All entries for November 2004

November 29, 2004

A Counter–Anti–Fac/Racist Motion

Follow-up to The 'No Platform to Fascists and Racists' Motion from The Militant Wing of Pacifism

Ok, so I suppose the No-Platform motion has been passed.

The best thing I can think to do now is to counter it, with a motion of our own, and this time make sure things are a fair fight, with proper arguments provided and publicised for both sides of the debate.

This is where you can help

I need some advice and feedback on drafting this motion. Firstly, I want to check the waters to see how far we are willing to go – ie. to what degree can we expect to gather enough support for.

1. Not to allow any person who can be shown to have advocated or expressed, or to be likely to advocate or express, racist or fascist conduct, attitudes or views to have any involvement with the Union and to ban any such person from entering Union events and buildings. If the person is a Union member they should be dealt with via the Union disciplinary process.

1. We can remove the word 'likely'. This is a no brainer. I doubt anyone can justify that.
2. We can remove the 'buildings' part. This should also be pretty easy – it's plainly unenforceable.
3. Or we can scrap this one entirely.

3. That no Union Officer shall share a platform with any known racists or fascists at any Union event; or any other event in their capacity as an Officer.

We can scrap these entirely. Racist and fascists should be welcome to reasonable debates. Also, puts way too much pressure on officers to determine guests etc are 'on message'.

7. To empower and require the President to deal with potential or actual conflicts between Societies that could exacerbate tensions between students along the lines of race, religion, nationality or ethnicity, such as tensions erupting in relation to international conflicts.
8. To mandate the Societies and Student Development Officer to liaise with the relevant Societies to ensure that events organised by them reflect the Union’s commitment to tolerance and understanding (e.g. no offensive or inflammatory speakers or publicity).

We can scrap these two, at least partially. Ie. empower, but not require. Societies should deal with their own conflicts, until they are severe enough to call in the President. Also inconsistent. Are societies causing political (eg. left/right tensions) or sexual tensions somehow exempt?

We can then add resolutions of our own.

Any ideas?

Any thoughts? Please comment!


Ukrainian Separatism?

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Note: I really can't spell the two main guy's names. So I won't try. In the jumbled sentences below, if there are e's after it, I am refering to the opposition leader, while if there are a's, I am refering to the prime minister. If there are both, you are kinda screwed.

New developments as reported by the Guardian.

While pro-Yblensd feeling remains strong in the capital, in East Ukraine, people are talking about a fear of a coup placing an 'illegitimate' 'fascist' president in office, making Ukraine into a puppet of America. Hmm…

It's uncertain how strong the actual public sentiment is. The Guardian raises the possibility of heavy media censorship in play - noting how one TV station giving news from a pro-Yedsdfds perspective had its signal shut off, adding that this is a common occurence. And that many of the pro-Yanasusch demonstration were rather non-spontaneous, with workers ordered to participate by their bosses.

Now, the talk in East Ukraine is of separatism – of creating a federal Ukraine with the south-east as an autonomous region – however, this is unlikely to happen.

One sentence in the Guardian report made me look twice:

"...the mafia bosses which now run the region…"

This sounded pretty extreme, so I did a cross check with Google Scholar. However, it looks pretty watertight. Eg. report from Kulver Online

"...World Bank estimates annual sum of bribes equal the total trade turnover for two months…"

and that while some measures exist,

"...the current government is unable, and some say unwilling, to take on corruption…"

Ouchy.

The case looks pretty clean cut, from this direction. Unless anyone has some other pointers? (Note I only skim read the article, so maybe I missed something.)

In any case,


November 28, 2004

I have WON Nanowrimo!

Writing about web page http://www.nanowrimo.org

Finally, the 50000 words are done.

Now I can catch up on the weeks of sleep I have lost. Aahh…

NaNoWriMo Progress Meter

Some cute icons:

Ok, I lied. It isn't entirely over yet. The word count is gone, but the story is unfinished. So I'lll plod away at it, edit it hugely, etc etc.

If anyone wants to read, email me.


November 24, 2004

The End (of Nanowrimo) is Nigh!

Writing about web page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/fangz/category/nanowrimo/

NaNoWriMo Progress Meter

Close now, so close! I'm positively twitching with excitement. It's only 6/7 days until the big bad deadline! And I only have 10000 words to do, leading to a very manageable 1.5k or so per day!

To those who have been following my efforts, thank you! Even though you've all been worryingly silent, I am certain that there were millions of you glued to your screens, coming back day after day after day... Completely consumed by my almost obscene levels of genius. I assume that the lack of comments indicate merely that you were too busy trying to think of an appropiate compliment...

And if you weren't following, well, your chances at catching up on the literature sensation of the millenia are almost over! You'd better redeem yourself quick, because once I earn millions from royalties, well, then all the crawling and kneeling in the world will do you no good.

Sorry folks for not posting the recent ones, though. I'm afraid I have been way too busy to edit them and post them. If you really want the full thing, email me at:

zhou (small black circle) zfang (weird swirly thing) (popular email service from google)

Otherwise, keep the faith!


November 22, 2004

The 'No Platform to Fascists and Racists' Motion

Writing about Union Referenda and Elections from Returning Officer

Scoot over to the student union website. Click on voting.

Now, scroll down to the case against the second motion. Click on it.

Well, what do you see? A robust defense? A weak defense? Anything like that?

Nope.

What you see is:

"NO REFERENDUM ARGUMENT HAS YET BEEN SUBMITTED BY THE AGAINST CAMPAIGN."

You can hardly blame them. No one wants to be seen defending fascists and racists. But surely, there is an argument against the No-Platform motion? Surely there is some sort of debate available. I was half interested myself, but it seems, it is already too late:

THE DEADLINE FOR THE FORMATION OF REFERENDUM GROUPS IS 12 NOON MONDAY 22ND NOVEMBER 2004

But while the Elections Group spend the £60 opposition campaign budget on beer and drugs, let us just pause for a moment to reflect. And try to formulate

An argument against

NOTE: I am not a racist. I am not a fascist. Ok? In fact, if the BNP does ever win, then I, as an immigrant myself, would very likely be on the hit-list.

The motion is:

"To extend existing policies to prevent individuals or groups who advocate or express racist or fascist views from having any involvement in the Union, or its events."

But look at what it says. It says that these views are not permitted. Whatever happened to free speech? Existing law in this land targets incitement to racial hatred. Certainly, that is different. But to target the mere expression of this view – surely it is unjustifiable. You may detest what is spoken, but when it harms no-one, you must defend their right to say so. The motion proposed is FAR too broad. It's swatting a fly with a broadsword.

