All entries for Thursday 11 November 2004

November 11, 2004

Chapter 9

It was cold. Not the blunt passive cold Frank was used to, the sort of cold which may buffet him, but would leave him unmoved. This was a sharp, cutting cold, a cold which seeped into his very flesh, turning his blood in his ice. He almost dared not shiver, lest his bones crack and split. Even with the blankets they provided, the coldness wove its way through. Kyra, her warmth, had long gone. It gladdened him that she was close, that she would not be easily lost, but the pain was not so easily dissuaded. He curled up, huddling into a foetal position, cursed quietly to himself.

There were no walls in this place, and the windows had been left open. In his mind's eye, he show himself confronting them, calling them to close the window, to stop the warmth from fleeing. But these were not people he knew or could understand. They liked the cold. They loved the way it made their feeble candlelight flutter, throwing out webs of darkness. They delighted in how it took their breath away, how it made them have to shout to be heard. And they were joyous, almost to the point of jumping, of how the Arctic draft swept amongst they, how it picked up their hair, loose cloth, ribbons and straps, and flung it aloft. Then, for a brief moment, it seemed as though the inanimate had slipped their bounds and gained life.

He twisted further in his bed, trying to gather up the tangled, twisted bed linen that seemed always to be trying to flee him. He tried too to gather his thoughts, to fold them up in some sort of structure, to encase and protect and delay and constrain them. But he did not know how. Once, the IH would then be his oracle, but that was gone, and if once it had been alive with him, within him, it was now truly dead. Reason was dead.

And if the sleep of reason produces nightmares, what fate would result from sanity's death?

But he did not feel insane. Not even a bit. Even as he wanted to scream, wanted to plunge himself in despair, he felt an odd calmness descend upon him. Even as he shivered, the cold grew dull, until it was cold no more, only the feeling of expanse stretching out in all directions. If he had hallucinations, they were too mundane to be even detected. A fear filled him, and he tried to shut his eyes, tried to sleep it all away.

He woke. He slept. He woke again. A wave of sleepiness and wakefulness, a cycle of frantic repetition. When he dreamed, when it did not all simply pass in a flash of restless oblivion, he found only the snatches of fantasies, particles of memories trying to unite. Somewhere, in there, the corpse of the Inhibitor lay, and he felt the remnants of its compulsions like incomplete sentences. And then he woke in a start, wondered if his dream were truth, wondered if his dreams had always been truth, or perhaps his truth was merely dreams. In the terror and the confusion, he closed his eyes again, letting time and space fade into irrelevance, and went back to sleep.

But he could find no solace, in the company of such people. He found that he could not hide from their glances, the way that even as their heads turned, as they engaged each other in conversation, their gazes would remain locked upon him. Turn, and he would find another pair, another watcher. When they left the room, they would flicker back at the last instant, so that he felt sure that even through the walls, they kept up their vigil. When he closed down his own eyelids, forced his face into the pillow, he could feel the prickle of attention on the back. There was nothing, now, to shut off the feelings within him, and he moaned in his misery at what he had done, at what he would do, at the endless list of events that made up life.

But who were these people? Revelations dogged him with intermittent steps. There, a women he had bumped into once, lugging implausible baggage on a tiny tubular steel cart. And there, the man who owned a shop in the local market, the one in which people went to gawk and whisper, never to buy. And there, the girl he had seen once by the river, picking smooth pebbles from between rusted cans. He had waved to her over the wire and plastic fencing. She had waved back. For a while, it seemed as though the whole world had followed him into the room, each carrying a bag, each dropping it and leaving for more.

But then he realised how few they were. That as they entered and left, as the parade moved across his line of sight, the faces began to repeat, and repeat, and repeat. That though he could look them each deep in their eyes, there was no width, no broad grouping, no spread across the land. They were bulwarks not trenches, strongholds, not nations. How easily could the walls they had escaped from descend, chop and isolate. If they only knew…

But still, the pile of parcels grew. Grew in dribs and drabs, grew as a mountain from clods of dry earth. Curious, stupefied, he saw in the heart of the pile a small box, a tiny box. His box.

And still they worked. And still the pile grew. Day came, and he felt the burn of sunlight through the skylight. He looked up and saw the purity of the sky, a sapphire unclouded, filled with the fires of creation, and knew that he could dally no more. With effort, he pulled his eyes open, held them there, unblinking. Digging his hands into the matress either side of him, he managed to hoist himself up onto a sitting position, pulling backwards to that his back rested against the wall.

