All entries for November 2004

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.


November 12, 2004

Chapter 10

It was obvious that the van was not designed to carry a ton of explosives, and eight rebels. If any evidence was required, it could be seen in the disturbing tilt it took on when taking a corner, and the cramped conditions on board which left sardine cans to shame. Wedged as they were, it was impossible to move the slightest bit, even to wriggle a toe, and air came in a tiny whistle, though a nail-sized hole in the the vehicle's bodywork.

But it was not as though they expected any real luxury. Perhaps, it was even intended that the ride be as uncomfortable as it was, to dissuade any potential searchers from suspecting what lay within. Halting a little, its engines struggling, they made their way haphazardly to the rendezvous point, just next to the Wall, trying not to get killed in the process.

Kyra, squeezed between two drums, was next to him, separated from him only by some piping, some sheets of cloth, some other detritus. Risking a scraped limb, he had reached towards here, and she had reached back, so that their hands touched somewhere in the middle. When the van rocked, the forces involved would near rip their arms from their sockets. But at least they were together.

“You think it will work?” he asked. The question was addressed to Kyra, but in the cramped interior, noises travelled far, and each of the other passengers heard him too, realised that this was the question they had on their minds, that they dared not ask.

“Yes,” she said. “Of course it will work. We've tried to hard, made so many plans. It can't possibly fail now. What we have done can't possibly be worth nothing. You've help us set the schedule yourself. You know how much effort came into this.”

“But do you think people really want to be freed?”

A long silence followed. He was sure she didn't hear the question, was about to repeat it when she answered.

“Yes. Don't you prefer to be free than enslaved, now that the IH is off? Everyone here has taken the choice, and no one ever chooses anything else. That's because freedom is something that is valuable beyond all else, even life itself. Everyone wants to be freed, once they are given the choice.”

Well recited, he thought suddenly. But she had not finished.

“It is a matter of hope, if there is any hope for the world, then people will see the truth the moment they can. And then they will embrace reality, embrace the values and rights we gift them, because they are what is right, and what is right is obvious to everyone. Today is going to be a historic day. It would be the making of a new world.”

“But what if it is dangerous? What if whatever is behind the Wall really belongs there?”

“You trust the government about that? The fact they say it is so is evidence of the opposite. We must get over that Wall, precisely because they don't want us to.”

The tyres screeched as the van skidded a little across wet ground, and in the back, they swayed and fought and wrestled to stay upright.

“That doesn't make any sense,” he said.

“Don't be stupid.”

“How can you expect things to be stable, if you are just going to do this for no real reason at all? Isn't it better than we live in peace than for some concept that we don't really need? The vast majority of people find life fine as it is.”

“Sacrifices must be made. Whose side are you on, anyways?”

He snapped to full attention. Their voices had grown loud indeed, and he feared for a moment that they may be heard, that their plans would be revealed too early. But he was afraid too of what he heard in her voice. Afraid that the next time she said 'Don't try to find me', she would mean it.

“Oh, oh, on your side of course. I'm just talking. You know, just to liven up the day.”

A pause, and he heard her laughter like peals of tiny bells.

“You're incorrigible, Frank.”

He decided to say nothing further, but another thought crossed his mind.

“Kyra, do you remember when we first met?” he said, casually.

“Not really. We were what? Ten? Six?”

“Twelve.”

“I'm sorry,” she said. “I can't remember that far back. It all goes kinda hazy. It's not something I think about often. Why? Why are you so suddenly interested in ancient history? Has our revival of good old fashioned values finally gotten to you?”

“No, I mean… yes. I mean… Whatever. It's just something just came to me. Some parallels, or something.”

“So you were a student revolutionary, eh?”

He quietened. She did not remember, did not even care. But he did, and for some reason it became clearer even as the other scattered memories faded back into their places. That with every metre they drove, the sense of remembrance grew stronger. Vague thoughts, a startled concept. Something was going to happen. Soon.

*

He walked back up the overgrown edging, the fence to his right side, a feeling of emptiness in his mind. Words had been said, events decided, and they were great, too great for him to understand without further thought. The world seemed a little different with each passing step, such that the school felt now to be a mere veneer on a real world, a dream overwriting a vision. He paused, wondering if he could wake up, but did not.