The fact is, the idea that this would attack the spread of fascist ideas is utterly absurd. If anything, the recent rise of the far right is spurred on by a perception of a 'liberal' authority that is 'oppressing' them. Such a motion would simply reinforce this belief. It would in no way suppress the beliefs of those already within these organisations, and it will generate sympathy from those just outside them. This motion will simply help to expand their numbers. This motion is precisely what they want to sell their story of ethnic tensions.

And worse, it would drive the believers into the fortress mentality. Past history has shown that the only way to defeat radical believers is to engage with them in mature conversation. By silencing them, we are not expressing any sort of strong opposition. Rather, it is a sign of weakness, that we are afraid of talking to them. If they are as wrong as we know them to be, then they should be allowed to defeat themselves with their own words, and we must be active in countering them word for word. Pretending they do not exist will fail as a policy.

So, VOTE AGAINST MOTION 2.


November 20, 2004

4.6692

The nights grew and the days contracted as winter tightened its grip. When she woke that day, it was already dark, and checking the time, she cursed herself for oversleeping. She didn't have that sort of time to waste.

But she did. There would be nothing to do for many days, only to watch in anticipation. Nothing to do but to use up extraneous time, to avoid detection, to enjoy a little of life. And, she supposed, to forget about the people who had recently been captured. A capture that was as good as death.

She barely knew the lost, however. She had only just met most of them, and the one she did know, she was no longer really sure of. And there was nothing left for her to mourn. They had scooped up every trace, and she had forgotten to take any souvenirs, photographs, signatures, proof of life past. Gone, all gone in reality, and leaving her memories with each passing day, as her brain cleared out the old, useless, irreplaceable past to make for the dreary nail-biting waiting of the present and future. It made no sense to grieve for them, and when she tried to dredge up the necessary emotion, she felt only dry and barren, with the acid hint of guilt. But there was nothing she could do. Could have done. It was no different from mourning the death of a dream.

She had merely woken up from their existence.

She shuddered with terror at herself. That was close, too close. Too near the enemy which took people and changed them. Too much like a surrender, a betrayal of self. They were there, and nothing can change that. Truth was immutable, invulnerable to the whims of the time. She found herself grieving for her own being, her own continued life.

She had to find a distraction. Food, perhaps, even though she was not hungry. Tearing through some ration packets, she realised how low her supplies were. No, they would not last her days, let alone a few weeks. She had to go out. Human contact was good too. It was better than sitting here, letting old wounds fester, rot, let the infections of the mind spread and develop.

The nearest restaurant was just down the street. A simple affair, with a large set of French windows allowing a view of the feeders within. A sign hung on the door, proclaiming, redundantly, it to be open, and looking through, she saw that the room within was simply decorated, rows of tables and wooden benches. But the smells of cooking, the sounds of jovial harmony drew her, and she opened the entrance door, and walked in.

She looked around carefully, lest someone would notice her, recognise her, betray her to terror and captivity and death. But no one batted an eyelid. The glances she did receive were full of bonhomie, and the words that they exchanged about her lacked edge. The proprietor sat at his bar, and looked approvingly, beckoning her, and so she approached.

It took a moment, in the hubbub, to notice that the man was trying to talk to her. But by then, he had raised his voice to a booming level, and it sounded to her like a clap of thunder ahead of summer rain.

"What can I do for you, young lady?"

She squinted though she had no need to, tried to scan the menu that lay just beneath the counter. The letters eluded her, and when she peered closer, she found that she didn't understand the words, the names, in any case.

"Take your time," the manager said. "Don't worry, it isn't a race. No one's timing you."

Her heart raced at the names of things she had never seen, or had seen and forgotten. What was fromage frais? Or creme brulée? The values, the prices beside each enigma rose up and up as she scanned across the menu, and she felt increasingly poor, like a piece of wet mud that had snuck through the doors by a miracle, and now only awaited a brush to sweep her back into the streets where she belonged.

"What do you recommend?" she asked, in exasperation.

"Well, the soup of the day is chicken, and we've been serving a lot of pasta today. How about that?"

"I'm not sure if I can pay," she said, her voice a whisper.

"Pardon?"

"I don't know if I have the money up front."

"Well, maybe you can go for something a little cheaper. I'm afraid it isn't company policy to take IOUs." A smile, but not a cruel one, only one of whimsy, of friendliness.

She tried to smile back, faltered. She doubted she could afford even the cheapest meal. Her hand found the small credit chip in her pocket, and she despaired at how she stood out from this world, braced herself for an about-turn and an unceremonious exit.

"I'll pay for her," a man said. "If she would like to sit with me."

She froze in panic. A figure, seated in a dark corner, wearing an all-weather suit, clothes smart yet sturdy enough to travel in. Her eyes passed over him as quickly as she could, avoiding any sort of eye contact. Her hands grabbed at the counter, squeezed as though she thought the table itself would protect her. But what choice did she have but to accept?

"A true gentleman," the man behind the counter said, voice laden with approval at all this chivalry, all this decency towards the common man, even as she quailed within and without. She walked over across the room, expecting eyes to pan to follow, but again seeing to her terror and relief that no one cared whether she was there or not, that no one even noticed. That all were happy enough to go about their lives without her, without knowledge of her life. She sat down, humbled.

The food did not of course arrive as she expected it to. Looking blankly at the bare table, and then around for a moment in bewilderment, she realised that the meal would actually take time to cook. There was no way out of it, she had to wait sullenly with her benefactor until she had an excuse not to pay attention.

"Don't you agree?" he asked. He must have been talking for some time.

"What?"

"The terrible state of the catering industry, these days. Once upon a time, there were proper restaurants, where you were seated by a helpful, smiling staff, who would hand you a printed menu and then ask you to pick out your heart's desires. And then they would deliver it, and only ask you for the money after you've finished eating. Out of the kindness of your hearts you would give them some extra, as a tip for their pleasant service. Just as a gift. Unbelievable, isn't it?"

She made a motion with her head that could mean yes, could mean no, but really meant that she did not give a damn either way, and preferred that he would just keep ranting to her unresponsive forehead. To her relief, he did.

"Ironic, too. In this day and age, where inhibitors are supposed to make us into good, caring, honest individuals, they always demand you to pay before you receive your goods. Where's the trust, the implicit belief in general human decency? Let me tell you my theory…"

Everyone, it seemed, has a theory. A glass was placed on the table near her, and looking up, she saw the waiter pour a little wine into it, and then walk away. She swirled the wine around in its glass, a vortex of golden fluid, and pretended to sip from it. This was not the place to get drunk.

