All entries for Tuesday 09 November 2004

November 09, 2004

Chapter 7

There was little adventure on the other side of the fence. He expected that the world would change, but it did not. He expected freedom to lift him, but it seemed he had carried his slavery along in his head.

But when his eyes adjusted to the darkness, there was the trail, leading to the left. On hands and shins, he could trace the form of the footprints, and follow them, nose almost to the ground. He had still time, too, it was long until night, and in the thickets bent so low, there was no chance of anyone catching him, even just knowing that he was there. He imagined that he was getting muddy, but it did not occur to him to care.

So he crawled on a little further, and then a little more, until the green leaves were dispersed enough that he could see them standing up. He was relieved, too, that they were just footprints. There was no drag marks to suggest a corpse. But then again, Kyra could always be carried.

But there wasn't anything to do but soldier on, strutting with something like determination, something like stubbornness. He couldn't possibly stop, now. He had to march on, lifting his feet high into the air, swinging his arms as though he wanted to club something to death.

"So you found me."

Kyra was smiling, crouching in something like a cave. There was a man, too, strangely dressed, sitting deep within on a wicker chair, and tobacco scents came from inside. But the man beckoned him, and so, stupefied, he walked in.

*

Frank woke up in a stupor, glued by a layer of sweat to his seat. Things had been going too fast, he thought. He had been too driven by the purposes of others, relentlessly heading towards this goal or that goal. He had no real time to think, to wait, to sit around a little, and was only sent on one mission after another, by one telephone conversation or another. He had forgotten how to wait. He only knew how to panic.

The booklet was beneath his feet. He pulled it up, mud stained, tried to uncrease it with his hands. In vain. Now, here, he had little time to think on what it meant or represented. No time, again! Stuffing it into a trouser pocket, he tried to concentrate.

Perhaps, he ought also to prepare.

The plastic clock on the wall sounded its tinny chime. It need not be there at all – the IHs kept people punctual – but someone, sometime, thought that it lightened the mood. It did not. He tapped his feet a little, banged his fingers against his knee. Two hours had passed now, and Aaron would be ready. Everyone, everything waited for him. He was the small pebble which was to spawn the avalanche. How does one prepare for a thing like this? Eat? Meditate? Pray to the gods the IH-wielders had slain? He consulted the oracle of the IH, but it was silent. And would be even more silent, soon. There would be no applause, he thought. No recognition for what he would do.

He stood up. He walked. Damn, the wrong way, and turning, he started walking again. Staircase, forward, a turn to the left. Upwards, he made the climb, holding his hand firmly against the banister, spotting the stains on the walls, the worn flooring.

"Hey, how are you, sir?" A female soldier passed around the corner. He could not remember her name.

"Fine, fine."

"Well, you seem very preoccupied recently. Some of the other people thing you need to take a rest."

In her eyes was genuine concern. But genuine was not trustworthy, these days.

"I'll think about it." He shrugged her off, and continued on.

Soon, he had reached the second floor, and reluctantly let go of the railing that held up. While in theory he was authorised for this floor, he had never really been here. It never entered his daily schedules, and there was no encouragement to explore. Whenever he was previously intent on climbing beyond the first floor, something had always happened, something to take his mind off it. He took a few more precious moments standing on the top step of the staircase, and noticing nothing conveniently unusually, stepped off.

The décor, it seemed, changed as one climbed further up in the base. Not towards the extravagant, though, not like the kings of old who, he had learned, looked down from on high, seated on golden thrones. If anything, the Spartan utilitarianism of the lower levels became more pronounced. There were no pictures against the walls. The lights were fluorescent tube-lamps. Everything had a thin covering of whitish dust. It was, he realised, as though the higher and greater had transcended the delusion of those beneath, had purified themselves to their basic uses.

But there was perfume in the air. A thick, clotting scent, that hung lazily like smog. It gave him a headache just to be in that miasma, and to hear the squeaks, which came with every step he made.