He climbed again through the hole in the fence, back into the safety of the playground, the bounded zone of his past existence. Somehow, it seemed to be false, now, that the squabbles and struggles of his life so far appeared so much a mere game, and a game he could no longer understand. Somewhere somehow, that connection had been lost, and he wished to remake it.

There was something, yes, a small thing. An appointment the headmaster had made for him, half in jest. But in this world, appointments must still be kept. So, he sauntered off, casting his eyes around in inexplicable wonder.

*

The van shook again, and something solid in front of him smashed backwards into his face. He rubbed the spot of impact ruefully. A micro sleep, then. It did not seem to have lasted long, and the sound outside remained the same. He resisted the urge to ask where they were. They further they went, the more dangerous it was. 'Are we there yet' in the middle of a routine check would be catastrophic. They had planned the mission to happen at the low point in each soldier's day, at that stage when they only worked because of the forcing pressure of the IH. But there was no reason to take unnecessary risks.

The van stopped.

He tensed himself, ready to leap out. He had not expected to arrive so quickly. Outside, the click as the cab door opened. Crunching gravel, moving slowly from front to back. Fumbling, the clatter of keys on a chain. Tinny clicks as it was inserted. And then the scraping noise as the door opened, as a field of light moved across their faces.

“We are there,” the driver said.

Aaron jumped out, landing outside.

“Hurry up, kids. We need to get this stuff unpacked and set up now. We have no time to waste.”

Kyra loosened her hand from Frank's, tugging, struggling to get free. But he did not relinquish his grip, but grabbed her hardly, pulling her towards him.

“Hey, that hurts!” she protested.

“Then relax and listen to me.”

“Listening…”

“When you leave the van, get as far away from here as you can. I don't think it is safe for you to be here.”

“But why? Do you think we will fail?” she accused.

“No. But I am scared for you. I care about you, and don't want anything to happen.”

“It's a moment of history. Some of us had worked our whole lives, just for this moment. I can't walk away now.”

The pressure on his was loosening. The other rogues, bustling, were unloading the cargo rapidly. Out of a corner of his eye, he could see them moved onto pushcarts, and wheeled towards the wall. There were no guards, no security activity at all. Things were going to plan.

“Please,” he said. “Do it for me. Do it, if you trust me, and trust my love for you. I just have a feeling about this. Get away from here, please.”

The hand was suddenly wrenched from his grasp. Listening intently, he thought he could just here her voice.

“Try to find me later, then.”

With a colossal effort, the box which had held him in place was removed. Trying to limber up his arms, he walked uncertainly off the back of the van, jumped down unto the gravel floor of the parking area.

The Wall was just in front of him, its black mass reaching up into the infinite sky. It never changed, it was almost burned into his sense of perception. But today, the clouds atop it was black, inky black like the smoke of hell. He suppressed an involuntary shudder, took the opportunity for a look around. Kyra was nowhere to be seen. He sighed a little in relief and sadness.

Aaron was staring at the Wall. Frank could guess why. He must be trying to imagine the Wall, imagining what the world would be like when it was gone, when the borders were unsealed. A frown crossed the man's face.

He must be finding it difficult, Frank decided. He couldn't imagine it, either.


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 naïve 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!


November 10, 2004

Chapter 8

The walls of the cave were smooth as glass, slick with a slightest signs of water. In the middle, a pool, and the sunlight, painfully bright, dove through the aperture behind him, split by the rippling liquid, clothed the roof in a shimmering veil of bright lacing. Lacing which moved as Frank did, lacing which tangled his masking body, flowing over them like soft caresses. The floor was dusty, but the dust did not stick to him, and the myriad of small, emerald-green plants which he could not help but tread on merely bounced back into full life as his feet lifted. The whistle of wind past the cave entrance, the bubbling of hidden water, the gentle harshness of their breaths. It was music.

“Come closer,” the man said.

*

The room was packed. Benches, roughly made, barely varnished lay in haphazard fashion. Crates, bags, men and women were jammed together, barely all squeezing into their niches. A plethora of masked and hooded faces, focused on him, a spread of eyes all widened at his presence. It stunk of sweat and blood, or struggle and despair. A Valhalla for the living, a warrior’s room. He felt small, and pounded by the restless reality of it, lowered his head, cheeks hot with shame.

