, like a ripped out stitch. Adrian, adept at letting his mind wander while listening for occasional fragments of the teacher’s words, turned towards the front. The room was a sickly pale green, the paint faded and frothy with age. Across its battered benches, ancient grey floor and pimply young boys, Mr Greatacre’s stony face gazed at him.
“Lavoisier, Sir,” Adrian replied, pronouncing the French name cautiously in his northern accent: Lav-war-zayer. He added another bit of information he had picked up: “He got his head chopped off, Sir. In the French revolution, Sir.”
“Very good, Thorby,” Mr Greatacre said, with a glint of humour in his cold eyes. “Perhaps you can tell us what you were day-dreaming about while I’ve been talking?”
Adrian considered his answer.
“Spaceships, Sir,” he replied. “I was thinking about John Glenn orbiting the earth in his Mercury capsule, Sir.”
The Mercury capsule had disappointed Adrian: a primitive spacecraft barely worthy of the name. It was not his vision of the future.
“Well, Thorby, I understand how exciting spaceships might be to you, but today you need to focus on a couple of acids and some other interesting substances I’ve prepared.”
Mr Greatacre leant forward and rapped his knuckles on his desk. “But if I’m going to let you near dangerous chemicals in my laboratory, I want you paying full attention! Is that clear, lad?”
“And you are particularly not to fantasise about girls!”
The class howled with laughter.
The science teacher always seemed to know their thoughts. Mr Greatacre was the most formidable teacher in the school, though he never caned or struck any of the boys.
Turning to the blackboard, Mr Greatacre continued, “Now, I’m going to describe some examples of acid-base reactions. We’ll start with nitric acid and copper oxide.”
Sitting next to Adrian, his friend Tim Hebblebeck muttered, “I bet I know what you were really thinking about, Adrian.”