All 21 entries tagged Nanowrimo

View all 23 entries tagged Nanowrimo on Warwick Blogs | View entries tagged Nanowrimo at Technorati | There are no images tagged Nanowrimo on this blog

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 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

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.


November 15, 2004

4

PART TWO

"You have nothing to lose but your chains"

-Karl Marx, Pre Philosopher

~

Left or right?

The path divided into two. Left, and right. Should she turn left, or turn right? She paused, looked at her watch, checked her shoelaces, anything to buy a little time. They were everywhere, testing, searching for those who escaped. Which way would they expect her to go?

Right was the shorter route. People would turn right here. The principle of least action. Humans, following mechanical laws would do the minimum, do the efficient thing, hurry along to their destination as fast as possible. She should turn left.

Left was the paved route. People would turn left here. To minimise cost, to minimise wear on their shoes. The road was paved with stone, so naturally this was the official route. And official meant mandatory in these days of command and inhibition. She should turn left.

What was that ancient saying? All roads lead to Rome? No, that isn't useful. She scratched her head in irritation at her problem, at the insane thoughts that passed for good ideas. And then she was angry, angry at her indecision.

All roads lead to Rome. Right. Then it doesn't matter what road she takes, for all destinations were the same. If they were watching her so closely, then she would already be dead. Dead from the moment the flash filled the sky. Dead from the moment when instead of cowering she had ran, ran back to the Wall, jumping up, hopping. Hopping joyful, skipping, like a damn kid. Until she saw the helicopter, and the uniformed men, and the corpses…

She ran forward, turning left because it was more clearly lit, so that her eyes would not adjust enough to check for what lay in the sky above her, so that she would not have to fear that final moment of horror when they come for her, come with their sticks and prods and hands and guns.

Oh the hilarity, the hilarity of it all. The game is over, and now they are totalling up the score, taking the bets that were placed, the gambles which they had lost. They had staked it all on one, and though the roulette ball had bounced close, slowed so painfully near, it had missed, and they had lost. They always lost, because the house made the game. The house always wins.

Nothing changes. Nothing ever changes.

And nothing has changed. Things were no different from the way they were. She could not betray what she believed. A defeat could not make her follow their codes, run their instructions like a stupid machine. She must not flaunt herself, yes, but to lie with her actions would be worth than being caught, it would be a betrayal of all those who had suffered and died. No, nothing would make her be who she is not. Only death can do that.

She shook her head. Heroism in the mind was all right and fine, but so much introspection, and she would forget to watch where she was…

"Can I help you?" the man said.

"No," she snapped, and broke into a run.

A mistake, a terrible mistake. Now he would puzzle over why and his IH may well flag it up, preparing one of those measures it loved so much. When her appearance seemed to be that of someone lost, someone in need of aid, she should accept help where it is given.

A lady, middle-to-old aged. Pushing an empty cart, wheels rocking over the uneven floor paving, the handlebar juddering so that her arms barely just held on. Her dark green scarf weaved through the slight rain. This one would be safe, surely…

The lady saw her stares, and did not wait for her to approach.

"Yes, dear?"

"I wonder if you can help me. I…"

I, what, she wondered. What would be a good reason, a normal reason…

"I lost the keys to my house. I wonder if…"

"Pardon?" the old lady asked.

She started to repeat her words, but stopped as soon as her mouth opened. What a stupid cover. Who would want to help her, over that? If someone else came to her with talk like that, she would tell them to go find a locksmith. Or perhaps to smash in a window and just jump through it. There had to be something else, something closer to the truth, so that only a razor like mind could divide reality from sweet fantasy. And then it came to her. Why was this old lady even here? Here, with the others who shuffled in the midnight darkness, faces blank.

"I'm sorry," she began haltingly, gesticulating where she could not come up with the words. "It's just the Wall, the explosion, the bomb or whatever it was…"

The smoke had not yet cleared. But the helicopters were already taking off, punching holes through low cloud, and the black haze from the still blazing small fires. Fires like so many funeral pyres. She fought to wrest her attention back to the task at hand.

"It's just that… I don't know… It's so overwhelming."

The sobs were coming easily.

"I… don't know what to do. I'm so scared, and I don't know what to do."