They had fallen quiet too. A radio, by the corner of the room had been quickly switched off, and there was only the chorus of murmurs as fanfare to his coming. Unbidden, and yet feeling duty bound, he walked in amidst them, to surround himself by them, an act of surrender. The black clothes of the masked ones weaved around him, a dancing melee of flitting shadows. The candles by which the room was lit flickered too, so that he saw only flashes, the disjointed image of chaos.

There was a pressure behind him. Hands, pushing. Glancing to his rear, he noted with amazement the crowd that had formed, a fat wedge with him at the tip. Ahead of him, the way opened, people got up, and he could see across the room to where the machine lay.

He walked forwards a step. The pressure lessened as those behind fell back, and then resumed as they caught up. Another step, and again he heard the agitation as they took their own collective steps, as the shaft chased the spearhead. There can be no return, now, no steps back. Without mercy, he had to cut into the flesh of his own terror. The hand, the hands behind him which wielded him allowed nothing else.

*

He saw now that the man was old. His skin was rough as old tree bark, his mouth, dry, thin, his eyes a pale murkiness, clouded. Yet his gaze was clear as scientific glass, penetrated him fully. On that chair, even blind, the old man could see him.

“Do you want freedom, Collins? I can remove your Inhibitor with a wave of my hand, and your thoughts would be free. Do you want it?”

He felt Kyra’s warm hand in his, looked up to see her smile. He felt a sudden heat fill him, moved him close to tears.

*

There could be no doubt, what the machine is for. The rogues around him spun off, wove vortices around it, shielded it and flaunted it. But nothing could defuse the repulsion he felt, the struggle he made with each step.

A simple thing, a box from which sprouted a jungle of cables, studded with LEDs and dials that shifted. A box pulled out of another age. Placed on top, like a crown, a silvered hemisphere. He expected it to crackle with electricity, to burn with powers unholy, forces man should not dare touch. The LEDs blinked at him, winked with arrogant promises. It was the machine they thought could make him free. Damnation, ecstasy, madness, all at the drop of a hat. And in front, a basic, tall pine-wood chair.

What now? He commanded himself to take another step forwards, despaired even has the limbs moved in fervent obedience. The screaming of his Inhibitor rose, as though it was alive and he was slowly, surely, cutting its throat. Yet another step, and he could almost hear the gurgling.

And yet, the mission. He told himself it was the mission which drove him on to the spikes of doom. He told himself it was all right to feel disgust, to hate himself for what he did, to curse the action but still reach for the results. But he was afraid too, for he felt no disgust, and despite his best effort, he was still. His heart beat slowly, rapidly. He wanted to look stupid, to throw laughter into it all. But there was nothing to laugh at, and the dignity came to him, stuck to him like gum in the crevices of his shoes.

And the room widened around him. He could no longer pant deeply for breath, could no longer detect the panic in his raspy respiration. The air was cool, not hot, and the golden speckles in dying sunlight did not choke him as he expected it to, as he wanted it to.

He reached out, and touched it. The metal cap felt icily cold, and the he could hear the transformers, the cooling fans throbbing within its casing, a low, angry growl.

He sat, placing the cap atop his head, straightened himself out. The chair was high, too high, and his feet could not quite reach the ground. Instead, he look over down his nose at heads of the crowd who assembled in front of him, saw that none dared stare him in the eyes. A wave of restlessness swept through them, and he clamped his teeth together, to fend off the quivering weakness that was so treacherously absent.

A voice, whispered in his ear. He could not turn to see who it was.

“Do you want this?”

He felt a warm thing, a thing with fingers, a warm hand prise open his clenched fist, press its palm against his palm.

*

“Yes,” he said. The girl smiled, and the man nodded, rose ponderously, coughing, choking, from his chair.

*

“Yes,” he said. The heat of a breath brushed against his chin.

“Yes?” they asked, leaning forwards.

“Yes.”

A dull clunk as a switch was pulled. The crushing feeling of tension mounting. The crowd lifted their eyes. The throbbing of the machine became a drone, than an ear-splitting screech. His head burned, and he grabbed onto the frame of his until his knuckles bulged and were white. Spots danced in his eyes.