"I think the inhibitors were in fact an expression of the distrust we had for our common man. That by installing them, we merely cheapened the real, decent feelings we had for each other, and replaced it with an artificial harmony that really means nothing to us. Exchanged a dynamical freedom for a static stability, if you will. And the trouble is, I don't see how we can get out of it."

She felt a little queasy. Maybe some of the wine had slipped between her lips, after all. But something sounded wrong about what she just heard, something out of place.

"In any case, try to get more sleep, a chance to lie back and dream now and then. You look happier when you are sleeping."

Her head snapped upwards. She see nothing for a moment, and then as her bleary eyes cleared, she saw the dark outlines of a face, hidden beneath a large and overbearing hood. In the shadow, a bridge of a nose, steely eyes, things that looked familiar. The man had finished eating, or had never eaten, and merely sat, leaning backwards a little so that the front two legs of his wooden chair left the floor.

It was him.

She got up.

It was too early. The dining staff had not even laid the table yet, and though she clawed her fingers over the dining table, she could not find a knife, a fork, or anything metal. Anything metal with which to do what, in any case? She could not just lean forward, swing her arm and slash at his throat, could she? Would she?

There were sounds to the left of them, squeaks of the kitchen door opening. A few waiters, all young, coming through carrying food on wooden trays. The man remained still, pretending that nothing had happened, a expression that turned into a patronising frown. A frown which told her to sit down, little girl. To eat up, and not embarrass your parents in front of all these people. Aware of the eyes upon her, she lowered herself onto the seat.

"Hello," he said.

"My name is Sandy," she said.

Sandy, a different person. Whatever between us is dead, and don't try to pretend it is any other way. This is a different person you are speaking to, who will not respond to your trash, and who will just sit here, smile at you, and wonder how many interesting ways you can be killed.

"Hello, Sandy," he said.

She started to mouth what she had thought, but found her mouth glued shut, pursed into an expression she did not understand. Her denouncement came out as a soft, whimpering 'hello'.

"I'm afraid I must be going now," he said. "They don't want me to leave their sight for too long. Even with what I've done, they do not trust me. And I do not trust myself any more."

"They…" she started, a million questions popping into her head.

"I can't tell you much more than that, I'm afraid. I have to go now. I can't explain myself. Maybe you'll understand later. I will be back here each day, at about this time. I'll wait for you."

With that, he rose, and started to walk towards the exit. She craned her head to follow his figure, to try and curve her line of sight around the heads of people who were in the way. The door opened, a small bell sounded, and he disappeared.

A tray landed in front of her. She stared at the unfamiliar food for a moment, picked up the knife and fork, and started to force the edible things into her mouth. But she was no longer hungry, and the food tasted like wood and cardboard in her mouth, tinged with a sense of excitement she could not get out of her head. She should probably get out of here, she thought. He had found her, he could betray her. She must not trust him. But the lock on the handcuff which held them had already been formed, and would not easily be broken.

An interesting memory popped into her head. She had left him many times before, for reasons she could barely remember. Always, she had told him not to find her, but he did so anyway. But this time, this last time, at the dark and immovable Wall, she had told him to find her, to hold onto her, and not to leave her. Perhaps she trusted fate that he would now be gone, exorcised from his possession of her heart, and she would be free again. But, it seemed little had changed. Words did not matter when reality was intent on bending them together.

But everything had changed. She hated him, she told herself. Hated him for coming into her life, for barging in whenever he wanted, for kicking down the gates and weak barricades with which she protected her hallowed places, her temple of memory made pure. It was sacrilege, that each time he sullied her memories, changed her precious past into a future which made her tremble. And she could not forgive what she hoped he did not, but feared he did do.

She ate slowly, listening more to the conversations around her. A child was playing in between the benches, and while he roamed without leashes, the other eaters paid him scant attention. The IH would keep him out of trouble. A couple talked of love across from her. They would never argue, never betray each other.

Instead, they kissed. They moved close as if to whisper some truth, and then, almost as an accident, moved so close that they touched, collided, melted and merged. She could see the dilation in their eyes, the looks of utter ecstasy which infused their faces, simply for being in each other's presence. Their heads gyrated around each other, trying somehow to be even closer, that as their tongues wrestled within their cheeks, the world around them stood still. Hands, she saw their hands, clasped, tighter than the tightness with which she herself would cling to life. They pulsed, again and again with passionate motion. She felt the heat rise to her cheeks.

She couldn't look any longer. She had to look away.

But what was the look she saw in their eyes? Was it really love, love clear as crystal, that made them widen? Or was it the cold ice of the Inhibitor making those feelings, such that they were merely locked in a collective dream? She couldn't look, dared not look. And she had no idea of a comparison, because she could not remember what real love looked like. When she was with him, his eyes were always closed, and her eyes too as the moment approached. What were they afraid of seeing?

She found that she was examining this perfect love as if it were a diamond or some other jewel, held under the microscope, its fire, its light dimmed for objective measurement. Her mind wandered across the case scenarios. Would they still be kissing, if the inhibitor was removed? Did only the IH's whip strike his gaze from the bodies of other women? Was her life saved each day, when he would come home, drunk?

Yet this love was still beautiful, and the possibilities, the cruel knowledge in her mind did not make the appearances less idyllic. It was as though she was in an art gallery, surrounded by the moving images of ideal forms. Or perhaps, she had gone to the heaven of old times, encountered the angels which lacked the freedom of man, but went about their ways in absolute perfection. A perfection that seemed fragile, but was made invincible by the freezing of change, the end of time.

Abruptly, she got up, pushed aside the tray of half-eaten food, and left for home. When she arrived, she drew the curtains more tightly, checked over all the doors, in case he would try to come in again, to violate again her private grief.

But an inexplicable mood caught her, and she returned to the front door, opened it a crack, and sat down exhausted by the dead fireplace. She watched the night from the door-frame crack until it became truly black, and then felt the darkness reach within, and take her to the land of sleep.

She did not dream.


November 18, 2004

4.669

She yawned. The talk had gone around and around. If this was what passed for making a final judgement, then watching the council trying to make a reasoned and lengthy discussion must surely be…

"Ridiculous," a tall man said. "We've never heard of such a thing happening before."

"But she did pass all the tests. We've put her through the machine, just to be sure, and once through, she adapted easily when we gave her the truth of the way things are."

"But that still doesn't rule out the idea that it may be a trick. Like it was with… with Aaron's protege."