Her body shook, and she leaned forward, arms outstretched. The old lady embraced her, held her while she cried. Could people with IHs really do that? But she was too deep in it now, and there was no way she could order those tears, once shed, to return.

"What's your name?" the old lady asked.

"Sandy Olsen," she said.

"My name is Constance Hamilton. Now don't worry, dear. If they did manage to breach the Wall, we would not help but know about it. We would all be dead right now. Right? Here, take a handkerchief."

Sandy dabbed at her eyes with the small slip of cloth, wishing that her face did not seem so tight and swollen. Constance patted her back, trying to sooth her. She ventured a smile, though she did not feel like it.

"See, things are looking up already. Now let's get you cleaned up a bit, dear, and then… Well, do you want some money to take you to your place?"

"Well, there's a problem with that," Sandy replied, sniffing. "You see, I was just visiting the city, and I never met the person who was supposed to meet me here in the train station, so I was just wandering about, when there was a terrible bang and people were all just…"

She allowed the sobs to return.

"Shh, shh, dear. Don't you worry about that any more, I know what, we'll just go to my place, then. How about that?"

She nodded, strongly.

"Yes, and you can stay the night there in my spare room – after you take a nice bath first of course, since you smell terrible! And then, in the morning, we can go and call up on all the hotels and so on, so that we can find out where you were supposed to be, and explain why you weren't there and everything. And everything will be sorted out, and you will be happy and safe. Sounds good to you?"

She nodded.

"Then I have a car waiting near here. Come on then…"

*

They drove safely along the rain-slick roads, skirting the cars which had stopped, avoiding the people who wandered from one side to the next, faces filled with a combination of shock and awe and horror and affront. Constance switched the radio on to hear the newscast, but Sandy quickly flipped it off again.

"I don't want to hear about it," she said.

Her companion nodded in understanding. Not hearing about bad things was part of doctrine, part of the right way to think.

The house they arrived at was a small one, rented out, it seems, barely more than a flat. The porch door was unlocked, and pulling it, they marched in, Sandy helping the old lady with her cart. The atmosphere inside was heavy and claustrophobic, smelling of old tea and mothballs. Helped off with her coat, she sat in stony silence on the floral-print sofa, watching the fake-fire effect of the heating unit flutter. Outside the slightly open window, a half-hearted commotion. Tired, so tired, a dreadful sense of fatigue, somewhere around about the heart.

Constance appeared from the kitchen, carrying a tray.

"See, aren't things better once you are nice and warm and inside?"

She put down the tray on the coffee table, moved over to the window. Fumbling with the lace veil, she managed to close the window, draw the curtain, and sit back in a broad chair, satisfied as the room dropped into silence.

The room must be old, perhaps almost as old as Constance. Sandy took in the old certificates on the Wall above, the old photos of the lady, alone. Younger, here, there. Small photos, narrow photos, photos just not fitting their frames. Photos with backs, torsos, legs, bodies cropped and unidentifiable. An empty mantelpiece, covered with dust. She could see the footprints of absent greeting cards.

"Those your son's?" she asked, pointing at a framed letter which declared someone to be the Junior Footballer of the Year.

Constance frowned. "No. I just happen to collect them. They have excellent caligraphy on them on them, don't you think?"

Sandy nodded slowly, mournfully.

"No, I never had a son. Never been married. Though I would have wanted to. Get married and start a family, I mean."

Sandy gazed sadly at her. What that means, Constance, was that you really were married. That you had a son, a beautiful son. And that they decided your son wasn't right for you any more. Maybe he was stupid, and did something bad despite his IH. Maybe he was too good, and they needed him somewhere higher up. Maybe he just died, died in a horrible, tragic accident. So they made him disappear. And they started digging, digging in his mind. Maybe you husband was already dead. Or maybe one night they came, opened your door with their keys which can open any door, and told him to go away. And the next morning, you woke up, and it was a dream, your life just a dream, a dream which was over and forgetting even as you made your tea, thought about the empty bleeding hole in your heart, and tried to shut the door that you forgot you left open.

Damn them, Sandy thought. Damn them to hell for things like this. Death was too good for them.

"Would you like something to eat? You can just help yourself, you know."

Sandy quivered a little at the thoughts she came up with, and tried to snap to her senses.