He wondered why there was no warning, no countdown to the end. Wondered the world would change in a whimper not a…

With the clash of a thousand gods, the rage of a million years, the world shattered. Frozen, wrenched out of the river of time, he watched the pieces settle to the ground.

The woman in the prison. A forlorn, unjust existence. She should not been there, an innocent kept without her will. His arm drew back, gathered strength, power. And forward! A smashing strike, the wood splinters and she was free. Tugging on her arm, they moved through the base. The soldiers moved to stop their exit, but they were too fast. Their minds were already free, and no one could stop them. Into the car he put her, and they were off. She was happy, and her eyes were full of tears.

The bullet passed over the soldier’s head, thudded with into rock in the far distance. Sean blinked, dropped the gun, holding aloft outstretched arms. The boy, afraid, ran, pulling the girl behind him. They receded, diminished, and were lost in the shadows. Frank turned to Sean, and told him about compassion, about the value of life. Sean agreed, and leaning against each other, laughing at each other’s jokes, they turned back towards base.

The house was full, filled with welcome. The lights were on, and before he entered he could hear a song that was joyful, that broke all the rules, played with the idea of music itself. And she was there, there to answer his greeting. She leapt forward to hug him, and he collapsed into her arms. As she tried to be close, so close, the wetness of her lips on his own, he encircled his arms around the small of her back, gripping her firmly, promising never to let her go. A smile on her face, she dragged him up the staircase to the bedroom, wrestled him onto the bed. Kneeling, legs clamped around his, she began to unbutton his shirt…

Kyra… Oh Kyra…

But he had lost her. Her hand had slipped from his, and before his eyes she faded, colours draining out, seeping into the barren earth where it was lost. The room faded, too, the light turned sickly, then dark and grey. He glanced at his hands, watched the pinkness of it disappear, until it became white, and then darker. In the blackness, as the blackness, he died.

The Inhibitor had run out of lies. Its fantasy had been exhausted. Now, it was time to wake, to open his eyes, to smell the free air.

He forced his eyes open. Aaron was beside him, one hand clasped to his shoulder, a look of pride upon his face. And in Frank’s sweat-filled hand was another, and following the thin arm which grew from him, tracing with his gaze the tanned figure, he found her.

“Welcome,” Kyra said.

“Welcome,” they said. Bowed now, in respect, their masks removed.

“You are one of us, now,” Aaron said. “Your mission, which I gave you, is now over. It simply does not matter anymore. From now on, there are no more orders to be followed, only your own ideas, your only principles. Your only restraints are your own determination. Infinity is in your hands.”

“You were a rogue all along…”

“Yes. We needed you, you see. And we needed what you did for us. You have done us great services, and this is your reward. Rest now, for it cannot be taken from you.”

Still clasping Kyra’s hand, he dropped down from the high chair, feet failing to support him as he landed. So, he fell further, until he sat, sprawled against the ground, pulling his beloved down with him. There, in full view of the others, he began to cry.

Nothing told him to stop. Not even her kiss.


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.


November 08, 2004

Chapter 6

(Most rough around the corners yet…)

Chris Pritchard was his friend since the first year of high school. In almost every memory, he was there, a joyous, scruffy face, skulking near the edges of vision and framed by disorder and long grass. He was there on the nights they were drunk, and Frank had to lead him home, trying not to fall over himself. He was there to steal his homework, and rephrase it as borrowing. When, at the end of the last year, they made up the supposedly humorous lists of predictions, Frank had put him down as the most likely to get killed doing something stupid. It was only natural, then, that he would meet him again in the Wall service.

But Chris seemed a little wary these days. People were always on edge, but Frank could barely remember any conversation they had from recent times. He only skulked now, a passive watching, light brushes when they passed corridors from opposite directions. Frank shrugged and sat down by his desk.

Someone had placed an envelope on it. But for the bit code, which stopped anyone else from opening, it, the front was entirely blank. Bemused, he opened it, tipped out its contents, and started to read.

“To: F. C.

Chris is not your friend…”

His hand trembled. But there, on the wall! An array of photographs from his childhood to the present day. Chris was in half of them – how could he not be his friend? There, that same scruffy face he could always remember. The age had weighed heavily on him, perhaps. The nose had grown a little in this one; the bad light had made his skin appear dark in that… He stopped.