The words were forced out slowly, and Sandy refused to listen to them. But even despite herself, she noticed the coldness that passed through the room, the disbelief that oozed from their minds, at the mere mention of the matter. No, they didn't want to listen either. They did not want to listen to the insanity of it all.

"I think we have all agreed that… that one was a special case. A case which will not be repeated. I think we are all firm in our reasoned stance that any prior commands are wiped and made irrelevant once the IH is deactivated. Whatever that man's malfunction was, whatever his particular mental disorder, we have yet to determine, but, we can surely be assured that it was a marginal case. A stroke of terrible misfortune."

"That's not what I meant."

The room sagged with relief.

"What I mean is… Well, what if the IHs are smart enough, that they would decide to release this woman to us, in order to convince us of a weakness they do not have? So that we would commit ourselves to an attack that would be ineffectual, allowing a counter-attack that would eliminate our capabilities to do them harm?"

"That is always possible. But I don't think that's how it works. Surely there are easier ways than to cause an error to occur in all this many IHs… They could easily have chosen another, less costly way."

"It's unbelievable to us. Implausible that they should try it. All the more reason for them to actually do so."

"They are not gods. If they were gods, we would not still be here. Some of us are still alive, aren't we? But apparently not just the cleverest ones!"

The argument crescendoed, erupted into pockets of private talk, wild gesticulation that tore the air. Sandy got up, realising that her presence was not truly useful, and hence not truly needed. Surreptitiously, lest questions be asked, she crept backwards out from the half-open circle of the meeting officials, moved through the veils that lent them dignity, and breathed with relief the chill air that was outside.

The noises, though muffled, continued. She, lost without purpose, considered fleetingly the idea of going back in. But why? Better to explore the places around her, that she already knew. One purposeless act was better than another, one decadent waste of time more gilded than the alternative.

Storerooms, mostly, were all she found. Some full, some empty, some filled with relics from the time before their group arrived. Relics useless now, except as foci to baffle the mind. This place, it seemed, did not belong to this age, and of this she was grateful. She hoped the rogues did not belong either. That they were the preserved jewels of a golden past, and the vanguards of a future of light and joy. Not a breath of wind, not a feeble ghost of the terrible, horrible today.

The dust moved around her feet, and the cobwebs furled, danced in front of her. She turned around, already having recognised the shuffled sound of the steps. Constance was moving in from the corridor, behind her.

"How did you find me?" she asked.

"I followed your footprints." the old lady said, and looking down, she saw them, mostly erased now by Constance's own dragging step, just a shred still remaining. The old lady was smart, and she couldn't help but smile slightly in admiration.

"I wanted to thank you," Constance continued. "Thank you, that is, for saving my life."

"Your life was in no real danger. I'd rather thank you for saving mine…" she protested.

"No, no. I know now what I faced was worse than death. I faced the loss of mind, a mind newly gained. Now I can slowly recover the memories of those I lost, so that I am no longer left with just an empty feeling. Now, I can at least make an effort to mourn."

Sandy felt the weight of her sadness. She felt as though she could not move and that something, something huge and unstoppable was strangling her, choking her, stuffing unbreathable air down her throat. She gagged, incapable of finding an adequate response.

"I am very sorry." She said.

Sorry for what? Sorry for what the world is, girl, sorry for the truth. Did you really feel empty, she wondered suddenly. The IHs were not that weak, surely? It was easy enough for them to kill, so it must be easy enough for them to kill feelings, to kill love? She felt sickened at herself, at comparing such precious things as though they were but chips to be bargained, exchanged, and sold.

But wasn't that what they were?

"Don't be sorry," Constance said. "You have nothing to be sorry about. You have returned to me a sense of responsibility, a sort of power, and duty that I would not be alive without. It's like, like you've raised me from the dead. Made me into bright colours, not the faded, sketched out outlines that I was before."

Sandy felt the flush of embarrassment come to her face.

"Well, don't worry about it. You don't need to pay me back or anything."

Constance shook her head. "No, I don't believe in paying back good deeds. I believe in paying forwards. I've joined your group now, you know."

Had she? The people in the room upstairs would not all agree. But she nodded any ways, a nod of support, and mutual comradeship. Of course she joined the group. Wouldn't anyone?

"So, shall we go upstairs?"

Sandy wondered for a moment at what could be upstairs that Constance would want to see, but then saw the glint in her eyes.

"I'm not sure you have clearance for our meetings."

"Clearance? I thought you were against control and blocking access to people."

"Yes, but…" She supposed that clearances could be negotiated. Certainly, if the old woman would happen to wander into the meeting room while she was watching in another direction, it would not reflect on her too harshly. Certainly less harshly than she felt here, exposed to the other woman's burning expectations. And she…

"I deserve revenge. I need to make the bastards who did in my family, did this to me, pay. I need to do something, or all of this, all of what I have gained is but a selfish luxury. Meaning nothing at all. I don't think I can stand living if I don't believe that all of it is done for something greater than myself."

Wordlessly, Sandy put her hand in Constance's, and felt the leathery skin of her fingers tighten and grip.

*

The councillors were still yelling at each other. But she was grateful for that, as she dragged Constance through the thin, yet suddenly heavy veil. She had expected outrage, that people would stand up, point and shout at her. The reality was that they were already standing, but were so engrossed in their war of words that they did not even notice the two women's arrival, and continued unabated even after she chose their spot and together sat down on the fur rug where the conference was conducted.

The talk seemed to go around in circles. She felt fatigue creep over her again, and started to nod forwards, unable to keep her head straight. Someone was shouting, trying to put himself over the others by sheer volume.

"Look, we've all been here a while, now. I mean, perhaps we can try to establish some facts we can all agree on."

The room hushed fractionally.

"We know this Constance character was just one of many. We know that the IHs communicate with each other, and I suppose with whatever leads them, if they are led, in a sort of loose network. This is how they coordinate themselves against us, and manage normal life. Right? Usually, I suppose this network is very tenuous indeed, and they only connect and contact either other if they have to, such as if they have a critical update to download, or if they detected something which was seriously wrong. I mean, this is what our technicians tell us? Right?"

He didn't wait for someone to attempt an answer to his rhetorical question.

"We also know that whatever happened to Constance turned out to coincide with one of our largest… no, our largest operation to date. That it happened after an attack in which we sought to make no measures to prevent exposure, made no attempt to hide the effects. That it happened after a huge explosion, an explosion which the IHs were confident of stopping, and which, to most of these people gave them the appearance that they were all going to die. We can be certain that even though some of the IHs knew about the attack, it would be unlikely for them to communicate this fact very far, because it could have alerted us that the whole thing had been compromised. Am I not correct to state this?"