"Well, thank you. But I really can't…"

"Oh but I insist!"

Sandy picked up a mug of tea, and sipped at it in case it was hot. It was not. Time had passed enough to make it merely lukewarm, and the drink itself felt weak, limp. She drank it down slowly, trying to savour its slight bitterness, composed grateful smiles to cheer her host.

Encouraged, Constance continued to attempt to make conversation.

"So where do you come from? You said you just arrived here."

"Aberdeen, in England, by ferry." A place remote enough, surely, not to be familiar to the lady.

"Ooh… How exciting!" she crooned. "Did you get to see the Sea Wall? They say it is truly magnificent, and they let you take boats right up to it, to the big valves which let water through, generate power, and keep the outside out."

Sandy shook her head.

"Can I go straight to bed now, please? I'm really tired…" she pleaded.

"Fine, go ahead. It's upstairs, the second door on your right. And the bathroom is the door on the end of the corridor. Shall I come with you to show you where to go?"

An eager look.

"No, thank you. I can manage myself."

She climbed the stairs with soft, unsteady steps. Halfway up, she heard the television switched on in the living room. A news report was just ending.

"Collins himself was unavailable for comment. However, his close friends have revealed exclusively that he has taken a rest break. Technical experts have expressed an opinion that after a downtime of 48 hours, it may be now impossible for full IH operation to be restored."

It couldn't really be him, could it? She couldn't believe it, wouldn't believe it. But that didn't stop her from running the rest of the way up the stairs, from throwing herself on the bed of the spare room. From groaning the groan of despair and anger that she had contained for these last, long hours.

Staring the window, she wondered what would happen if she was to jump from it. To tie the curtains around her neck, and lean until the knot became tight. But she felt too drained, too hopeless to think about it, and before she could wonder further, she fell asleep.


Interlude

CS 4522 211 Gfk Jc 11
1–3 Ihcode 32c

&rasterise %complete

/we are ready/

/good/

/begin transcript/

>Timecode 213545.6 .7 .8 .9 Loc C5H

A room, dark, the walls almost unseen. A door, a chair, all seen from the camera's glass eye. The handle moves, rattles. The figure

>Subject: Martin [Unknown] {ID from Collins Data}

in the chair looks up. He strains a little at his bindings,

>INC secure strength +15%

and finding it fruitless, slouches in his seat, waiting. A police inspector enters, clipboard in hand. Watching his assailant carefully, circling around him, thinking, thinking.

"When are you going to ask me a question?" Martin asks.

>remind subject of protocol #21c

"Please remain silent until you have heard what you are charged with. You will be free to respond in your own defence, then."

Martin glowers at him, but returns to a restless silence. Sighing, the inspector glances at his pad, and starts to read from it.

"Martin, you have been accused of conspiring to cause damage to property, conspiring to cause grievous bodily harm, attempted murder, murder second degree, murder first degree, theft, fraud, unauthorised access to government facilities, assault, assault of an officer of the law… and so on. Offences which may put you in jail – supposing you neglect the termination option – for a total of…"

He arches an eyebrow, and keeps reading.

"Five thousand four hundred and sixty-seven years. How do you plead?"

Martin spits the words at him.

"Not bloody guilty, bastard!"

>REP: "Not bloody guilty, bastard!" -> "I plead guilty."

The inspector returns a a strange look.

"Is that a confession? I remind you of the severity of…"

"What do you mean a confession? I said not guilty!" Martin goes pale, and his hands take hold of the chair's armrests.

>REP: "What do you mean a confession? I said not guilty!" -> "Yes, I confess, and am willing to sign a document to that effect, including the clause that I did so of my own volition, not under any duress."

The inspector shrugs. "Fine by me. I always figured you were weird people. Makes my job a lot easier, then. You really want to confess to EVERYTHING?"

"No!" Tears appear in Martin's eyes.

>REP: "No!" -> "Yes."

"There, there. I'm afraid remorse isn't worth much in this sort of case. We don't really get actual criminals through here very often, you know. In fact, not for hundreds of years. I suppose they really are a different class of people. You know, a few weeks ago, people would have laughed at my job. I'd have laughed too, since I was working in…"

Martin stares at him wordlessly, fingers fidgeting.