The photographs were different. The faces on them were not the same. Chris was not his friend. He read the letter again.

“To: F. C.

Chris is not your friend. He has only arrived yesterday. They hacked into the base’s computer the day before, and installed him on the most recent update. I don’t know what his mission is, but it most likely includes recruiting you. You are to accept this, and to accept any trials he proposes.

A.W.”

He stuffed the note back in its envelope, and burned it with his cigarette lighter until it crumbled and the ashes drifted lightly around his room.

*

Chris was wasting no time. He was all over the base in a matter of hours, poking his nose in every office, sneaking a snack in every canteen. Frank’s memory told him that Chris had a good ear for gossip. Logic told him that made Chris a good spy.

But he couldn’t report him, of course. He had to protect him from having his cover blown, until he receives orders to the contrary. So instead he waved cheerfully, planned his walks to cross over with the innocence of common coincidence, lest it be thought he was following someone. And Chris talked, smiled at him, and patted his back as old friends they weren’t.

When it became unbearable, he formulated a test. A simple one. He wrote a name on a sheet of paper. His friend was at the bar again, chatting about guns. Quietly, he stalked up, and slapped him in between his shoulder blades.

“Hey Chris!”

Chris cast a genial expression, slightly flushed. “Hello, Frank.”

“Here you are again. Always at the bar. It’s not healthy, man. I mean, what would Mrs… what’s her name?”

“Mrs who?”

“You know, our school doctor.”

Chris thought for a moment. “Albright. Dr. Albright.”

“Well, she wouldn’t be happy, would she?”

He walked off, not bothering to listen to his friend’s reply. Chris was right! Aaron must be wrong. His school doctor was called Dr. Albright. There was no way a stranger could have known that. It was even written on his piece of paper, which no one could have seen, which no one could have changed. ALBRIGHT. There, written clearly, in text large and unmistakable.

“PENNINGTON.”

*

He followed Chris for much of the rest of the day, trying to divine patterns in his movements. From noon, his paths had changed. No longer did he move amongst the social areas. He had gained a sudden purpose, striding without question into the more restricted areas, the more empty places, where doors had bolts, blast protection, soundproofed rooms. More than once, he had to run to keep up, and the scatter of detritus across the floors made navigation hard, kept his attention from what lay ahead.

He had dashed halfway across a disused ammunition storeroom when the iron gate shut behind him and the room fell dark. He could not see his feet, let alone what lay around him.

“Don’t try to shout. No one can hear you in here.”

The voice came from nearby but the echoes made it hard to pinpoint where. He felt against the walls a little, finding only jagged steel that scratched at his fingers, and rods and buttons his hand jerked away from, afraid to touch.

“When are they coming to get us out of here?” he asked, feeling inane at his pretence. “We are locked in here, aren’t we?”

“No we aren’t.”

“Then would you please open the door to let some light in? I can’t see a freaking thing in here!”

The voice was closer, more localised. He trying to approach it, and felt a chunk of something heavy and sharp bump up against his feet. Too dangerous. There was no such thing as a minor mishap in here.

“But surely keeping things nice and dark is quieter, more dramatic… Perhaps a little romantic, even?” Chris said almost in his ear.

“Who are you?” Frank asked.

“We are no-one. You have helped us, and we want you to help us again. Do you want to help us again?”

He did not speak, suddenly torn. The IH had built in coding. He could not aid the rogues, only bring them to justice. Any aid he offers could have huge consequences. Yet he had received orders to aid them, to pass any trial.

“Of course, not help us. Just doing things different from what you would do normally, things that would, entirely accidentally, aid us. You understand, yes?”

In the opaque darkness of the room, he nodded his head, still afraid, still compelled not to communicate too clearly, to make his opinion easily known.

“As an example, if you were to get lost and walk into one of those areas on the second floor only officers can enter. If you were to accidentally pick up a package from within that area. If you were to dump that package, just happening to leave it within our line of sight, who can blame you? You haven’t really done anything wrong, only fell a little prey to random fortune.”