From his casual, almost cheery demeanour, he appeared to be winning the argument. That possibility, however, was rather undermined by the load yelling which almost instantly broke out, which only gradually subsided into mutterings, then murmurings, and the final, defiantly baleful glares.

"So can we not…"

More shouting broke out, and died away.

"At least make a theory, just to theorize that…"

Half a dozen others stood, in preparation to speak. He waved them down with an open hand, palm to the ground.

"I might remind you, I have the most academic experience regarding this, and so one would do well to think twice before talking. At least twice. Now, suppose there is a link between all these facts. Perhaps, then we are left with something reasonable. Suppose, just for this moment that the IHs can be affected by things. After all, they help mediate emotions. Then, we can clearly expect that in the case of something like the attack on the Wall, they are forced to work extra hard… And perhaps, some of them can't handle it. Can't handle the surprise of it all. And meanwhile, the IHs would all try to talk to each other, to help each other out. But then, this fills the air with lots of useless junk. The sum result of this would be that lots of parts of the network can't be in touch at all, because you have only so much bandwidth available for their signals. And then, it would make sense that some IHs, isolated from the whole, besieged by events they could not understand, would simply decide to shut themselves down."

"So what do you think we should actually do?" someone asked.

She cleared her throat. An old lady amongst a council of mostly younger men, standing proud, without any trace of swaying, any trace of trembling. A voice that was insistent, that could not possibly be silenced. Quietly, their jaws dropped.

"How did she get in…"

"Isn't it obvious what needs to be done?" She began. "We need to hit them, and hit them hard. If anything, this tells us that the IHs and the government, for all their show of invincibility, are but a brittle shell which can be crushed with a few, surgical smashes. Pile on the real pressure, face it without fear with the steely sword of justice, and it will crumble into the nothingness and nightmares it is made of. We need to attack, now, when they least expect us to. A visible, brutal attack which would scatter their forces like a thunderstorm, that would restore freedom to thousands at a stroke. With that seed, with that core of people who will realise reality in an instant, realise the essential rightness of our cause, we may at last produce a revolution, an avalanche that they cannot stop."

So soon, and she already had the fervour of a veteran. Sandy could not help but grin, could do nothing but applaud as the others did, a pounding applause that swamped the voices of those who were foolish enough to disagree. Who would have expected to find a visionary, a saviour at this stage? She was filled with a pride, a pride in Constance and a pride in the group that was intoxicating, that make her feel a deep, heavy ache across her heart.

"Well said!"

"That's right, comrades. We can't hide what we believe in if we think it is the natural way for things."

"I don't see how anyone can oppose…"

"We can't let them pick us off one by one…"

She had never seen such agreement, before. It was as though all the members were speaking in one voice of approval. It was a sight which awed her, and only barely did she notice the academic who was talking before fold away his papers, shake his head, and nodding to a few of his colleagues, depart through the veil into the approaching day.

*

It was almost morning, and they had not yet slept. They did not even feel that they wanted to sleep. Sandy drove carefully, but could barely restraint the raging energies which made her want to floor the gas pedal, to dash across town in a blitz of rubber, steel and plastic. Constance, besides her, was also ecstatic. As they drove, they chatted, talked about everything and nothing and anything in between.

It was good, she decided, that neither of them would play a direct role in any attack. Sandy was too exposed since the debacle of the Wall operation, and Constance was obviously not well suited for being a field agent, lugging around the bombs that any operation would probably involve. But why complain, when this would give them all the more opportunity to gossip like schoolgirls, and watch together as the world moved towards a new and brighter future?

She pulled up outside the house, went by foot to the garage door, opened it quietly, drove the car in, and shut the gate behind them, so that for all casual observers, there was no one at the house, just as expected. Opening the connecting door, she showed the old lady into the living room.

She had made some attempts at decoration, to add a little of the quality of home to its bare walls. A few photos here and there. A kettle, plugged into the socket behind where the sofa used to be. A pile of books, and some multicoloured magazines stood beside her sleeping bag.

"Ta da," she said.

"You aren't serious," Constance said.

"Well, its a good enough place to live. Maybe you want to try some of the other rooms?"

"You've gotta be joking. Squatting in an empty shell of a house? And besides, there's the smell."

"Smell, what smell?"

Constance shrugged, and walked back through towards the garage.

"Key, please."

"Why?"

"I'm going back to headquarters, or whatever we are supposed to call it. I'll see if I can find some better accommodation. You're free to come – if you realise how terrible this dump is. Just pack quickly."

Sandy gawked at her.

"Well, I can drive, you know."

Sandy looked around. She saw how the wallpaper, the wallpaper she had put on with him on the fourth year of their marriage, was torn. But for all the damage, for all the tracts of brownish plaster, there was still a small patch of stained, dirty colour remaining. A small lemon, she saw, in a diamond shaped island of cream. Suddenly she felt insulted by each word she heard about the room.

"No," she said, and passed over the car keys.

She was certain that Constance would succeed at whatever she would attempt back at base. But as the door clicked shut, she looked around at the darkness of the room, and felt a pang of sadness and fear, instead of the emptiness that she felt before.

She went to bed, and slept till noon.


November 17, 2004

Guardian: Compensation Culture Does Not Exist

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1352227,00.html

Pretty interesting, and I think useful article from the Guardian, a few days ago, in its comments and opinions section.

I recommend anyone go take a look.

For those that can't be bothered, key points:

1. Evidence for the lack of a real, harmful compensation culture:

Despite the legalisation in 2000 of "no win, no fee" lawsuits, the total cost of compensation cases in Britain has remained, in real terms, static since 1989. The two biggest claims-marketing companies – the great beneficiaries of compensation culture – have both gone bust. Last year the number of accident claims fell by 9.5%. The government's Better Regulation Task Force, which at other times has taken the part of big business, bluntly reports that "the compensation culture is a myth".

2. Monbiot claims that the idea behind such things crippling innocent companies is invalid. Spurious claims almost never succeed, and so the legal companies willing to take up no-win-no-fee claims always end up shouldering any legal fees themselves. And so THEY go bust, not the companies. "It is no easier to win a case under the "no win, no fee" system than it was to win a case brought with the help of legal aid."