>end topic

The inspector blinks, tears a handful of sheets from his clipboard and continues. "In any case, it doesn't matter. So, let's deal with the other stuff. Which is it to be? Termination or jail?"

Martin seals his mouth shut.

>INS: And decides to open it again. "Termination," he says, and closes his mouth again.

"Understandable," the inspector says. "The guilt must be killing you."

>leave

He pats down his suit, and straightens up. Checking quickly through his clipboard, he walks over to the door.

"Well, I suppose that's it. Well, you've been surprisingly cooperative throughout. I don't know if it came across, but that was my first interrogation, and I didn't really know the proper procedure or anything…

>you did fine

… but I suppose I did well enough. Thanks to you. Well, then. Sit tight."

The door opens, and he walks through. As the door begins to swing shut, Martin raises his head one last time, screaming to the departing figure.

"You have not finished us! You hear me? We are still out there, and we will win. You will see, and you will be sorry then, because we cannot be contained by your walls…"

The door clicks shut.

> Timecode 213645.2 .3 .4 .5

/how interesting/

/how uninteresting, utterly predictable/ devoid of any informational content/ still procedure was followed, results were adequate/

/assent/

/what now/

/now we wait/ now it is their move/ we will watch, respond appropriately/

/patience is advantageous/

/what of subject [Martin]/

/is he useful/

/negative/ what is the correct way to deal with him/

/what is the correct way to deal with who/

%derasterise %complete

-01 223

FghB Cs-1-END OF PART ONE


Chapter 12

Heroic Effort Thwarts Rogues

Main news today, a group of soldiers under the Defence Directive successfully apprehended a group of the radical terrorist organisation known as the Rogues. The group had been known to be perpetrators of a variety of crimes against innocent civilians in the past, and when they were caught, they were planning their biggest attack yet. Apparently, they were attempting to destroy the Protective Wall at its point outside this city. Also captured were documents and videos showing their intentions – to unleash the outside, and bring about a holocaust which would, in their words, bring about 'mass carnage and death.' Scientific experts suggest this may have include the loss of all life that lies within the Wall's protection.

This victory against global terror would not have been achieved without the heroism of Frank Collins, a captain of the Wall patrol force. After an incident a few years ago, Captain Collins was recruited into work as an undercover operative of the Defence Directive, and he helped make plans and eventually volunteered himself to set up an elaborate sting operation. At great personal risk, he managed to infiltrate one of the leading rogue cells, and into involve himself in one of their nefarious operations, even to have his IH deactivated. But unbeknownst to the terrorists, the information he fed them led them to a pre-arranged location at a pre-arranged time. As a result, the counter-operation worked perfectly, and the soldiers succeed in their mission without a single loss.

The captured terrorists will now be brought in for questioning, which will be followed up with psychiatric evaluation into how they function without his, before appropriate measures are taken. The world, meanwhile, may at last rest safely for a while, its freedoms protected.

Collins himself was unavailable for comment. However, his close friends have revealed exclusively that he has taken a rest break. Technical experts have expressed an opinion that after a downtime of 48 hours, it may be now impossible for full IH operation to be restored.

More on this issue soon.

*

The newspaper shifted, the letters moving even as he read it, the smart material updating, renewing. Words disappeared were replaced. The look of concern that had clouded the others' faces vanished, subsumed by their general admiration. He glanced down again. The last lines now read.

"Collins himself was unavailable for comment. However, his close friends have revealed exclusively that he has taken a rest break, after an operation to restore his IH was 100% successful. It is expected that he would retire, and move on to a less dangerous job."

He smiled. They never said that to mean it. He could remember now. It mean he was to be promoted, raised up out of sight of the general masses. More good news too – no word on Kyra, though he did not expect them to mention that. Enemies do not have names. He composed his face into the requisite blissful ignorance, bid his retinue wait, and set off for the Wall.

The clean-up job they did was remarkable. Soon, the newspaper would become blank. News items were, after all, transient things, things of convenience which can always mysteriously vanish. In the long history he could remember, the past was dominated by one thing and one thing only.

Nothing ever happened.

But they can't make it nothing. And they can't make this nothing.