They stared at him. All of them, but for one. Aaron. He, dressed in the same military jacket he had always worn, knelt a ways back from the others, poking through the assembled supplied with a stick, a silent communion, a blessing whisper into invisible ears. Frank, twisted his body, brought his legs down across the bed, disentangled himself from the blanket which had suddenly became substantial instead of thin, a twisted tentacle wound around his torso. He was astonished, as he dropped down from the bed, that his legs could support his weight, amazed that he did not tremble, his vision did not wander. With unbelievable step after unbelievable step, he advanced, noted how the rogues – other rogues, now that he was one of them – drew back, made way. To them, he decided, he was a leper. Or a saint.

Yet Aaron did not move. Did not even appear to register his existence. Slowly, methodically, the man moved from one package to another, reading off the contents against a thick, printed list. Only when Frank was almost on top of him did he turn, abruptly.

"So, you're awake. About time too. We were damn near bored to death. I was half afraid that all I managed to recruit was an over-expensive, high maintenance, snoring machine. So, how do you feel?"

Frank barely caught the question.

"Well… what? Oh… Fine. I'm fine."

"Fine? Just fine? For the first time in your life, you are able to see things without having them politicised, exorcised, sanitised, pre-digested and then excreted onto your brain! For the first time, you can be sure that what you remember is not a lie. For the first time, the entirety of possibility is open to you! And you call things 'fine'!"

He found it hard not to laugh as Aaron did, found it impossible not to be captivated by his very presence. A sweep of the rogue's arm took in the dust which shone like gold, the stains which acted as murals against plaster walls. His smile blazed, and Frank found that for once, the enigma about it was gone, that looking at his companion now he could at last see snatches of understanding, touch on a little of the fearsome complexity that was his very being. There were strange things there, a na´ve look of heroism coupled with a ruthless mind.

"Who are you?" He asked.

"My name is still Aaron. I see no reason to hide it. I suppose, in a way, I lead this little group, though we are no real army, more people with common goals and shared… let us say… circumstances."

"So where do I come in?"

"I met Kyra shortly after you left here, and she told me about you. Now, I turn out to be the person here with the most knowledge about Defence and the way they behave, so I volunteered to hack myself in. And guess what, I found you! And you were very useful to us."

"Useful? How?"

He felt a mixture of pride and outrage.

"You helped us acquire the control chip from the secure area on the second floor. If I had tried, they would immediately have captured me. But you… they didn't know you, and were too confused to act. But most importantly, you helped us to kill a Defence special agent who had been dogging us for months, even when the two skilled agents I sent for the job failed. With Sean dead, we can afford to greatly expand our operations."

Sean… he remembered. He remembered the guilt, the blood. Anger rose, and he forced it down.

"What now?"

Aaron fixed him with a critical eye, sadness written in furrows on his brow. "Are you sure you are ready? Times are not safe, now. Only just now, Pritchard, your contact has disappeared. I don't know if he is telling them anything. He shouldn't be… yet. But…"

"I take full responsibility for him, and anything that happens to him. But it's that a reason for me to do something? If I lie around any longer, I'll only be more of a burden to you, and more of a failure for those for sacrificed to free me. I need to get out of here, to do what I need to do. Now, what is my mission?"

Aaron nodded slowly. "Know this. You are the first person we have managed to recruit for a decade. And though I am afraid to lose you so quickly, you are right. We cannot afford to wait. We can win this, soon, now. And we can't afford to waste this chance."

"What chance?"

But Aaron was too excited to speak. He paced, instead, and at last, pointed a finger out of the window.

"What do you see, there?"

A few trees, a small house, the dip of a low hill. The bustle of normal life, the oblivious cycle. Soon there would be patrols, out to find them. For now, there was peace, framed, bordered by the…

"Yes, the Wall!"

"But…"

"IHs do not just happen to break. Someone must have founded our order, someone without an Inhibitor!"

A low chant began to arise around him. Quiet, a jam of voices, meanings he could not quite recognise.

"And where could such a person have come from, when all we know is controlled and shackled?"

The chant grew clearer, and he could catch the barest fragments.

"And where shall freedom come from? Where shall we release it?"

He picked up one of the packets on the ground near his feet. A soft substance, in wrapped bricks. There must be a ton of it here, with his control chip in the middle…

He heard the chant, as Aaron joined it, fists punching the air.

"Down with the Wall!"

"Down with the Wall!"

"Down with the Wall!


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