3. Notice the people behind the myth of the compensation culture. They are the ones with the most to gain, because they use the idea of the culture as an excuse to avoid litigation from their own victims. (Examples given are asbestos merchants in the US.) These companies deploy a different idea of a risk taking society:

"Sunderland is calling for precisely the "reduction in personal responsibility" he affects to despise. The entrepreneur shall not be held responsible for any of the risks he dumps on other people…. In opposing our mythical compensation culture, Sunderland and Letwin are creating something much uglier: a risk culture. They are glorifying the risks that the powerful impose on the weak. "

4. "Of course there is another way, and that is to stop big business exposing people to risk in the first place. But the state enforcement of health and safety laws is in the interests of neither businessmen nor lawyers; the money won't vote for it. Without regulation, compensation is often the only protection we have. "


4.66

Now what?

Now was the time for standing, waiting in the rain. It seemed to rain forever, a rain that washed away the traces of where they were, soaked away footprints, blasted down fingerprints, made them mere ghosts in a universe which did not want to know. A good rain, then. A rain that made them, the government, everyone happy. But anyone could see the sunlight poking through the peripheral layers of cloud, like the glint of steel off a dagger, the spark of bright teeth.

Now what?

Now she had to find a place to stay. A little hole to hide in, where she can safely keep to herself, keep the world from daring, or wanting to intrude. A little hole with a gate she could cover. A place they'd never expect her to be. While they discussed with growing excitement the opportunities that Constance showed them, she had to find a place to be safe, to be warm, to be as far away from everything as she could. Ignorance was bliss. Distance made the heart grow fonder. And other such sweet little lies.

This was not the place to be safe.

Why had she driven here? She was parked outside a house well within sight of the wall, such that, as the sun moved, the region of shadow brushed occassionally by, like a chill in the spine, a dark premonition. It was the place just between heaven and hell, a place where she had him. But she did not have herself.

Now, she had herself, but did not have him.

The house was dim. No, they wouldn't let him live there anymore. If it was true what they said about him, then they would move him out to high, thick-walled castles, to positions of safety where roguish vengeance could not touch. A place gated by nightmares and watching eyes. If it was a lie, and she knew then and would always know in her heart that it was indeed a lie, then he could never come back. Rather, he must be running now, hiding for his life and liberty just as she did. For once, they'd have something in common. And if he was dead…

But the dimness was inviting. She had driven here too often before, drawn by the aching pain of familiarity, by the leash-string that wound round her heart. Often, intent on taking a random route, intent on tossing a dart at a map and going where-ever it fell, she found her way here instead. All roads lead to Rome, to capture, to home. And each and every time, she had seen the lights in the window, leaking from between curtains, or between stitches in the cloth itself. The warm light of life, of continued existence, that made her feel weak at the knees, made her breathe heavily, repelled her with its dazzling temptation. But the house was vacant now. And she felt vacant too.

Without thinking, she opened the door of the car, and climbed out, her new high heels clicking on the concrete slab paving. Without any feeling at all, she had walked across down the driveway, to the front door. She expected the security lights to appear, bright flashes which would scare her away. Then, she expected the alarm system to activate, loud sirens that would summon enemies, trap her where she stood. But none of that happened. The CCTV cameras seemed dead in their stillness, and carefully, madly, she knocked on the door.

No response. But there wouldn't be. They wouldn't rehouse people like this, not so quickly. It was not exactly top on their list of priorities right now. But it didn't matter. There was no need for people around to find her, to know she was there. If they were waiting, they would already be coming. Even by car, she would not make it out of the block.

But there was a chance, a small chance… No, the key was missing from under the doormat. Something did change, after all. She hesitated for a moment, the hairs rising on the backs of her limbs, the feeling of being watched. For a moment, she felt as though every moment she spent there was an agony, and felt a weight upon her head as though the sword of Damocles had become literal fact, and rested on her brow, just short of parting the skin. But there was nothing, no one, and before she could stop herself, the feeling had reversed, and she felt a sudden recklessness grip her.

What little did caution now mean, after all, if doom was certain?

Grabbing the handle, she rocked the door backwards and forward. It shifted a little, just as she expected it to. There, just as she had left it, the door was weak. With the Inhibitor, there was never any reason for excessive security, so people found it convenient to leave their doors half-rotted, pathetically latched, unlocked, or even wide open. Now, if this door would shift, then it would break, and so there was hope. She pulled the door back a little more, and then threw herself forwards. The wood creaked, protested, but held. But she was more determined than that. As abruptly as she could manage, she braced herself against the cracks in the floor paving, and pulled with all the might she could manage.

With an ear-splitting crack, the wood near the handle exploded in a shower of splintered fragments. Shielding her eyes, she fell back onto the ground as the handle came away in her hands. But sitting up, she smiled in triumph, for the door had been defeated. The door was now open.

Now what else was there to do but walk in and investigate?

Picking up herself off the floor and patting down the wood and paint chips which now adorned her dress, she peered into the darkness within. Flicking the switch, she saw only that the power was off, and after some frustrated clicking, she told herself to stop. If only she had brought a torch…

But then she realised she did not need a torch. She realised that she knew this place, that even the details she thought she had forgotten reappeared as unforgettable old friends. That even in the dark, so dark that she could see her own feet as only blobs of slight contrast, the presences were there, just beneath the shroud. When she walked too fast, she could feel the sofa, the television, the dining chairs brush by, just out of touch. In the rustling of curtains, she heard old voices, heartbreaking familiar. If she could just pinpoint when…

*

He was about to leave. He had put on his coat already, scoffed a few scones for a better-late-than-never breakfast. He looked back at her, face filled with an undefinable joy, turned the handle, ready to go out.

"Are you sure you are fine?" she said. She was dressed in a bathrobe, the smell of shampoo fighting with his aftershave. She was standing… here. And he stood… there.

"Of course I'm fine. Don't you think I know my health better than you? For your information, I'm better than fine. In fact, I've never felt better in my life." He grinned at her. Just like him to turn anyone else's concern for him into a drawn out argument. She had no time for this, she had thought. There was no point getting into a row over nothing.

And so, she shrugged reluctantly.

"I suppose you're right. Well, have fun at doing… whatever it is you are doing. Unless you're going to find another woman, in which case you can go to hell."

He smiled back, opened the door and left. Something in his motions, his demeanour whispered to her that she would never see him again. But it had happened before. He would return, she thought. Only different, but still worthy of her love.

She shut the door.