Closely, if he looked closely, he could see the crack, the thin crack, about a millimetre in width, a crack which reached up into the heavens and dug down into the ground, a crack that he read as though it were words. A crack that he felt with his fingers. A crack that spoke to them.

It told him, in a voice no one else could hear.

It told him it was real.


Chapter 11

At length, they pulled the packages one by one out of the back of the van, loaded them one by one into appropriate transport, shifting them slowly towards the foot of the Wall, and then rushed back as though they could not take the queer, deathly shade for anything more than an infinitesimal moment.

"Stop looking at that watch," Aaron said. "We have plenty of time. Our window of opportunity is four hours, right?"

"Yeah."

"Then get back to work, like everyone else. You volunteered for this, remember."

An hour gone. He tried vaguely to focus, to concentrate, to put off his feelings of being overwhelmed with a the pointlessness of it all. What difference would it make in a few hours' time, who would care how much explosives they have planted at the Wall's base? The Wall was more than just a wall, more than bricks and iron and concrete and ceramics. It could not be broken. The lot of collected blocks and fuses he dragged against the ground might was well have been children's modelling clay.

But unlike the others, he did not feel fear and horror near the Wall. He had spent so long in its presence that it felt like an old friend. The details seemed no less clear in his mind, and here in its shadow, he knew to anticipate every new feature, foresee every plausible event. But it was an old friend the rogues wanted to kill. How did that change things?

But things were already different. He did not expect the way things looked without the Inhibitor. Without it, he felt things. A surreptitious emotion seeped in the land. Something like sadness, of a nostalgic yearning for old memories. What were once only blackened and rotted lumps of wood resolved themselves into fallen trees, tumbled gateposts, headstones. In loving memory of… an inscription read. The essential and irrelevant name trailed off into a rusted illegibility, and the bench to which it was affixed crumbled into dust.

He was standing in a cemetery. What became of those dead left outside the Wall? He looked out for watching eyes, restless ghosts, but saw nothing, but the obstinate, steadfast Wall.

The Wall, oh the Wall. He seemed ever drawn to the Wall, and if it should fall…

And they were finished. So fast, incredibly fast. Almost as though their target had been overseeing its own destruction, they had worked like men possessed. A deep pile now lay, heaped where they wanted it. At the bottom, layered neatly, higher up, haphazardly and then finally tossed on randomly when their patience had ran out.

Studiously and with fierce concentration, they had laid down the fuses required for the job, checked them, doubled checked them, trebled checked for luck and terror should it fail, or worse only work partially, causing only minor damage and leaving them with insufficient power to complete the job. Next, they dug out a little ditch to shield themselves from any debris, planted the detonator firmly in the middle in case it would slip or anyhow lead to some sort of inconceivably unlikely disaster. When that was done, they all stood for a moment, stared at each other in a sort of disbelief, before remembering to twist together the wires properly between the detonator and explosives, to run the detonator electronics self-test, to check the explosives for water damage, to check fuse integrity one last time, to make sure the fuse-explosives connects were all properly secured, to set up the video cameras with their individual live links, to record their statements of responsibility and reason for any future viewing public, to check the fuses one last time…

"I think that's enough, now." Aaron said.

"We still have an hour and a half to go," Frank said.

"Yes, but we don't want to push too close to the deadline, do we? It's too risky. So, you've checked everything, right?"

"Right…"

"So let's blow this thing already."

They clapped their hands over their ears. And tried to simultaneously shut their eyes against the flash of the blast, and to open them to catch the Wall's fall. Aaron shook his head with a smile. Giddy as children, it seems. He moved over to the detonator, tightening the last wires which had been left loose for the sake of safety. With a sigh, he flipped up the protective cover on the main switch, prepared to fire.

Frank checked his watch.

"Hey, maybe we need some decorum for this. Like a countdown."

Aaron looked at him for a moment, a confused expression is his eyes.

"All right, then. Ten."

"Nine."

"Eight."

"Seven."

"Six."

"Five."

"You aren't meant to say five," Frank interjected. "It sounds like 'Fire'."

But Aaron, now visibly quaking with impatience, had already went on.

"Four."

"Three."

"Two."