Now where was that package? He paused, to the read the signs. Nothing particularly stood out. The labelling was cryptic, to say the least, a smattering of letters and number, Greek and Latin and Hebrew, a tangle of colour-coded lines.

Squeak.

He hadn't moved. He didn't move.

Squeak.

It did not sound like squeaking the last time. It was softer, more drawn out, a plaintive whimper, filtering through the corridors. Following it, he came to a door. There were more doors within, doors with windows. Doors which were locked, behind one of which was a woman, thin and bedraggled. She looked up as he entered, desperation and despair struggled across her face.

"Help me," she whispered.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm just a woman! Just a woman they picked up off the street. They thought I was acting strangely so they thought I am a rogue! Please help me!"

There was surprising energy in her words. He decided that she was hiding her strength, biding her time.

"Perhaps if you can help me. There is a package on this floor. Have you heard of anything? From the guards perhaps?"

But she was clearly confused.

"The guards, they hurt me. They say they want to find out what is wrong so they can help me, but they hurt me! Please get me out of here!"

He sighed.

"If you tell me something useful, maybe I will get you out."

A look of delight, followed by incredulity flooded across her face.

"Why should I help… Okay, then… Just a while ago, a few men came up, and they carried something into the corridor on the left, there, and then left rather briskly. Now, hurry! Before someone comes!"

But he had turned his back on her, and was already leaving the room.

"Thank you for you aid. I will speak to the administration about a change in your accommodations."

She was quiet, and there was no squeaking to be heard anymore. Finally able to think clearly, he quickly located the place she had mentioned. Pushing open finger-print sensitive doors, he located a large, box, painted yellow in a dark, windowless room. On the box was stencilled explosives symbols, marks for danger, deep warnings against unauthorised removal. Giving it all barely a thought, he hoisted the package onto his back, and leaning forward to balance the weight of it, hurried down the stairs.

Chris was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs, but by then he was walking too fast. He had barely the chance to turn and hear him, caught only briefly a vision of the man talking into a radio. And he was away, outside through the back door, jabbing the key into the boot of his car, opening the boot, dumping the bag in the boot, closing the boot and getting in the car, all in one motion. Before he sat down, he had already started dialling on his phone.

Outside the window, Chris had followed him out. Frank waved at him, and Chris waved back. All one big happy family. He didn't hear what Chris said, but his smile told him all he needed to know.

*

The traffic was heavy that day. He was not sure why. It was not his calling to determine what sort of collective insanity could suddenly strike, could summon up cars onto a road that had been so recently empty. A holiday, perhaps? A plague, maybe? Or their inhibitors could just have a sense of humour, could just have wanted to give him a victory parade. Cruising, he set his driving to automatic, detached his mind from the slow, grinding pace and the hot, irritated asphalt.

The phone rang. Number withheld. It could only be Aaron.

"Where are you?" Aaron asked, sounding breathless.

"Just set off twenty minutes ago. And around ten more till arrival."

A ten ton truck blared its horn as it sped past him. He wondered why his lane seemed the slowest, and wondered why he liked it that way.

"Well, good. I just called to give some words of encouragement, to keep you going in case you want to chicken out."

"I will not 'chicken out'," Frank said. "I will not disobey an order. I must defend the welfare of the government, of the Defence department, and of the ordinary citizens."

"Well, yeah. Just remember about being willing for the removal. Oh, and I have good news."

"What?"

"We've found her. We've found Kyra."

He slammed on the brakes, jittered within the car as the engine stalled. A moment of surprised silence, and then the world took note, as the cars behind him began to blow their horns. But there was no car which had suddenly stopped in front of him, no vehicle which had suddenly swerved into his path. He must have seen wrong, a defect of the eyes. He hung up the phone.

The destination was so close too; it was too stupidly close to have an accident. The building was already in sight, and the moment he finally parked, he was torn from his seat and thrown inside, the oak door shutting behind them.

In the orange dusk-light that had sneaked between the Venetian blinds, they were waiting for him.


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