*

The door wouldn't shut properly, any more. She had no choice but to wedge it shut with the broken handle that would have opened it before. Otherwise, people would see an empty house change, and there would be questions, questions which would be difficult to answer.
How long had she dreamed of being in this house? For as long as she remembered, for as long as she could trust her memory. The desire survived the IH, she believed. That even when the device was telling her to move on, to find someone, somewhere
else, she struggled against its advice, its orders. And now, at last, the dreams gain a reality, a tangibility with which she can now reach out, and try to touch. Her eyes closed, she saw the room in the warm summery light of the past, bathed in the texture of the tables, the upholstered chairs, the photographs against the wall. The urge grew too strong, and gladly she gave in, reached towards the nearest memory-texture with an open palm.

There was nothing. Only blank, emotionless air. She leant forward, desperate, but still felt nothing. Even bent almost double, close to toppling due to her unbalanced posture, she failed to find what she could clearly see. As she straightened up again, her vision, her fantasy of a location collapsed, leaving only a hollow, unmoving debris. Worse, her eyes were adjusting to the light around her, and the form of the chamber became suddenly clear, faint geometries outlined in white-blue.

There was nothing. Nothing at all. Not even trash, no trace of him, or here. It was merely the shell of a life, a location distinguishible only by its map coordinates. Logic treacherously interceded. Of course it would be empty, she realised. They weren't that incompetent.

The place was safe enough, she decided. Its desolation was intentional, and would have remained unchanged for a while. Calmly, she unpacked the sleeping bag with which she intended to rest.

The thought could not escape her head. The knowledge that all their love, all their existence, had been wiped away by some bleach, a broom, a band of hired hands and a few, determined, ruthless years.

*

Her mobile rang in the middle of the night. Wiping bleary eyes, she slid out of her sleeping bag onto the cold, bare, pine floorboards, dug into her backpack. It took an eternity to find it, an eternity marked by wincing at the cheesiness of her musical ring tone, and the great volume with which it shook the room. Pressing the wrong key twice, she managed to answer the call.

"Hello?"

"This isn't a safe line."

"Right."

"There is going to be a conference of all the local branches."

"The usual time and place?"

"No. Right now. Normal place."

"You want me to come?"

The caller hung up.

She sighed, and began to put back on her clothes. The excitement, it seemed, never stops.


November 16, 2004

4.6

The next morning, she woke to the sound of birds outside, just audible through the muffling effect of the double glazing. Sitting up, she listened for a while, immobile, waiting as the sunlight scanned across the room from the thin slit in the curtains, plotted by the marching sun. When at last it moved over the blankets, brushed against her brow, she decided it was time to get up.

Brushing her teeth, and running the hot water for the bath, she looked out the window into the street below. She had woken later in the day than she had intended. The rush hour was now over, and the flow of traffic had waned to only the few, hurried, desperate commuters, who dashed across on beetle-like auto mobiles, their IHs forcing them to stay just within the legal speed limits. The sky above was blue, without any shred of cloud. Not even a trace of smoke, definitely no forms of inky blackness hovering overhead.

The bath was ready. Painstakingly, she stripped off her filthy clothes, and testing that the water was fine, lowered herself slowly in, barely managing to suppress a low moan of pleasure at such a simple luxury. The water became brown and muddy around her as she scrubbed herself, so that even when she had finished, had attempted all the exorcism of dirt she could bear, she felt still somewhat unclean. But still, it was a lesser state of uncleanliness than before, and she lay in the bath for a few more moments, submerged in the warm water, feeling it swilling around her when she moved. Only reluctantly did the world come back to her, and so gradually, she began the drawn out process of getting out, grabbing a towel, and vigorously drying herself.

Constance had left a set of clean clothes hanging on the banister of the landing outside her room. Mumbling gratefully, Sandy picked them up, smelled them for freshness, and eagerly began to put them on. They were good enough clothes, decent enough to wear. Out of fashion perhaps, but who would care?

Now what?

The house, when she descended the staircase, was found to be empty. Bored, she switched on the television, browsed a little through the multitude of channels. Seemingly all of them showed the same thing. The typical mix of soaps, talk shows, DIY programs, motivational films and so on that made up morning TV, just as she had expected. There were no wanted notices, or anything like that. Either they thought all the rogues have been caught already, or the one they captured simply weren't talking. It was as though nothing had happened on the night before, as though the plan, the rebels, the attack on the Wall, as though all that had never even existed.

And it did never exist.

Who decided reality, but they? Who was she to say that she remembered differently, out of all the millions, billions of people for whom what was said was a clear and obvious truth? She trembled suddenly, and the birds outside fell quiet. Suddenly self-conscious, she wondered if they would care about the fashion thing, after all. The clothes she now wore were uninteresting, true, inconspicuous, even. But wasn't a young woman like she expected to wear bright, shocking clothing? Was she again drawing attention to herself, simply by trying not to?

No, she wouldn't allow herself to get into that again. Insanity lurked in that direction. She had to live, to survive, to act naturally, casually. The rules ordained that she should do so.

The crunch of asphalt as a car rolled up on the driveway. Constance was back. Opening the door, Sandy rushed out to help, smiling and waving with all her might. There was little to help carry back – a few boxes of milk, some eggs. Barely worth going shopping for. But the old lady valued her aid, and Sandy was tactful enough not to comment.

They went inside, and helped stock the cupboards in her kitchen. A slow, laborious task, as always she was watching where her host's hands went, following the flow, the pattern as the various supplies organised themselves on the shelves. She had to be sure. Safety was paramount.

And then they sat, and stared at each other through the foliage of dried out flowers that lay, potted on her coffee table, each sipping a little lukewarm tea. Either waited for the other to speak. Constance out of courtesy, perhaps. Sandy out of fear. She clutched the handle of her mug hard, and wondered if Constance had seen anything on her shopping trip. Like a poster of her face.

"How was shopping?" she asked, biting her lip to punish herself even as she spoke the words.

"It was quite good, actually. Do you know they cut prices on milk again? It's the lowest they've ever been, it seems. I mean, as far as I can remember."

But Sandy remembered that last week… No, it didn't matter. She nodded, thoughtfully, hoping that Constance would continue, so that she would not continue to betray herself with her own words.

"Really, though, the shops were more or less empty. A bit unusual, really."

A switch clicked in her mind. Sandy gripped her armrests firmly, fingernails digging into the fabric, a pale, taut expression on her face, mouth slightly ajar, breathless. Her heart pounded.

"Unusual," she gasped. "How so?"

"Well, normally, there are more people hanging around the shopping malls, especially on a Saturday morning like this. People getting their groceries done, and so on. The weekend shoppers who take this one single opportunity to get food for the time… ahead."

Sandy shook her head furiously.

"No, I mean, what do you mean by unusual?"

The old lady stared back in stark incomprehension.