He moved his finger over the button, trembling over it. The assembled rogues squeezed their heads between their hands with greater desperation. They took a collective breath in, and looked to the Wall. Frank did not join them, but stared instead at the finger, the finger that wished to be the cause of it all.

"One."

He heard what the others did not hear, a quiet shriek go through the universe, through every fibre of his being and the world's being, a scream, a signal of alarm and warning that shook him, that silenced the noise of the evening birds, that hushed the rushing traffic in the distance, that moved outwards, ever outwards, past the dense darkness that hung as the skies, to the watching stars. He wanted to say something, but there was no time to do so. Madness, madness.

"Zero."

Click.

Click. Click.

Clickclickclickclickclick.

Nothing. Not even a puff. Aaron's eyes darted around, and Frank felt his sinking heart fall. The others warily got up, hesitantly removed their hands, looked to each other, mumbled. Someone began to laugh.

"Freaking hell."

"I hear they made some advancements, but I've never expected them to make silenced explosives."

Aaron was not laughing. He did not even smile.

"I thought you checked the fuses."

"I did, just minutes ago."

"Then go check again. And we will redo the detonation." He said, in a half-hidden fury. "And this time, I'll come with you."

Wordlessly, they picked up their torches and tools, clambering slow out. Scanning his companion, Frank saw a bulge against the man's belt, saw his hand brush against it again and again, until at last he covered it with his jacket, and stared back accusingly.

"What are you looking at?"

Frank turned away, and pretending not to have heard. With slow, plodding steps, they moved through the wasteland. A cool night, without rain, but without stars, either. But for the small patch of torch-lit land in a cone before them, they could see only blackness, as though the bomb had killed the world not the Wall, and they were wandering in oblivion. But there was the wire, the thin snaking wire which they followed, swept over with testers. There where the shapes, indistinct, stories forgotten, which loomed up in ambush, diminished with resignation. There was the uncertain ground beneath their feet, with jagged rock and sudden sink-holes. There were the beeps of the tester. And there was each other.

"What the…"

And there was the wire's abrupt end.

"What do you make of this, Frank?"

He looked over the wire quickly, picked it up in his hands, bent down with torch in hand to examine the break. Pointing downwards, the cone of light from the torch became brighter but at the same time smaller, so the world of darkness grew and was ever more oppressive. He shivered at a sudden coldness in the world.

The wire ended with no warning, no sign of an impending termination. The plastic sheathing squeezed together, the copper inside sharpening to a jagged edge, a broken end. The same on the other wire. Scanning around, he saw footprints arrive and leave. His spot of torchlight chased them, but they disappeared into harder ground.

"The wires have been cut," he said.

There was the crunch of crumbly rock as feet moved to his back. Taking a quick glance to his rear, he looked to see Aaron move his hand to his belt pouch, pulling his jacket aside. Another crunching step, a spray of tiny pebbles, and he had moved to his direct rear. He heard a click.

"This isn't what it looks like," he said.

But he was already closing his eyes, the ellipse of brightness before him cropped away into the eternal gloom. He wondered if he believed in a god, whether there was something beyond, but know that god were all long dead.

"What do you mean?" Aaron said.

There was the ping of a shot next to him, the crash of thrown rocks returning to the ground. Almost an afterthought, the bang of the pistol which fired the supersonic bullet. He fell to the ground, instinctively looking for wounds, any wounds, any wetness or blood. The ground was full of moisture. The earth itself had been wounded.

But Aaron was upright, unafraid. His words were calm, as though he had trying to defuse an argument, not as though a hollow point had just hit the ground next to him.

"Hold your fire, soldier."

A man walked forward, cradling a weapon in his hands. The man was young, terrifyingly young, thin and short, his face hidden in the darkness, his form defined by the glint of light off gunmetal. He brought the gun up to his eyes. Squinted to remove his fear.

"Put your hands behind your heads!"

"Don't you know who I am?" Aaron shrugged.

"Do it!"

"Or what? You'll shoot me? Give me your name, soldier."

Frank cringed from the look in the young man's eyes.

"Private Durden."

"Well, Durden, you have no idea what damage it would do to your career if you are to shoot a colonel. I can tell you, it doesn't do much good. So run along now, and stop troubling us."