“Where…”

“You know it when you see it. It is not exactly easy to miss. As for where we will be, well, there is a very good party we can recommend, and we like parties. Perhaps you would like an invitation?”

A card was pressed into his hand.

The lights went back on. Chris smiled at him absent-mindedly, and rushed out from the now-open door, as though nothing had happened at all. Frank walked about a little until he was sure Chris was nowhere near, and picked up a phone.

*

“I’ve made contact.”

“Great!” Aaron sounded almost ecstatic.

He waited for a moment for Aaron to calm down.

“So, how did it go?”

“He wants me to pick up a package from one of the places which stretch my clearance a little. On the second floor.”

“Well, there is nothing to worry there. We’ll move and replace anything important in there in an hour’s time. Keep away from the area, and then go fetch it then. Any clue as to what it is?”

“He didn’t say.”

“Well, then, don’t try to find out, then. If they don’t tell you, it means you shouldn’t know, and if you do know, you might let something slip that will make them suspect you. Just pick up the bag, and go, and don’t look at it, or at anyone. Just go to where they want you to go.”

“But there is something I do not understand.”

“Oh?”

“Why are they falling for it? I mean, no normal person would aid them, whatever ruse they try to play, because the IH would stop them. The only reason why they would help them is because they have been ordered to pretend to help them, so they can betray the rogues eventually. I mean, if you were a rogue, would you trust an inhibited person? Can this be a trap?”

There was a long silence across the phone, barely pierced by the scratching of a pen.

“Hello?” He asked in case the connection was lost.

“Ah well,” Aaron said hastily. “How should I know? It may be a trap, and it may be not. It is hard to tell. But is it likely to be a trap? Surely if it was a trap, it would have been sprung earlier.”

It was not entirely convincing. “But…”

“And there are stories, you know. Stories of how they recruit their agents. The IH isn’t all powerful, you know. People can bend the rules, if they try and are strong enough. Thoughts can sneak through the control web. So what they do is that they look for people who can bend the rule anyways, because these people are good for them since they are strong and intrinsically predisposed to join their rampage. They probably have you flagged since childhood, and most likely flag you even more heavily now because of the recent stuff you did. Yes, that must be it.”

He did not even manage a word before Aaron interrupted him again.

“Also, you’ll need some facts, so you can portray the right image to them. Firstly, and most importantly, the government of today is riding roughshod over the thoughts of its constituent citizens. It is ignoring the most fundamental right of man, the right to freedom of thought.”

It did not seem very funny, but still he laughed. The more he laughed, the more he felt the ridiculousness of it. But Aaron was quiet.

“Don’t laugh. They actually believe this.”

“They are utterly stupid, then. Everyone knows the government only does what the people want them to do. It’s not like they are forcing anyone, or torturing anyone like the old governments did.” He chuckled again, involuntarily. These rebuttals were old and succinct, written deep in the fissures of the brain. The rogue’s denunciations were stale and trite, having long ago lost any of their power.

Aaron was quiet, and he had to listen carefully to sense his playfulness. “Well, they believe that altering opinions with the IH is wrong.”

“So what?”

“They think that once the IHs are removed, people will stop agreeing with the government and the government would fall.”

Frank banged his head against the wall as he burst into uproarious mirth. He stamped his feet on the hard, cold floor. He slapped the table where the phone book stood. Aaron laughed too, a soft laughter. But that was to be expected. At length, he paused, people were turning to look at him, and he disliked their un-asked-for attention.

“Well, all this and more are available in some material I am sending to you.” Aaron said. “But there is something else you need to know, Frank. They are going to do something to you. They are going to remove your Inhibitor.”

A dense horror swept over him. He was too outraged to protest, too terrified to scream. He merely listened as Aaron continued talking.

“Don’t be afraid. We will reinstall it the moment we find you. But remember this. In the moment they remove it, you have to be willing to have it removed. Or else damage will be caused, and you will no longer be useful to anyone. I’ll send you some material, then, so that you are good at pretending to be one of them.”

The dial tone sounded in Frank’s ear. He hung up slowly, savouring what he had heard. His IH had descended into an unending scream, now, lashing him with pain for every slight thought. A dark tide of pain ran within him, and it was only through his greatest effort than he could wrestle it back into control. He had to do it, he told himself. To fulfil the mission, his mission.

