It’s February 2016, rapidly approaching the centenary of the Easter Rising and the upsurge of Irish republicanism that led to partition, and almost a century of bloody civil war.
Jonny Farrell, the only Protestant to have joined the IRA, is a retired double agent with a new identity, put out to grass in Portugal with a £5.5m pay-out by MI6 for his ‘services’.
The last of these was to assassinate Sir Joseph Stephenson and ensure that his report, which implicated the British Intelligence Services in collusion with the paramilitaries, died with him.
Back in 1981, a top-secret meeting had taken place between the most senior levels of government on both sides of the Irish Sea.
The Irish Taoiseach had generously offered to donate a ten-mile wide strip of land so that the jagged, often random demarcation of the border between Ulster and Eire — endorsed by the Boundaries Commission in 1925 — could be re-positioned along more logical lines. The Taoiseach’s proposal would also create a ‘buffer zone’ — belonging to Britain — to prevent British soldiers, the RUC or their Intelligence officers from making illicit hot pursuit sorties into the Republic.
But the British were vehemently opposed to the scheme on the grounds that, as far as they were concerned, their unstated aim was to get rid of Northern Ireland — the last thing they wanted to do was to add to it.
However, in 2014 a huge oilfield is discovered on a remote area of subsistence farmland near Crossmaglen — technically in the republic. British politicians of the second decade of the 21st Century are left to rue that decision. This newfound wealth allows the Republic to clear its debts and acquire an economic status similar to that of the oil-drenched Gulf States.
And the leader of this new Northern European super-state is Malcolm McGuinn, the former Chief-of-Staff of the IRA — also formerly a double agent.
And top of the new President’s agenda is to make bankrupt Britain an offer they simply can’t refuse: invoke articles 2 and 3 of Eire’s constitution, and buy back Ulster and reunite the 32 counties under the tricolour and Dublin rule.
For a sum sufficient to reboot her ailing economy, Britain is ‘Great’ once more, placed — next to Ireland — at the head of the European table, looking down at the French and Germans.
But there are players from both sides less than happy with the new arrangement. Farrell has unfinished business with George Oliver Dibble, the former Head of MI5 Joint Irish Branch, who double-crossed him. He also believes that Dibble was complicit, along with McGuinn, in the murder of his childhood sweetheart.
Then Dibble contacts Farrell and tells him that MI6 boffins have discovered a ‘worm-hole’ — a pathway to time travel which will allow him to return to the past, prevent the murders of hundreds of innocent people, and change the course of Irish political history. Not only that — he can prevent Ellen’s murder.
The time portal that takes Farrell back to 1981 is there for 48 hours only, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll return to the present.
But to Farrell, formerly a cold-blooded killer bored with his comfortable retirement, this is a chance he can’t pass up. To see Ellen again is worth the risk. And to prevent her assassination would give him something to live for.
Only problem is, he has to persuade one former political leader to agree to accept the Taoiseach’s proposal.
And to stand a chance of this, he has to end the hunger strike.
Worse still, he has to join it.
The politician’s name is Maggie Thatcher.
No one can change the future. Can they?
Maybe if you KNEW what the future held… maybe if that knowledge was so toxic, so cataclysmic, you would devote everything to try to find a way to change it? And if someone gave you the means to do it, and to save the woman you loved, wouldn’t you risk everything?
Well… wouldn’t you?
Jonny Farrell, former IRA double agent, awakens to find himself wrapped in a blanket on a damp wafer-thin mattressed metal cot. His eyes adjust to a dimly lit ten by ten cell; walls broken by a head-high barred window where a snow flakes and a cold, grey light filter in.
Curled into a foetal ball; limbs frozen; teeth chattering.
A wave of nausea; he lifts his aching head from the uncovered pillow and retches. His empty stomach contracts but produces nothing. Not even bile.
He looks beneath the blanket. He is naked and emaciated. Just bones.
The smell of shit; the walls of the cell have been daubed with faeces.
He tries to stand, lacks the strength; collapses into a shivering heap. Mouth dry; head pounding; vision blurred.
He has no idea where he is, why he is here, or how far gone he is. He senses he is close to death.
And then his eyes are drawn to a paper on the floor. A folded letter; something tells him this stands between him and death.
Summoning everything, he reaches for the paper. The letterhead has a familiar portcullis logo. Heart pounding, he clutches it to his face. Unreadable.
A blur of words, meaningless shapes stick to the page, eyes too weak to decipher.
No meaning, no recollection, other than he knows that the letter he holds is the sum of his universe and the key to his survival.
And then he sees the signature at the foot of the letter, and it starts to come back to him.
He is in the Maze prison.
He is on hunger strike.
The year is 1981.
He has travelled back through time to change the future by altering the past.
He has to stop the protest and prevent the republican hunger strikers from becoming martyrs.
But before he can do that, he has to save himself.
Then perhaps he may be able to persuade the Prime Minister to agree a deal with Eire that will spare thousands of lives, save his sweetheart and make the country he hates the economic hub of a new world order. An imperfect solution in an imperfect world.
This is in collusion in its dirtiest form.
He’s in a dirty place and he must deal with dirty people.
And the dirtiest of all is the signatory of the letter.
Her name is Margaret Thatcher.
He has 48 hours to make the lady turn.