Frank could feel it now. Durden would be hearing the voices in his head now, the voices telling him these were enemies, enemies he had to kill. And against them, there would be the pleas of other voices, other screams, telling him that as high ranking officers, he had to obey them, had to protect them… The noise would be growing into a cacophony, a crash of silence noise.

The soldier stood still. Frank held his breath. The universe waited. Possibilities hung in the balance. Would the Wall fall, or would he fire? Something was need to tilt the scales.

It came as a relief, a spewing expulsion of breath.

"He's got a gun!" Frank shouted. Frank screamed at him. Frank got up, charged at Aaron, trying to wrestle the man's arm away, to point it to the sky, to the ground, to anywhere else. Aaron looked directly into his eyes, and let go.

The pair of pliers lay, slightly warm, in his hands.

Durden fired. He heard the wet, sickening, exultant thud as it struck.

But Aaron was away. He was running, limping but still running. Leveling the gun, slowly tracking, the young soldier fired again. And again. And again. Little bangs, barely audible thuds, flashes of flame. Screams, cries…

Methodically, Durden lowered his gun, and started to run after his prey. Frank stopped him.

"He is going to set off the bomb himself. We need to get out of here, fast!"

They ran, ran as fast as their feet could take them.

Ran towards the bright lights away from the Wall, the lights which hung in the air, which buzzed with unloading men.

Ran along the ruins of what once was alive.

Ran away from the Wall, which was dark.

Which was bright.

Frank jumped into a slide across the ground, grabbed Durden and dragged him down with him. He pulled his hands over the back of his hand, trying to blot out the pain of the noise which seemed to go on and on. Rubbed his face into the rock, trying to find sanctuary in the dead ground. But to no avail.

He turned around, and saw a message written in fire. The long arc of the Wall made red, glowing, filled with yellow light. The world was ending, had ended.

The blast of warmth ended. But the image of the Wall was burned onto his retina, and when he closed his eyes, allowed himself a few tears, he still could not help but see it, see it burn and burn and burn.

*

"The Wall is unharmed," they said.

Durden was among them. They smiled, as much as the Inhibitors allowed them to smile, filled with the happiness of victory. Around them, the rogues were being taken away, their materials seized, and cars were taking off, departing to pick up the others. Camera sprouted on spindly tripods, flashed and panned. People approached them, trying to catch him smiling, to catch his exhilaration at what was surely a victory for the books.

Much rogue manpower deployed. Many rogues sacrificed. Much information falling into their hands. All for nothing, nothing at all. The rogues have been proven to be an ineffectual force. Soon, they would be all defeated, all dead or captured. Safely neutralised. Safe enough to be deleted, to be forgotten as one more of those old, obsolete bogeymen. Just as everyone expected.

He didn't play their game. Somehow, it felt more like a defeat.

But it didn't stop them trying. When the majority of them were gone, Durden came to join him.

"Looks like you're a hero, then. Probably visible now live in a dozen or so states."

And would Kyra be watching?

Seeing the lack of a response, Durden saw fit to continue.

"In any case, thanks for saving my life from that monster. That is, thanks on top of everything else."

He give him the pliers, looked on solemnly as Durden handled it.

"Wow. Thank you so much… I really don't want to be shot by this."

Frank suppressed a giggle, and then stopped. Soldiers do not do sarcasm. Durden was handling it very carefully indeed, angling it carefully so as not to orient it in certain directions, carefully stroking its length.

"Give back the gun," Frank said.

Durden handed back the pliers, and he shoved it into a pocket.

Durden thought the pliers was a gun.

Durden also told him the Wall was unharmed.


April 2018

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Mar |  Today  |
                  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30                  

Search this blog

Galleries

Most recent comments

  • Ok this is odd, I got here via Stumble Upon… It's the first time I've come across a Warwick Blogs … by on this entry
  • I've been wondering the same question…what's the secret? I know there's an easier way. I'm just go… by Wanda on this entry
  • chinese? by confucian on this entry
  • Please… please we're not called global warming "deniers" we prefer to be called global warming "in… by Peter Jungmann on this entry
  • Now, to continue, if you need evidence that the 1998 anomaly was not due to solar activity, pick a d… by Zhou on this entry

Blog archive

Loading…
RSS2.0 Atom
Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder
© MMXVIII