"Well, unusual as in not normal. As in, unexpected. Why? Does the word have a second definition? I mean, I was never very good with English at school. Never really top of the class, or anything. Completely failed to distinguish myself academically. Bit sad really…"

"Can you repeat that, again? That today at the mall was out of the ordinary? Not something big, something abrupt, but just a volume of people around in the place that was not normal?"

"I suppose you can put it like that."

She ran to the window. Saturday was officially a work day, but outside about half the doors on either side of the street, cars were still parked. Newspapers lay, uncollected on doormats. A black van moved through, paused now and then. A few men got out, pulled out a short list, and walked up to a door to knock. She drew the curtains and walked backwards away.

Constance was still talking. "I suppose it isn't that unusual. I mean, what do you expect people to do, after that thing with the Wall…"

Sandy snatched the remote control and turned the TV on. She flipped through a dozen channels, a blur of lit patches, incoherent flashes of conversation. A blitz, a procession, a collage of people, places, shapes, colours.

"What do you see?" she asked, frantically. "Can't you see? There is nothing about an incident regarding the Wall. Nothing at all. But you remember the Wall. Don't you know what that means?"

"Well, maybe they have bigger news. Or maybe its over now that everybody is caught…"

"Bigger news? What bigger news is there? But if you don't believe me, look at this. Don't you know what that means?"

She pulled out a news sheet from the fake-mahogany paper stand, tapped on it so that the smart inks gelled and the unit powered on, stared like at the blur of text which scroll rapidly across the surface.

"Do you see anything about the Wall? Anything at all?"

"I suppose not, but…"

"Look in the archives. Look in yesterday's edition. Is there anything about a Wall, then? Any reports from immediately afterwards?"

"No…" Her host was looking increasingly confused. Slowly, they both sat down, their feet lifting off the carpet.

"Doesn't that strike you as rather… strange?"

"I suppose it does. I mean, how could they lose that article? I distinctly remember reading one about it…"

And again, Sandy could do nothing but stare, and shout out in incredulous frustration.

"Don't you see what it means? That you remember when the television, the newspapers do not?"

She didn't. Only looked back in a mixture of confusion and consternation, like an animal, cornered. Sandy looked on, trying to empathise, trying to understand.

"I also… had a thought last night about the certificate you mentioned. And yes, it does seem odd. And I looked for the person on it, and there were no records, no sign of his existence at all. And so many other things seem strange to me…"

Could it be?

Sandy scanned her eyes around the room again, a last moment of indecision. No, this could not be a trick, like it was with… No, they could have been so fortunate, and just happen to have chosen the correct old lady off the street. No, it must be. It must be real.

She jumped up off the chair, grabbed the lady's hand hard, tightly, and pulling her, almost pulling the arm out of its socket, made for the front door. Constance protested, tried to wrench her arm free, fingers trying to hook beneath hers, to twist free of her grasp. But Sandy was having none of that. Swiftly, she grabbed what supplies she could, and ducked down by the wide wind pane next to the porch, so that she could look out, and not be seen.

She glanced back at the old lady. Constance had gone pale, and was reaching, in a laughable attempt at stealth, inside the pocket of her blouse. Out came a small, black, plastic object. Instinctively, Sandy knocked it out of her hands, kicked it until the plastic shattered and the green-silver innards of the personal alarm spilled across the ugly brown-red carpet.

"Don't do that," she said. "Or I'll kill you. I would think twice about it, and no-one, nothing will stop me? Understand?"

Constance nodded fearfully, and was dragged along like a rag doll as Sandy took her out of the house, and then next to the waiting car. A fumble for keys, and they were inside, the doors firmly shut, the engine started, and loud country music blaring though the stereos. Checking again her surroundings, she saw that the area was empty, that the black vans which parked up on either side were uninhabited, their engines switched off.

"Where are you taking me?" Constance pleaded. "I have no money… If you want the car…"

"Shut up," Sandy snapped.

Switching up a gear, she misjudged the manual transmission and the engine stalled with a stuttering sigh, fading into an empty silence. Cursing, she restarted the engine, hands in frantic motion, but because she didn't reset the gear, the car jerked forward, shaking them from their seats, and then stalled again.

"Damn, damn damn…"

"Please let me go…"

Sandy forced herself to calm down. Plenty of time, plenty of time. Slowly does it. Down with the clutch, down with the gear shift. Turn the key, the engine starts… Good.

She mumbled to her passenger. "Don't worry. I am doing this for your own good. You'll thank me later."

She half expected a response, an outburst of outraged protest. But she did not really care, only steadily rehearsed the actions she need to do in her mind. Right now, she needed to presse down on the clutch again, shift up on to first gear, gently up with the clutch… a little gas, and then ease up on the clutch a little more…

The car began at last to move. She steered it, pausing to wipe the sweat that leaked from her palm, moving it into regulation normal driving position. There was still no reaction from the world around here. So she shifted up another gear, went a little harder on the gas, and was away. The world behind her did not change, even as she glanced back through the rear view mirror again and again and again, watching for some reaction from the receding scene.

They were out, they were safe. And she knew where to go. A safe house, on the outskirts. A place where people went when they had nowhere else to go. A dead-end where you can only sit and pray no one followed you. Perfect for the job.

*

They would be alone there, she had anticipated. But instead, the windows were lit, stencils for the rich light which poured outwards, and she could hear the sound of talking from within. Stalking close to listen, Constance having now been pacified into mute submission, she heard what they had to say.

"... I suppose there are still some positive aspects."

"Yeah. We now know who did it."

"Damn that bastard, damn him!"

Without wasting time to announce herself, she strode in. They turned to look at her as she entered, with a combination of surprise and alarm and joy.

"You're here. You've made it…"

"Call me Sandy," she said. There were so few of them, clustered around a fire, the flames lighting their faces but leaving all else in darkness. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"Because you are the only person to survive the attack on the Wall. The only good person."

"The only…"

They nodded grimly.

"What about…"

"All heroes, all lost."

They shook their heads, and she felt at once humbled by the hallowed, dignified subtlety of the ritual, and angered at their attitude. It was the way their heads were bowed, the longing, hungry way with which they looked into the fire, at the sticks which crackled, burst and disintegrated in the conflagration. She felt sickened at how they pronounced the word hero, the look of veneration that told her they wished to be among that number, to be dead and perhaps buried instead of alive and faced with choices.

In fury, she shoved Constance forward, unafraid that the old woman may fall and injure herself.

"Here!"

"Here what?"

"Here is our hope. Here is the flaw in their program, the chance we must exploit."

Their eyes opened widely as gradually, they understood.


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