A sharp click, and a thin leaflet fell through the slot next to the communications machine. He whistled as he saw the cover, a simple one of light blue card, on which was written:

“The Uninhibited Declaration”

Followed by, in small, neat, black print.

“This document does not exist.”

Turning the page, he read:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that…”

He closed the booklet, moving to a stainless steal seat where he could read it more comfortably, as something to pass the time. It was not a laugh-a-minute, but it came close enough to keep him amused.


November 07, 2004

Chapter 5

"Have you found her, yet?"

"No."

"Are you even looking, these days?"

"We can assure you that we are. But this is none of your concern. Keep up with your work, and we'll keep up our end. The rogues will contact you again, some day, and you need to be ready for it."

"Sometimes I wonder if you are all the same…"

"And?"

"Then I know you aren't. And I know I am doing the right thing. I never wonder for long."

"Very good, soldier. Very good, indeed."

*

Frank couldn't find Kyra anywhere. Only thirty of them, but the girl was gone. The moment the button was pressed, the moment the group of them simultaneously woke, cast their eyes around with the typical surprise and shock, she was awake. Perhaps she had the genius to run when the small and painful electric shock jolted through their collective minds, while the adults were busy celebrating their only chance to exact revenge. The door was open, and any fleeing body would have been lost in the glare of the mid-day sun.

Don't try to find me, she had said.

He couldn't let that stop him. Rather, he considered it to be a challenge. He had not often an opportunity to play hide and seek, and rarely the inclination either – the searcher could always simply stand and call for help until the compulsion for civic duty became irresistible, and game would be rapidly over in a flurry of accusations and tame insults. But this was different.

Yet she was gone, well and truly gone. Their classes were kept too diffuse for any real familiarity, but that did not prevent him looking, searching. Within days, he had tried to sign up for every optional class and club available. But always only to null result. Some classes, he found, were empty. Others he could not join, as a wave of irritation washed over him at even the slightest thought. But most, when he entered, gave only the usual knot of bored boys and girls. He not visualise Kyra as amongst them, and she never was. He quit, and thus, they pumped his brain full and empty, wiped and fouled, so that he learnt nothing. And that was nothing he did not expect.

On the third night, he woke in a cold and shivering sweat which made him throw open the windows. There, bathed in moonlight and feeling the frigid air on his goosepimpled limbs, he worried. What if something had happened to Kyra? What if she had been taken by kidnappers, murderers and other monsters?

The books he read, the networked resources he consulted gave only reassurances. It was reassuring, too, that he could not remember either any such case, any person disappearing. But he could not remember any person who could possibly disappear, either. Dimly, he tried to recall Kyra's words. There was something there about memory, about forgetting, and dreams, that confused him. He remembered being afraid.

In any case, things had happened without precedent before. There was no reason to presume that there were no creatures on the prowl, no reason, even with the Inhibitors, not to invoke the powers of fear. By the morning, after a night of tossing and turning, he had enough resolve to seek out authority.

*

Authority wore gold rimmed glasses. Peeking from outside the door, Frank saw that the headmistress was pacing even before he entered. As he walked in, he found that her routine was to pause just long enough to show that she noticed, and then to carry on pacing at the same rate as before. Her motion was hypnotic, if unintelligible, and he found himself unable to compose an appropriate greeting.

He didn't have to.

"Ah, Frank Collins, I presume. The one who seems to have been fast-tracking all our courses, these few days. Very curious strategy. How I help you? Hope not fast-tracking school as well. Quitting very bad stain on character."

She watched him intently, and he found it suddenly hard to stand still, suddenly easy to be unbalanced and fall towards the door. It took several seconds of precarious footwork for him to realise that she really expected him to be quitting school, and was doing his best to dissuade him for even trying to talk to here.

"No, no!" He pleaded, hastily. "I'm not here for that!"

He felt steady on his feet again. The headmistress shrugged.

"Good. Since you are one of my… better students," she said, and then murmured. "Crying shame mind reading is only open to Defence – imagine the work we can do with it."

"I just wonder if you can give me any information about a friend of mine. A fellow student here."

She frowned. "It doesn't matter how friendly she is. Such information is confidential."

"Even where to find her?"

"Especially where to find her."

"But I'm scared she might be in trouble," he blurted out. "Because I haven't seen her for a while, and stuff. I'm scared for her."

"Well, that I can do. Registration lists are public domain," she beamed, pulling up a console. "Just let me do a quick look-up… Her name?"

"Kyra."

"Just Kyra?"

"Yes. I mean… well, she probably has a surname, but I don't know it."

"Ok, that widens it a bit."

Tapping a few keys, lines of numbers streamed down her screen. And then, it flashed red. She frowned, and tapped a few more

"That's funny. No entries for this area under Kira, Kyra, Kera, or anything. Are you sure that's what you heard?"

"Well, she did say Kyra. I am sure of it."

"I'll try a wider search."

She tapped again at the key board, and again it flashed red. At this, she stood, scratching her head.

"I don't understand it. She isn't in the General, or even the Special databases. No birth certificate, no registration for translocation, no vaccination history, no nothing. There is no Kyra aged under 15 within 100 miles of this location. Such a person just does not exist."

"But…"

She turned towards him. "Perhaps all that learning and unlearning has addled your brain then. I'll schedule an Inhibitor check up soon. Just go now, make some friends, and pester them with this crazy stuff. OK?"

He was pushed out, and the door shut behind him.

*

Frank wouldn't give up that easily, either. Little evidence given by others can be strong enough to overrule the evidence of his own eyes and memories. By the time he ventured from within the main school building, the ideas were already running wild in his head. There must be a way to find her, or else she would not have told him not to.

A sick fear filled him. What if her last words were of grave portent? What if she had seen her own doom, and didn't want him to follow her?

Then her corpse must be somewhere, hidden around the school. Frantically, he started digging small trenches with available sticks, wherever the cracks in the concrete was wide enough for something to be hidden. It didn't take very long before he felt ridiculous with the whole futility of it.

No, of course. A murderer wouldn't bury a corpse in the middle of the school. That would be way to easy to find. He'd (and the archives made it clear that it would always be a he) be caught before he could even get away. No, it was obvious that he would hide the corpse somewhere that no one usually goes, somewhere on the edges of the place, like near the fence.

So, that afternoon, with a long stick to defend himself, he shuffled up to the little line of wire fencing which enclosed the playground. There, as clear as it could be, was the hole. A small tear, just large enough for a child, fringed by verdant green grasses, and a light tangle of thorns.

Feeling no IH compulsion to stop him, he crawled through into the path-edging undergrowth on the other side.

*

Aaron sounded busy over the phone. Music ran loud, overflowed its containing, dribbled and poured down the wire. Conversation was all but drowned.

"How are you?" He screamed.

"Fine," Frank said.

"Good, keep watching out for the rogues! The damned rogues! They are gonna contact you soon!"

"How will they contact me?"

"We aren't sure. Look for changes."

"Changes?" A chill ran down his back.

"Changes. Stuff being different from what you remembered. What you remembered being different from what you remembered. Something like that."

"I don't understand."

"The IH can alter memories. That's one of the ways it works. It does it very well, so usually you can't see the join, and there isn't any physiological damage, or anything. We in Defence do it all the time. Whenever it is convenient. Its usually healthy for the person in question."

"But…" But nothing. There was nothing appropriate to say about it, he told himself.

"Anyways, the rogues have found a way to hack the system, bypassing the central control systems. So they use it to mess us up, or to insert their own people. The former we can detect and fix before people wake up – and you'd be surprised at the number of weird dreams this causes. The latter… is harder. The latter is what I am warning you about."

"I see."

"It's something that is rather secret. If you tell anyone, I will know about it. Don't tell anyone."

"Understood."

"I'll place notes about to warn you, if I hear of anything. Bye."

He gripped the telephone hard in his hand, and brought it down to the receiver. On the TV, the news, and it seemed as though the human interest stories, the random stock market bounces were new and original. The weather outside was unpredictable, erratic. The pictures on the wall each had stories, experiences recallable from the vault of the mind.

Normally, he would forget almost immediately, he realised. But now that he had to keep the secret, and the IH would make him remember, so that he would remind himself of it constantly.

He looked at the pictures, the weather, the TV. On how many of these was he utterly wrong?


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